Icy weather makes perfect time for ice fishing


Stephanie Henke, Reporter (She/Her)

As the weather cools down,  ice fishing in South Dakota heats up. Here’s a few tips on how to catch your limit.

There are eight lakes in Brookings County, six in Hamlin County and 12 in Kingsbury County. Some of the most popular include Lake Sinai in Volga, Lake Thompson in Kingsbury County, Oakwood Lake in Bruce, the pond on Hwy 81 East (also called Twin Lakes) and Lake Poinsett in Hamlin County. Each lake offers something different, and you need to know where to spend your fishing time.

Twin Lakes is great for a quick fishing trip. It is home to walleye, bass, pike and perch. Lake Sinai is just southeast of Twin Lakes and is stocked with walleye and muskellunge.

“Sinai is a tough lake to fish. You need to go to the middle where it’s deeper,” Scott Nelson, an employee at Gas ‘N Mor, one of Brookings’ most popular bait shops, said.

Nelson suggests Lake Thompson and Poinsett when looking for a good bite.

Fishers usually catch something on Thompson, which is filled with walleye, crappie, perch and northern pike. The lake is also part of Lake Thompson Recreation Area. This could make for a good weekend trip or a more dedicated, all day trip.

Poinsett offers walleye, bass, pike and perch on a large, 7,978-acre lake. Both lakes are more of a trip, both being about a 45-minute drive from Brookings.

Before you head out on the ice, tackle is important. Wyatt Beyer, former South Dakota State University student and vice president of the South Dakota State Fishing Club, suggests a few different options. Walleye, perch and crappie usually respond to jigging wraps and spoons. For smaller fish, lighter tackle usually gets the best results. Little tungsten jig heads are nearly universal.

South Dakota allows one fisherman to cast four lines. For this reason, Dave Lucchesi, the area fisheries supervisor for the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department (GFP), recommends using a tip-up with a minnow to allow you to spread out on the ice, increasing your chances of catching fish.

As for bait, wax worms are always a good bait to have in your pocket for any species. Perch enjoy maggots or minnows as well as wax worms. According to Beyer, grubworm and minnow tend to work well. Lucchesi suggests chub, creek chub and minnows for walleye fishing.

“A lot of bait and tackle depends on what people think they [the fish] like that day,” Nelson said.

Finding the fish is the next challenge. Knowing the topography of the lake you fish on is important. Oakwood Lake only reaches depths of nine feet, making it best for perch fishing. Lake Sinai can reach 33 feet, making for better walleye and northern pike fishing.

Using a topographical map, which are available online, can give you a sense of where to set up, since drilling holes in the ice is harder than driving your boat to a different spot or casting on the other side of the boat. To make it even easier, Lucchesi suggests an app like Navionics.

“Navionics shows you where you are. It makes it easier to place yourself exactly where you want,” Lucchesi said. “Fish may be out in the middle or come out to the points.”

Lucchesi also says to take note of fish behavior. Fish tend to follow similar patterns in regard to temperature, time of day or season. Often, fish will swim lower when the temperature drops or higher when the temperature rises. Taking this into account can narrow the search for the perfect spot.

Other devices that can help are more advanced tools. Using a Vexilar—a sonar device used to show depth and movement—or an underwater camera can bring you a step closer to your limit.

Of course, expensive gear isn’t necessary to catch your limit. Nelson suggested a beginners tackle box should include plain hooks, red and gold, split shots, bobbers and jigging wraps. A homemade piano wire can work just as well as a $200 pole, and worms found in your backyard can be just as effective as a bag of chubs.

The habits you practice while fishing can impact your catch, as well. When fishing for walleye, Lucchesi suggests starting in the evening and fishing in the dark, because that is when walleye are the most active. Bluegill sunfish and crappies are also most active at night, usually after sunset. Perch are more active during the day and they tend to stay in schools. If you are after a certain species, time your trip accordingly, or if you are going out when you have the time, prepare for the certain species most active at that time.

When planning your trip, don’t forget to take safety measures. Dress in layers, since you can always remove them. Let a friend know where you are going and the time you plan to leave and return home.

“Err on the side of caution,” Beyer said. “Go with someone more experienced if you’re a beginner.”

Beyer also recommends boot spikes to prevent slips and ice picks in case you fall through the ice. Checking the ice is incredibly important. Ice should be at least two to four inches thick for safe walking, five to six inches for an ATV or a snowmobile and at least a foot to drive a vehicle on the ice.

“Every year we have vehicles go through [the ice],” Lucchesi said. “They’re usually around the same area too.”

Lucchesi urges anglers to avoid areas with a current, shallow areas around cattails or flooded trees. Keep away from outlets, narrow areas, culverts and shorelines with a vehicle. Drilling holes as you go can help gauge the thickness.

“Ice fishing has become my favorite thing to do and it’s becoming more popular,” Lucchesi said.