Fishing & Ice Fishing | Black Hills & Badlands - South Dakota

Fishing & Ice Fishing

Fishing season never closes

In South Dakota, the fishing season never closes!  Which makes the pursuit of trout in the streams and lakes of the Black Hills a year-round sport.  You can catch walleyes, northern pike, bluegills and crappies too-but trout top the list for Hills sportsmen.

Dedicated fly fishermen know that September, October and November provide some of the best fishing of the year.  Local fishermen say that the best trout streams in the Black Hills are Rapid, Castle, Spring and Spearfish Creeks.

It’s a fact that some of the finest brown trout fishing on Rapid Creek lies within the city limits of Rapid City. (Recently, biologists electro-shocked a 100-meter stretch of Rapid Creek right behind Baken Park Shopping Center.  They counted one 22-inch brown, three 20-inch browns, 28 other browns 14 inches or larger, and scores of smaller trout-all in 100 yards).

South Dakota Fishing never gets old with over 1,100 square miles of water that is ready for fishing. Spring Creek, both above and below Sheridan Lake, has some nice trout.  Upstream, there’s two miles of brand new habitat enhancement and downstream is a walk-in stretch, which has been yielding some lunker browns.

But for big autumn browns, try Rapid Creek above Lake Pactola.  In the autumn, trout seem to spend more time where creeks enter lakes, or where shallow and deep waters meet, such as rocky ledges.  There’s a walk-in trophy area just above Silver City.  The trout there are big and they’re smart…they’ve tangled with fishermen before.

Another excellent choice is French Creek in Custer State Park.  Here, amid herds of buffalo, you can fish near a modern highway, or for the more adventuresome, hike into the French Creek Wilderness.  French Creek is a necklace of pools and riffles.  It takes discipline to thoroughly fish each stretch, because the next pool upstream always looks supremely trouty.

For classic beauty in the outdoors, it’s hard to pass up Spearfish Canyon.  Fast-flowing Spearfish Creek has an excellent population of wild, brown trout, plus there’s the bonus of idyllic surroundings of spectacular canyon walls and spruce forests.

Castle Creek, a high-country tributary to Deerfield Reservoir, is the number one spot in the Black Hills to catch wild brook trout.  The creek is narrow and deep, through mountain meadows, and has some crystal-clear mirror-surfaced beaver ponds.

Wherever you go, autumn generally means low, clear water conditions and wary trout.  Approach streams softly, keeping a low profile to avoid spooking the fish.  Mornings and evenings provide the best fishing conditions because they coincide with insect activity and low light levels.  Overcast, rainy or snowy days are great for trout fishing.  Here are some more tips for catching them.

Whether resting or feeding, trout nearly always lie facing the current.  So approach from the rear, cast upstream, and retrieve your lure at the same speed as the current.  Trout spend more time in the fast-water riffles at the head or tail of a pool, than in the pool itself.  If you spot them rising in one area of a creek, they usually feed in that same location day after day.  One more tip: try all the nasty, gnarly spots that other fishermen avoid because they’re afraid of snagging their tackle.

You can buy a 1-day, a 3-day, or an all-year-fishing license according to your need.  Get one at any sporting goods shop, hardware store, country store, outfitter, and county courthouse, at a local office of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department or by using one of their Online Applications.

Here in the Black Hills, hard-bitten fly fishermen never put their rods away for the winter.  Fast-flowing Rapid Creek and spring-fed streams like Crow Creek, Spearfish Creek or Hanna Creek never do freeze up.  They are spring-fed creeks that don’t cool as quickly as freestone streams, so they remain open water.  And since trout are cold water fish anyhow, fly-fishing goes on through the winter.

With plenty of Winter Fun to be made, Ice Fishing  is a great way to spend your winter. Ice fishing starts as soon as the lakes are frozen over and the ice is safe. With many great lakes to ice fish on, the key is to find shallow water, where the fish are closer to the surface.

Some of the top trout-getting flies are Adams, Mosquitoes and Humpies.

Ice Fishing

Ice Fishing in South Dakota begins as soon as the lakes freeze over and the ice is safe. That’s usually about mid-December. Ice cover typically persists on Deerfield until early April.

The key to ice fishing in the Black Hills is to find shallow water, where the fish are closer to the surface. Local fishermen feel the best trout lakes are Sheridan, Deerfield, and Pactola.

Sheridan Lake, located just southwest of Rapid City, remains at a fairly stable level, and freezes solid in January. Sheridan offers the most variety for fishing because it holds not only trout, but also yellow perch and some northern pike. It is stocked once a year in the spring with large rainbow fingerlings to reach catchable size the following year.

Deerfield, northwest of Hill City, is a popular fishing lake every season of the year. The higher elevation of Deerfield (5,900 feet) keeps ice on the lake all winter long with fishing beginning around mid-December and ending as late as March. Fishermen especially relish “ice-off” when the winter ice begins to break up, making for very hot fishing. Deerfield holds rainbows, naturally reproducing brookies and every three years is stocked with splake (a char-brook trout hybrid).

Pactola Reservoir, just west of Rapid City, holds mostly rainbows, a few cutthroat trout, and some wild brown trout stock. Pactola usually freezes later in the season because of its large surface area and depths reaching 170 feet. The edges of Pactola and its narrow gulches freeze in time for great fishing.

Center, Legion and Stockade Lakes in Custer State Park are good for crappie and trout fishing. Both Stockade and Bismarck Lakes, near Custer, produce more lunkers in the wintertime than in any other season. That’s because as the season progresses, the fish move to more shallow waters.

Sylvan Lake, north of Custer, is a popular trout fishing lake. Head for Angostura Reservoir near Hot Springs to catch walleye, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, perch and largemouth bass.

Other ice fishing spots include Shadehill near Lemmon, Newell Lake, Orman Dam near Belle Fourche and Bear Butte Lake outside of Sturgis.

Fishing licenses are required at all public fishing areas. Non-resident license fees are $14.14 for a One Day permit; $34.14 for a Three Day license; or $61.14 for an Annual permit. All fishermen over the age of 16 must have a valid South Dakota fishing license in their possession. Non-residents under the age of 16 can fish free with a licensed parent. Licenses and information is available through the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

Check local regulations for daily limits and catch-and-release areas.

Fishing licenses, handbooks, the South Dakota Fishing Guides, Black Hills Fishing Guide and maps are available at local Dept. of Game, Fish and Parks offices, information centers throughout the state Game and Fish and many local stores that carry fishing gear.

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