People who trout fish in Northeast Iowa aren’t just having fun – they’re having a significant economic impact on the region.
That was the gist of a new report released last week by Trout Unlimited, entitiled The Economic Impact of Trout Angling in the Driftless Area. Trout Unlimited is an American non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of freshwater streams, rivers, and associated upland habitats for trout, salmon, other aquatic species, and people.
Around 50 people attended a special event Friday afternoon at the Decorah Fish Hatchery. In addition to highlighting the new report and its findings, the event brought home the importance of private/public partnerships in the region.
The bottom line is that angling brings more than $1.6 billion dollars to the Driftless Area each year. (The Driftless Area includes areas of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa and is noted for its deeply carved river valleys. The region includes elevations ranging from 603 to 1,719 feet and covers an area of 16,203 square miles.)
This includes money spent directly by people fishing, stream restoration spending, indirect economic effects (changes in sales, income or jobs in those industries that supply goods and services to visitors) and induced effects (increased sales from households within the Driftless Area.)

About the survey
The study was conducted through surveys to anglers who purchased trout stamps, in addition to regular fishing licenses in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Surveys were also available online for trout stamp holders.
The survey was conducted by Donna Anderson Ph.D. a private consultant and economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. It contained questions developed in collaboration with Trout Unlimited related to demographics, whether anglers visited the Driftless Area specifically to fish, where they traveled from, their habits and expenditures.
The study found that nearly 90 percent of the anglers were married men, average age 51, with a college education and an income between $80,000 and $100,000. Those from outside the area reported traveling an average of 275-miles round trip and spending money on lodging, at restaurants, for guides and equipment, supplies and other items.
On average, anglers spent $474.91 per trip and reported taking an average of 4.5 trips to the region each year where they usually spent 2.5 days each trip.
They fished an average of eight Driftless Area streams out of the over 600 available in the region. The average angler who lived outside the Driftless Area traveled 138 miles to fish and has fished in the same spot for 18 years.

Restoring habitat
Iowa DNR Regional Fisheries Biologist Mike Stueck noted the Trout Unlimited report’s findings are consistent with research conducted by the Iowa DNR.
He said the DNR is indebted to private landowners for several things:
The first is this their willingness to make improvements and to allow the DNR to come onto their property to stock fish.
“Back in the 80s, we only had five streams with natural reproduction. With the help of our conservation partners, we now have 45 streams naturally reproducing and another 33 with intermittent reproduction,” said Steuck.
He emphasized how private landowner agreements have helped grow the amount of trout fishing available in Northeast Iowa.
“Many of these are handshake agreements that result in easements. A quarter of the access we have available is due to the help of private landowners. Without them, our fishable area would be a lot smaller,” said Steuck.

Great partners
During the event, Lora Friest, executive director for Northeast Iowa RC&D (Resources, Conservation and Development), said the results of the report reflect the many partnerships, both public and private, that work together to support the activity.
“We have so many great public and private partners from across the region … whether we’re talking about water quality, watershed health or coldwater stream restoration – I don’t know of any other effort in the area that has had such an amazing impact,” said Friest.
Friest commended the effort by so many “to enhance the resource (trout streams) while maximizing the benefits.

A destination
While much of the information at Friday’s presentation and in the report covered the entire Driftless Area, Decorah Fish Hatchery Manager Brian Malaise talked about how his hatchery contributes locally.
“We are responsible for the four top counties in Iowa. We stock 15 trout streams from April through October. In those seven months, we stock 113,000 trout in 15 streams and five urban ponds.
“In a year’s time, our personnel will travel 28,000 miles stocking trout within a 35-40 mile radius.”
He added it’s been interesting to see how trout fishing has merged with other tourism interests.
“We have a unique spot here, and it has become a destination point for Northeast Iowa. We now see thousands of visitors a year, and people schedule weddings, graduations and family pictures here. It’s also becoming a hub for the bike trail, fishermen and viewing the eagles nest,” said Malaise.

All about access
Duke Welter, outreach coordinator for the National Trout Unlimited Driftless Area Restoration Effort, said in dozens of conversations he has had with anglers, the main reason they choose the Driftless Region is its easy access to trout streams.
“We have this geologic neighborhood that is 24,000 square miles we call the Driftless Area. It consists of 42 counties and is the size of West Virginia. In it are 600 watersheds and 6,000 miles of trout water,” said Welter.
Welter said the volunteer efforts to restore trout streams in the Driftless have been phenomenal.
“We’ve raised $45 million to put into streams, between the NRCS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the DNR and trout stamp proceeds,” said Welter, adding that money has gone into preventing erosion and working with landowners so they can use their land and still have healthy trout streams.
He said in addition to the economic impact of stream restoration, anglers are paying for lodging, food, gas, angling supplies, guides and more.
“Have them here is enriching the lives of these communities … These communities are starting to understand the value of the angling economy,” said Welter.
To view the full report, visit or