Northern Lake Oahe Update

    An increase in Oahe's prey fish numbers and fat walleyes have anglers excited for open water.

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    By Dennis Foster

    Lake Oahe has been long accepted as one of the premier walleye destinations in North America. Rightly so, as even when some folks feel its fishery may be down a bit due to circumstances beyond control, it is still pretty darned impressive. If given any semblance of common sense management, Oahe always seems to heal itself and bounces back quite well, each and every time.

    The last major episode of ineptitude occurred in 2011 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers totally whiffed on accurately predicting the amount of runoff coming from the Missouri River’s expansive watershed. As a result, no preparations were made for the coming onslaught by vacating water in advance downstream through the five main-stem dams.

    The result was the forced opening of the emergency spillway on Oahe Dam near Pierre, S.D., when an awful lot more than water rushed through the wide-open gates. Most notably, a substantial portion of Oahe’s most important baitfish, rainbow smelt, were rinsed through the dam. Oahe’s walleyes thrived on smelt when the reservoir was in balance, and when their primary forage base disappeared, the walleye population suffered.

    The good news is that the smelt are now steadily recovering. Even better news is that the dynamic nature of Oahe’s riverine gamefish have forced them to adapt to new food sources, taking some pressure off the smelt as they continue to recover.

    In deep water, lake herring are becoming an increasingly important source of protein. Gizzard shad also play an important role in open water and offer a further balancing effect. To round things out, there is now a very distinct shallow pattern that some of the more savvy anglers have been exploiting. Game fish of all varieties can be found in the very backs of bays chowing down on a multitude of prey such as young-of-the-year crappies, white bass, perch, skipjack, catfish and any number of minnow species.

    To summarize, this ever-resilient reservoir is on the big side of the bounce back. In fact, recent studies by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, along with reliable, anecdotal evidence from hardcore anglers and guides, confirm that the northern half is doing quite well. Not surprising, as the upstream portions of Oahe have always served as a nursery for the lake’s fish. The expansive Grand and Moreau river arms are spawning magnets for walleyes, along with just about everything else that swims.

    Large bays and creek arms also serve a similar role. From south to north, some of the more well-known include: Stove Creek south of the Hwy 212 bridge, Whitlock Bay, Swiftbird Creek, Swan Creek, Oak Creek and, of particular note, Pollock Bay. It’s worth noting that the Pollock area yielded a huge northern pike surpassing 30 pounds and an equally impressive walleye that went over 15 pounds through the ice this winter. Fish like this certainly indicate that we are in the beginning stages of several years of fine fishing. Not just in terms of numbers, mind you, because the sheer size of these two specimens serve as testament to the reservoir’s trophy potential.

    In the pioneer days it was Horace Greeley who coined the phrase “Go West, young man,” as advice for those seeking fortune. When it comes to fishing Lake Oahe, we could modify this to say head north for the most consistent action. I really do think you will find it to your liking and will most likely end up making it a regular destination once you discover the hospitality of the quaint little fishing villages and small towns along the upper stretches of the reservoir.

    Northern Oahe Walleye Series

    This leads into a perfect segue to talk about some of these places and promote another great opportunity for anglers who have a little competitive spirit. The Northern Lake Oahe Walleye Series had its inaugural season two years ago, and we are continuing to experience rapid expansion as we enter our third season.

    I am proud to say that I am not aware of another walleye tournament venue that is drawing as many enthusiastic anglers as we are in this short amount of time. The great news is that things are only going to get bigger and better.

    In short, the series is comprised of two- or three-person teams who can compete in up to six qualifying tournaments and a championship tournament complete with team-of-the-year honors. The qualifying tournaments are well run, established venues based out of locations ranging from Whitlock Bay near the U.S. Highway 212 bridge at the south end on up to Pollock Bay, which sits just below the North Dakota border.

    Here is a list of the qualifying tournaments:

    • Wolves on the Water: June 2, New Evarts Resort near Glenham.

    • Denny Palmer Memorial: June 8-9, Mobridge.

    • Pollock Men’s Club: June 16-17, Pollock.

    • Whitlock Bay: July 7-8, Gettysburg

    • South Dakota Walleye Classic: July 21-22, Akaska

    • Grand River Casino Cup: July 14, west of Mobridge

    • Series Championship: Aug. 3-4, Mobridge.

    For full details on the Northern Oahe Walleye Series and links to all of the tournaments along with entry information, please visit northernoaheseries.com. We are continually seeking to add new sponsors for the series and welcome any inquiries from those who may be interested in becoming one of our valued partners. Contact Dennis Foster at 605-887-7069 or Dawn Konold at 605-845-6088 for specifics.

    I would anticipate points for the team-of-the-year title to be very tight going into the final and deciding championship event. There is a lot on the line for this one. Winners of the championship are guaranteed $5,000 cash along with Raymarine’s flagship Axiom multi-function displays, a Rod Select rod storage system and a $250 gift certificate from Sodak Sports in Aberdeen, S.D.

    There is also a $5,000 cash prize for the team-of-the-year title along with Raymarine Axiom units, a $2,000 certificate from Dave’s Marine in Webster, S.D., Air Wave seat-suspension systems, Rod Select rod storage system and a $250 gift certificate from Sodak Sports. There will also be numerous door prizes for all the anglers from the likes of Reef Runner Fishing Lures, JB Lures and Moritz Marine.

    In an attempt to allow as much flexibility as possible for the anglers, three qualifying tournaments and the series championship count toward team-of-the-year points. In other words, teams just need to fish three qualifiers and the championship to be in the hunt for this honor and the lucrative payout.

    However, to reward teams that fish more than three events, points from their best three finishes will be tallied prior to the championship. That way if a team has a poor finish at one event, they can always just fish another event to try and make up lost ground. As a loyalty bonus, all teams fishing more than three events will be entered into a drawing to have entry fees waived for the championship tournament.

    In addition to a professional and well-run series with attractive payouts and prizes, there will also be a significant amount of media exposure generated this season. We will televise a minimum of three shows on Focus Outdoors TV highlighting not only the tournaments, but also the some of the communities that work so hard to put on a great show.

    For example, there will be a show filmed in the small town of Akaska, home of the South Dakota Walleye Classic and Festival. If there ever was a place that was totally dedicated to fishing and fun in general, Akaska would be it. In addition to highlighting the tournament, we will be filming the children and senior’s fishing events, as well as the other activities that make up the festival part of the weekend.

    Another show will be filmed to showcase the unique fishing town of Pollock, S.D. It is the “newest” town around in the sense that it had to be relocated to higher ground when the reservoir filled. These folks are a bit off the beaten path, extremely friendly and offer unparalleled hospitality to all visitors.

    The final show covering the championship will be shot out of Mobridge, S.D., and will be the third event of the series hosted by this notable community. Mobridge has extensive experience organizing and running successful fishing tournaments, which makes it the logical choice to handle all of the logistics for the series and as the natural site for the season finale.

    Outdoor Forum magazine and the Aberdeen American News will also be covering tournament results, news and announcements. Tournament updates, photos and stories will be posted online at theoutdoorforum.net.

    About the author: Dennis Foster is an avid outdoor communicator, guide and tournament fisherman. He welcomes input and can be reached via either of his websites at eyetimepromotions.com or dakotapheasantguide.com.