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I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve driven past the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming on Interstate 90, and every time I’ve wondered if there are trout streams tucked away in those hills. Well, this year I decided to find out.
The answer is yes there are creeks and streams here that hold good populations of trout, some of them over three pounds. Many are pretty waters, too, ranging in size from a few feet to more than 30 feet. Just don’t expect wilderness surroundings and naive fish. These waters are all aggressively managed and any brookies, browns or ‘bows that survive the first season are quite cautious.
What I’m saying is, The Black Hills is not a discovery sort of place for the serious fly fisherman. lt’s an interesting stopover to consider if you are driving east or west on a flexible schedule, perhaps to or from the Yellowstone area. The streams here are full of classic riffles, runs, pools, waterfalls designer trout streams. And the Black Hills themselves provide a wonderfully scenic backdrop.
On my recent trip I took Highway 44 west out of Rapid City to Hwy 385. Turning right, I proceeded for about five miles to a gravel road labeled 237 near a sign that proclaimed "Trout Haven." I followed this for several miles to another gravel road labeled simply 231, which carried me to an old mining logging town called Rochford.
Here, I noticed a small stream, and decided to pull over and cast an Adams to various holding spots. Clad in hip waders, I worked a short line on my 6 3 rod with a #16 Adams at the end of a nine foot, 5X leader. For a couple of hours I caught, released and lost browns and brookies from eight to 14 inches.
You couldn’t just slosh your way upstream and plunk your line on the water and catch fish, but with a modicum of stealth (that’s all I possess) and some careful casting, these unsophisticated trout hit my fly with abandon. During this time I saw a half dozen pickup trucks go by, no other anglers and a number of deer that drifted into the surrounding pine and aspen-covered hills on either side of me. It was a very enjoyable experience.
Another way to fish this area is to take either Highway 14 or 85 off I 90 to the town of Deadwood. Beyond Deadwood, along Highway 14A, is Spearfish Creek, considered one of the better streams in the Hills. Another stream I heard good things about but did not have an opportunity to fish is French Creek in Custer State Park. Take Hwy 385 out of Deadwood to 87 and on into the park, a drive of about 60 miles.
All of this may sound confusing at first (it did to me), but roads, towns and related destinations are very well marked. Maps galore are available. If you like to camp, almost 80 percent of the Black Hills region falls within the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service. Camping facilities are scattered throughout the 1.5 million forested acres.
My 6 3 rod with a three weight line was ideal for the stream conditions I encountered. Flies like the Adams, Elk Hair Caddis and Hare’s Nymph in sizes 12 through 18 were all I used. Anything else is overkill or ostentation around here. South Dakota licenses cost $6 for one day, or $14 for five days, and can be found just about anywhere. I bought mine at a gas station. The South Dakota Department of Tourism (*) has a plethora of brochures and maps to help you find your way around. Three I would ask for specifically are "South Dakota Fishing & Hunting Guide," "South Dakota’s Black Hills & Badlands" and "South Dakota Fishing Handbook." John Holt.
(Editor Note: Holt says he didn’t encounter any memorable hotels or restaurants on his trip, but he does mention the Franklin Hotel and Motor Inn in Deadwood (*). The place is more than 80 years old, has a good dining room, an Irish Pub and a veranda outdoor cafe.)