Anglers in the Pierre area will have their pick of two great fisheries this season, as spawning runs wrap up and walleyes settle into their spring and summer patterns. The differences between the two water bodies provide unique opportunities for walleyes and secondary species to add some variety and excitement to a day of fishing on either water. Between Lake Sharpe downstream and Lake Oahe above Pierre, those anglers looking for both numbers and trophy-sized walleyes will have their choice, according to Dylan Gravenhof, Fisheries Biologist for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.
“The spawn is in full force on Lake Sharpe, we’re seeing good healthy fish. The last couple years our condition of fish on lake Sharpe has been really great. Lake Sharpe is always our walleye factory. It doesn’t produce big fish, but lots of numbers in that quality 15- to 18-inch sized fish. The last couple of years we’ve had great forage out there and that condition of those fish has really been showing that they’re healthy,” Gravenhof said about walleye surveys and angling success on Lake Sharpe in recent seasons.
Likewise, this spring anglers have been patrolling the waters of Lake Sharpe since mid-March, and fishing success has reflected those survey notes, with anglers finding consistent action for quality eater-sized walleyes utilizing jig-and-minnow combinations and some trolling of crankbaits. The walleyes have the right forage to grow into that ideal keeper range but are limited in their growth beyond that slot.
This keeps an abundant base of catchable fish available for consistent action.
“A 25-inch fish is generally a pretty good fish for Lake Sharpe, just due to the forage base we have down there. They don’t consistently grow that big. They have the right food to grow to that 18-inch range and then they kind of stall out. On Lake Sharpe, the main forage base is gizzard shad and that’s only available at certain times of year. Most of the shad typically die off over the winter,” Gravenhof explained.
Additionally, anglers will find a strong stock of smallmouth bass on Lake Sharpe, particularly in the lower reaches from the West Bend and the North Shore areas down to Big Bend Dam. Smallmouth populations remain notable and a good size structure exists with bigger fish up to five pounds and a solid average smallie of about three pounds available to anglers looking for something different to mix into their open-water adventures.
Where Lake Sharpe’s success is in producing significant numbers of fish, Lake Oahe is on the other side of the dial with larger walleyes available for anglers this season. With a completely different forage set of smelt and cisco, the established populations of these larger prey species help sustain a year-round binge for bigger fish, providing them with the protein to pack on the pounds and a true trophy experience for anglers.
“Lake Oahe is just a different beast than Lake Sharpe altogether. We generally don’t quite see the numbers of walleyes on Lake Oahe that we do on Lake Sharpe, but the size and quality is really there. With the cisco and smelt, it’s a different prey base, where that forage is available year-round,” Gravenhof said.
This spring’s spawning run on Lake Oahe is tapering off, and most of the action has been in the upper reaches of the reservoir around Mobridge, with many walleyes in that section of the flow utilizing the Grand River for their spring movements. The lower portion of the reservoir sees less spawning action, simply because there are fewer tributaries of any consequence than there are in the upper reaches of the flow. Game, Fish and Parks agents noted that spawning and netting activities this spring in the Grand River area of Lake Oahe produced results that were right on par with what they have encountered over the past few seasons, and walleye populations in that reach remain healthy. Some supplemental stockings of walleye fingerlings are done in the lower reaches of Lake Oahe to sustain populations of fish where less natural reproduction occurs and that process will continue this year as well.
“We just wrapped up some of our walleye spawning efforts on Lake Oahe, and we are seeing lots and lots of big, healthy fish, so there’s a lot of trophy potential fish out there for the anglers,” Gravenhof said.
In addition to the strong set of big walleyes, Gravenhof reported a population of large northern pike in Lake Oahe. With ample water and habitat still available from the state line down into the lower reaches of the reservoir, and that forage base fueling their growth, pike can reach massive proportions and were showing up in Game, Fish and Parks’ nets this spring. Pike more than 40 inches in Lake Oahe are not uncommon and can provide exciting action, particularly in the cooler waters of spring and early summer, before increasing temperatures force them a bit deeper.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that many big pike in our nets before. They’re doing really well,” Gravenhof said. “They were all spawning and running eggs while we were catching them so things are looking up for the pike too.”
Additional species of interest on Lake Oahe include a solid population of channel catfish, and seasonal stockings of chinook and Atlantic salmon, which provide a coldwater fishery for those anglers patrolling the depths with downriggers along Oahe Dam as the upper reaches of the water heat up in summer.
Together, these two reservoirs covering more than 400,000 acres together will still provide ample fishing opportunities this season, despite lower water levels. Current concerns are the lack of inflowing water from limited mountain snowpack in Montana which fuels the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, which in turn fill the Ft. Peck and Lake Sakakawea reservoirs upstream.
While significant late season snow has fallen throughout April in North Dakota, along with recent rains, this precipitation is unlikely to make up for more than a few inches of ground in those upstream waters and on the main stretch of the Missouri River, where levels remain low, and spawning grounds remain high and dry.