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Fishing

The Mighty Missouri

We live on the shores of the longest river in North America. The Missouri Runs runs through Pierre and Fort Pierre cold, clear and clean. It is fed by the Oahe Dam, which holds back the 4th largest reservoir in the United State in Lake Oahe. We have the cleanest water in the country, and the fish love it. At 200+ feet, Lake Oahe offers a deep water habitat for Chinook and Atlantic salmon, along with plenty of bait fish, walleye, northern pike, channel catfish, white bass and many other game fish species. It is an amazing place to call home, and we appreciate you for enjoying it with us!

Fish Stories from Pierre

The Fish Stories Archive hosts individual angler voices from all over the world. Some of the stories included in the archive are from right here in the Pierre area! A sample story is below. The rest of the Pierre stories can be heard right here.

Fish species in Central South Dakota

While we have a lot of great information about the fish that reside in central South Dakota, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) has all the details on rules and regulations around fishing and hunting in our great state. Refer to their website for rules, regulations, and licenses.

Walleye

Walleyes – We hang our hat on walleye fishing. We’re closer than Canada, and our walleyes are better fresh! The cold, clean waters of the Missouri River and Lake Oahe offer some of the best walleye fishing in the world. Self guided, or with one of our dedicated fishing guides, you will have an amazing fishing trip chasing walleyes in the Pierre area.  

When to go: Walleyes generally begin going at Little Bend mid May. Lower Lake Oahe gets fired up late June and early July. Pitch jigs in the morning and pull bottom bouncers during the day.  Lake Sharpe (below the dam) can be fished all year long. Westbend is the hotspot from April-May, with the bluffs, Ft. George and Antelope Creek coming on in May and June.  One thing most people do not know about Pierre is that you can fish open water or ice during the winter months. Winter time walleyes hang out in the stilling basin, around the bridges in town, in the tailrace and around the mouth of Marion’s Garden. Big fish can be caught from December – May. Ice anglers chasing fish downstream should always be cautious. There is no such thing as safe ice on the river.  

Chinook Salmon

Chinook Salmon – Like Reno is to Las Vegas, our Chinook (King) salmon are to walleye.  It plays second fiddle in popularity, but people still come from all over the country to enjoy it!  Chinooks began being stocked in Lake Oahe in the 1980’s.  The deep water habitat that exists for these fish and their prey makes it one of the best salmon fisheries in the upper midwest. The flood of 2011 removed much of the baitfish and young salmon from the system, but the lake has come back very well. During the late spring and early summer months, anglers will troll the face of the Oahe dam and the old river channel looking for bait balls and suspended fish marks in 60-120 ft. The tailrace below the dam will also hold fish susceptible to buzz bombs and chartreuse jerkbaits usually beginning in June.  2020 was a banner year for salmon below the dam! Follow the river north to Gettysburg in September and October to see the spawning station and sit in while our Game, Fish and Parks biologists collect eggs and sperm from fish as they swim up the ladder. This typically happens on Wed of each week beginning late September. Snagging season begins on Oct. 1 when anglers will cast treble hooks and sinkers from the face of the dam hoping to catch a limit.  Some days will be a little tougher than others, but there couldn’t be a more beautiful place to chase salmon.  

When to go: Spring salmon can be caught or bow fished while they cruise shallow water beginning in April. Summer salmon fishing on the face of Oahe Dam and in the tailrace below the dam begins in late May or early June and can last through October when snagging season begins (Oct. 1).  

Atlantic Salmon (Yup! We have Atlantics)

Atlantic salmon were brought to South Dakota in 2018 to make more salmon fishing opportunities available to anglers. Lake Oahe is the only place in the state where Atlantic salmon can be caught. Atlantics are different from Chinooks in that they will remain shallow and accessible to shore anglers throughout the year. This fast growing fish has already amassed a dedicated following of anglers hoping to catch the next state record!

When to go: Available to anglers through the ice, from the boat or on shore. April – June is the best time of year to land an Atlantic. Traditional trout spinners and fly fishing gear work well for catching them.  

Northern Pike

Pierre, South Dakota is known around the country for its walleye fishing. Another fish species, though, attracts people like few others can…the Northern Pike. If you have never caught a northern over 20 lbs, Pierre is the place for you. Beginning at ice-out, lake Oahe becomes one big forage ground for giant northerns preparing to spawn. Female fish surpassing 20 lbs can be caught on quick strike rigs, spoons, and jerkbaits all around the Lake Oahe shoreline. Utilizing a small boat to get back into bays and creek arms where the water warms quicker will increase your chances of landing a true giant. Fly anglers will also appreciate this time of year when aggressive fish chase flies with reckless abandon. It is not a traditional northern pike fishery where fish relate to structure, but there are so many fish that it is only a matter of time before one engulfs your fly. Ice anglers will also find opportunities to catch monster fish on Oahe through a hole in the ice, or by spearing them in a darkhouse.  

When to go: Come out to Pierre and Fort Pierre throughout the winter months to chase northern pike through the ice. Ice out varies, but typically occurs the first week of April.  

Smallmouth Bass

There is a reason the Bassmasters Elite Series chose to come to Pierre in 2018. Lake Oahe is a PRIME smallmouth bass fishery! Not only are there large numbers of smallmouth in the big lake, but there are some massive fish as well. The habitat, forage and relative lack of fishing pressure has helped Lake Oahe grow into a blue ribbon smallmouth factory in the heart of South Dakota.  

Lake Sharpe also holds its own when it comes to producing amazing smallmouth. Westbend recreation area and Joe Creek are great places to find big smallmouth (and walleyes too!). Joe Creek is where legendary outdoor personality Tony Dean first began fly fishing for them. He loved it so much, he dedicated much of his time to developing and protecting a trophy smallmouth bass fishery on Lake Sharpe.  

When to go:  Smallies are fun all year round, but the spring spawn makes those fish extra vulnerable to jigs, dropshots and nicely presented flies. Fishing picks up in May, followed closely by topwater action and shallow-water fishing in June/July, and dropshotting/deeper water focus in August-October.  

White Bass

White bass are a schooling fish that absolutely love the clear waters of the Missouri River and Lake Oahe! They spawn in the spring (when the water warms to around 55 degrees) and congregate along rocky shorelines providing easy access to shore anglers and boat casters alike. The schooling mentality continues after they spawn, with their focus moving toward foraging. Large schools of 1-2.5 lb white bass patrol the shorelines and rocky points seeking baitfish, crustaceans, invertebrates and other aquatic prey species. They are not shy about taking lures under, and on top of, the water’s surface. This is some of the funnest fishing you will have in your life, and it’s a great chance to get kids into fish. An unlimited limit on white bass means you may keep a bunch for a fish fry, and your friends will think they are eating walleye. Yup, they’re that good! Lightweight jigs, jerkbaits, swimbaits and live bait presentations all catch white bass. They are even more susceptible to a fly fishing presentation. Fish deeper patterns early (clouser minnows, belly ache minnows, or kreelexs) and lightweight patterns after they really get going (deceivers, buggers, murdich minnows). Brown, chartreuse, blue, and white are all great colors to have in your box.

When to go: White bass spawn from late April – early June. You can find schools of them well into the summer months.  

Largemouth Bass

Yeah, bucketmouths do exist in the Pierre area. There are a few roaming the bays and marinas of the Missouri River, but the majority of our largemouth bass live in stockdams around the Fort Pierre National Grasslands. Check out our fishing hotspot map for ideas on where to find them.  Otherwise, stop at the Fort Pierre National Grasslands office in Fort Pierre for a map and some helpful suggestions on where to go.  

When to go: Anytime. Largemouth are fun through the ice, in the spring when shallow or crushing frogs and poppers at the surface in the summer.  

Crappie

Slab crappies live in central South Dakota. The dedicated anglers who can track them down are rewarded with wall-hanger worthy fish. Those larger fish are located within creek arms of Lake Oahe. But frying pan fish can be found all throughout the Fort Pierre National Grasslands and other stockdams south of Pierre/Fort Pierre. This is a great way to stay busy once you get your limit of walleyes. : )

When to go: Anytime. Spring is best for big crappies on Lake Oahe.  

Perch

Lake Oahe produces a small population of perch, but they are more of a prey species than a catchable one for anglers. The perch on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, on the other hand, can grow to massive proportions. When you find a stockdam that has yet to be explored, you never know the size of the fish you will find. These tanks can be difficult to fool, but they live all throughout this area and will be a trophy for any angler with the skills to track them down. Do you have what it takes? 

When to go: Spring, autumn or winter months. Best through the ice.  

Bluegill

Like largemouth bass, there are a few schools of bluegill swimming in the Missouri River. The target worthy populations, however, live on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands and surrounding stockdams. Nine to 11 inch blue gills are not uncommon in these fisheries, with many smaller ones found in between. Check out our fishing map for ideas of where to find them, and let us know if you find a spot worthy of sharing.  

When to go: You can come catch our gills anytime.

Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish are one of the most underrated fish in the Missouri River. They are prevalent, they will eat like Joey Chestnut on the 4th of July, can grow to be 15+ lbs, and pull like tow trucks. On top of all that, they live in some of the coldest, cleanest water in the county and taste better than any catfish fry you’ve had from a fish farm. You can chase them through the ice and in open water. Spring and late autumn (October/November) are the best times to catch them, but they are around throughout the year.  

When to go: Anytime you are craving some catfish

Eelpout

Lota Lota…the fish so nice they named it twice. AKA burbot, lawyer, lush, loche, methy, ling, lingcod and mud shark. Anglers used to specifically target eelpout in the Pierre area during the spring spawn. A few state records were caught back in the day, but a 12 lb Lake Oahe fish caught in 2019 well surpassed what Lake Sharpe could muster up. Pout can be found anywhere big walleye and catfish roam and are usually by-catch. Lake Oahe has big fish that are found mostly through the ice. Smaller fish down on Lake Sharpe hang out in the stilling basin and tailrace during the winter, spring, and summer months.   

When to go: Anytime you want to chase eyes and kitties and hope for some pout on the side.  

Shortnose Gar

The shortnose gar is the most common gar species in South Dakota. They are found only in the Missouri River and its tributaries in the southeast part of our state. Gar will feed mostly on baitfish, but will also take underwater invertebrates and crustaceans. They have elongated, very narrow mouths filled with sharp teeth. The bony structure of the mouth makes them a challenge to hook with conventional tackle. Fly fishing with rope works well in addition to archery fishing for them. They primarily hang out in slack water back bays and marinas.  

When to go: Primarily in the spring when spawning takes place in shallow water.  

Paddlefish

Pierre does have a small paddlefish population that have been stocked below the Oahe Dam in recent years. Paddlefish are filter feeders that live primarily in the tailwater area below Oahe.  There is currently no snagging season for paddlefish in Pierre. Anything accidentally caught must be immediately released. 

Shovelnose Sturgeon

Shovelnose sturgeon exist in the Missouri River, but they are protected as a threatened species due to their resemblance to the endangered plaid sturgeon that also occupy these waterways. Catching a shovelnose sturgeon is like catching a dinosaur and should be treated with great care and released promptly. 

Freshwater Drum

Don’t discount the freshwater drum, not only as a fighting fish, but as table fare. You’ll often find them roaming with walleye in Lake Oahe, and they fight like one too. Like their southern saltwater cousins, freshwater drum cook up very nice, and can be found all throughout our Missouri River system. No state records in our water, but good eater-size fish throughout.  

Common Carp

This has become a favorite fishery for visiting fly fishers due to the clear water and aggressively feeding fish. Common carp are opportunistic feeders, and will dine on just about anything available to them. Depending on the time of year, our common carp will be seeking damselfly/dragonfly/mayfly nymphs, crustaceans, underwater worms, midge larva, caddis larva, leeches, minnows, freshwater clams and terrestrial insects. Many compare fishing for common carp in Pierre to chasing bonefish on the flats of the Bahamas due to the clear water and methods used to catch them. Common carp in Lake Sharpe only grow to be eight to 10 lbs, but fight like a mac truck. Lake Oahe common carp are a little more challenging to target due to the vastness of the big water. Archery and spearfishers will also chase commons, and claim smoked common carp to be on the same level as smoked salmon. You be the judge. 

Bigmouth Buffalo

A native species of South Dakota and our Missouri River, the bigmouth buffalo is a beautiful fish that we really appreciate having around. Commonly mistaken for a carp species, buffalo are actually a member of the sucker fish family. Younger fish eat invertebrates before switching to filter-feeding of zooplankton and growing to massive proportions. Buffalo weighing 20+ lbs are not uncommon. Very popular among spearfishers and archery anglers, bigmouth buffalo meat (especially around the ribs) is said to be some of the best in freshwater.  

Muskie

A state record muskie was landed in the stilling basin back in 2004. Not commonly found in Pierre, there are a few that still call Lake Sharpe home. Target them in backwater bays, marinas and coves around structure and prey-fish species. The fish of 10,000 casts might take a few more to find in Pierre. But it can be done.

Rainbow Trout

The tailrace below Oahe Dam can still be considered a trophy rainbow trout fishery due to the size of the fish you might catch there. The current resident rainbows are what remains of an old annual stocking program led by SD GFP. This program was dissolved in 2018 to make funds available for Atlantic Salmon in Lake Oahe. These trout live and feed in the cold waters and occasionally take jigging spoons, jerkbaits and jig/minnow presentations. Fly fishing is effective after ice out when larger fish move into bays and marinas in search of an easy meal.  

What to expect

Planning a fishing trip to the Pierre area? We can’t wait to have you! Here are a few things you should know before making the trip out.

  • South Dakota now has a habitat stamp program! This will raise much needed funds for managing and advancing South Dakota’s outdoor programs, education efforts, public access and habitat initiatives. All license buyers (except one-day license buyers) must purchase a habitat stamp prior to acquiring a game license. The annual fee for the habitat stamp is $10 for residents and $25 for nonresidents. You may purchase your habitat stamp at any license agent in South Dakota or by going to this website.
  • Bring long pants. Our black flies tend to bite any uncovered leg.  Socks will not help you.  Long pants are the only long-term respite. During the dogdays of summer, they will even ignore the most potent insect repellents.
  • The wind might blow during your stay. Expect wind and you will not be disappointed when it comes. Add 10 mph to any forecasted wind speeds, and plan your fishing area according to boat/motor size and abilities.
  • Speaking of boat/motor abilities, Oahe is a BIG lake. The fourth biggest in the country.  When waves begin to roll, having a small boat on the big water is dangerous. Deep “V” hull style boats at least 18 feet in length are recommended for fishing Oahe. No matter how large the boat is, thank you for always wearing a life jacket.
  • We are trying to stop the spread of invasive species. There are currently zebra mussels in Lake Sharpe. We do not want any other species moving in on our territory (especially asian carp!). Please remove your plug when you leave a boat access, and put it back in before you access the water. Always clean your boat in between boat launches and do not transport water from location to location. Not only will it help us prevent the spread of invasive species, it will prevent you from getting a ticket from the watchful eyes of SD conservation officers. Coming from out of state? Check this out first.
  • Pierre makes a great basecamp for fishing the surrounding water. We have beautiful hotels and campgrounds (link to chamber master) right here on the river that will serve you well during your stay.
  • Time to go fishing!  You deserve it.

Fishing Access

Fishing the Missouri River (especially Lake Oahe) from shore can be intimidating. It always helps to begin by asking the locals. Stop at the bait shops and tackle stores (link to chamber master list) and find out what the fish have been biting on, or what has been selling well. Then, check out our handy access map below for a few hotspots that will help you catch more fish on your next visit to the Oahe region.

Fly Fishing – Top of your fly fishing bucket list

You do not need high mountain streams and Brad Pitt casting from a boulder to have fly fishing. A prevalent trout population is also not a prerequisite. In fact, Pierre is a premier fly fishing destination. Every fish that swims in the Missouri River is susceptible to the right fly and our cold, clear waters make an inviting atmosphere for angling adventures. Here is what you need to know to make your next Pierre area fly fishing adventure a stellar one:

  • Bring a stout rod. A 5-8 wt rod will do nicely for anything that swims in Pierre. If you plan on catching panfish on the grasslands, don’t hesitate to bring along a 3 wt and some small nymphs, dries and poppers.
  • Leader loaded for bear. Most anglers that try fly fishing in Pierre for the first time have trout leaders. They have caught large trout on them and believe they will also do the job on Missouri River fish. This mentality will lose you fish and flies.  Bring along six to 12 foot leaders with 10 lb fluorocarbon tippet (minimum). Northern pike will require steel leaders or a shock tippet of more robust proportions. SD GFP teaches you how to tie your own freshwater leader for catching fish on the Missouri River.
  • The primary forage is baitfish, but fish will also prey upon plenty of leeches, crawfish, dragonfly nymphs, damselfly/mayfly nymphs, freshwater clams, midges, caddis and annelids.  Terrestrial animals and insects are also very important and can lead to some very fun topwater action during the summer and fall months. Send us an email (link to contact form) for questions relating to fly fishing for specific species and we will get you answers.
  • Boat or shore is fine. Boats offer many advantages when fly fishing the river, but they are not required to cast a fly line here. There is ample shore fishing access highlighted on our map. (link to shore fishing map)
  • Our favorite species to chase with a fly rod include: trophy smallmouth bass, white bass (spawning run from April – June), common carp (sight fishing in clear water. Grow up to 10 lbs), northern pike, walleye, shortnose gar, channel catfish (hardest fighting fish in freshwater) and largemouth bass/panfish (on the grasslands).
  • All topics presented in “what to expect” still apply for fly fishing as well.

Spearfishing/Bowfishing

The crystal clear waters of Lake Oahe and Lake Sharpe below Oahe dam attract spearfishing and archery angling enthusiasts from all around the country. Walleyes, catfish, bigmouth buffalo, common carp, white bass, freshwater drum, smallmouth bass, chinook salmon and shortnose gar are all readily available to spearfishers and bowfishers alike. Where you fish depends on the time of year, but there are two main fisheries in the face of the Oahe Dam and the tailrace below the Oahe Dam, that offer great spearfishing and bowfishing throughout the spring, summer, and autumn months.

Here are some things you should know about archery and spearfishing:

  • Thank you for not littering our waterways. Take any fish you shoot and put it to good use. Smoke the meat, give it to a friend, bury the remains in your garden, or put on a big fish fry for your neighbors. DO NOT leave your dead carcases in our beautiful river.  It is not only immoral…it’s a crime!
  • Same length and bag limits for hook and line apply. See GFP rules and regulations for more information.
  • Diver-down flags must be displayed while in the water spearfishing unless within a motorboat prohibited area.
  • Never dive alone.  Our current can be strong in places, and there is a lot of recreation activity throughout the area.  Be safe!
  • Spearfishing and archery fishing season on Lake Oahe and Lake Sharpe is May 1 – March 31.

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