We’ve had one of the wettest years on record and Rapid City – what does that mean for the fishing? As anyone that’s fished around the area earlier this summer knows, we had some incredibly high and dirty water. We’re not in an area that has a ton of snowpack or normally gets a sustained runoff, so it was a bit different for us this year. Many of our streams were flowing at 15-20 times their average flow for quite some time. Successful fishing this spring required thinking out of the box in regards to areas to fish and flies to use, but we’ve had a great season nonetheless.
Our current late summer conditions are what we would normally see in early to mid June – most streams are higher than normal, but more than fishable. The central and southern Black Hills are definitely wetter and have higher flows than the normal flows – i.e. Spearfish Creek is about an average flow, and Rapid Creek is double or more the average in most spots. The high flows have scared a lot of folks off, even though the fishing is fantastic. Why?
When folks think of fly fishing, they typically think of a crystal clear stream, visible fish, and oftentimes sight casting to a particular fish. When they drive to a river and there’s only 2 feet of visibility and it’s running pretty green, many people will leave and drive somewhere else with clearer water. The advantage the faster, slightly dirtier water gives you is a great one – the fish don’t have as long to inspect your flies, and the swifter flows often push them into more predictable areas. You can use larger flies, heavier tippet, and get closer to the fish. Higher flows oftentimes move fish around quite a bit as well, and oftentimes some of our biggest fish of the year are caught in the least ‘ideal’ water flows and conditions. High water isn’t bad as long as the fish can see your flies and you can make your fly get to the fish. Here’s a couple graphs of local stream flows vs. average stream flows:
The fishing throughout this year has been exceptional, and it’s mostly due to the higher flows. Many of our streams can get very low and clear in the late summer on an average water year, which can make for some tough fishing. The fish are spooky, and you have to use smaller flies and lighter tippet, which inevitably adds up to losing more fish. We had a few issues earlier this season with finding places that were calm and clear enough to fish, but the streams are all in fantastic shape right now. Rapid Creek had some of the highest sustained flows for most of the summer, which has seemed to make the fish considerably larger and sassier than they typically would be – I’ve been catching way more fish in the 14″ range in town this year than I have for the past several years. Higher flows move the bottom around, which also rattles the aquatic insects loose and makes them much more vulnerable to a trout snatching them.
What do the higher flows mean for fishing this fall? We think that this is going to be one of the best fall seasons we’ve had in a number of years, on just about every stream in the Black Hills. The fish have been in a super food rich environment for the majority of the summer, and they’ve been packing on the calories and pounds. Simply put, most places the fish have seemed to be running larger than they would on a normal water year. Because the flows have been higher – particularly on Rapid Creek – we’ve been able to get away with using heavier tippet in the 4x range, as well as larger flies in many situations. The flows are going to stay fantastic for the foreseeable future, which is great. The fish are much more comfortable in slightly higher, slightly stained water than they are in gin clear water. Less spooky fish means you have more opportunities! Even on streams that are near average flow such as Spearfish Creek, the fish have had the benefit of higher water all summer and are in fantastic shape. With the good Blue Winged Olive hatch we see on Spearfish in September/October, we should see some fantastic fishing there over the course of the next couple months. Many of our small streams that might be barely fishable on a normal year are fishing fantastic for brookies and browns as well – Elk Creek, Slate Creek, upper Rapid, French, and many others are great options to go fish with your 3 weight and a handful of generic flies.
This fall is going to be the best we’ve seen in quite a few years – last year was similar, but this year conditions look to be even better. Make some time to get out and experience some of the best Black Hills fly fishing of the year this fall, or give us a call to spend a day with one of our guides – if you’re looking for the best Black Hills fly fishing experience possible, our team of experienced guides can give you a fun and memorable experience. Give us a call or swing by the shop for the latest conditions and hottest flies!