I’ve recently encouraged you to chase walleyes beneath the Fort Randall Dam or the Big Bend Dam with a jig and minnow. While the stretch between Chamberlain and Fort Thompson was good advice, the action at Randall has been almost non-existent. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not been releasing enough water, and this in turn, shuts down the fishing. Check the releases before you head out.
It’s a fact that all drivers the world over see themselves as above-average drivers! I think fishermen are the same way. I know I see myself as an above-average angler. This “above-average” mindset puts me in a position to give advice, whether it’s wanted or not. With this in mind, I’ll tell you about my favorite South Dakota fishing holes. Some go back 50 years or more, so don’t be too surprised if they no longer hold a honey-hole status.
My favorite all-time spot? In years past, during the month of May and into June, I liked to fish just below the Big Bend Dam’s rip-rap on the east, or Buffalo County side of the tail race. Toss a minnow-tipped quarter-ounce jig “up stream” at a 45-degree angle and allow it to sink and sweep by, while slowly jigging the retrieve. Because of eddies, the water may flow either direction. This technique is absolute poison on white bass and walleyes. Locals tell me that this action still exists.
Beneath the James River mill remnants at Milltown, perhaps 200 yards north of the bridge, we once caught all the walleyes we wanted in the whitewater the walleyes shared with drum, catfish, and northern pike.
There was one problem: it was the world’s epicenter for ticks. I could wear an astronaut’s suit and come home with ticks boring into my crotch. Fish the east bank or walk in from the bridge to fish the west.
South Dakota’s best-kept secret are the big largemouth bass that inhabit our prairie stock dams. We may not appreciate largemouths, but they are America’s most popular fish. I learned a lot about these bass from Art Jones, Jack Broome, and the late David Frey when we lived in Burke. Many great dams are on private property; ask for permission first!
I can send you to the Eide Dam north of Burke, which also holds crappies. Don’t use leaders, as bass don’t have teeth, and use a snap swivel with spinners. Early on, you’ll find the big spawning bass up in the shallow crick ends opposite the dams. Step lightly and keep a low profile. Plastic crawlers and floating raps worked with finesse are deadly.
Other good public bass spots include Burke Lake, Herrick Lake, Sully Lake, and Roosevelt Lake, which is also good for pike. There are some great bass holes on Indian land, but you’ll need a tribal license. I’ve personally had some great adventures on the Rosebud.
On the very south end of the Missouri River’s Lake Francis Case and inside North Point’s North Bay, we find Svatos Bay. It runs northward from the end of North Bay, and the points that mark its beginning are just north of the yacht club. The points on either side of the opening to Svatos Bay have classic structure that holds walleyes and smallmouth bass. While boats often crowd bank fishermen as the bank anglers enjoy success, both points are best fished from the bank. While the walleye action may be slow because of waning numbers, it is still the premier spot in the area. The finger-like point on the west side is public Isaac Walton property. From here, one can drive all the way out to the point. In the evening, fish the last two hours of daylight. Early morning is also a special time.
I’m a catfish enthusiast. While I catch an occasional cat on Francis Case, I like the area from the Randall tailrace to the campground stairways leading to the bank on the Gregory County side. The last staircase might be a good mile downstream. Prepared catfish baits work well. I need to give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a pat on the back. They have, with construction still in progress, improved bank access below the Randall Dam on the Gregory County side. One can drive right to it and there is also a relatively new fishing platform, with railing and benches in the boat ramp bay down below. I believe that this is a South Dakota Department Game, Fish, and Parks project.
I’ve always liked the Running Water area. Running Water has a boat ramp, and the backwaters and chutes from Running Water to Springfield hold both largemouth and smallmouth bass. I’ll always remember the time Dave Dringman, the area’s most talented guide, took me bassin’ at Running Water. We nailed ’em. Today, Dave is a Cabela’s boat guy. Ask him how to fish Running Water.
Between Springfield and Yankton, we have Lewis and Clark Lake. This lake is a white bass factory and it also holds big fat walleyes. Put your boat in just east of old Bon Homme, and use a four-wheel drive vehicle if your boat is heavy. Hopefully your boat has power trim, as there are many sand bars. For bait, net your own local shiners. I’m anxious to troll L&C this summer with the new Shadow Rap lures.
South Dakota’s crown jewel fishery has to be Lake Oahe. I once had a three-day Oahe fishing trip ruined by high winds and because of that, I stayed away for many years. Since then, I have learned that the Spring Creek bays offer protection for smaller boats like mine. Spring Creek also offers enough walleyes, smallmouths, cats, and northern pike to keep a guy happy. When the wind isn’t blowing, a journey over to the area in the mouth of the Cheyenne is first-class, big water adventure.
If you head to this big water from Spring Creek in a small boat, think about carrying minimal provisions for an overnight stay on the west bank. Wind could kill you.
We can talk about Black Hills trout spots, but one stands out in my opinion. I’m talking about the Deerfield Reservoir, about 25 miles west of Rapid City.
Opposite the dam on the southwest corner of the Deerfield Reservoir, we find a creek that empties into the main body of water and a secondary road runs near its bank. I’ve had the best fly-rod fishing of my life along this narrow creek.
I can give you two important tips: Use a nymph like a wooly bugger, and keep low so the fish can’t see you. In this small stretch, I’ve caught rainbows, browns, and brookies.
Next week, I’ll venture into uncharted territory when I discuss our GF&P commissioners.