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South Dakota’s Missouri River System Set for Banner Year
By Carl Madson

“Last year was good but this 2008 season looks to be even better,” is how Jim Riis described the state of Lake Oahe’s walleye fishery. Riis who is the Missouri River Fisheries Program Administrator for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks describes fishing up and down the Missouri River as excellent with phenomenal opportunities for salmon, walleye and smallmouth bass that draws anglers from across the nation.

Carl Madson with a huge Lake Oahe walleye Why do trails lead west to communities like Pierre, Mobridge and Chamberlain? Great fishing is the reason. Despite lower than average water levels and drought conditions for nearly nine years, the state of the fisheries is in most cases excellent shape. “The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks has maintained boat access so that all parts of Lake Oahe will be accessible this season,” adds Riis. While water levels have been low and this low water on the Missouri River has created some negative press over the past few years, walleye fishing in particular just seems to keep getting better. “There are several reasons why the walleye fishing keeps getting better. First, we have several strong year classes where we just have an awful lot of fish in Oahe including some really big fish. The other factor is that we have an ample amount of forage so that these fish are extremely healthy. In the past few years, gizzard shad have taken hold in this massive reservoir and given fish a high protein diet that game fish can eat to grow fast and large

The gizzard shad compliment the rainbow smelt, which is another important forage fish on Lake Oahe.”

While walleye attract most of the notoriety and while Lake Oahe is known far and wide as one of the nation’s top walleye fishing destinations, Riis admits that there are other opportunities for anglers that are awfully good right now. “The salmon fishing on the lower end of Lake Oahe should be really good this year.” Also, Lake Sharpe and Frances Case both are top walleye producers but often get overshadowed by massive Lake Oahe. Both Sharpe and Francis Case however become prime destinations for anglers from across the Midwest early in the season because the water stays open and anglers can experience great fishing out of a boat long before many traditional walleye fisheries open up. “Great walleye fishing is available to anglers on both Sharpe and Francis Case as early as January and February some years,” explains Hall of Fame angler and outdoor celebrity Tony Dean who lives right in Pierre. “March and April are often prime months to experience lots of action for walleye on Sharpe and Francis Case but another fish is also getting noticed especially in Lake Sharpe is the smallmouth bass. Smallmouth bass are growing to impressive sizes in Sharpe and interest from anglers has increased.”

Biologist Jim Riis agrees with Tony’s assessment of Lake Sharpe’s smallmouth bass opportunities. “Sharpe grows some really big smallmouth bass and many diehard walleye anglers are devoting their time to just fishing for smallmouth bass, describing this opportunity as the best fishing on their lives,” explains Riis. Many options await anglers on South Dakota’s Missouri River system. World class walleye fishing throughout the year, opportunities for Chinook salmon and trophy smallmouth bass make deciding what to fish for a challenge. For more information on fishing Lake Oahe, Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case or any of South Dakota’s Missouri River System, contact the Great Lakes of South Dakota Tourism Association at www.sdgreatlakes.org, 1-888-386-4617 or the Pierre Chamber of Commerce, www.pierre.org, 1-605-224-7361.

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