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You may have visited South Dakota before, and it’s likely that one major reason you did so was to visit Mount Rushmore. This is certainly a sight that every American should experience at least once in their life, but it’s not all the state has to offer. Among the tumbling green hills, rolling plains, and awe-inspiring buttes, you’ll also find an angler’s playland. If you’re headed to the great state of SD, grab your fly rod on the way out the door because there are some waters you just won’t want to miss once you get there.
The Black Hills of western South Dakota are where you’ll find most of the waters in the state that are capable of sustaining wild trout populations. The state engages in hefty stocking throughout the counties in this area, making them a hotbed of classic trout fly fishing. The Black Hills alone are home to 375 miles of trout streams, two-thirds of which contain all wild fish. Try out one of these popular and productive waterways.
You wouldn’t think an urban area would be a mecca of trout stream fishing, but indeed, in South Dakota, that is the case. This 86-mile long tributary of the Cheyenne River runs through the Black Hills National Forest, flowing east right through Rapid City. Surprisingly, the creek right in town can yield large specimens.
Other parts of the city that are productive for trout action include the waters in Canyon Lake Park, the dam above Central States Fairgrounds, and the waters along Founders Park.
This Black Hills beauty is one of the most visually stunning fisheries in the area, and is home to one of the only self-sustaining rainbow populations in the hills. There are also browns and brookies here. Spearfish is quite sizable as creeks go, with an average width of about 29 feet, and because it freezes from the bottom up, there’s no bad time of year to fish there. Aside from the excellent fly fishing in Spearfish Creek, it’s tough to resist being surrounded by the breathtaking canyon walls and spruce tree forests.
This little creek feeds into and out of Sheridan Lake, and although it was badly affected by the droughts in the early 2000s, the area below the lake has recovered and is home to some fabulous hatches. The creek also hosts a wide variety of invertebrates which keep the trout well fed and healthy.
In the southern hills, you’ll find this creek flowing through Custer State Park. The horse camp is a good fishing hole, as well as The Narrows – this area is extremely scenic but requires a bit of a hike to access. There is a walk-in area between Grace Coolidge Campground and Center Lake. These waters hold rainbows, browns, and brookies.
This tributary of the Deerfield Reservoir features great brookie fishing both above and below the lake. Above, you’ll also find a naturally reproducing rainbow population. The fishery is gated, and features a parking lot and well-marked access.
This lake, created by the Pactola Dam, sits about 15 miles west of Rapid City and yields rainbows, cutthroats, and wild browns. These waters are known for their record-sized trout, particularly below the spillway. There are plenty of facilities – a marina, boat launches, trails, and an 88-site campground.
South Dakota features year-round fishing, and particularly in the Black Hills, fly fishermen will find that there is always action somewhere.
September through November are particularly fruitful for fly fishing throughout the Black Hills creeks, and in autumn you can hit Rapid creek above the Pactola Reservoir for some large browns. Try to maintain a low-profile during this time, as fall trout are seasoned in the game and far more easily spooked than freshly stocked spring trout.
You’ll want your standard set of gear – waders, boots, polarized sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, insect repellant, lip balm, your accessories like nippers for cutting line and knots, and forceps for removing hooks. You might want to consider fleece waders in the winter months as the water can run quite cold.
Local experts recommend and 8.5-foot rod in 4 weight, with a 6X tippet, and flies that match size as closely as possible.
There are fantastic hatches from about April through September. These include baetis, caddis, pale morning duns, tricos, little yellow stoneflies, and midges (year-round). Terrestrials are also effective here – beetles, ants, and hoppers are handy to have on-hand from mid- to late summer. Scuds and shrimp can also be productive – scuds in olive or tan with an egg sac, and white or tan shrimp in sizes 12-18 are the most useful.
People age 16 and over are required to have a South Dakota fishing license. For residents the cost is $28 for an annual or $8 for a one-day. Non-residents can purchase an annual license for $67, a three-day for $37, or a one-day for $16. Seniors age 65 and up may purchase a fishing license for $12.
The daily trout limit in South Dakota is five fish per day, and in the Black Hills Trout Management Area only one of those may be 14 inches or longer. There are also a number of catch-and-release areas throughout the state, so be sure to consult the regulations and make sure you’re adhering to the law for the area you plan to fish.
Whether you thrive on nymphing in early spring, or want to brave the icy creeks which resist freezing up in winter due to their swift flow, South Dakota has a variety of options to offer to the enthusiastic fly fisherman. A trip to the Black Hills may be just the thing to get away from the bustle of daily life and experience an invigorating yet relaxing fly fishing vacation.