When most people plan a fishing trip to eastern South Dakota, they target the glacial lakes. The area around Webster and Waubay gets a ton of attention — and for good reason. With massive bodies of water such as Bitter Lake, Enemy Swim and Waubay Lake just a short drive away, it’s easy to see why anglers flood these communities each year. Those three lakes offer some of the finest walleye, perch and panfishing in the state, but word has been out on these gems for a few decades now.
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, set your compass due south and look to the blue portions on the map near Brookings and Arlington. Most of these lakes were formed by glacial depressions that naturally filled over time, just like their more popular brethren to the north. These lakes can also provide great fishing, and best of all, they’re usually less crowded.
Size: 400 acres
Primary species: walleye, pike, perch
Brush Lake resembles many of the tiny bodies of water that you can drive by along U.S. Highway 81, as it’s surrounded by ag land with no noticeable features. However, there are a couple things that make Brush standout that can’t be detected by the naked eye.
Amazingly, this lake contains no carp or buffalo fish and just a few white suckers, which are native to the area. That lack of rough fish allows vegetation to flourish and prevent winterkill in this shallow body of water that only reaches 9 feet deep.
The primary species in Brush are walleye and perch. While the numbers of either species aren’t terrific, the lake did produce one of the only 25- to 30-inch walleye during 2016 netting surveys in southeastern South Dakota. As for perch, a great year of recruitment was observed in 2015, which should translate to catchable numbers in the coming years.
While fishing Brush it’s best to stay highly mobile. It’s a small body of water that is fairly featureless, meaning it’ll take some guesswork and legwork to find the fish. Darker lure presentations are recommended, though, as the lake has some of the clearest water that the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department has sampled.
Size: 3,700 acres
Primary species: walleye, pike, perch, white bass
Lake Albert is largely overlooked because of its proximity to Lake Poinsett, an 8,000-acre body of water that sits just on the other side of U.S. Highway 81. Albert is also sometimes forgotten because of its temperamental water level, which left much of the lake less than 5 feet deep in 2004, causing a large kill-off of walleye and catfish.
However, because of the lake’s connection to Poinsett and the Big Sioux River, it has the ability to quickly bounce back when water levels allow it to. In recent years, Albert has hit depths of 13 feet and has had plenty of anglers finding success targeting walleye and perch.
Most anglers who take home stringers of fish on Albert concentrate on the many points that the lake has to offer. For hardwater anglers, though, those are the same points to avoid where ice levels are inconsistent and sometimes unsafe.
Size: 1,700 acres
Primary species: walleye, pike, perch, smallmouth and largemouth bass, white bass, crappie, bluegill, muskellunge
81 Sloughs is unique for a number of reasons. For starters, it has one of the biggest and most diverse fish communities in the state. Not only does it contain nearly every game fish the Midwest has to offer, but it also has them in catchable numbers. When you wet a line in 81 Sloughs, you never know what you’re going to get.
Also, 81 has limited boat access, making it a ghost town during open water, but a hot spot come winter. If you would like to launch a vessel here, you’ll have to do it off of a county road or sandy shoreline where parking is limited. Nonetheless, tons of shore fishing opportunities are available with much of the lake flirting with the pavement of U.S. Highway 81.
While the fishing can be great here, it can also be one of the most challenging bodies of water in the area. The reason being is that the lake is a mess with structure, islands, bays and peninsulas that make it difficult to find a starting point.
Size: 2,300 acres
Primary species: walleye, pike, perch, crappie, white bass
Lake Henry is the little brother to Lake Thompson, a lake the state has labeled as “one of the most important fisheries in southeastern South Dakota.” Because of its border to the 12,500-acre Thompson, Henry gets little attention from anglers or recreational boaters.
Henry is extremely shallow, with a max depth that’s reportedly just 8 feet deep. It’s hard to verify, though, as no topo maps exist of the winterkill-prone body of water. Because of this, the fishery has been hard to manage in the past, but recent years of high water have allowed some species to flourish within the lake’s boundaries and others to migrate in from neighboring water.
Henry is primarily a walleye lake, with subsidized yearly stockings that help boost the population. In 2016 it was flush with walleye under 10 inches and had more netted than any other lake in the area, setting it up to be a great secret spot in the years to come.
For fishing Henry, it’ll take a lot of exploring to find active fish. With the lack of contour maps or labeling, you’ll be forced to rely on your depth finder and intuition, which is also a big turnoff to fishermen. Look to fish the large weed lines in the northeast corner of the lake, as well as the huge sunken point in the middle of the lake, which is exposed when water levels are low.
About the Author: Fishing columnist Spencer Neuharth studied biology at the University of South Dakota and worked as a fish biologist. To see more of his writing and photography, go to rutfresh.com.