Hills on the Fly

Education, experiences, and information about fly fishing the Black Hills and beyond.

Sign up for the Black Hills on the Fly Newsletter

Screen Shot 2019-09-18 at 10.08.59 PM.png

Autumn always brings us visions of hungry trout leisurely rising to the water's surface for offerings of caddis, mayflies, beetles, ants and hoppers, The nose of that trout creates ripples and a split second sense of anticipation just before the fly disappears into a gaping set of jaws. But, this is not always the reality that we are faced with. When that fish does not leisurely rise to your fly...cast after cast...are you good enough to break away from traditional autumn tendencies in exchange for catching more fish?

This is a conversation we had recently with a small group of anglers fishing the driftless region of Minnesota. A spring fed trout stream in very rural coulee country was the destination. What awaited anglers was clear and skinny water, spooky fish, and an abundance of insect life offering temptations for topwater presentations. A few fish fell to the dry (driftless caddis) dropper (tungteaser) in pockets and seams. Slow stretches were not nearly as approachable. Fish would dart under curly leaf pondweed and under cut banks when the most delicate of...

colors 9=5-17.jpg

Evenings in the Black Hills are beginning to cool. The days (comfortably hovering in the 70’s most days) are brining hoppers, beetles, ants, caddis, and fish to the water’s surface. With school back in session, weekday summer fishing crowds are almost non-existent. It is a great time to be fishing in the beautiful Black Hills!

Having grown up in the glacial lakes and prairies region of northeastern South Dakota , I was surrounded by walleye country. Lakes like Waubay, Bitter, Enemy Swim, and many other lakes that started out as duck sloughs where walleye fishing dominates open water fishing and on ice. Above average snowfall during the 1990‘s, accompanied by by spring runoff created fishing hotspots in the backyards of everyone in Webster, Watertown, and other surrounding rural communities. To give you a bit of perspective, my friends and I used to drag-race at what is now Bitter Lake back in the 1960’s. Bitter lake is now a 40,000 acre fishing mecca.

The transformation of these lakes from late summer to autumn, and eventually to winter, reminds me of...

spearfish creek brown.jpg

Autumn is a special time in the Black Hills. You can’t beat that feeling of knowing hungry fish are looking up and blue ribbon waters are right out your backdoor. To celebrate (and to say thank you to all of our awesome customers), we are putting together our inaugural Spearfish Creek Fly Shop “Day of the Fly”, a gathering for everyone interested in fly fishing in the Black Hills and beyond. Enough food, cold beverages, guide staff presentations, fly casting contests, and fly fishing talk for any angler hoping to enjoy an afternoon in the northern hills. Stay tuned to the website and this newsletter for dates and times. We will schedule it for late September or early October.

As our newsletter evolves, we hope one thing will remain constant...the content will be engaging, entertaining, and educational. We will continue to feature Spearfish Creek Fly Shop guides, but outside contributors will also show up from time-to-time. Our future contributors have us excited for the content that will be presented in future editions of Black Hills on the Fly. Look for articles...

Screen Shot 2019-08-19 at 10.52.57 PM.png

Walking up to a crystal clear creek during late summer can be an intimidating prospect. Spooky fish, lots of bug activity...where does an angler begin? When you are working a river or creek that is known for caddis activity, we'll say go with the dry first. Typically, we'll advocate for watching, flipping some rocks, getting a feel for the area. But this time of year will always have some fish looking up, and usually big fish! A terrestrial/dropper might spook them. A nymph rig might do the same. So if you're in the Black Hills, throw on your favorite 16-18 caddis pattern. This presentation drops like a feather, floats high and dry, and is a very pretty sight to most fish. If you carry two rods, this is an easy option. Begin with the solo caddis, then float a terrestrial dropper or nymph rig through the hole. You might be surprised when a 20" brown crashes that caddis on the second float, but we won't. Just make sure you come into the shop and tell us about it after it happens!


“The lesson we learn from fishing with a Tenkara rod is that we should not fear that a simpler life will be an impoverished life. Rather, simplicity leads to a richer and more satisfying way of fishing-and more importantly-living.”

- Yvon Chouinard -founder of Patagonia

The quote above is an excerpt from the book "Simple Fly Fishing" which Yvon co-authored along with Craig Mathews, and Mauro Mazzo. Chouinard is a very interesting fly fisherman and a huge advocate for the fly fishing "simple life". Tenkara is the modern Japanese version of the earliest form of fly fishing. It is touted as some of the simplest fly fishing around. Tenkara consists of a collapsible flyrod (longer than average) that uses only about 20 feet of line attached directly to the end of the rod. There is no fly reel used in Tenkara fishing, which relieves anglers (especially novice ones) from problems with striping, line management, and long distance casting. This simplified form of angling not only makes it easier for most anglers to grasp, but allows them to catch more fish (often more...


When taking clients out on the water we often get asked the simple question, “What is a good day of fly fishing?” This phrase often translates to - "how many fish do we need to catch in order for it to be considered a good to excellent day of fishing." I often answer with the standard, “it depends on the day and what mood the fish are in!”. But this got my wheels spinning as to what I believe a good day of fishing really is.

The common myth attached to measuring success is that you need to catch a bunch of fish (preferably large ones) in order for it to be considered a good day. Sure, we are all after those 50+ fish days or hooking into that 24” brown. But fishing has so much more to offer than just catching fish.

Some of my most memorable days on the water this year have revolved around spending time with quality people and having a good laugh with one another. This sport can take you into some of the most beautiful locations in the world and the fly fishing community contains many great individuals. Fly fishing is much more than just catching fish. It is about...

rochford 201409.jpg

One of the greatest things about fishing with friends is the opportunity to trade fishing secrets, collaborate on daily fishing quests, or learn about new fishing methods and techniques. Great tips and tricks have resulted from angling clubs and fishing enthusiasts around the world. When one is able to give back in this capacity, the privilege is often mutually felt.

On a recent trip with friends, a "tip of the day" opportunity presented itself. Most guys in the group were fishing deep holes and pockets with nymph rigs, a great setup for finding nice fish. When comparing notes after a morning session on the water, we found a variance in catch rates for everyone involved. Some fisherman had not caught a fish, while others had only caught a few. One person had a 15-20 fish morning, and lost many more. Granted, we were fishing different sections of water, with different set-ups, so that was a likely a factor. But, above all, the primary...

rochford 201401.jpg

Are you a professional photographer? Are you making money by taking photos of your "trophies" that are smaller than most of the fish being caught round the world? Most people are not, and that vast majority of us anglers have very few reasons to leave a fish gasping for air on a bank while we try to set up a tripod and point and shoot camera for a moment we're not prepared to capture. There are many different perspectives out there.

"A fish can be out of the water for 30 seconds before harmful effects take place."

"You have about 10 seconds to get the fish back in the water."

"Four seconds...that's all it takes."

Fish are different from people in many ways. Their gills might offer the most significant difference between our species, but the operation of gills (and the service they provide a fish) are too often misunderstood by anglers of all skill levels. Keeping them wet...ALL THE TIME, is the only way to ensure any unnecessary suffering or damage to a fish. Raising them quickly from the water for 2-4 seconds is a must for many photo...


How does it feel to be a fly flinger? Heck, sometimes it feels fantastic. Wandering the shoreline of a lake or river with your favorite fishing buddy (or best dog in the world) catching trout, carp, walleye, catfish, white bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, gar, drum...shoot! Catching fish on the fly never gets old!

And when you're on...well, there is just no stoppin' you. Eventually people take notice of your catch rates. Fly fishing is already intriguing to most bystanders in this neck of the woods. Add mass quantities of hook sets, will draw even more spectators. In general, I would argue that a fly angler is more intriguing than a person sitting on the shoreline watching a bobber (not that there is anything wrong with that...just making an observation!). Just the other day we were catching white bass on the shores of the Missouri River when a father yelled over to his daughters on the neighboring beach, "Go watch that gentleman fly fish," he said after I hooked another white bass. Soon, four little girls, seven or eight years old, hurried over to see what I was...