Al Campbell, Field Editor

July 7th, 2003

Home Waters - part 3
Spring Creek
By Al Campbell

Spring Creek begins as a tiny trickle in the heart of the Black Hills. As its name would suggest, it gets its water from the many springs that feed it during its eastward journey toward the prairie. By the time it reaches a well-traveled road, it's supporting sizeable numbers of small but hungry brown and brook trout that are looking for an easy meal.

The upstream portions of the creek run parallel to Forest Service road 305. This is a gravel road that's maintained for passenger cars, with plenty of pullouts and parking areas for easy access. Since this is Black Hills National Forest land, it's completely accessible to the public. You'll find a few healthy brookies mixed in with the six to twelve inch browns that dominate this section of the stream. Don't be fooled. What these fish lack in size, they make up for in enthusiasm.

Upper Spring Creek Brookie

From the intersection of Forest Service road 305 and U.S. Highway 385, Spring Creek glides through mountain meadows and fields northeastward to Hill City, a distance of about seven miles. U.S. Highway 385 parallels the creek here, but the best access is available via the George Mickelson Memorial Trail, a hiking trail that borders the stream allowing easy fishing access. Here you'll find brown trout a couple of inches longer than their upstream neighbors, but still as eager to inhale a fly. Don't be surprised if a marmot or whitetail deer visit you at the water's edge, they are plentiful in this part of the Black Hills.

For kids too!

If the fishing wears you out, or family obligations have a priority, and you decide to do a little sight seeing, this portion of the stream is less than ten miles from Mount Rushmore, and five miles from the Crazy Horse Memorial. In fact, you can hear the roar of dynamite as sculptors continue to carve the Crazy Horse Memorial out of a granite mountain just north of the town of Custer. Of course, it is possible that you might be too occupied with the fishing to notice the sounds of blasting. Who could fault you for that?

From Hill City, Spring Creek tumbles northeastward through Mitchell Lake to Sheridan Lake, a distance of five miles. U.S. Highway 385 provides ready access along most of this section of the stream. The water is faster here, and the fish are bigger. A few lucky anglers manage to catch browns and rainbows over five pounds out of these waters every year. Some of them even top ten pounds, but they are rare. Since fishermen are allowed to keep some trout on this portion of the stream, and one fish can be over 14 inches, many of the big ones never make it back into the water. Fortunately, there are a growing number of anglers who are releasing all trout, especially the big ones, so your chances of hooking a monster are better than they were a few years ago.

Spring Creek Rainbow

If you need a break from the trout fishing, or if other fish are your fancy, Sheridan Lake offers Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass, Crappie and Perch for your angling pleasure. It also offers swimming beaches, camping, boating and water skiing to distract you from the fishing. Ahh, decisions, decisions. Life's rough, isn't it?

Spring Creek Stonefly

From Sheridan Lake, Spring Creek wanders northward, then eastward about ten miles through a beautiful canyon before it exits the Black Hills south of Rapid City. This is the section of stream that the locals love best. Browns and rainbows over fifteen inches can be found with a few topping ten pounds. Fly fishermen enjoy hatches of golden stoneflies, mayflies and caddisflies during the summer. The winter nymph fishing is brisk and productive. Bighorn sheep, deer, elk and wild turkeys frequently visit the creek for an afternoon drink. And, the scenery is beautiful enough to distract the most callous fisherman, especially when the stream is decked out in its autumn colors.

Summer on Spring Creek Access to three miles of this water is provided via county road 228. Parking areas, pullouts and an ample shoulder on the roadway provide easy access to the water. The rest of the stream is accessible by foot on hiking trails and old roadways that are closed to vehicle traffic. People looking for the biggest trout will be pleased by the results of a short hike away from the road. The upper Spring Creek trailhead has parking space for more than a dozen vehicles so crowding isn't a big problem. Parking at the lower Spring Creek access point is a little more difficult since no trailhead or parking lot are available at this time. Most people park along the road or in the nearby pullouts when fishing this stretch of water.

Netting nice Rainbow

Unfortunately, the drought conditions in 2002 caused this portion of the stream to dry up in most areas, killing most of the trout and many of the insects. Fish were planted last fall and again this spring, so they can be found in good numbers, but the once supreme hatches have been reduced somewhat. This year we have plenty of water (so far), and the fishing is rebounding nicely, but it may take a few years before the insect activity is back to the robust level it was at two years ago. Either way, the fish are there in good numbers and some are truly large.

Summer Fishing in Spring Creek

Best flies include Yellow Stimulators, Elk Hair Caddis and Adams, all in small sizes. Size 16 Bead Head Pheasant Tails and Hare's Ears are a good bet any time of the year, especially during the spring. Golden Stonefly hatches are a daily occurrence from late May to mid July when the hopper fishing really heats up. Spring and fall hatches of Blue Wing Olive mayflies are dependable enough to keep an angler occupied. Forty fish days are not uncommon to the serious fly fisher on the section of stream below Sheridan Lake.

Autumn on Spring Creek

Since Black Hills streams are open to fishing all year, it's common to see fishermen probing the depths of the slower pools during the winter. Midge hatches occur throughout the year, and nymph fishing is great during the winter. If you're looking for a nice winter flyfishing retreat, Spring Creek should be on your list of potential spots. In fact, if the water keeps running, it's a great place to fish any time of the year.

Autumn on Spring Creek

If I sound enthusiastic about this stream, I am. Last summer I nearly shed tears when the stream dried up and so many large trout died. Most of the stonefly photos I have in my collection were taken on this stream, and the hatches were as strong as I have seen anywhere east of the Madison, so I was really upset that the insect population took a hard hit. However, the water is back, the fish have been replanted, and somehow many of the insects survived to start the populations back on the road to full recovery. One of my favorite streams is recovering, and I am enthusiastic about its future. If you ever get to fish it, you'll see why I love this stream. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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