A Floridian goes fishing in South Dakota

One inevitable fact about my job is that I often find myself traveling hundreds, and occasionally thousands, of miles away from my beloved home state. These foreign lands are typically devoid of the beaches, estuaries, swamps and springs that I’ve grown accustomed to love, however I’ve learned to explore the outdoors while I’m there to discover what natural beauty and recreation opportunities exist that may be unique to that region.

On a recent business trip to visit a client in South Dakota, I noticed my host’s office was adorned with displays of trophy walleye, a member of the pike family that is native to Canada and the Northern United States, which were artistically positioned on the back wall in a recreation of an underwater scene commonly found in the glacial lakes of the region. This naturally lead to a follow-up conversation on fishing, which has been a topic discussion off and on in our professional interactions since that visit.

Therefore, it was with little surprise that on my most recent visit, after we wrapped up our day’s worth of meetings, I was presented with one final question,

“Do you want to go fishing?”

A total of fifteen minutes had expired before myself and my gracious host, Jerry were riding in his truck, boat attached, heading east towards the glacial lakes region of South Dakota. This time of year it doesn’t fully get dark until after 10:00 PM, which provided us ample opportunity to get some post work fishing in. Before long we were outside the bustling metropolis of Aberdeen, SD, rumbling down a dusty gravel road armed with fishing rods, cheap gas station sandwiches, beverages and Jerry’s homemade pheasant jerky.

Launching the boat was a simple matter. Jerry definitely has this placed dialed in. I would say the name of the lake, but it’s a secret, and I don’t even know it. My host wouldn’t take the blindfold off until we were in the middle of the lake. Even the occasional pheasant seen along the lake’s edge was sworn to secrecy.

The wind was calm, which apparently isn’t a good thing for walleye fishing, but we were determined to make the most of it, and if anything, enjoy a beautiful evening on the lake. After a dozen or so casts at our first spot, I get a telltale bump on my lure, swing back to set the hook, and am met with quite a bit of resistance. Turns out some of the glacial lakes in South Dakota haven’t always been lakes, and during periods of drought, trees were permitted to grow on the land. In later years, with more rainfall, the trees became submersed underwater Big trees, of which I have caught my first. After much tugging, the line eventually snaps. No big deal, I re-tie, make a mental note, and am back casting within a few minutes.

It’s not long before I get another bump on the lure, however this time it’s not a tree, it’s my first walleye. The fight lasts about 5 seconds, as the 8 ounce fish skis across the surface. I decline assistance with landing the fish, no gaff needed. I also decline the offer to be photographed with the fish, as I don’t believe it’s diminutive size would be quite the trophy photo I want to send back to the world. I do snap a quick picture of the tiny specimen in my hand, just in case it’s the only walleye caught. I am pretty good with Photoshop, and the picture could come in handy in case a fish story needs to be written later.

We continue to fish on. The lake is really beautiful. Jerry is a great guide, and shares stories along the way about the area. I cast again and get a bump, then slack. I reel up fast, the line goes taught, and I set the hook into something that feels a little bigger this time, and the fight is on. It’s a minute or so before we get a look at the fish, and when we get our first glimpse, we realize that it’s not a walleye, but a musky. Musky are fairly toothy critters, and I’m only using 8 pound. line, so some finesse is needed in this fight to insure the light line isn’t broken or cut off by the musky’s sharp teeth. I continue to gingerly play the fish, trying to wear it out. Jerry is standing along side with the net, ready to scoop it up as soon as I can get it close enough to the surface. Over and over I get the fish with a foot’s reach of the net, before it dives back down to the depths. Finally the musky starts to slow, rises to the surface and Jerry net’s it perfectly. As he’s raising the net from the water, the line parts, just in the nick of time. After a short celebration, the musky is measured out at 32″ and hoisted up for the obligatory fish photo.

Holding up my first South Dakota musky!

The musky was fun, but we’re not here for musky, we are here for walleye, so we fish on.  Again, Jerry is a great guide.  We continue to try a few more spots, Jerry pointing out various structures and fishy spots along the way.

My host and guide, casting to the next sweet spot on an unknown lake in South Dakota.

The sun is getting low, but we decide to try one more hot spot. Jerry is confident this is a good spot, as he’s caught many walleye off the banks of this particular point (which does have a name, but again, I’m sworn to secrecy.) After a few casts, Jerry hooks up. This is a nice fish. I cast out, and now I’m hooked up. A double hookup. We are both fighting our fish now, making sure not to get tangled up in each other’s line. Jerry, being the gracious host, makes sure the net gets to my walleye first. Unfortunately Jerry’s breaks free, preventing us from taking the double fish picture. This time my walleye is worthy of a photo, so I happily oblige.

My first “real” walleye.

It was to be the last fish caught for the day, but that was fine with me. As the wind died completely, we were all treated to a nice sunset as we motored back to the boat ramp.

The end of our day of walleye fishing.

The next day we congregated again after work, fresh walleye fillets simmering on the grill while sharing fish stories. Turns out Jerry has been fishing in Florida quite a few times, and has quite a few fishing goals that haven’t yet been realized. I look forward to hosting him one day in our great state, and putting him on some of our finest, finned specimens.