The 7 Best Lakes for Ice Fishing in South Dakota

Ice fishing hole

Written by Volia Schubiger

Published: February 23, 2023

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South Dakota is a state that is known for more than just Mount Rushmore. After all, this state is filled with beautiful water and glacier lakes that make it a popular vacation destination. In the summertime, many people head to the state to visit the Badlands National Park and other amazing outdoor destinations. However, you may not know that the state is also actually quite popular for winter activities, including ice fishing. Throughout the years, South Dakota has continued to see lots of tourists and locals make good use of the many beautiful lakes in the state to partake in ice fishing. So whether you’re a tourist unsure of the landscape or a local looking for a new fishing spot, we’ve got the rundown on the best lakes for ice fishing in South Dakota. 

There are numerous lakes where you can park yourself down for some ice fishing. Here are some of the best destinations in the state so you can leave with a great catch.

1. Waubay Lake

Waubay Lake

Waubay is one of the deepest lakes in South Dakota and is known for the giant walleyes that swim in it.

Our list starts off with Waubay Lake. This lake happens to be one of the deepest in the state and it has a wide variety of fish that you can catch. The most popular fish, however, is the giant walleye as it has a reputation for housing this giant fish. Some of the other fish that you can catch here include smallmouth bass, and yellow perch. However, there are also some other species such as the black crappie, bluegills, rock bass, and northern pike. This lake is located in northern South Dakota and spans roughly 15,000 acres. Additionally, the ice around this lake doesn’t start to melt until April and sometimes even as late as May. This gives an angler plenty of time to get in their ice fishing during the season.

2. Lake Madison

Ice fishing

Southeastern South Dakota is home to Lake Madison where anglers can enjoy fishing yellow perch in great numbers.

Anglers looking for a great place to fish will love Lake Madison. This lake is a naturally forming one that was actually named after Madison, Wisconsin. The lake itself stretches around 4.75 square miles of land and 4.36 square miles of water. At its deepest point, the lake reaches a depth of 16 feet, which means that you can easily set up a fishing spot throughout most of the lake area. If you’re curious about the types of fish you can catch here, you’ll be happy to hear that there’s plenty. You’ll see yellow perch, northern pike, bluegill, walleye, and yellow bullheads. However, the fish you’ll find the most is the yellow perch as it is the most populous fish in this lake.

3. Lake Francis Case

Lake Francis Case South Dakota

Located in central South Dakota, Lake Francis Case is a large reservoir on the Missouri River.

Lake Francis Case is located on the Missouri River in central South Dakota and is over 100,000 acres. This is a huge reservoir with a depth of nearly 140 feet and that’s what makes it such a popular ice fishing destination. Additionally, it is also one of the best spots to catch walleyes. It has even been called the walleye fishing epicenter.

The fishing here is pretty straightforward, which is another reason why it is so popular. Especially for a novice angler, it can be very encouraging as walleyes can be caught almost anywhere in the lake no matter what time of year. However, walleyes aren’t the only fish you can catch here. There is also a great number of bass, catfish, and northern pikes. It is important to note that the ice in the area usually begins to melt around March, although there have been reports of it being earlier some years.

4. Lake Thompson

lake thompson in south dakota

This lake has been named a National Natural Landmark.

Lake Thompson is one of the largest lakes in the state with an acreage of nearly 17,000. The lake reaches a depth of nearly 26 feet and has a 44.6-mile shoreline. The name of the lake was originally Dry Woods Lake. It was called by this name by the natives. However, it was renamed to honor Jacob Thompson, Secretary of the Interior under President James Buchanan.

This is one of the most popular ice fishing destinations in the state. It is also home to some of the most beautiful scenic views as well. At this lake, you’ll find fish such as yellow perch, walleye, northern pike, and sunfish, However, you can also find carp and black bullheads as well. Since this is a large lake, the ice fishing season takes a while to begin. However, the lake is usually frozen over by January. This is definitely one of the best lakes to ice fish at if you’re looking for a large variety of fish with beautiful views.

5. Pickerel Lake

Pickerel Lake South Dakota

This lake was formed by glacial activity that occurred thousands of years ago.

Pickerel Lake is both one of the cleanest lakes in the state and is also one of the deepest. This lake is a 955-acre spring-fed lake that is considered a part of the Glacial Lakes Region. This means that this lake was formed thanks to the glacial activity that took place here. Today, Pickerel Lake is known to have many recreational activities, and this includes both fishing and ice fishing. Anglers will be happy to find out that there are many types of fish that you can catch at this gorgeous lake. The fish here include a majority of panfish such as black crappie, yellow perch, and bluegill. However, there are also many other types of fish to catch such as smallmouth bass, walleye, and even northern pike and rock bass.

6. Opitz Lake

Happy fisherman with walleye fish

This lake features a wide variety of fish to be caught including largemouth bass and walleye fish.

Another wonderful ice fishing lake located in South Dakota is Opitz Lake. This lake is a meandered lake and the fishery associated with it is currently managed by SDGFP. Interestingly enough, this lake didn’t originally start out as a lake. It was originally four shallow cattail sloughs. Over time, the area began to see higher water conditions. These water conditions created the lake that anglers can enjoy today. The top catches here include a great number of walleye fish as well as smallmouth bass, yellow perch, common carp, and largemouth bass. Since the water conditions have continued to be high, public access to the lake has been limited to one specific access site. Overall, this is a beautiful lake with great scenic views for your next ice fishing trip.

7. Sheridan Lake

boats on Sheridan Lake, SD

The United States Forest Service owns and operates Sheridan Lake.

If you’re looking for an ice fishing spot that is only a short distance away from Rapid City then you’re going to want to check out Sheridan Lake. It is only 15 miles away from the city. The lake is considered a reservoir and is located in the Black Hills National Forest. As a result of being in a national forest, the United States Forest Service owns and operates the lake. The lake is usually frozen over by January, which means that you can start ice fishing as soon as the new year comes along. This is one of the most popular lakes for ice fishing as you can catch trout, northern pike, bass, perch, and other types of panfish. Additionally, since it is located in the national forest, there are lots of fun things to see and do throughout the area when you aren’t ice fishing.

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About the Author

Volia Schubiger is a freelance copywriter and content editor with a passion and expertise in content creation, branding, and marketing. She has a background in Broadcast Journalism & Political Science from CUNY Brooklyn College. When she's not writing she loves traveling, perusing used book stores, and hanging out with her other half.

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