The 5 Best Fish to Catch in South Dakota this Summer

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: October 10, 2022
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South Dakota has an abundance of two things: natural beauty and fish. In your pursuit of the latter, you’ll experience the former. This South Dakota has many lakes, ponds, and creeks, and it’s also home to a portion of the Missouri and James Rivers. You’ll find all sorts of fish species in these waters. Yet, we’re going to turn our focus to five of the best fish to catch in South Dakota. That way, we can show you some of the iconic species that are caught in these waters and how you can get them to bite!

What Are the Best Fish to Catch in South Dakota?

It’s hard to look at any number of fish and say that they’re better than others, but that’s not the goal of this article. Instead, we want to show you some of the best fish to catch in South Dakota based on their availability in the summer along with other factors like size and difficulty to obtain.

That way, a beginning angler can still catch a good fish while experts can pursue fish that are tougher to catch. So, without further ado, let’s look at some worthwhile fish!

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1. Black Crappie

Black Crappie
Catching black crappie is a lot of fun!


The black crappie isn’t the biggest fish in South Dakota, but it is a lot of fun to catch. It often weighs just a few pounds and measures between 4 and 8 inches. The biggest one ever caught in South Dakota weighed just 3 lbs 8 oz.

Black crappies often live in schools. So, when you get an eye on them in the water, you can drop your bait in their path and have a good chance of catching them. These fish often live in lakes and impoundments in South Dakota, and they are especially numerous in the southern half of the state.

They’re most active in the early morning and evening, sometimes by trees and aquatic vegetation and other times schooling in water 10 feet deep or slightly more. Try using small minnows, insects, or commercial bait to get one on the line. These fish are too small to put up much of a fight when you go to catch them!

2. Smallmouth Bass

smallmouth vs largemouth bass
Smallmouth bass are not native to South Dakota, but are found in lakes and streams.


Although most people love the largemouth bass, the smallmouth bass is one of the best fish to catch in South Dakota. They are usually found in streams and lakes with clear water and rocky bottoms.

Smallmouth bass can measure between 12 and 16 inches on average, and weigh a few pounds. The biggest one ever caught in South Dakota was 7 pounds and 4 ounces, and it was 20.75 inches in length. Although they are not native to the state, they have been introduced to South Dakota’s waters.

When they are found in warm waters, they’re usually aggressive when trying to obtain food. Aside from using worms and crawfish, you can try using spinners and topwater lures to get them to bite.

You’ll find smallmouth bass in shallow water during the morning and evening, but they seek cooler water throughout the day. Try finding rocky areas in Lake Poinsett, Lewis and Clark Lake, Lake Sharp, and others for some great smallmouth bass fishing!

3. Bluegill

seven to sixteen inches long
An example of a fish that is very easy to catch is the bluegill.


Bluegill is another game species of fish that you’ll find in South Dakota’s lakes and ponds. The reason we included them on the list of best fish to catch in South Dakota is that they’re the perfect fish for people new to fishing to pursue. They’re numerous, lightweight, and don’t require expensive rods or bait to catch.

Instead, you just need to head to a lake, drop a worm in the shallow waters near the shoreline and start pulling them in. These fish prefer to live near weeds and shady spots in the heat of a summer day. So, you may snag your line a few times.

Still, the fact that these fish are so easily caught makes them fun to catch. Some people catch and cook them, but a lot of people simply just catch and release them. They’re more common in the western lakes in South Dakota, but they’re still found throughout the state. Check Lake Carthage, Lynn Lake, Lake Menno, and Newell Lake for some bluegills.

4. Chinook Salmon

A fisherman with a Chinook Salmon caught in Canada. They typically measure about 3 feet long and 30 pounds in weight.
Chinook salmons measure about 3 feet long and 30 pounds in weight.

©Crystal Kirk/

The chinook salmon is a gorgeous fish that is often found in Lake Oahe and its associated tailwaters. They aren’t the most common fish, and that makes them especially fun to catch.

In the summer months, these fish go to the deeper portions of this lake to stay in cool water. That means you’ll need downriggers to get you to the 50-100 feet depths you need to get these fish on the line.

These fish can get rather large, weighing upwards of 40 pounds and growing 3 feet long. They can get much larger, though, and weigh over 100 pounds. You probably won’t find one that big in South Dakota, though. The state record is just 31.55 pounds and 36 inches in length.

You’ll need some good bait such as sardines, herring, minnows, or sand shrimp. Be prepared for a good fight when you get one of these fish on the line!

5. Walleye

Fishing Walleye fish in the angler's hands.
It is easy to catch walleye using different jigs.


Although people in South Dakota love ice fishing for the walleye in the winter months, this fish is also popular during the summer. Although they’re not always common in other states, walleyes are plentiful here, and that makes them one of the best fish to catch in South Dakota.

These fish usually measure between 15 and 20 inches, and they weigh a few pounds. Yet, they can get rather large, measuring almost 3 feet long and weighing 20 pounds. In South Dakota, a 16.39-pound walleye is thought to be the heaviest ever caught.

It’s easiest to catch these fish during the early morning and around dusk. It’s easy to catch them using minnows, worms, and different jigs.

We’ve gone over some of the best fish to catch in South Dakota. Mostly, it comes down to personal preference. However, this list showcases the various types of creatures that one can find in this state’s waters. Just make sure to double-check the laws governing when and where you can fish so you don’t accidentally have a run-in with the game wardens!

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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