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Weighed down by anxious anglers and spectators, the floating dock in Lake of the Hills at West Lake Park sinks deeper into the water with every flip of the fish-filled net.

“Holy smokes,” someone shouts from the crowd. “That’s a big one.”

It’s a recent Friday morning, and more than 115 people — including dozens with their poles at the ready — watch as 2,000 rainbow trout fly into the 54-acre body of water just west of Interstate 280.

This fall, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to stock 17 urban sites across the state with the cold-water fish, a longstanding effort to introduce trout fishing to more people, especially beginner anglers. West Lake Park, which is loaded twice each year, hosts one of the largest events. It started there in 2006.

Quad-City Times photographer Andy Abeyta strapped on waders to capture the action from the water. 

“We select fish that will bite, even on the day of the event,” said Chad Dolan, fisheries biologist with the Iowa DNR, said.

While most of the fish released at Lake of the Hills weigh less than a pound, the DNR also let go of a couple 3.5-pounders, which officials referred to as “lunkers.”

The agency transported the trout here in a truck from Manchester Fish Hatchery, located about 100 miles north of the Quad-Cities, in Manchester, Iowa.

Iowa has three trout hatcheries, including the hub in Manchester, where more than 600,000 rainbow, brook and brown trout are spawned, incubated and hatched every year.

"Even after last Friday's big number of trout caught, there are still plenty of trout left to be caught" at Lake of the Hills, according to the DNR's Oct. 20 fishing report.

Ron Sipes of Davenport, a self-proclaimed “catch-and-release guy,” watched last week's stocking from the shore with his two grandchildren. He didn’t bother bringing any fishing gear.

“I don’t believe in fishing on the first day,” said Sipes, who noted trout put up a good fight and taste great. “I like to let them get acclimated for a day. It’s not too sporty to go after them as soon as they’re released.”

The Iowa DNR suggests beginner anglers use small hooks with nightcrawlers, simple spinners or small bobbers and corn.

Others, including Dan Stauffer of Muscatine, cast their lines as soon as the first group of fish hit the water. 

"I don't care if I catch any as long as I catch the big one," said Stauffer, who enjoys breading and frying trout at home. "They taste pretty good."

He also plans on attending next Saturday's stocking at Discovery Park in Muscatine, where 1,000 rainbow trout will be released into the one-acre pond.

When he has time, Stauffer ventures about three hours with his sons to Yellow River State Forest in northeast Iowa, home to hundreds of miles of trout streams. 

While people often associate quality trout fishing with western states, like Colorado and Idaho, Iowa has several excellent fisheries in the northeast part of the state, Dolan said.

Within an hour of the Quad-Cities in Jackson County — the southern-most county with wild self-sustaining populations of brown and brook trout — the DNR stocks and monitors four streams.

Mark Winn, who works at the hatchery in Manchester, labeled Big Mill Creek, located about 20 miles northeast of Maquoketa in the Big Mill Wildlife Management Area, a "phenomenal system." 

In 2015, the DNR stocked the 0.9-mile waterway, which also contains wild brown trout, with 1,545 brook trout and 5,505 rainbow trout. 

Throughout October, the DNR will stock trout in 50 northeast Iowa streams, which rarely freeze and remain open for fishing year-round.

As of Oct. 1, almost 45,000 resident and non-resident anglers purchased trout permits in Iowa.

Anglers need a valid fishing license and must pay a trout fee to fish for, and possess, trout. Iowa children 15 and younger can fish with a licensed adult, but they cannot catch more than one fish per day unless they purchase their own trout fee.

Anglers can catch a maximum of five trout per day and possess a maximum of 10.

The farther north you travel, Dolan pointed out, the quality of fish also increases.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of that, but when they go up there, they’re going to find that it’s a little bit more challenging to catch some of those trout species," Dolan added. "If you can see the fish, you can bet they've already seen you — they're not stupid."

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Jack Cullen covers health and the outdoors for the Quad-City Times.

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