Fly FIshing Richmond Springs

Richmond Springs is one of the first places I went when I started trout fishing. Growing up in Waterloo, I didn’t get a chance to fish for trout very often, but I was fascinated by the prospects of observing everything that was going on beneath the surface. As a kid, family camping trips to Backbone State Park meant I would have a chance to try to catch some of those fish I could see in the water. Fishing the crystal clear waters of Richmond Springs was always a treat.

Richmond Springs flows from the Earth at the north end of Backbone State Park. The stream meanders through the park until its confluence with the Maquoketa River. If you have never been to Backbone, it is worth a day’s trip, if for no other reason than to see it. I would recommend a weekday, as weekends and holidays at Backbone are always crowded if the weather is nice. The park is situated within an hour’s drive of three of Iowa’s more populated areas: Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Waterloo.

This past weekend found me fishing Richmond Springs for the first time in several years. With the recent cold snap we’ve had, one of my fishing buddies thought it would be our best shot in the area for a stream with more open water than ice. I had never fished it in the winter, so I was looking forward to seeing what it had to offer.

The main reason I stopped fishing Richmond Springs was that there were always a ton of people there. Similar to Spring Branch Creek in that aspect. Well, fishing it in the middle of February alleviated that. Other than a few snowmobilers and a couple on snow shoes, we were the only people around. The park roads are closed during the winter, so unless you have a snowmobile, you have to walk/ski/snowshoe or whatever in. The walk isn’t that bad on the way in, as it’s all down hill, but coming out after a day of fishing I was acutely aware of my legs.

The valley that holds Richmond Springs is beautiful year round, especially in the winter. From the steam coming off the water, to the icicles formed off the ledges above the spring, it is an amazing sight. There were fish taking emergers out of the film as we approached the spring, a good sign had I brought my fly rod. Luckily Matt brought his and was able to entice a couple of rainbows right away.

I found the carry-over fish to be far different from the fish of the summer in Richmond Springs. These fish were very, very spooky. The slightest sound or shadow would send them scurrying for cover. This is in stark contrast to most of the 18,000 or so fish they stock ever April through October. At first I had problems, everything I cast spooked the fish. From floating and countdown Rapalas to spinners and jigs, as soon as I reeled the lure near a fish, off it went. I finally tied on a #6 Husky Jerk in a pattern called creek chub or something like that. I cast it out and slowly jerked it back in, pausing several seconds between twitches. This presentation had an amazing effect on the fish. I was getting strikes (mostly short) on nearly every cast. I ended up catching several fish over the next hour or so using this technique. Having that suspending lure in my arsenal saved me from getting skunked.

All in all we had a fun day at Richmond Springs. I am planning on making it a regular stop on my winter list of where to go. One final note. On the way home that evening, we decided to stop at the Delhi dam and see if we could pick up a couple of walleyes. Matt, using a white power bait twister tail, tied into what appeared to be a monster of a walleye. During the 5 minute fight, there was much speculation on what would appear, I was rooting for a big walleye while some were saying northern. As the fish finally came to the surface, the three of us began laughing at a big fat carp. I took a picture and will post it here once the film is developed.

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