Fly Fishing Joy Springs / Maquoketa River

January 2001 – On a warm January day I took a nice trout on a white streamer under the bridge that crosses the stream just outside of Backbone State Park.

Joy Springs is located off of Highway 3 west of the town of Strawberry Point. The stream is actually the Maquoketa river, but where it goes through the park it is known as Joy Springs. Access is fairly easy in the park; there are several nice pools, and some of those bank improvements. This makes for some pretty heavy fishing pressure at times. I don’t generally follow when they stock the trout streams, but I’m sure the crowds in the park coincide with stocking days. If I’m fishing with a friend that is new to trout fishing we generally start in the park.

Usually I start at the bridge that crosses the Maquoketa just outside of Backbone though. It is an easy place to find. Go out Backbone’s north exit, then go west on the first gravel road out of the park. The stream is about a mile from that intersection. There are usually quite a few fish in pool that ends under the bridge. I can usually catch two or three there before the rest become spooked. In the winter I find that light colored streamers work well, I do occasionally catch one on darker pattern though. If you are a spin fisherman, try a number five floating Rapala. I’ve gotten some strange looks from people tying one of these on while trout fishing, but they work amazingly well. I seem to have more luck with the metallic colored ones, silver/black, silver/blue, copper/black, and the ultimate – rainbow trout. I’ve caught more fish on the rainbow trout floating Rapala than any other lure. I have one that I’ve used for the past year; the bronze coating on the hooks has worn off the hook shanks from hooking, playing, and unhooking so many fish, and the rear treble hook is now a double because it broke while playing a nice brown trout.

If you want to catch a big brown, the Maquoketa is a good place to do it. Downstream from the bridge there are some very good holes that contain some pretty big fish, the problem is you have to walk a long way to get to them. I don’t know the exact distance, but I’d say you can go two or three miles to find the best spots. The upside to this is these fish don’t get a whole lot of pressure and most of them are good sized. I rarely catch a fish under eleven or twelve inches when I venture downstream. During the spring while the water is high, fish can be anywhere and this part of the stream is easier to fish. The high water allows fish to hold in areas that only have a couple of inches of water during mid-summer. Plus the fish are tough to spook and eager to take nearly any lure or fly which passes by them. I’ve caught rainbows, browns, and brookies from this section of the stream.

I don’t fish as much upstream from the bridge, but there are a lot of good spots there too. This section is where most of the trout are stocked. I have fished up to the bridge at the next mile with much success. In this middle section it opens up to pasture land for about a quarter of a mile. There are some nice runs and pools here where you can fly fish and even have room for a backcast.

Once you get through the pasture, the holes are once again pretty spread out. There are some nice fish that inhabit the waters further north towards Joy Springs, but you pay the price in distance. If you don’t mind walking, you will find your walk might just pay off. It is a very scenic section of stream and most of the holes hold some very nice fish.

***Update 2/24/01 – I fished downstream from the bridge outside of Backbone. Most of the holes have been silted in and the low water conditions do not make for good fishing downstream of the bridge. I would recommend concentrating your efforts north of the first and second bridges outside of the park.

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