Northern Lake Oahe: First-class fishing with hospitality second to none

 

Lake Oahe has a well-deserved reputation as a walleye factory. And the potential for trophy-sized pike with many reaching and exceeding 20 pounds is always possible. Folks are also starting to discover how abundant the crappies are while smallmouths are found in extremely good numbers and respectable sizes. Toss in cooperative silver bass and all the channel cats one could ever hope to catch and you have a pretty wide selection.

Balance is an ongoing struggle, but is something this reservoir always seems to sort out for itself. I’m largely referring to the importance of ample forage. There are natural ebbs and flows in baitfish populations, and with these so goes the fortunes of the gamefish that rely on them. There are factors beyond control such as weather, but water management affects all fish.

A prime example of this was the ill-fated planning on the part of the Corps of Engineers back in 2011. In a nutshell, they grossly underestimated the amount of water flowing into the system and had to open the floodgates on Oahe—the very first time the emergency spillway had ever been used. Along with the torrent of water went a good portion of our smelt and untold numbers of gamefish. The good news is that the lake once again showed its resiliency when faced with adverse conditions. In the absence of coldwater baitfish, like the now decimated smelt, lake herring has showed a dramatic increase in population and has helped to supplant that resource. The gamefish also displayed their ability to adapt and began keying on other prey species such as gizzard shad, emerald shiners and young-of-the-year panfish. For the panfish’s offspring, a good portion simply transitioned shallow and in as little as 2 to 10 feet in the warmer water found at the backs of bays, and the walleyes made their living off of this more reliable source of protein.

The reservoir offers excellent walleye angling, but of particular note is its northern half. If we were to divide the lake into two distinct sections, the Highway 212 Bridge west of the town of Gettysburg (Whitlock Crossing) would be a logical spot. The name is derived from this location where the Whitlock family operated a ferry crossing the Missouri River before automobiles and any bridges. From this point south, the water gets deeper and the structure breaks sharper, but it is a bit more sterile. Travelling north, we begin to experience a shallower, more fertile environment, and in my opinion, more consistent fishing.

The large creek arms, river arms and bays all are within easy reach of the fishing areas. From south to north from the Highway 212 Bridge are Whitlock Bay, Swiftbird Creek, Swan Creek, Moreau River, Blue Blanket, Grand River, Oak Creek, Pollock Bay and State Line Bay, which is at the farthest point north at the South Dakota and North Dakota state line. These all hold good numbers of fish on any given day. You just need to bounce around to locate the actively ones.

Aside from the exceptional fishing, there’s plenty of enjoyment onshore as the entire corridor boasts friendly folks offering comfortable and affordable accommodations complemented by great eating options. From the Highway 212 Bridge and heading upriver, you first have the Whitlock’s area. Here you will find two steakhouses, two motels, two bait shops and another lounge with lodging. There are also more permanent housing options sprinkled throughout. Then you can head straight up Highway 1804 to Akaska. Two bars and eating establishments and a bait shop are available. From there, continue on up to the little resort community of New Evarts, which has a good steakhouse and lounge along with a motel. Their chamber of commerce is very proactive in promoting the wealth of recreational activities the lake provides. They have generously stepped up in providing logistical support for the Northern Oahe Walleye Series and run walleye tournaments that serve as qualifying events for the bigger event.

All locations have seasoned guides and I’d recommend using them if you’re new to Lake Oahe and want to have more success. As an added benefit, you will learn some valuable fishing lessons as part of the experience. Another thing to note is that all locations have private campgrounds and beautiful camping areas with facilities and feature boat ramps and fish-cleaning stations. Mobridge boasts a year-round, climate-controlled indoor cleaning station too.

I have come to know the folks in every community, and their commitment to excellence had been there over the years. I stand behind the entire concept of the Northern Oahe Walleye Series and how these tournaments are run. There’s a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into making sure each goes off without a hitch. In addition to being conducted well, each tournament here offers a good mix of affordable entries and attractive payouts. These are all enhanced by the generosity of our sponsors: Raymarine, Lund Boats, Mercury, Dave’s Marine, JB Lures, ReefRuner Lures, Rod Select 360, Sodak Sports, Scheels and Moritz Marine, and more.

Full information, contacts and entry forms for all tournaments can be found at northernoaheseries.com. If interested, I would strongly recommend you enter as soon as possible because these tournaments fill up quickly.

Whether you’re a hardcore tournament type of angler or a fair-weather fisherman, the attraction of this entire area is equally compelling. If you are looking for a new destination or just haven’t had the good fortune of being up here, consider heading to the northern reaches of Lake Oahe—it’s a place where the fishing and folks are always great.