The Beauty of the Black Hills: Water for Every Type of Angler

Last updated on September 5th, 2020

Fishing the Pactola Reservoir in the Black Hills, South Dakaota

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Pactola Reservoir

The Black Hills in South Dakota is the gateway to the West. In a matter of 40 miles, South Dakota turns from flat farmland into a gorgeous terrain filled with 7,000-foot peaks and crystal clear streams. This 1.2 million-acre expanse provides space for all sorts of outdoor activities ranging from mountain biking to fishing. While the climate in the Hills is arid and water isn’t always easy to find, there are numerous lakes and streams filled with fish waiting to be caught.

The beauty of fishing the Hills is they have water for every type of angler. There are lakes filled with bass and walleye that provide a traditional spin angler a chance to spend a day on the boat. Fly anglers who are in search of trout in crystal clear streams even have a chance to get their fix. When you go to visit, it’s a good idea to pack your vehicle with a wide variety of rods, reels and tackle.

Lakes to Fish in the Hills

Stockade Lake

For the anglers in search of bass, pike and panfish, there are several lakes to choose from. Stockade Lake in Custer State Park is a great option. The lake was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the early 1930s. There is a dam on the back of the lake that flows into French Creek.

While it’s not an extremely large lake, there are plenty of locations for fish to congregate. It’s the least pressured lake within Custer State Park since there is no resort located directly on it. It’s a great lake to try your hand at bass fishing out of a kayak or canoe. You won’t need extremely heavy tackle, but it’s not bad to bring a medium-sized rod. Also, jigs and topwater for the bass will work and small spinners will catch trout.

Angostura Lake

Another lake to try is Angostura Lake near Hot Springs. Hot Springs is a few miles south of Custer State Park and is a large reservoir that holds bass, walleye, pike and panfish. It’s also a great lake to shore fish. There are over 36 miles of shore along the lake with numerous locations to fish. Go ahead and use a jig with a minnow to help you find those walleye and crappie. The bass will hit topwater frogs as well as jigs during the spawn. Be sure to use a medium-heavy rod to help you get through the vegetation or any snags that you find.

Tisdale Lake

Tisdale Lake near Ellsworth is one of the other great lakes to fish in the Hills. It’s a 34-acre lake that is home to bass, panfish and even some walleye. Similar to Angostura, go ahead and throw a jig with a minnow and see what is going to bite. Spring is a great time to try this lake, but pay attention to the water temperatures. As soon as they reach the low 50’s you’ll start to receive much more action.

Pactola Reservoir

The further you drive north in the Hills, the more beautiful they become. Sitting a few miles from Hill City is a 780-acre lake with all the fish a person desires. It’s one of the largest bodies of water in South Dakota and is wonderful to fish at all times of the year. There are 25-pound lake trout sitting in the depths along with walleye and bass.

This unique fishery is a must for everyone interested in fishing in the Hills. For some of the smaller trout, go ahead and use the traditional Mepps Spinners and Panther Martin’s. If you’re searching for the monster Laker’s, you’ll need to get yourself near the bottom of the 170 feet. Be sure you have a large spooled reel with plenty of weight to get to the bottom. It’s also a great lake to ice fish if you’re after trout through the ice.

River Fishing in the Hills

Fly fishing Spearfish Creek in the Black Hills

Spearfish Creek

Trout are the main species sought after in the rivers that roam throughout the Black Hills. There is fishable water on the south side near Hot Springs all the way up to Spearfish. Many people will do their best to fly fish in these waters. The beauty of the Black Hills is that they have water for the most experienced fly angler and great options for those who are trying to learn. You’ll never need a rod that’s heavier than a 6-weight if you’re targeting trout on the fly. If you are in search of bass or pike, an 8-weight will do fine.

Spearfish Creek

The creek that every angler in search of trout should try in the Black Hills is Spearfish Creek. For one, you’ll have a hard time finding a stream as beautiful as Spearfish anywhere in the United States. It starts north of the town of Spearfish and flows its way into Spearfish Canyon. The other great thing about Spearfish is that it’s home to one of the few populations of wild trout in the Black Hills.

The wild Rainbow Trout are a blast to target. There are numerous access points throughout the canyon for you to find and start your journey. Wear a pair of nice wading sandals and make your way through the stream.

Many parts of Spearfish Creek are only a few inches deep, but this means that the majority of the fish are holding in the deeper portions. The presentation is key. Small Pheasant Tail nymphs (size 10-16) and tiny Caddis Dry Flies (size 16-20) will do great. Toss it into the rapids and let it flow into some of the pockets. If you’re spin fishing, a small spinner is great. Fish it slow through the pools and waits for the strike.

French Creek

Another creek that holds quite a few fish is French Creek. It flows all throughout the southern hills and has a nice mix of warm water and cold-water fish. While it is spring-fed, the later in the summer it goes, the less the water flows. As a result, the fish will find the deepest parts of the water possible. There is a nice access point off of the backside of Stockade Lake as well as off of the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. This creek is best explored on foot so be prepared to have to work for the fish.

A 3 or 4-weight fly rod along with a small Woolly Bugger will entice the fish to bite. The water is a bit darker so black flies are going to work great. You’ll find anything from Rainbow Trout to sizable Creek Chub. The closer you are to the lakes, the more warm water fish will be present. They don’t venture too far down into the creek so if you want a chance at a wide variety of fish, stay close to the lakes.

Rapid Creek

Brown trout fly fishing in the Black Hills, South Dakota

Brown Trout

The final creek that every angler should visit in the Black Hills is Rapid Creek. Rapid provides some of the most unique fishing opportunities in the Black Hills. Fish are able to be caught in the middle of Rapid City. Be aware of the tubers and kayakers, but the town is one of the least pressured areas because most people think it’s not worth their time.

Pay attention to the water levels. In recent years, the snowmelt has been a bit extreme so the river was quite full the entire summer. However, when water levels are fishable, go ahead and use a 4 or 5-weight. In the spring, nymphs and Woolly Buggers will find the fish that are deep and looking for larger bait. As the summer wears on, the dry fly fishing improves.

Small Caddis Flies, as well as Terrestrials, come into play as the temperatures warm. The Brown and Rainbow trout are wonderful targets and they’re always hungry. Rapid Creek flows out of Pactola Reservoir and all the way through Rapid City. There are numerous access points in between, but it also does flow through a few towns so beware of fishing private property. The water is usually a bit darker, so darker flies do the trick.

Grace Coolidge Creek

Grace Coolidge flows right along the historic State Game Lodge in Custer State Park and is a great place for families to fish. There is a walk-in area across from the Grace Coolidge Campground that follows the creek and has bridge crossings that allow complete access. Along the way, there are five man-made pools that hold fish. Large trout sit in the bottom of these and can be caught, but it’s best to target them early morning or at dusk.

If you are fly fishing, you’ll need no more than a 4-weight rod. Bring along your entire fly box and don’t be afraid to try a few things. The Rainbow and Brown trout are pressured, but that doesn’t mean they won’t bite. Dry flies in the morning and evening are great and streamers deep into the pools will catch fish. For the traditional anglers, a slow Panther Martin or Mepps Spinner is going to catch fish.

More Than Fishing in the Black Hills

The Black Hills is a must-visit for everyone. On top of the wonderful fishing, there are plenty of places to hike, eat and visit. If the fish aren’t biting, go ahead and visit Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore and the historic lodges in Custer State Park. It’s a trip you won’t forget!

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About Daniel Mooers

Daniel is an avid outdoorsman who is passionate about fishing and, in particular, fly fishing. He has fished some of the best waters in over a dozen locations in Canada and the U.S. including British Columbia, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. He has also worked as a fly fishing guide and written about fishing for several news outlets. When not fishing he likes backpacking through northern Minnesota.

2 thoughts on “The Beauty of the Black Hills: Water for Every Type of Angler

  1. Ricky Reed

    I’ve been wanting to take a trip out to the Dakotas for a long time and do some sight-seeing. After reading about all these great fishing holes, I think I may do a little sight-seeing and a lot of fishing. Custer Park seems like a good place to start too with Grace Coolidge Creek and the historic lodges.

    1. Dorado

      Hey Ricky, I don’t think you can go wrong doing anything outdoors in the Black Hills/Dakotas. Of course, a fly rod in hand wouldn’t hurt.

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