A father has his hand on his daughter's arm as they reel in a fish together at Lake Kampeska

Fishing in Northeast South Dakota


Approximately 20,000 years ago, the last of a series of glaciers moved across northeast South Dakota. Their scouring and scraping created glacial bowls, which quickly filled with clear blue water upon retreat of the massive ice formations.

Today more than 120 glacial lakes dot the northeast part of the state. Anglers who travel to this rolling farm and ranch country will find the lakes range in size from several acres to more than 17,000 acres. There are 16 state parks and recreation areas, plus several municipal and private campgrounds in the region. Resorts can be found on several of the larger lakes, but many of the glacial lakes remain undeveloped and may be surrounded by private land.

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Since glacial lakes were created by scraping and scouring, most are bowl-shaped with little structure and maximum depths of 20 feet. Finding concentrations of fish requires time to locate suspended schools or reviewing contour maps to locate available structure, usually in the form of rock piles or emergent vegetation. Lakes that are fished frequently throughout the year include Blue Dog, Enemy Swim, Lake Thompson, Lynn, Roy, Rush and Waubay Lakes.

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Walleye dominate the fishing scene in the northeast. Most are caught by trolling crankbaits or night crawler/spinner rigs over hard gravel or sand bottoms during the late summer months, while spring and fall are reserved for jig and minnow combinations and lindy rig fishing. Many anglers like to use bottom bouncers, jigs tipped with minnows, spinners combined with crawlers, and crappie rigs tipped with minnows.

Walleye night fishing is also successful, especially in the spring and fall. This is a great opportunity to fish from shore casting jerkbaits and swim baits near rocks and off points. Many large fish are caught from shore after the sun goes down. 

White bass
Largemouth, Smallmouth and White Bass

To catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, cast lures toward shore near clumps of vegetation or along rocky shorelines. Mouths of creeks and sloughs also host bass, particularly near rushes. Most white bass are located trolling in open water or casting over rocks with a medium spoon, spinner or jig and grub combination.

Fisherman with pike in glacial lakes
Perch, Bass, Bullheads, Bluegills and Pike

For the most part, yellow perch, rock bass and bullheads respond to still-fishing with live bait. In June, fishing small jigs in shallow nesting cover is effective for bluegills; as is fly fishing with wet flies or small poppers. Northern pike fishing also reigns in the northeast. A standard way to catch pike is to cast a diving plug, spoon or spinnerbait along weed lines.

Ice fisherman with fish in shack
Ice Fishing

Wintertime fishing enthusiasts don’t quit when the water freezes. They just drill holes to reach the water! Jigging spoons, teardrop hooks and spearing all account for a variety of cold-season fishing. Pike, walleye, bluegill and perch are favorites. Concentrations of trucks and ice houses on a lake will usually indicate where the bite is taking place.

Fisherman and dog at Lake Kampeska

Find the latest on this region's fishing at SDGlacialLakes.com or by calling 800-445-3474.




Q: What's best for spin casting?

A: Lead-head jigs, spinners, crankbaits, jerkbaits, plugs, spoons and spinnerbaits


Q: What about bait fishing?

A: Night crawlers, minnows, chubs, leeches, frogs and wigglers


Q: What are the most fished species in this region?

A: Walleye, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, northern pike, panfish, and bullhead


Q: Where are the most popular waters in this region?

A: Waubay Lake, Mina Lake, Lake Louise, Mission Lake, Twin Lakes, Richmond Lake, Roy Lake, Amsden Dam, Enemy Swim Lake, Pelican Lake, Blue Dog Lake, Pickerel Lake, Lake Thompson, Lake Preston, Big Stone Lake, Lake Kampeska, Lake Poinsett, Oakwood Lakes, Clear Lake, James River and Big Sioux River

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