Few places in the United States have more variety in their landscape than South Dakota. The Badlands, the Black Hills and the wide open prairies all provide different outdoor activities for those living in the Midwest. The states’ close proximity to large cities make it a popular long weekend getaway.
The unique fly fishing opportunities across South Dakota allow anglers to plan multiple stops as they begin their trip west. Each river and lake has its own quirks that intrigue anglers enough to keep coming back. Whether you’re after solitude or want to fish right outside of your hotel room, South Dakota is ideal.
1. Whitewood Creek for Fly Fishing in South Dakota
Not many places in the world have high quality trout streams flowing directly through the heart of a city. Whitewood Creek cuts right through Deadwood, a beautiful town in the midst of the Black Hills. Spend the morning fishing, climb out of the river for lunch and shopping and hop back in before the evening bite gets going. There are large brown trout all throughout the river.
Bring a 5-weight and rip a Wooly Bugger through the pools and see what happens. This area doesn’t require as technical of casts as many of the streams throughout South Dakota so you can be a bit more experimental. If the Wooly Bugger isn’t working and you see fish rising in the late summer, throw on your best hopper pattern. South Dakota anglers can’t wait for the hopper bite to begin.
Don’t believe that you can fish in the middle of Deadwood? Slide in here and fish for a few hours. Wet wading is always a good option mid-summer. Temperatures can get warm so the cold water is always refreshing.
2. Spearfish Creek a Hidden Gem
Spearfish Creek will challenge you. The rainbow trout population is one of the few self-sustaining of its kind in the Black Hills. The casting lanes can be fairly narrow, but the views are worth it. The tall walls of Spearfish Canyon are on all sides and the clear water are a sight to behold. Try not to be too intimidated by the fast flowing water. Shorter casts will make your life easier. A pool a ways up river may look tempting, but get as close as you can before throwing. The current will take your line downstream and kill any possibility of a natural looking drift.
Throw a heavy fly. Any sort of tungsten jig nymph with a dropper pattern trailing behind will help. Try to stay away from split shot rigs because your fly will likely get tangled and it’s harder to detect strikes when the water is moving as fast as it is. If you have the equipment, try Czech Nymphing. It’s the best way to fish all of the fast moving water, but it requires quite a bit of skill.
Either way, the creek is a must for anyone looking to fly fish South Dakota. Park here and get to wading.
3. Rapid Creek for Fly Fishing in SD
Rapid Creek is a blast. It’s the largest stream in the Black Hills so it provides all sorts of angling opportunities. It connects to Canyon Lake which is stocked with rainbow trout. The lake is a nice spot for people to learn how to cast a fly rod. Once ready, find where the stream flows out and begin casting.
Also, Rapid Creek flows through the heart of Rapid City. City parks, frisbee golf courses and bike trails all surround the stream. There are plenty of access points in the city. Be wary on weekends because the stream will fill up fast. You may run into people floating the river as well. Driving outside of Rapid City will provide more solitude. There is something, however, about catching a trout right in the middle of a bustling community. There will be brown and rainbow trout to be caught in town.
Pay close attention to the hatches on the stream. There are many flies that hatch throughout the year so it’s difficult to pinpoint a select few that will work. Trico and Caddis hatches are going to work. Also, there are stonefly hatches throughout the earlier parts of summer. Wander over to a few spider webs and see what types of flies are caught. Again, look out for those hoppers. As soon as those hit the water, it is game on!
Here is an easy access point in one of the many Rapid City parks:
4. Split Rock Creek
Don’t have time to get all the way to the Black Hills? Split Rock Creek is located in the middle of Palisades State Park. The park is only 20 minutes outside of Sioux Falls. While the creek doesn’t hold trout, there are a good amount of catfish, bass, walleye and pike to be caught.
The unique rock outcroppings always give you something to look at if the fish aren’t hungry. Throwing large minnow patterns or poppers will get those angry bass and pike to bite. Finding dead zones on the banks is necessary. The catfish will sit in those zones so don’t be shy with the large streamers.
They’ll latch on and give you one of the most fun fights you can have on a fly rod. Bring a 6 or 8 weight rod to Split Rock Creek. This is a great place to float your canoe. There are numerous access points throughout the park.
5. French Creek
French Creek runs through the famous Custer State Park. Located in the southern Black Hills, this creek has many different options for anglers. “The Narrows” are a section of a canyon that the South Dakota Game and Fish Department recently started stocking. While it requires an intense hike to get to it, the views and fishing will be worth your while. Many of the creeks on the list are located in well-populated areas that see quite a bit of pressure.
However, “The Narrows” section of French Creek will provide solitude. Since the hike may require some scrambling, bring the rod that can pack the easiest. Try a Parachute Adams or a small Caddis Emerger with 6x tippet.
The smaller the presentation, the more success you will have. You can start the hike into the narrows via the French Creek Trail. The creek converges as it enters the steep canyon. Again, it’s a 60 foot scramble over the cliff so be careful!
6. Grace Coolidge Creek
Grace Coolidge Creek is meant for fishing. There are six man-made dams scattered throughout the creek that create beautiful deep pools filled with stocked trout. The Grace Coolidge Walk-In Fishing Area is easily picked out on a Custer State Park map.
However, much like the Narrows, it requires a bit of a hike to access. This dissuades people from making the three mile trek. The unique scenery of the Black Hills will make you wonder how in the world you’ve passed over South Dakota so often.
Also, it’s a great place for beginner fly anglers. They can learn how to properly present flies and anticipate strikes. It is also a great place to learn how to deal with the frustrations of fly fishing. Fairly narrow casting lanes and visible trout forces anglers to be patient. Since there are deep pools, it’s easy to pick out the flies that are hatching. If nothing is on the surface, try to anger some of the big trout with a Woolly Bugger.
7. Castle Creek
Take a trip out of Custer State Park, but stay in the Black Hills and you’ll find Castle Creek. Castle Creek is broken in half by the Deerfield Reservoir.
The area above the Reservoir has a naturally reproducing population of rainbow trout as well as stocked brown trout. Located an hour west of Rapid City in the heart of the Black Hills, this is another fun stream to fish. Again, bring a smaller rod and don’t be afraid to tie on Dry Dropper rigs.
Read more about setting up a Dry Dropper in this article. How to Setup a Dry Fly with a Dropper
Hippie Stompers can be used as the indicator and any type of Pheasant Tail or Tungsten Nymph is going to work as the dropper. You’ll likely learn quickly that smaller flies produce more fish. Streamers are going to catch the bigger fish, but it’s a blast creating a perfect drift with a small dry. The stream can be accessed on Mystic Road near Bobcat Gulch. Also, the creek flows under the Mickelson Trail at multiple points. Bring your bike and fly rod and you can cover a lot of ground!
8. Spring Creek for Some Warmwater Fly Fishing
Spring Creek is another great option in the Black Hills. This stream flows in and out of Sheridan Lake. There are some monstrous hatches on the creek so it can lead to some of the most entertaining dry fly fishing in the area. The area below the dam is your best option for finding fish. Go ahead and fish Sheridan Lake as well.
Bass, pike and perch are all found in the lake and it makes for a good warm up spot after a long winter without practice. Take some streamers throughout the large pools otherwise caddis and stoneflies are going to be successful. Whether it’s a Jig Pheasant Tail or Woolly Bugger, the fish will eat it. Again, the many hatches make it difficult to predict. Pay attention of the fishing reports on the Dakota Angler and Outfitter website.
They’ll provide helpful lists of flies. Otherwise, the spider web trick helps. If you don’t know the names of the flies, hold your fly box up and compare your options to what are trapped in the webs.
9. Sand Creek
Last but not least is Sand Creek. Sand Creek is located right near the border of Wyoming. This has been classified as Blue Ribbon Water. However, the fish are easily spooked on this stream. Be extra careful, but the dry fly bite is awesome. Blue Winged Olives and big terrestrial flies late in the summer are deadly. The further into the summer, the more the water clears up and visible the fish become. The clear water will be your friend and enemy. Try some 6x tippet. The less presence you have around the stream, the better!
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing in South Dakota
South Dakota will put your fly fishing skills to the test. Tight streams with little casting lanes are common. Unless you are fishing the lakes or Split Rock Creek, a 4 or 5 weight rod should work. Smaller tippet size 5x or 6x is the best option. There are many hatches throughout the summer, but streamers in the pools and terrestrial flies in the late summer will catch fish. Otherwise BWO, stoneflies and caddis patterns will work.
Official References for Fly Fishing in South Dakota
- South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks website: https://gfp.sd.gov/fish/
- Black Hills FlyFishers: https://black-hills-fly-fishers.myshopify.com