It has been over 65 years since Lake Oahe reached its initial full pool stage. The big Reservoir has seen its share of ups and downs and plenty of changes—some good and some bad—some natural and some man made, during this period of maturation.
This expansive, diverse and ever resilient body of water just continues to evolve and astound us with its ability to continually rebound from severe fluctuations. This is just the ongoing ebb and flow associated with all of the Main Stem Reservoirs on the Missouri River. It can and does have an impact on the fishery. The good part is that any negative effects seldom last more than a few years.
This ever-amazing Reservoir just continues to kick out quality game fish, most notably, walleyes, just as steadily as the lifeblood flow of the mighty Mo’s water itself courses through it. Of particular note, the Northern end of the Lake weathers adversity and fairs much better than the Southern end. This is largely due to the fact that there are numerous large bays and two major spawning arms, the Moreau and Grand Rivers. This keeps the recruitment of juvenile fish high. The more shallow and fertile aspect of the upper reaches also supports a wide variety of warm water prey that is so imperative to the fast growing and aggressive nature of the Oahe strain of walleyes. Particularly as our traditional deeper and cold-water prey species such as rainbow smelt and their eggs are extremely vulnerable to spring drawdowns and literally being flushed right through Oahe Dam when massive evacuation of water is needed due to poor predictions.
As much change has taken place on and below the waters of Lake Oahe, an equal amount has taken place along its 2,250 miles of shoreline. 1.5 million visitors now enjoy 51 recreation areas with camping, boat ramps and fish cleaning facilities that are second to none…anywhere. Fishing communities have sprouted right up quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. Most notably in the northern reaches, where fishing is most consistent and predictable, year-round. There is even a climate controlled, all season fish cleaning station the folks of Mobridge have built at Indian Creek and one slated for Swan Creek due to the efforts of the community of Akaska. Further opening up the until somewhat recently, largely overlooked late fall, early spring and ice fishing opportunities that exist.
Several ramps, convenience stores, lodging and excellent restaurants located on the Southern end of the Upper Reservoir, near the bridge at Whitlock’s Crossing make for a great destination. At the opposite end to the North the friendly and flat out fun loving folks of Pollock welcome us to the always productive stretch near the North Dakota state line. The growing number of residents in the New Evarts area adjacent to the Walth Bay landing are a testament to the popularity of the stretch between Akaska and Mobridge. Add it all up and I cannot think of a body of water with better fishing and facilities. Round it all out with some of the best people you will ever encounter and the upper half of Lake Oahe really does have it all. I must admit that I am more than just a little prejudiced as I cut my teeth here and am proud to know most of these fine folks and honored to count a good many as friends.
Tactics are evolving as quickly as the landscape. We have witnessed a transition from traditional bouncer and spinner combos into more subtle attractors such as Mack’s Lure Smile Blades and tiny spinning props. The Slow Death method of presenting rotating portions of nightcrawlers on a purpose bent light Aberdeen style hook is now a standby. Livebait is not mandatory to success as scented artificial baits often work just as well, if not better at times.
With each successive round of adversity that the Reservoir faces, it just seems to endure whatever Man or Mother Nature can throw at her and comes back perhaps slightly altered, but stronger, nonetheless. Per regulations, we are allowed to keep one walleye over 20 inches per person per day. In a quite positive trend, we are seeing an increase in the amount of these “overs” being consistently caught. Even more encouraging is the fact that a growing number of anglers are becoming enlightened enough to get over the “meat hunter” attitudes of the past and releasing most, if not all of these genetically superior specimens. Allowing them to pass along their favorable genes to millions upon millions of fry. Therefore, continually replenishing the resource. These fish are also responding well to any number of once thought of as “non-traditional” presentations such as:
Deep diving crankbaits such as ReefRunner 800’s and similar lures reaching 30 plus feet have become common fare. Savvy anglers employing snap weights carrying any manner of baits to 65 feet deep and beyond are unlocking previously unimagined patterns. The need to meticulously present baits in small precise areas is also waning. Speed can and does kill. Burning shallow running crankbaits in just a few feet of water along shorelines, basically right in the propwash at speeds up to and exceeding 3 mph quickly strains through miles of water. Contacting and in turn…catching big numbers of actively feeding fish. Pitching over-sized swimbaits, aggressively working an array of jigging minnows, large spoons and even blade baits are consistently producing trophy sized females. Most anything can and will work on any given day. Tournament and other hardcore fisherman have opened the realm of possibilities by constantly pushing the envelope to create imaginative and innovative methods. Therefore, unlocking more and more secrets of this fascinating fishery.
Speaking of Tournaments and Innovation. The Northern Oahe Walleye Series is a culmination of all of the many attributes that the lake and the people that I have spoken of have to offer. Great communities, excellent fisherman and a body of water that is big and diverse enough to showcase all of its bounty. This began in 2016 as a thought that in the region; there are some of the very best walleye fisherman on the entire continent frequenting the lake and several communities hosting well ran, highly respected and long running tournaments. Why not let each community run their tournament as they know what works for them best and combine them all into a Series? Mobridge is currently serving as the host of the Championship and their dedicated Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Committee staff and volunteers handle the legwork and logistics such as keeping track of Team of the Year registration and points, etc.
Through some communication and coordination, we ended up with the best of everything. Resulting in the most professionally ran tournaments I have ever had the good fortune of participating in…bar none. This has increased the numbers of participating anglers across the board and thus payouts have risen accordingly. Making things even more interesting as in addition to having the distinct honor of placing well in a field of good sticks, you can even bring home substantially more than just a few bucks to show for your efforts. With Team of the Year honors being determined at the season end Championship; $20,000 in cash and prizes provided by a growing legion of loyal sponsors can be taken home by one team, in just one event, as it was for this past season. I would confidently predict this will grow in proportion to our increasing angler base along with community and fishing industry support.
In my mind, the most important aspect is the ever-growing amount of camaraderie created. New friendships are being made and strengthened at each and every event. We are also fortunate to witness increasing numbers of teams made up of family members. I have seen the smiling faces of the future in the young and quite capable anglers amongst our ranks. We have school age girls whipping up on not just the boys, but grown and in my case, old men as well. Can’t put a price tag on that.
Come join us and check it all out for yourself. I cannot think of a better venue for some spirited competition amongst accomplished and ethical anglers. Every participant comes away a winner in scenarios such as this. Please take a moment and go to https://northernoaheseries.com/ for details on the Series. You will also find links and entry forms for each of the 6 qualifying tournaments and the Championship tournament. If interested, I would recommend getting your applications in early as I would anticipate we will see some, if not all, of the tournaments filling quickly this season.
About the Author: Dennis Foster is an avid outdoor communicator via all media outlets, including Focus Outdoors TV. He is also a highly active promoter, guide and tournament fisherman. Input as well as questions and comments are welcomed and can be submitted through either of his websites at eyetimepromotions.com or dakotapheasantguide.com.