Bass Fishing the Dakota’s

An under-utilized option

Collaboration with Casey Ehlert

North and South Dakota harbor some of the best fishing options in the entire Midwest, but most of these destinations are centered around walleyes, perch and other panfish. Bass fishing in the Dakota’s has always taken a backseat to these other species, but the smallmouth and even largemouth of this region have caught the attention of many anglers in the past five to ten years.

If you’re a bass guy and you’re looking for a new adventure this coming season, the Dakota’s should certainly be on your radar. If you’re subject to the fishing seasons of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Dakota’s will allow you to get on the water earlier in the spring before other options are legally open. This provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy a fantastic pre-spawn bite for both largemouth and smallmouth.

“The pressure in South Dakota is very similar to the lakes I fish in Minnesota. In the spring, everybody is chomping to get the boat in the water. During the spawn, the lakes have a lot of boats running around,” stated Casey Ehlert.  “Once that bite leaves, the pressure goes way down until fall and in late fall the pressure dies off quite a bit unless you are on the main walleye lakes.”

Contrary to what most people think, there are plenty of options in the Dakota’s when it comes to bodies of water that hold a healthy population of bass. The South Dakota Glacial Lakes region centered on the town of Webster is an excellent place to start. If you’re a Minnesota or Wisconsin resident, this area is fairly close to home and offers hundreds of lakes to choose from.

Lakes such as Roy, Enemy Swim, Clear and Pickerel are all well known options that hold excellent numbers of smallmouth. With a little homework and time on the water there are tons of other great options in this region that are still a bit off the beaten path.

One thing that anglers will have to keep in mind is that some of these really good fisheries have been affected by the new water access rules put in place last season. There is still a lot of fight left to overturn some of items put in place.

However, until that is sorted out there are a bunch of lakes available to fish so there is no excuse to not go there and fish.

A fisherman could spend the rest of his life on the Missouri River System which winds through both North and South Dakota and he would barely scratch the surface of this massive fishery. Areas with names such as the Francis Case Reservoir, Lake Sharpe and Lake Oahe have always been world class options for walleye fisherman but their well-kept secret of smallmouth bass fishing is starting to leak.

The buzz around this system has been loud enough to attract the BASSMASTER Elite Series, who will hold an event on Lake Oahe out of Pierre, SD at the end of June this year. If the conditions are right, these anglers could unveil another bass fishing gem of the north like they did with Lake Mille Lacs in 2016 and 2017.

The cool thing about fishing in South Dakota is the variety of lakes you can fish. Some lakes used to be a puddle in the middle of nowhere and with high water, flooded to become large expanses of water. A large number provide many, many options on ways to fish them. Most have shallow rocks, deep rocks, gravel patches, standing timber,

laydowns, stumps, weeds and roadbeds. The first time you fish some of these lakes can be really tough finding the fish. Some days it seems like all the fish in the lake are doing the exact same thing, so you need to keep trying new areas and type of cover or structure to see what’s best.

Relying on technology in dissecting these untapped bodies of water in the Dakota’s is must, as many of these bodies of water are loaded with underwater gold mines!  “Prior to Side Imaging, I was mainly a shallow water fisherman because I always felt like I was wasting so many casts out deep using only sonar and paper maps,” stated Casey.

Like many anglers Casey turned to Humminbird and their units with Side Imaging and had him spend an entire day driving around and adding waypoints.  “When I’m chasing fish now, MEGA Imaging is where it all starts. I still scan for hours at a time and EVERY single offshore secret you find can pay off on any given day!”

Once Casey has marked his spots, he will rely on Humminbird 360 to see what’s all around the boat and make pinpoint casts, EVERY cast, to the structure or cover he is targeting. “I will not fish without a 360 in my boat and actually have a hard time going with anybody else in their boat if they don’t have one.”

“If you look at the MEGA Imaging, 360 and the Minn Kota Ultrex – they changed my game and took it to a place no other equipment has in thirty plus years of fishing. My best advice is don’t just buy these pieces of equipment to say you have it, get on the water and put the time in to learn them.”

Beyond the Glacial Lakes region of South Dakota and the Missouri River system there are certainly other options. Small stock dams and other hidden puddles across the entire region can offer excellent fishing but if you’re looking to explore bass fishing in the Dakota’s for the first time, we suggest that you start with one of those two proven areas. Pack your gear and hang on because there are plenty of mean largemouth and smallmouth waiting for you out west.