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Fishing in South Dakota

Central - Missouri River Region

Central FishingToday’s Missouri River is far from the muddy, winding waterway Lewis and Clark traveled some 200 years ago.

Four massive dams, completed in the early 1960s, mitigated the river and created more than 900 square miles of open water and 3,000 miles of shoreline. In addition, the dams created a world-class freshwater fishery.

If large waters intimidate you, a trip to a prairie stock dam may be more to your liking. From one to 100 acres, these small ponds were built to water livestock and conserve soil and water. Stock dams can be easily fished from shore or with the aid of a small boat, canoe or float tube.

Missouri River Fishing

(Missouri River reservoirs: Lake Oahe, Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case, Lewis and Clark Lake)


Jason Mitchell fishing on Lake Oahe in South Dakota(July 8, 2011) Jason Mitchell, host of Jason Mitchell Outdoors, recently filmed an episode for his television show on Lake Oahe in central South Dakota.

"Despite high water on the Missouri River, the walleye fishing has been described by many anglers as the best the fishing has been in twenty years," describes Mitchell. "We caught many fish and some big fish as well, but what was most impressive is that we saw a lot of other boats out on the water and it seemed like everybody had a net out. There were lots of fishing getting caught right now."

Mitchell fished with Lake Oahe guide, Cory Jueneman, and caught several nice walleye using bottom bouncers and Northland Tackle Rainbow Spinners in ten to fifteen feet of water.

In the photo, Mitchell with a trophy walleye caught while filming a show on Lake Oahe recently.



Fishing Techniques


Walleye are the most abundant and popular fish in the four Missouri River reservoirs. River anglers fish depths from 5 to 20 feet using jigs and minnows in the spring and night crawler/spinner combinations and crankbaits in the summer. Reservoir anglers use similar baits, but spring fishing depths range to 25 feet. Summer depths may extend to 45 feet or more.

Chinook Salmon

For Lake Oahe Chinook salmon, spring and summer fishing depths range from 50 to more than 100 feet. Most salmon fishing is done with the aid of downriggers or side planers. Flashers, squids, spoons, deep diving plugs and crankbaits work well with chartreuse and silver being predominant colors. The best salmon lures imitate rainbow smelt, salmon’s primary prey. Anglers catch the majority of salmon in an area from the face of Oahe Dam northward to the Cheyenne River.

During the fall, salmon move into the shallows to spawn and can be caught by casting from shore with spoons and crankbaits. Spawning salmon can be caught in most creeks from the face of the dam to the North Dakota border. The Whitlock Bay area, near Gettysburg, is especially good since salmon return to a spawning station located there.

Northern Pike

Lake Oahe’s back bays begin to warm by late March or early April, creating perfect northern pike fishing conditions. During ice-out, big fish usually prefer dead bait rigs, which consist of treble hooks tipped with smelt. As the water warms and pike become more active, spoons and crankbaits also catch pike. From mid-October on, anglers also have a good chance at a trophy pike.

Smallmouth Bass

Found in all four reservoirs, smallmouth bass offer anglers a choice when other species may not be biting. Smallmouth habitat is characterized by boulder piles, tree snags and riprap on dam faces. May and June are traditionally the most successful periods for smallmouth fishing during the pre-spawn and spawn. As summer heats up, smallmouth move deeper, and fishermen use deep diving lures for success. Lake Francis Case and Lewis and Clark Lake are premier smallmouth fisheries in South Dakota.

In addition to these popular fish, anglers also pursue white bass, channel catfish, tiger muskie and the prehistoric paddlefish.

More Information

Central South Dakota Fishing Tips

  • Fishing Reports: 800-445-3474
  • Spin Casting: Jigs, spinner rigs, crankbaits, spoons, flashers and squids (salmon), with chartreuse and silver being traditional colors
  • Bait Fishing: Chubs, minnows, night crawlers, leeches, smelt
  • Most Fished Species: Walleye, sauger, northern pike, channel catfish, white bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, Chinook salmon, tiger muskie, a variety of panfish
  • Popular Waters: Lake Oahe, Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case and Lewis and Clark Lake (Missouri River reservoirs) 

Prairie Areas near the Missouri River

Fishing Techniques

Stock Dam

For a change of pace from the larger waters, a trip to a prairie stock dam may be more to your liking. From one to 100 acres, these small ponds were built to water livestock and conserve soil and water. Stock dams can be easily fished from shore, with the aid of a small boat, canoe or float tube, or through the winter ice.

Panfish & Largemouth Bass

For panfish, most anglers rely on small teardrop hooks tipped with wigglers or worms. Spinners and small spoons work on panfish, while larger versions of these lures attract feeding pike. Fly fishing anglers have luck with panfish species by casting small poppers to top-feeding fish and using wet flies to drop into fish-feeding zones. Largemouth bass anglers use a variety of lures including plastic worms in various colors, jerkbaits, crankbaits and the popular pork rind.

More Information

Prairie Areas Fishing Tips

  • Fishing Reports: 800-445-3474
  • Spin Casting: Spinners, crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, spoons, lead-head jigs
  • Bait Fishing: Crayfish, night crawlers, frogs, wigglers, leeches, minnows
  • Most Fished Species: Largemouth bass, bluegill, perch, northern pike, bullhead, crappie
  • Popular Waters: Little Moreau Recreation Area, Lake Isabel, National Grasslands stock dams, Brakke Dam, Cheyenne River, Lake Pocasse, Molstad Lake, Cottonwood Lake, Burke Lake, Lake Yankton