Best Fishing Locations in South Dakota

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Are you looking for the best fishing locations in South Dakota? We’ve got them right here. South Dakota is a sparsely populated state in the Midwestern region of the U.S. Here you’ll find rolling prairies extending to the horizon before finally giving way to the dramatic Black Hills National Forests.

If you take time out to visit the Black Hills, you’ll find two historical monuments carved deep into the towering granite peaks; Mt. Rushmore’s carving depicting four revered former U.S. presidents, and the Crazy Horse Memorial that was made in tribute to the fabled Native American tribal leader.

A Little Bit about South Dakota

The Mount Rushmore State is also a great fishing vacation destination. Come here during the summer months and relax with the sun on your face, or wrap up against the cold in winter and experience the thrill of pulling a sparkling treasure from a hole in the ice. In South Dakota, almost 98% of the state’s waters are open for fishing and publicly accessible.

There are creeks, lakes, and rivers, not to mention the state’s 56 state parks and recreation areas to choose from. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a pro angler, a weekend leisure fisherman, or a newbie who doesn’t know the difference between smallmouth bass and fish fingers, The Mount Rushmore State offers year-round fishing opportunities for everyone. Whatever your pleasure, a fishing vacation in South Dakota will surely have you hooked!

Fish Species in South Dakota

South Dakota’s designated state fish is the walleye. But there’s plenty more to cast a line for, including:

  • Crappie
  • Bluegill
  • Trout
  • Catfish
  • Chinook salmon
  • Largemouth bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern pike
  • Paddlefish
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Redear
  • Sauger
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Walleye
  • White bass
  • Yellow perch

Before you grab your gear and head off on your fishing trip, you’ll need to get yourself a license.

Licenses

A valid fishing license is required to fish legally in South Dakota if you’re aged 16 or older. The state offers annual, one-day, and three-day licenses. If you’re taking your family, including your spouse and kids under 16 years of age, you can buy a family fishing license, which works out cheaper.

In South Dakota, you can buy a fishing license online from the South Dakota Fish Game & Parks website at this link.

If you prefer, you can purchase a license from one of over 400 license agents at retail stores and County Treasurer offices right across the state.

10 Best Fishing Locations in South Dakota

The relaxed, laid-back vibe and friendly folk of South Dakota will soon have you chilling-out with your rod, a chair, and a cooler for some excellent shore-fishing or taking to the water in search of bigger prey in the deeper water.

The best fishing locations in South Dakota are the perfect place to do exactly that! Who knows, you might even land a trophy specimen!

1. Iron Creek Lake

This is one of the best fishing locations in South Dakota, hands down. The 24-acre Iron Creek Lake is located (here) around ten miles to the south of the town of Spearfish. There’s a fishing pier, excellent shore access, a restroom, and a campground.

The primary fish species that you’ll find in the lake are rainbow trout, which are stocked regularly. Although you can use kayaks and canoes on the lake, this is a no-wake body of water and motorboats aren’t permitted.

Iron Creek Lake is a perfect spot to spend a summer afternoon, winding down and soaking up the pretty scenery while you’re waiting for a bite.

2. Curlew Lake

Curlew Lake is located (here) in Meade County, eight miles to the north of New Underwood.

Fish species you’ll find in the lake include:

  • Walleye
  • Largemouth bass
  • Crappie
  • Bluegill
  • Yellow perch
  • Black bullhead
  • Northern pike
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Channel catfish
  • Common carp

Fishing access at 126-acre Curlew Lake is good for boat and shore anglers alike.

The lake has a gravel road leading to a boat ramp with a dock. You can fish from a kayak, canoe, or motorboat. Check out the dock and other lakeside structure that provides a great habitat for bass.

Shore access is excellent with trails around much of the lake, including the dam face. Be aware that when conditions are wet, trails around the lake can be soft and slippery. Typically, emergent and submerged vegetation are sparse around the lake, offering shore anglers ample opportunity to find a quiet spot to cast a line.

3. Horsethief Lake

Here is another great pick for the best fishing locations in South Dakota. Horsethief Lake is situated (here) close to Keystone in Pennington County. The lake is roughly two miles to the northwest of historic Mount Rushmore and is the closest lake to the great monument. Be sure to take time out to visit the site, and don’t forget your camera!

A few years ago, the lake was dredged to clear out excessive sediment, improving water quality and restoring the depth.

Fish species in the lake include:

  • Brown trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Perch
  • Walleye
  • Crappie

Horsethief Lake is especially popular for ice-fishing during the winter but is also well worth a visit year-round for the excellent trout fishing that’s on offer here. The lake is easily accessible by car and can be fished from the shore and on the water. There’s also an ADA accessible fishing pier.

Fly fishing is best during September, October, and November. Overcast days are perfect for trout fishing, but mornings and evenings always provide ideal conditions thanks to low light levels and increased insect activity.

If you want to extend your visit to this spectacularly scenic location and productive fishery, check out the nearby campsite.

4. Angostura Recreation Area

Angostura Recreation Area (here) is located ten miles to the east of Hot Springs. This water-lovers’ paradise is a favorite destination for water sports enthusiasts and is brilliant for swimming, boating, and, of course, fishing.

The 4,700-acre reservoir boasts a fishing pier, a marina, and a boat ramp. It’s a healthy fishery that’s home to several popular game fish species, including:

  • Walleye
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Crappie
  • Northern pike
  • Largemouth bass
  • Perch
  • Bluegill

The most popular target here is walleye. When high water levels flood the surrounding shrubs, trees, and bushes along the shoreline, perch, shad, and panfish hide amid the cover, accompanied by hunting walleye.

Try trolling with bottom bouncers or crankbaits, or pitch jigs and crankbaits as close to the brush as you can. You’ll find walleye lurking amid flooded brush at depths of 12 feet throughout the summer months. When water levels drop, and the shoreline brush is exposed, baitfish become concentrated in dense shoals with no hiding places. That’s a great time to go after walleye!

You’re sure to want to spend more time at this beautiful location, so check out the nearby campground and book your spot.

5. Pactola Lake

Pactola Lake (here) is located 11 miles to the north of Hill City. It’s famous for the fabled town of the same name that’s reputedly submerged beneath the lake’s deep waters. Pactola is an 800-acre reservoir; the largest and deepest in South Dakota, created by the construction of the Pactola Dam.

The lake is a gloriously scenic area that’s located deep in the Black Hills. If there’s a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon than fishing for trout on the deep blue water of this idyllic spot, we haven’t found it yet! Fish species that are found in the lake include:

  • Rainbow trout
  • Brown trout
  • Lake trout
  • Largemouth bass
  • Black crappie

Record-breaking lake trout are caught at Pactola every year, from the water and spots accessible from the 14-mile shoreline. The lake offers plenty of facilities for the visiting angler, including a full-service marina, gasoline and oil, food service, showers, and laundry.

There’s camping, picnic areas, a swim beach, and a paved accessible hiking trail, as well as some exceptional fly-fishing below the spillway. For more information about the dam and management of the surrounding forest, check out the National Forest Visitor Center on the southern side of the dam.

6. Spearfish Canyon (Spearfish Creek)

Spearfish Canyon is located close to the town of Spearfish (here). Beautiful Spearfish Canyon is a must-fish location for all those who love the great outdoors. There is a great reason why Spearfish Canyon is named as one of the best fishing locations in South Dakota.

Spearfish Creek is the second-largest stream in the Black Hills, supplying some of the best and most diverse fishing in the area. In the town of Spearfish, you can fish for wild brown trout. In the canyon, close to the confluence with Squaw Creek, you can catch wild rainbow trout and brown trout. Move upstream from Cheyenne Crossing, and you’ll find numerous brook trout streams scattered among the limestone cliffs.

There are a few freshwater streams and lakes nearby that are home to walleye and largemouth bass, as well as trout.

The best time to fish the creeks and streams is in the morning and evening. Note that many of the access points require hiking to get to, and some wilder parts of the creek are strewn with boulders, making the going strenuous at times.

Experienced anglers will relish the challenge of the varying conditions and types of fishing that the creek demands; you’ll find rapids, pool, and lazy ponds, all offering a different experience.

If you want to stay awhile and enjoy the scenery as well as the fishing, there are several nice campgrounds nearby.

7. Lake Vermillion Recreation Area

Lake Vermillion State Recreation Area is located (here) in McCook County, close to the town of Canistota. The park is open all year-round for recreational activities, including swimming, hiking, boating, and camping, as well as some great fishing action on Lake Vermillion.

The 513-acre lake contains a nice variety of game fish, including:

  • Bluegill
  • Channel catfish
  • Largemouth bass
  • Northern pike
  • Walleye
  • White crappie
  • Yellow bullhead
  • Yellow perch

There’s a handicap accessible fishing dock, a boat ramp, and a fish cleaning station where you can process your catch ready for the pan. When you’re done fishing for the day, chill out on the beach, take a tip in the lake’s refreshing, clear waters, or maybe play a game of sand volleyball to work up an appetite for your fish supper!

You can fish from the easily accessible shoreline or rent a kayak or canoe and take to the water if you prefer.

8. Belle Fourche Reservoir

Belle Fourche Reservoir is located (here) on Owl Creek, roughly eight miles to the east of the town of Belle Fourche. The reservoir is also known as Orman Dam and was created in 1911 as a reservoir for supplying agricultural needs to the immediate area. Today, the 8,000-acre body of water is a favorite leisure boating, swimming, picnicking, and fishing getaway spot. There’s also good camping nearby.

You can fish from the water or the easily accessible 58-mile shoreline around the lake. Fish species you’ll find here include:

  • Yellow perch
  • Channel catfish
  • Black crappie
  • Channel catfish
  • Smallmouth bass
  • White bass
  • Tiger muskellunge

In winter, the ice-fishing here is not to be missed and makes a great family day out.

9. Grace Coolidge Creek

Grace Coolidge Creek is close to the town of Custer (here). Access to the creek is by a short, non-strenuous hike that’s well worth the effort. Once you’ve found your spot, sit back and enjoy a peaceful day’s fishing surrounded by the serenity of the forest.

Along the trail, you’ll encounter around 16 creek crossings that are aided by fallen trees or carefully placed rocks when the water is low. The creek contains six low-head dams, where you’ll find excellent trout fishing in several regularly stocked pools.

Upstream of Center Lake, you’ll find some outstanding brook trout fishing, especially if you’re after numbers. Below Center Lake at the walk-in fishing area, you’ll find rainbow trout that can easily reach 18 inches. Mid to late summer sees reduced water flow, and the fishing below Center Lake can suffer for it, but earlier in the year, the action is excellent.

Try using hair caddis patterns in for success in any of the park’s streams. If nothing is happening at the surface, try using pheasant tail nymphs or hare’s ears. In late summer, hoppers will get you some fast action.

10. Lewis and Clark Recreation Area

Lewis and Clark Recreation Area is located six miles to the west of the town of Yankton (here).

This 31,000-acre body of water is perfect for any form of water-based activity, including boating, sailing, swimming, and fishing too. There’s a fully serviced marina, a restaurant, and a campground for tents and RVs for those wanting to extend their stay.

Fishing from a boat can be more effective than shore-fishing here, and the lake has no horsepower restrictions. There are boat ramps and plenty of parking space for vehicles and trailers. The recreation area also has a boat rental facility, docks, a fish cleaning station, a fishing pier, and easy shore access.

The reservoir straddles South Dakota and Nebraska borders, and its productive waters provide some of the best fishing in either state. Fish species in the lake include:

  • Walleye
  • Sauger
  • Saugeye (a walleye-sauger hybrid)
  • Flathead catfish
  • Channel catfish
  • Largemouth bass
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Crappie
  • Northern pike
  • White bass
  • Bluegill

Walleye and sauger fishing peaks in spring when the fish move to sandy flats and rocky reefs close to shallow water. Live minnows are the most effective bait, along with jigs and diving crankbaits tipped with bright plastic lures.

Best Bass Spots

If you’re after bass, fish the lake in the early summer around the weed beds for largemouths. Smallmouth bass like to hang out around reefs, channels, drop-offs, and other rocky structures. Lures including spinners, crankbaits, jigs, and soft plastics can all do the job for snagging bass.

The whiskered wonders of the lake are found in deep water from spring right through fall. However, some of the best catfishing takes place on the shallow flats during warm summer nights. Catfish will strike at natural baits such as cut bait, live shad, chicken livers, or bluegills.

Fishing Tips for Beginners

Are you a beginner? Don’t sweat the small stuff. We have listed twelve tips from the experts on how to get started, build confidence, and practice what really counts.

1. Learn How to Cast

Here’s the first thing you need to know. Learn how to cast a spinning rod and bait caster correctly–most of the time you’ll have to bring the bait in a few feet of the strike area where adverse casting outcomes in missed chances and lost lures as well.

Do not jerk when using plastic baits such as worms, Senkos or craws-I see this happening all the time, beginning anglers have difficulty distinguishing between a bite and a snag resulting in the bait being moved from the strike zone.

Holding the rod steady with a little friction is the best way to determine a bite. Usually bass holds on to the bait for a few seconds when using plastics–enough time to find out if it’s a fish or a snag.

2. Use Cheap Lures to Catch a Fish

Never use lures or rigs that you are scared of losing while fishing to maximize achievement. If you’re fishing baits, you’re worried about losing; you’re never going to endanger them, where the fish reside, and where they can work for you. In the correct fields, cheap lures operate better than costly baits fished in “secure regions.” 

3. Confidence is Key

Here is one of the best tips for beginners. You should always trust 200 percent in what your throwing is; trust is essential to assisting someone fishes a fresh bait effectively. 

4. Learn about Your Lures

 It will take a while to get the hang of it and build trust in it by using a fresh lure. Going fishing with just that lure is an excellent way to do this. This forces you to use the bait and learn how to capture fish.

5. Use a Fishing Kayak

Try kayaking fishing for new fishers who want to go out on the water but don’t have a ship. Kayaks are inexpensive, simple to transport, lightweight. 

6. Be Prepared for Anything

When you go fishing, the most important tip I can offer to anyone is to be ready for anything. You never understand what the fish will do. . The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to be a good fisherman. 

7. Know the Difference Between Saltwater and Freshwater

The distinctions between freshwater fishing and saltwater fishing are therefore quite evident to most, but there are some science points to consider about the simple comparison of “Lake vs. Ocean.” Freshwater fishing occurs when a fisherman fishes in a body of water with a salinity of less than 0.05%. It’s distinct from fishing for saltwater because the fish species are entirely distinct. 

One thing to keep in mind is that there will be creel restrictions on lakes, such as ponds, rivers, and all other water bodies. A creel limit is the quantity of fish you are permitted to remove from the lake per day and the size of the fish. If you’re like me and live inland, you don’t always have the chance to fish with salt water, but the alternative can be just as fun and rewarding! 

8. Pick up Some Freshwater Fishing Tips

 You’ll want to get a topographical map of that body of water when you fish in a freshwater lake or pond. This will let you understand what and where the lake or pond’s distinct depths are. Besides, it can also demonstrate you sunken human-made fish crib sites. 

Bait Matters! Live bait is the best kind of bait! Worms, minnows, wax worms, and smooth shell are good ways to get started. You’re going to want to use live bait for the fish species you’re attempting to capture. Some other live bait kinds that are also used are leeches and frogs or anything else you believe the fish is going to go for! Artificial bait also operates, with spinners and crankbaits being the typical choices. 

9. Don’t Forget to Check the Water’s Temperature

Most species of freshwater fish have particular water temperatures and climate they prefer. The warmer it gets, the deeper you’re going to have to fish. Fish tend to like cold temperatures, and as the outside temperature increases, they migrate to deeper, more chilled water. Fish will come to feed more shallow water during dusk and dawn. You’re going to want to investigate the particular fish you’re attempting to catch to find out the best times and depths of water to snag a catch.

Apart from clearly needing a rod and reel, a tackle box, needle-nose pliers, a net, and maybe an ice chest would be other items that you will ultimately need. A good couple of polarized sunglasses will not only block the sun’s UV rays and the glare of the sun on the water. It will also assist you to see the fish a little better in the water. 

10. Practice Smart Safety Tips

You know how the old saying goes – safety first!  If you’re wading in a river, pond, or lake, make sure you’re using a wader belt to avoid rushing water into your waders. Take a life jacket when on a ship. Having handy and essential by law in most locations is always great. Make sure to drink water and frequently reapply sunscreen to exposed skin.

11. Remember These Lake Fishing Tips 

Like humans, fish like particular temperatures and usually hang around lake regions that are comfortable to discover. In general, places where water enters or drains from a lake, will be much cooler and more favorable for fishing — baitfish and the gigantic fish that consume them like to hang around these fields.

Find Sunken Junk and Treasures 

Fish like hanging around constructions that make them feel secure and give them the chance to hang other fish. Structures like sunken trees, branches, and man-made fish habitats are an excellent fishing spot. It’s a secure place, or so they believe like in saltwater coral. 

The Wind is On Your Side

You can expect the baitfish to be pushed closer to the coast on days with a powerful wind, which means that the large fish will come nearer to the coast to feed. Watch and follow the drift lines; they will lead to baitfish, leading to the large fish you’re looking for.

Scout for Weeds

There’s a lot of large fish like northern pike and largemouth bass stalking their prey from a beautiful, comfortable weed bed. Locate some weed beds in the lake where your fishing takes place and attempt to get your bait and/or lure to see if you can coax a biting fish. The best places are weed beds, which lead to deeper water and generate a broken line! The best fishing locations in South Dakota have a lot of weeds, so this tip helps a ton.

12. Stay Within Your Budget

Remember, hundreds of dollars don’t have to be spent on fishing equipment. It should be enjoyable, simple, and inexpensive to fish freshwater. Approximately 90% of the market tackle is intended to attract the fishermen, not the fish.

The Best Fishing Locations in South Dakota: Wrapping It Up

If you’re looking for somewhere to kick back and spend awhile contemplating gloriously wild scenery and wetting a line in peace and tranquility, it’s listed here. The best fishing locations in South Dakota are plentiful.

Between fishing excursions, take time out to visit some of the breathtaking natural wonders that the state has to offer. Better still, choose a tranquil, productive lake that’s close to the spectacular man-made carvings of Mt. Rushmore, or cross glittering creeks in wilderness country in search of fat, wild brook trout. Whatever your pleasure, whatever the time of year you visit, the Mount Rushmore State has something for you.

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