Spearfish Canyon is one of our favorite streams in the Black Hills, and for good reason. It’s an undammed freestone river sitting in a gorgeous canyon, and it’s filled with wild brookies, browns, and rainbows, depending on which stretch you’re fishing. There’s an abundance of water just in Spearfish Creek proper, plus there’s several small feeder creeks that have great populations of trout as well. Even with the great population of fish and all the water available to the walking fisherman, Spearfish Creek can be a tough nut to crack when you go there for the first few times. Much of the water, especially in the lower canyon, is a raging torrent with a steep gradient that crashes over boulders in it’s hurry to reach the prairie. To the untrained eye, much of the water looks nearly unfishable. We get a fair number of people that go to fish Spearfish, and struggle finding fish for various reasons. Here’s five tips that will help you find more fishable water and put more fish in the net in Spearfish Creek!
1 – Stealth over casting distance – Most of the water in Spearfish Creek is quite fast. If you’re trying to fish thirty feet away from you, your line and fly are going to get torn downstream very quickly due to all of the fast, conflicting currents. Because of this, we try and get quite close to the fish and make short casts. The shorter your line, the more control you’re going to have over your drift. The fish aren’t really spooky generally, but you have to think about your approach before bumbling down to the water. I always try and keep a fast current between the fish and myself, and I often won’t even get in the water. The broken, turbulent water creates somewhat of a barrier between you and the fish, and allows you to get surprisingly close. I like to get between 10 and 15 feet away from the fish generally, which makes for an easy cast and great line control. You don’t need to be able to cast 60 feet to catch fish in Spearfish.
2 – Heavy flies are your friend – Because the water is so swift in Spearfish, you need to have a fair amount of weight to get down to the bottom where the fish are holding. The more I fish up there, the more I like tungsten flies. While you can use split shot or putty to get down, they dampen your ability to detect strikes and you get tangled and hung up on the bottom way more often. The setup I almost always use in Spearfish is a size 12 or 14 tungsten jig nymph as a lead fly, with a smaller jig or dropper pattern trailed below. There’s a hundred different ways to rig this, but I’ve had good success rigging like this. Dropper tags work also, but are more of a pain to rig. I vary the size of my lead jig depending on how deep and swift the water is, but I fish a 12 more often than not. It’s true in most trout waters, but if you’re not getting to the bottom on Spearfish Creek, you’re not going to be catching too many fish.
3 – Fast water = Fish – Much of the canyon is severely underutilized and simply not fished because people are intimidated by the swift water. Many of the folks that come up to fish from Rapid are used to the riffle-run-pool construction of Rapid Creek, and there’s not as much of that in Spearfish Creek. The same riffle-run-pool setup is still prevalent in Spearfish Creek, but it’s more subtle and the fast water hides a lot of it from the untrained eye. There are tons of fish in the fast water of the canyon, and most of them never see flies. Even in the fastest of water, there’s almost always a slow edge that extends from the bank out anywhere from 6 inches to several feet, and there’s fish in nearly every one of these edges. In my mind, it takes the fish that would be evenly dispersed across the creek and shoves all of them into that outer fringe of the creek. Essentially, you’re fishing a spot where the fish have to be, because they generally won’t hold in the insanely fast stuff. Fish the fast water and you’ll be shocked at how many fish are in water you didn’t even consider fishing previously.
4 – Read the water, look for pockets and slots – Spearfish Creek is a very bouldery, rocky creek that has a lot of structure for fish to hold in or behind. I’ve said that there’s a fish behind every rock in the canyon, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. The number of fish in Spearfish Creek is staggering, and they’re all in predictable places once you develop an ‘eye’ for the type of water. Even the smallest edge where the water slows down for two feet probably has several fish in it. Basketball-sized rocks will often have a dozen fish holding behind them. Essentially, any place where the current slows down or is broken by something, there’s probably a lot of fish in it as long as it’s deeper than your wading boot. Another thing to consider – your drifts are oftentimes only a couple feet long, because the fishy spot is only a couple feet long. A good, short drift will pay big dividends against a long, crappy one every time.
5 – Czech Nymphing – The absolute best way to fish the canyon is with a Czech Nymphing setup. Czech nymphing rods are long and light, and enable you to effectively fish nearly everywhere because of their reach and sensitivity. Generally, we use a 10′-11′ rod in the 2-4 weight range, along with a Euro Nymph line from RIO. We’re really partial to the Echo Shadow II rod for this type of fishing. It’s a great rod that fishes exceptionally well at a great price! There’s also a Comp Kit that you can add to the rod to make it up to a full foot longer, extending your reach. The long rod and thin line enable you to tight-line your flies through every likely-looking spot, and you feel almost every strike. The advantage to using this setup with the heavy flies mentioned earlier is that you can move your flies through the water at the pace the water on the bottom is flow, rather than the surface. If you’re fishing an indicator, you’re limited to your flies drifting at the speed the surface of the water is flowing at, which is oftentimes much different than the flow further down in the water column. Czech Nymphing allows you to effectively fish all of the water in Spearfish Creek, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun!
Spearfish Creek is an amazing fishery, especially once you get a feel for how to fish it. Our guides are a great resource to learn how to fish the canyon and in Spearfish if you’re wanting to learn as well! The canyon is fishing spectacularly well right now, so get out there and put these techniques to use!