When someone says South Dakota, several images come to mind; the Badlands, bison roaming the open prairies, and Mt. Rushmore probably head up the list. One image that probably doesn’t enter the mind is good trout fishing, and this is South Dakota’s best kept secret. The Black Hills are full of spring fed streams, and these streams are in turn full of trout.
For Memorial Day weekend Crystal and I ventured up to South Dakota to check out a few National Parks and while we were there I wet my line in French Creek. Since I know you all love quick history lessons; French Creek was made famous by a prospecting party lead by Major General George A. Custer. His party found gold in French Creek in 1874 and this lead to the Black Hills gold rush of the late 1870s. OK, history lesson over, onto the fishing.
French Creek flows for roughly 62 miles from just northwest of Custer, SD all the way to the Cheyenne River. The area I fished was in Custer State Park, inside the French Creek Natural Area. This section of the park is 12 miles long and does not have a defined trail through it, subsequently the area doesn’t receive a lot of visitors and the trout, in turn, don’t see many flies; advantage Andre.
As you initially approach the creek you won’t feel good regarding your chances of catching fish, because the stream bed looks like this:
Luckily, I had done my homework and I was aware that the eastern end of the stream often flows underground during dry periods. The heart of the canyon we were headed towards is full of springs which keep the stream flowing year round. A short hike further and the stream bed was full of cool clear water. So, do your homework and know a little about the place you’re visiting before you get there; a less informed angler might have turned back.
The issue I ran into, once we found water, was accessibility. This section of the creek is overgrown with trees, bushes, and poison ivy (so watch yourself as you venture through the area). The abundance of plant life made casting difficult. A shorter lighter rod is advisable, a 3 or 4wt rod would easily do the job, but even with a shorter rod you will still find casting treacherous.
The inability to cast a significant distance made fishing even harder. Although the trout here do not see many flies, they are still wild browns and will scatter if they see or hear you coming. Luckily, we came across this section:
This man made dam created a deeper and wider section of stream with plenty of room to cast and it was full of trout. In this little section alone I caught 4 trout and hooked up with 4 more who managed to spit my hook and escape. I had expected this small stream to only produce tiny trout in the 3”-6” range but was pleasantly surprised to land a few in the 8”-10” range. Every fish I landed was a brown trout, but I’ve read reports that say there are also brook trout and rainbows present in French Creek.
All of my success was on dry flies, which always adds to the fun. I used several different flies (Stimulators, Royal Wulffs, Parachute Adams, Elk Hair Caddis) and they all worked. As I mentioned earlier, these fish don’t receive much pressure and are more than willing to go after a well presented fly.
This section of French Creek probably isn’t for everyone. It does require a bit of work to get to and unless you’re planning on spending the night like we did, it probably isn’t worth the effort. However, if you’re exploring Custer State Park and want a secluded area to camp and fish, away from the crowds the French Creek Natural Area is exactly what you’re looking for. If all that effort isn’t for you, I strongly suggest you check out other more accessible streams in the Black Hills. The scenery is wonderful, the wildlife is plentiful, and the trout fishing is excellent, and for the moment, our little secret.
Until next time, happy fishing!