WILTZ: Nearly everything to know about fishing Lake Oahe
With the price of gas soaring during the last four decades, I’ve done little fishing on Oahe. I felt that I needed to concentrate on my home waters. When I do fish Oahe, it is always one fine adventure.
Lake Oahe, with its countless creeks and vast stretches of clear open water, is almost overwhelming. I find the enormity intimidating. Because of its relatively diminutive size, my 16-inch Alumacraft jon boat powered by a Merc 20 horse outboard is a disaster waiting to happen on Oahe. It occurred to me this past week that if I were going to travel any distance at all from my Oahe campsite, I had best carry a small dome tent, some basic groceries and appropriate clothing. I don’t own a cell phone, but carrying one would be a good idea.
Art Jones, some of his family and I spent June 6-10 camped on Oahe’s Cow Creek near the southern end of the reservoir. With moderate rains, wind and temperatures that dropped into the 30s Friday night, we were ill prepared. My heavy sleeping bag saved me. Art was flat out cold. Though Art’s venerable Coleman tent fended off the rain, we could feel a fine mist that permeated the tent fibers on our faces.
Most anglers feel that on our nearby Lake Francis Case, walleyes appear to migrate south from the north end of the lake in the spring. The same must be true of Oahe. The anglers who enjoyed the most success went north. Walleye fishing on the south end of the giant reservoir was slow. Last year, we had great success in mid-July, and this year, we were too early. The surface water temperature was only 51 degrees while we fished.
The walleyes we did find were in 15 feet of water. Smallmouth bass ranged from the shallows to walleye depth. Most of our fish came on a jig-minnow combination fished slowly. The fish had little interest in the nightcrawlers that would be so effective a few weeks later. I could not control my light boat in the Oahe wind as it caught the bow and spun the boat. Boat control is everything, and I failed miserably. Art’s heavy boat handled it well.
Much of Oahe’s smelt forage base was washed downstream in the 2011 flooding. As a result, Oahe fish became thin and undernourished. South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks countered the food shortage by doubling the daily walleye possession limit to eight fish. With fewer predators in the water, forage fish populations would have a better chance of survival.
For the 2014 season, the limit has returned to the four walleye daily limit, although there is no size limitation other than only one 20-inch or larger walleye may be kept. We only caught one 20-inch walleye. Based on personal observation this past week, the GF&P management plan is working, although Oahe walleyes are not as fat as Francis Case walleyes. Smallmouth bass and northern pike appeared to be healthy.
Trophy-wise, any personal expectation for this trip was surpassed when I caught a 20-inch smallmouth bass. When I hold up a yard stick and look at 20 inches, it is difficult to believe that a smallie can get that big. I’m still walking on air.
Deep, lush, green hues dominated a lakeside landscape that was obviously patrolled by raucous ring-neck roosters. Along a stretch of Spring Creek shoreline on Sunday afternoon, we were treated to a parade by six Canada geese fuzz-balls under the wary supervision of mom and dad. They were amazingly bold.
On Friday night, I wondered if our tent would survive the wind and rain. As I lay there in my sleeping bag while our tent struggled like the sails of a four-masted schooner in a gale, my bladder began to tell me that I would be getting out of the bag and going out into the elements before I fell asleep. Even though one tries to convince himself that he can make it through the night, you already know that you’re kidding yourself. You will get up.
While on this sensitive subject, I was in the lobby of the Parkston clinic this afternoon when I needed to use the family-style restroom. The seat was in the up position when I went in. With mission accomplished, I pondered whether or not to leave the seat up. I decided to put the seat down with the idea that if I were a lady, I wouldn’t want to touch the seat. When I returned to the lobby, I asked the girls behind the counter if they had a preference. “Seat Down” was unanimous. They said it was the gentlemanly thing to do. They also wanted to see this in the column. You got it, ladies if they’ll print it.
Bizarre thoughts run through one’s mind while huddled in a tent. I got to thinking about my being a walking testament to Cabela’s. I was in a Cabela’s sleeping bag spread out on a Cabela’s folding cot. When I rose in the morning, I’d pull on a Cabela’s T-shirt, climb into my Cabela’s jeans and lace-up my Cabela’s shoes. Once outside, I’d slip into a Cabela’s jacket. After breakfast, I’d launch my Cabela’s boat, put on my Cabela’s lifejacket and begin fishing with my Cabela’s tackle. Should one outfitter be so dominating? In looking for a “why,” it comes down to customer service.
Another Oahe thought is even if your boat is small, you can still use it by staying in the bay where you camp, or venturing into an adjacent bay like Okobojo. My monster smallmouth came from Cow Creek. We were within sight of our camp.
One last thing. I believe that Oahe offers the best bank fishing anywhere. On Monday evening, we went down to the bank behind our tent. I baited a slip-bobber rig with a minnow and tossed it out. Within 30 seconds I was onto a fat smallmouth.
Betsy and I will be on our Maine vacation when you read the next few columns that were written in advance of our trip. The same will be true of the August columns you read while I’m in Africa. I’ve worked hard on these columns, and I hope you find them to be satisfactory. With today’s technology, they could be written on location. However, I just don’t want to isolate myself from family and friends while on vacation.
See you next week.