Healthy gamefish populations trending upward. A wealth of quality, easy-access lakes. Plan now to cash in on South Dakota’s angling heydays.
Loads of willing shallow-water walleyes. Chunky, hard-fighting smallmouth bass. Freshwater shrimp-fattened jumbo perch. All of these prized gamefish and more await open-water anglers in South Dakota’s eastern Glacial Lakes region. If you’ve never been, it’s time to start planning!
Building, managing and otherwise maintaining a stellar fishery is hard work for any state, but the current stand-out news for both South Dakota residents and nonresidents alike is that public access to the hottest lakes has never been better. In addition to those “glamour” gamefish mentioned above, don’t forget that the state offers up nearly 30 species of fish to satisfy most any angling taste.
“The ice fishing is the ‘South Dakota gold,’ it’s where everybody goes to catch jumbo perch through the ice,” says Brian Bashore, 41, a veteran South Dakota tournament angler and owner of Sioux Falls-based The Walleye Guys guide service. “I’d put the South Dakota eastern Glacial Lakes region in the top three ice fishing spots in the nation, right there with Devil’s Lake in North Dakota, and Lake Of The Woods in Minnesota/Canada.”
But what about right now? Bashore says open-water angling in the Glacial Lakes region can be just as amazing, with dozens of great lakes to choose from and virtually all of them offering up what most anglers would consider “easy” fishing. Even better? The fishing is currently really good. Recent state studies have found that local baitfish populations have been growing steadily over the past few years, setting up prime conditions for fantastic fishing right now—and on into the forseeable future. Couple that good news with strong gamefish populations and the state’s recent decision to restore full public access to 25 prime glacial lakes in eastern South Dakota, and you have the recipe for your next great fishing adventure.
Are there more reasons than plentiful fish and greatly increased public access to making the eastern Glacial Lakes region so stand-out special? Perhaps the most prominent, Bashore said, is fish accessibility, especially when it comes to walleyes, one of the region’s most popular gamefish. “Many of the glacial lakes are relatively shallow, with some just 10 to 15 feet deep, and that means you can catch walleyes in very shallow water all year. So you’re basically using bass fishing tactics for walleyes, which really simplifies things for many anglers,” Bashore explained. “Early in the spring, you can run shallow crankbaits or soft-plastic swimbaits over the tops of the emerging vegetation. As the season progresses, you’re fishing those weed edges and pockets. So, locating the fish typically isn’t a problem, and that leads to consistent success for anglers of all skill levels. In July and August, some of those fish will slide out a bit deeper, but in this region, you can catch them shallow all year, which is nice.”
Another bonus? Abundant forage fish that build healthy gamefish. Bashore says to expect glacial lake walleyes to average in the 18- to 20-inch range with good opportunities for 22- to 24-inch fish. A short list of Bashore’s favorite glacial lakes include Lake Thompson, Dry Lake No. 2, Lake Sinai, Lake Poinsett, and Casey’s Slough, all of which have proven to produce impressive walleye sizes and numbers. But with so many prime public waters available in the region, it can be just as fun to investigate the many options and find your own secret honeyhole. This region rewards anglers who yearn to explore.Smart walleye anglers pay attention to the wind and weather. When it’s blowing, Bashore advises heading to the windblown side of the lake and concentrating your fishing efforts on the weedlines there. To help him plan his day on the water, Bashore depends on the accurate wind and weather forecasts found in the free ScoutLook Fishing app. “It’s all I use for weather reports these days,” he says.
For fishing walleye in and around the local weeds, Bashore loads his spinning rigs with 8-pound line and uses a variety of crankbaits that include the Berkley Flicker Shad and Rapala Shad Rap, and plenty of soft-plastic swimbaits that include the Northland Mimic Minnow. He says you can’t go wrong with perch-colored lures; more favorites include pink, red and purple.
Bashore says the effectiveness of pink- and red-hued lures, which are also favorites on Devil’s Lake, is likely linked to the abundant freshwater shrimp found in that popular lake and South Dakota’s eastern glacial lakes. They’re an important food source for the local perch that use the high-protein crustaceans to quickly put on serious girth and length. The results are stunning, with some fish resembling mini footballs. There might not be another place in the nation that produces more trophy-size perch in the 12- to 15-inch range—true jumbos!While most perch are landed through the ice, open-water anglers get their fair share as well. Bashore advises open-water anglers to use 4- to 6-pound spinning rigs and crawler-tipped jigs to seek out local jumbos along weed edges. He also encourages anglers to hang near a specific lake’s deeper pockets.
Expect to catch smallmouth bass in many of the same locations and with many of the same lures and tactics that you will use for walleyes. Anglers looking specifically for smallmouths will want to target areas with “weeds and trees,” Bashore says, and should expect to tangle with good numbers of healthy bass in the 18- to 20-inch range. Those are solid bronzebacks most anywhere.
Walleye and bass fishermen will hook their share of South Dakota northern pike, but dedicated pike anglers will be thrilled with the fish-heavy, shallow-water opportunities in the glacial region. Position yourself within the abundant weedbeds and near weedlines, and throw a variety of proven pike lures including smaller Grandma and similar jerkbaits, large Mepps muskie spinners, and spinnerbaits. You should find plenty of toothy northerns. Dedicated pike chasers should boat fish that stretch into the high 30s, and the real possibility exists for 40-inch-plus trophies.“What makes South Dakota fishing so special is the diversity,” Bashore says. “You can use bass fishing techniques for walleyes in the Glacial Lakes region, or head to the Missouri River and use more-traditional bottom-bouncing and trolling techniques to boat your fish. You have a variety of options to fish to your strengths, with lots of different scenery.
“The Glacial Lakes region features relatively flat terrain with lakes that you’d describe as prairie potholes, and it’s full of ducks, geese, and pheasants, with lakes that feature clean, clear water, and lots of grassy and rocky structure,” Bashore continued. “Along the Missouri River, you have the bluff country, with pheasants cackling and turkeys gobbling, and you’ll likely see mule deer and whitetails up on the banks, but you might not see another boat for miles. You can always get away from the crowds on the Missouri.”
When it comes to South Dakota angling, the good times are now, and open-water anglers everywhere need to know it. If you’re up for an unforgettable angling adventure in some unique habitat, the Mount Rushmore State and its access-friendly and fertile Glacial Lakes region are ready to deliver.
Planning Your Trip
For a complete digital guide to South Dakota Public Fishing Access & fishing reports, to purchase a fishing license, and to request a South Dakota Fishing Handbook, state Vacation Guide and Highway Map and more, click here.
To access boating regulations, get info on fishing on state Indian Reservations, read valuable travel tips, learn about local restaurants and lodging, and visit the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks website, click here.