Fly Fishing the Black Hills

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Transplanted Trout
No trout existed naturally in the state (the first trout were planted here in 1883), but one of the nation's first fish hatcheries and a subsequent excellent planting program have established a successful brown trout fishery; the trout now naturally reproduce in the most of the state's coldwater rivers.

As fly fishing for trout in South Dakota becomes more popular — and it will thanks to the state's natural resources and laid-back charm — better regulations will govern the state's rivers and lakes.

Catch-and-release regulations on Black Hills streams have been simplified in the last few years, so be sure to check the regs book. Ten years ago, you'd be lucky to find a handful of flies in the general store or tackle shop, but several fly shops now operate in the region.


Not many anglers are aware that South Dakota is home to some of the prettiest and best trout fishing east of the Rocky Mountains. Most associate western South Dakota with the colossal visages of U.S. presidents carved into Mount Rushmore.

But most tourists don't know that a few presidents also made this area their fishing mecca. Both Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt regularly fished these intimate streams.

The Black Hills are home to over 400 miles of trout streams and 14 lakes. Sportsmen can cast fly lines in year-round solitude surrounded only by ponderosa pine forests. Brook trout populate the headwaters of the streams, while wild brown trout and stocked rainbow trout inhabit the main stems of the Black Hills waters.

This is a dry-fly fishing haven, one where anglers can catch lots of 10- to 14-inch wild brown trout or search for one of the 25-inch browns lurking in the water's darkness.

Small and Lightly Fished

This region's streams are similar to those found in the West, but smaller in size and, as a bonus, lightly fished. The trout are also on the lighter and smaller size but the trophy trout hunter can certainly find some attractive prospects.

Would you believe the better-than-average (or luckier-than-usual) fisher occasionally catches brown trout that weigh over five pounds from these little rivers? Some of the smaller rivers produce unusually large trout relative to their small stature, owing in part to fertile habitat, few anglers, and great cover like undercut banks and thick watercress.

The best fishing for trout in South Dakota runs from spring to late summer and early fall. Summer brings tourists, but compared to neighboring Colorado or Montana, the numbers hardly register on the out-of-town meter.

The Black Hills offer scenic mountain fishing in clear streams, deep canyons, and cold lakes. Many anglers comment that many of the narrow, spring-creek-like streams remind them of rivers in the East. And remember I mentioned the fishing is year-round? The Black Hills lie in the so-called Banana Belt of South Dakota, where midwinter temperatures often reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lots of Options

Some of the better streams of the region are Rapid, North Rapid, Castle (a slow-moving river below Deerfield Lake), French, Beaver, Redwater, Box Elder, Little Spearfish, Crow, Elk, and Cox Creeks, along with the Cheyenne and Belle Fourche Rivers.

And then there is the prize of the Black Hills, Spearfish Creek — one of the prettiest streams in America. Its upper section runs through a wooded canyon, and in its lower stretches, it flows through calm meadows.

The difficulty in fishing many of the South Dakota small, clear, spring-fed streams is that many are technically challenging. To most anglers, this is intriguing enough to give it a try. Fishing over plentiful but picky trout away from the harangue of crowds is just what many are looking for.

But the Black Hills hold plenty of freestone streams with good populations of trout that aren't as picky as those in the spring-creek-like streams, so the area is ideal for the beginning fly fisher.

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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