For most of us, that summer get-away trip involves
a family vacation of sorts. If we're really lucky,
we might even get a chance to enjoy some fishing
while on the trip. But, how often do we get to
ombine family vacations and fishing trips? It
doesn't happen very often does it? Let's face it,
a couple of days on the Bighorn River would be
something like a dream come true for most of us.
But, our families might have a different opinion
of their stay in Fort Smith while we're enjoying
the excellent fishing. So, we do the right thing
and sacrifice our true desires for our families.
Sound familiar? I'm sure it does for most people,
but it doesn't have to be that way. You could take
the family to a place where they wouldn't run out
of things to do or places to see if your vacation
lasted all summer. They could wander in meadows
with elk and bison, or tour art collections and a
collection of tourist traps that is probably
unequaled anywhere on earth. How about prospecting
for gold or a quiet walk in the forest?
I could be referring to the Rocky Mountains, upper
Michigan or northern Minnesota, but I'm not. I'm
talking about one of my "home waters" destinations
in the Black Hills of South Dakota, specifically
Custer State Park. Add the excellent fishing you
can enjoy in the park, and you've found the ideal
summer vacation spot.
Custer State Park (And Local Area) Lakes and Streams
1. Lakota Lake -
If you prefer trout, you'll enjoy the rainbow trout
fishing in the lakes and streams of the park. All
of the lakes are stocked with rainbows, some of them
reaching several pounds. If something other than
rout is on your list, you'll also find bass, perch,
northern pike and crappie in some of the lakes. In
either case, if you're going to fish a lake, a float
tube or small boat will be helpful but not a necessity.
- Brook Trout, Northern Pike, Rainbow Trout,
stocked with 2lb fish.
2. Horsethief Lake -
- Rainbow Trout, Perch
3. Sylvan Lake -
- Rainbow Trout
4. Center Lake -
- Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout
5. Bismark Lake -
- Rainbow Trout, Perch
6. Stockade Lake -
- Rainbow Trout, Perch, Crappie, Northern Pike,
Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass
7. Legion Lake -
- Rainbow Trout
8. Grace Coolidge Walk in Fishing Area -
- Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout
9. French Creek Walk in Fishing Area -
- Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout
Lakota Lake just north of the park is stocked with
two-pound and larger trout every year for those who
want to battle a big one. It also has some scrappy
northern pike, but it is managed for trout. You can
keep only one trout from this lake since it's being
managed as a trophy fishery. Damselfly and dragonfly
nymphs cast near the weeds will bring heavy hits
during the mid-summer months.
If you're a brookie addict like me, Iron Creek (it
flows into and out of Lakota Lake) and the upper
sections of Battle Creek (near the town of Keystone
and Mount Rushmore) are loaded with them. They aren't
real big, but they are real willing and sometimes
that turns a dismal day into a shining one.
If numbers of fish are your goal, try Horsethief,
Center, Legion or Bismark lakes. These lakes are
full of hungry rainbows that average about 12 inches.
You shouldn't have any trouble catching a lot of
fish in a couple of hours. Several years ago,
while teaching a fly-fishing seminar for a local
youth group, I caught six trout in seven casts on
Bismark Lake. I was trying to show them how
effective fly-fishing in a lake can be, but hadn't
counted on the enthusiastic fish. I had a lot of
youngsters who were eager to try fly-fishing after
that short lesson.
Sylvan Lake is nestled in a tiny pocket on the top
of a mountain. It's lined by towering rock walls
on three sides. Ever popular with rock climbers
and swimmers, most people get lost in the lake's
stunning beauty and forget that there are fish to
catch. Most of the rainbows in this lake are about
12 inches, but some top four pounds for the lucky
angler. A variety of nymphs and wet flies produce
trout throughout the summer. While you're fishing,
the non-fishers in your family will enjoy sun bathing,
hiking, picnicking and swimming.
If a mixed bag of fish is your idea of an ideal day
on the water, try wetting a line in Stockade Lake.
Towering rock walls on the south side of the lake
are a favorite spot for smallmouth bass, perch and
trout. The shallow bays are loaded with cruising
largemouth bass, northern pike and crappie. If
you're planning to keep a few fish, make sure you
measure your bass, there's a fifteen-inch minimum
size limit on largemouth bass in this lake, but
you'll easily find fish that beat the limit.
For largemouth, standard bass flies are a good bet
most of the time with white being the preferred
color, especially late in the summer. Trout and
crappie will hit nymphs and streamers. You can't
go wrong tossing a small streamer near rock walls
and docks if you want to catch crappies, and
northern pike will eat anything that looks like
a wounded minnow, so streamers are a good bet for
them as well.
French Creek flows from the town of Custer through
Stockade Lake, then southeastward out of the park.
Rainbow trout fishing in the walk-in area south of
Stockade Lake can be excellent, especially early
in the year. The area near Blue Bell Lodge is a
local favorite for large browns, and the fishing
is usually great. Watch out for poison ivy in some
of the sections of the stream, it can be real thick.
Maybe that's why the fishing is so good, the plant
life keeps people away.
Grace Coolidge Creek offers the best stream fishing
in the park. Upstream from Center Lake, the brook
trout fishing is outstanding, especially if you're
looking for a lot of fish. The walk-in fishing
area below Center Lake offers rainbows that can
reach 18 inches. You will also find great fishing
downstream from the Game Lodge early in the year.
Mid to late summer you'll find reduced flows and
fishing below Center Lake can be difficult, but
early in the year it is usually excellent.
Favorite flies in the park's streams include Adams
and Elk Hair Caddis patterns in sizes 12 to 18.
Pheasant Tail nymphs and Hare's Ears are a good
bet if there's nothing happening on the surface.
Later in the summer, it's hard to beat hoppers
for fast action. If you tie your own, my Orange
Shwapf pattern is usually a killer pattern in the
Of course, family vacations usually involve more
activities than fishing. You'll have a variety of
opportunities for adventure in the surrounding area,
so plan on spending some time enjoying the Black Hills
and the many historic locations awaiting you. One
favorite stop is Mount Rushmore, just a half-hour
north of the park. You'll enjoy the nightly lighting
ceremony and the short history lesson that goes with
it. Believe me, it's worth the visit. The Crazy
Horse carving north of Custer is a work in progress,
and worth a visit. You might be lucky enough to catch
them on a day when they will be blasting away some of
If you're willing to venture a little farther away,
you'll find Devil's Tower National Monument, Badlands
National Park and Wind Cave National Park within a
three-hour drive of Custer State Park. Other
opportunities include hiking trails, gold mines,
caves and ghost towns. And, if the fishing is
crowded or otherwise not up to par when you visit,
or if you want more variety, don't forget the great
fishing available in the other lakes and streams
in the Black Hills that I have already exposed in
my "Home Waters" series.
Custer Park has several quality campgrounds and lodges
where you can relax in the peaceful mountain environment.
For reservations at any of the park's lodges, call
1-800-658-3530. Campground reservations can be
secured by calling 1-800-710-CAMP. Call early,
these lodges and campgrounds fill up quickly
during the peak months of the summer. If you
would rather not stay in the park, lodging and
dining places are available in any of the towns
in the Black Hills.
I realize that some people will only be fishing,
and a family vacation might not be on their minds;
but most of us have some obligations to family and
their desires. If your summer fishing get-away has
to be coupled to a family vacation, Custer Park is
a good choice.