Fly Fishing the Black Hills

Spearfish Creek
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Spearfish Creek Practicalities

Species: The streams of the Black Hills were first stocked with trout in the late 19th century and still are today. But many of the streams hold wild trout, especially browns. Anglers can expect to catch brown, rainbow and brook trout.

Gear: Hip waders for most streams, although on a few streams it's handy to be wearing chest waders. Fly rods should be 6½ to 8½ feet for 3- to 5-weight. Spincasting outfits should be ultralight, no more than 6 feet with 2-pound mono.

Flies & lures: Fly fishermen do well with dry flies. All of these streams are good for fly fishing, but the great thing is that so few fly fishermen take advantage of these waters. Typical attractor patterns will work on the streams, patterns like Elk Hair Caddis, Royal Wulff, Adams, Blue Wing Olive and Stimulators, but keep the sizes down to #14#18. Big flies scare off these finicky fish. More imitative flies like Tricos, BWOs, and Baetis are necessary during hatches or tough times. Streamers and wet flies also work well, especially when the hatch is off or when the trout aren't visible. Hatches on Black Hills' streams are not prolific since the waters are not terribly fertile. This means the fish have to be opportunistic and that makes for great dry-fly fishing. Black Hills streams are teeming with trout that love to feast on grasshoppers and ants, so stock up on several patterns and colors. All through the summer, especially in long stretches of water with grassy banks, hoppers should be your first choice. Typically, spin and bait fishermen use small spinners and the usual assortment of baits. Most anglers who fish these waters use spin-casting gear, and the most popular lures include plugs, crank baits and small spinners.

Guides, fly and tackle shops: Dakota Angler and Outfitter, Rapid City, (605) 341-2450; Custom Caster, Lead, (605) 584-2217; Rapid City Scheels, Rapid City, (605) 342-9033.

Getting there: Take Alternate 14 (Route 14A) south out of Spearfish, which follows the creek for most of its run. To reach Spearfish Creek from Rapid City, travel west northwest on Interstate 90 to Spearfish, then take 14A south. You can also take Route 44 west out of Rapid City, Route 385 north to Deadwood, Highway 85 southwest to 14A, then 14A north along the creek.

Lodging: Spearfish is more"away-from-it-all" than Rapid City. Inexpensive: Days Inn, (605) 642-7101; Moderate: Cottonwood Lodge, (605) 642-2234; Kelly Inn, (605) 642-7795; Expensive: Spearfish Canyon Resort, (605) 584-3435. As for food, your options are as follows: Inexpensive: Bay Leaf Cafi, breakfast, lunch, & dinner, (605) 642-5462; Cedar House Restaurant, breakfast, lunch, & dinner, (605) 642-2104; Moderate: Margie's Dinner Club, dinner, (605) 642-4765; Expensive:Latchstring Village, breakfast, lunch, & dinner, (605) 584-3333.

Chambers of commerce: Spearfish, (605) 642-2626; Rapid City, (605) 343-1744; Black Hills Badlands and Lakes Assocation, (605) 355-3600.


Two streams stand out in the Black Hills National Forest: Spearfish and Rapid Creeks. These two gems are two of the larger streams in the region, and although these streams typically run from 8 to 15 feet wide, they occasionally widen out to 20 to 30 feet in places.

Spearfish Creek has the potential to be a first-class fishery, with good public access except for the lower section, which is largely private. The windy little road through the steep limestone walls of Spearfish Canyon is a beautiful drive.

The canyon is chock-full of hundreds of species of birds; trails winding along several side canyons; and great photo-opportunities of cliffs, birds, animals, wildflowers, and old mining and railroad town sites.

The Black Hills National Forest surrounds the area, the forest populated with ponderosa pine, birch, and aspen; rushing streams, alpine lakes, and cascading waterfalls. Spearfish Creek is gin-clear and loaded with brown, rainbow, and brook trout.

Chasing Wild Rainbows

The stream holds one of the finest populations of wild rainbow trout in the Black Hills. The canyon stream has easy road access but despite the fact the road sees its share of traffic, it's not too difficult to find a stretch all to yourself. The river has nice hatches of baetis, midges and little black stoneflies.

The water varies from wide, long, flat glides to churning, narrow, deep runs, so anglers have to constantly change from dry flies to nymphs to achieve success. Fishing a dropper rig is an efficient method to cover the changing characteristics. On the long flats, you'll need to keep a low profile and be stealthy since these stretches are slow and extremely clear.

On the meadow stretches, keep tight to the bank. Spearfish Creek rainbows love the fastwater and riffles, but don't get so carried away fishing the fast stuff that you forget to test the thick streamside banks.

Spearfish Creek is located in the northern reaches of the Black Hills, south of the charming town of Spearfish. Take Route 14A south out of town and you will be able to drive along the river for almost its entire course. Little Spearfish is a nice adjunct hike in similar but smaller water in a side canyon off the main river.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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