The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 14, 2012

Cross: South Dakota fishing trip is all about karma

By John Cross
Free Press Staff Writer

— When it comes to catching fish, sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t.

It depends on what I refer to as fish karma.

Fish karma is a door that swings both ways.

If the fishing gods are smiling it is good karma, of being one with the fish — tuned in to where they are, what they are inclined to hit.

But if it is bad, you can’t catch a cold, let alone a fish.

And last week, on a brief fishing excursion to the glacial lakes of northeast South Dakota with my brothers, Rick and Dan, we experienced both.

Northeast South Dakota is an intriguing place to fish.

Day County always has been blessed with natural lakes — Enemy Swim and Pickerel — come to mind.

But beginning in the early 1990s, the area began receiving extraordinarily heavy rains and deep snow.

Because of a quirk in geography, the area is a closed basin system with no way for excess precipitation or snowmelt to drain away.

With no outlets, what had once been wetlands or sloughs have, over the decades, spread into the surrounding countryside to become full-fledged lakes.

Roads, thousands of acres of farmland, roadways, even homesteads, have been claimed by rising waters.

What previously had been North and South Waubay Lakes now is just Waubay Lake. Bitter Lake, a former slough, has become a sprawling lake that continues to expand, even nibbling away at the south edge of the tiny community of Waubay.

But the countryside also is dotted with scores of other water bodies, some of them named but many unnamed.

Of interest to anglers is that most hold healthy populations of fish, thanks to pro-active stocking efforts by the South Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Based on a tip by a Mankato angler who recently had made a fishing trip to the area, we had planned on fishing one of the lesser-known lakes.

“Limits of nice walleyes by 11 o’clock and not another boat on the water,” he said. “If you can’t catch fish there, well ...”

So equipped with precisely the lures he and his local fishing buddy had used, we rolled down a former township road that now served as an access point.

Part of the adventure of fishing some Day County lakes is that while some lakes indeed have maintained access points, many do not.

Instead, roadways that disappear into the depths frequently provide the only public points where boats can be launched.

Launching the 17-foot boat, even from a roller trailer, at the eroded shoreline/roadway was no easy task but eventually, with the assistance of four-wheel drive and some intricate maneuvers, we finally had the boat floating and soon after, lines in the water.

In the meantime, what previously had been a walleye chop on the lake had grown to wind-swept whitecaps as a breeze escalated to a 30 mile-per-hour gale.

After two hours of struggling with boat control and being battered by the waves as we trolled along a weed line with only one fish hooked and subsequently lost, we battled our way back to the roadway and packed it in.

Bad fish karma, to be sure.

The next morning, we awoke to the heavy rumble of thunder and the roar of rain on the motel roof.

Good karma for the locals, since it had been several weeks since the area had seen a drop of rain, but not so good for three anglers with no rain gear along and only the morning yet to fish before heading home.

Fortunately, the downpour tapered to sprinkles by the time we got to another lake, this one recommended by the fellow at the bait shop.

A stiff breeze created a nice walleye chop and the perfect drift on the bay we planned to fish with leeches and minnows.

I barely had my line in the water when I felt a sharp tap. Minutes later, I had a fat 19-inch walleye in the net.

Three hours later, while motoring back to the access with three limits of walleye and several bonus 12-inch perch in the livewell, the sun finally broke through to bath us in warm sunshine.

Good fish karma, to be sure.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at