Many anglers associate spring and fall as some of the best fishing of the year, but as the calendar flips to June the fishing on Lake Oahe is only beginning to fire up. An expansive reservoir, Lake Oahe connects two capitals. Beginning at Garrison Dam in Bismarck North Dakota, the reservoir stretches down to the Oahe Dam in Pierre, South Dakota. While Oahe can produce excellent salmon and smallmouth fishing opportunities, it is the walleye that keep anglers coming back year after year.
Indeed, Lake Oahe is a special fishery. Any angler dropping a line in has both a chance at a limit of eater class walleye or the fish of a lifetime! The cold, deep waters of Oahe are the perfect recipe for trophy caliber walleyes. Walleyes enjoy a year-round forage base of high protein meals, highlighted by rainbow smelt and lake herring. This combination allows fish to grow large and enjoy a long life, which makes it no surprise Oahe holds state record walleyes for both North and South Dakota.
In March 2021, a 16 pound 6 ounce walleye out of Lake Oahe surpassed the previous state record of 15 pounds 13 ounces caught in 2018. In February 2021, a 14 pound 15 ounce walleye was taken dark house spearing on Lake Oahe. This fish claimed the unrestricted state record category. Indeed, walleyes in the 14-16 pound category are present and there is no doubt the next North or South Dakota state record fish resides in this special reservoir.
However, Oahe is more than a trophy fishery. The upper-end of Oahe features excellent recruitment of new fish into the system and can produce triple digit days during the right time of year. This recruitment is courtesy of the major tributaries and creek arms that offer excellent spawning structure.
As summer progresses, the best fishing can be found between Mobridge and Pierre. The area between Mobridge and Onida is right in the heart of the action. This stretch of river features three main tributaries: Grand River, Moreau River and Cheyenne River. Walleye will move into these tributaries in the spring to spawn and although many will migrate back to the main river there is a resident population that will remain throughout the summer months. As fall progresses fish will begin moving back into these tributaries and produce some excellent fishing.
Smile Blade Strategies
While the river may be expansive, anglers who are going to have the most success will break the water down into smaller areas. These smaller areas are likely the creek arms that can be found on the main river channel or off one of the tributaries. These sections often feature points, drop offs and flats that can hold fish that are moving through the area. Many larger creek arms will also feature resident populations of fish as well.
One of the best tactics for targeting these areas is bottom bouncing with Mack’s Lure Smile Blades and a minnow or nightcrawler. Start your search relatively shallow fishing in 8-12 feet,
but don’t be afraid to drop out and try depths of 15-20 feet as well. Fish will generally be sitting on the backside of points or other features.
Throughout this time, walleye are generally quite willing to bite. You don’t have to do much to coax them into your offering, which means less is usually more. A smaller .8” Smile Blade is often just enough to help draw attention to your bait, but not steal the show. Silver, pink, green and chartreuse are all top colors, but purple and blue is tough to beat on the Missouri River system.
It’s a good idea to have multiple options in your boat for baits, as the fish’s preference can vary by the day and hour. While nightcrawlers are a proven option, both minnows and leeches can excel at times as well. Varying your blade colors and baits when you start your day will help you find a pattern more efficiently.
Piling on the Walleyes
While these areas can produce excellent fishing particularly May through July, main river structure will begin to produce as August rolls into September. The best fishing will often take place in deeper water and be focused on more vertical presentations. During this time, ripping Rapala Jigging Raps or similar baits along the bridge pilings can often produce some of the best fishing.
The Mobridge area has no shortage of bridge pilings, featuring several bridges that cross the river within only a few miles from each other. Anglers can also find productive pilings along the Highway 212 bridge in Gettysburg. The key to finding success in these areas is fishing quickly. Don’t waste time on unproductive pilings, if you go 15-20 minutes without a hit on a piling it’s time to move to the next one.
It is critical to understand how current impacts these pilings. Baitfish will tuck in behind these pilings for a rest from the current and predators such as walleyes will follow them, enjoying a one-stop shop featuring a current break and a meal. Water levels will also have a role in these locations, as rising water levels can push baitfish shallow, while dropping water levels will push this bait and thus walleyes out to these deep water structures.
It is also important to note, walleyes caught from water roughly 30 feet or deeper will very likely die due to the pressure changes. Many of these pilings and other deep water structures will range from 40 to 120 feet deep, so these are not areas where catch and release is possible. If you’re fortunate enough to catch your limit but wish to keep fishing, it’s a good idea to go search for walleyes in shallower water.
Whether you are searching for the next state record or the main course of a fish fry, Oahe has something for you! Anglers flocking to the lake will be greeted by excellent hospitality as communities such as Mobridge, Akaska and Gettysburg truly live on the river each day. Anglers will also experience why Oahe is known as one of the greatest walleye fisheries in the country!