Hands hold a rod with a spinning reel over open waters on the Missouri River

Fishing in Central South Dakota


Today’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. The reservoirs include Lake Oahe, Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case, and Lewis and Clark Lake.

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.

Fishing Techniques & Tips


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. Many anglers like to use bottom bouncers, jigs tipped with minnows, spinners combined with crawlers, and crappie rigs tipped with minnows. Reservoir anglers use similar baits, but spring fishing depths range to 25 feet. Summer depths may extend to 45 feet or more. 

Northern pike
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.

Fishing on Lake Oahe
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.

Bass fishing on Lake Sharpe

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. Largemouth bass anglers use a variety of lures including plastic worms in various colors, jerkbaits, crankbaits and the popular pork rind.

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

License plate on fence
Stock Dam Fishin'

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

Fly fishing reel

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.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)


What's best for spin casting?


What are the most fished species in this region?


Where are the most popular waters in this region?

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