Hills on the Fly

Education, experiences, and information about fly fishing South Dakota and beyond.

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It is almost March! While ice fishing continues to dominate the Black Hills scene, stream fishing remains spectacular. Strong midge hatches on sunny South Dakota days have made for frequent winter-time successes on the water. This warm weather not only prompts midges from their cold water homes, but also the thoughts of ice out and the fish that become vulnerable to a fly in the spring.

Black Hills lakes offer great fishing opportunities at ice out, even if ice still covers much of the main body of water. Larger fish will cruise the warmer water bays and shorelines in search of an easy meal. Flies make the perfect presentation for these big fish due to their ability to cover a wide range of depth and retrieval styles. Accessibility to big fish is one of the biggest advantages of a spring ice out scenario. Lake trout, northern pike, salmon, rainbow and brown trout, even big bass and panfish make themselves more available when the spring thaw is on. These are our favorite spots to chase big fish in the spring:


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What are your biggest regrets from 2019? Ask any angler and they might tell you they did not get out on the water as much as they would have liked, if at all. The sad realization is that life can get in the way of our passions. Work, school, children, friends, family...life is not always accommodating to anglers, especially when extensive travel is involved. But before you go making New Years resolutions to “get out on the water more” in 2020, we have some advice that will actually make your fishing dreams a reality this year and in years to come.

Step 1: Set goals instead of resolutions. Resolutions are like marriages, only more likely to fail. People make promises to themselves that they will not keep without more diligent attention and a proactive attitude. Goals are different because they keep you accountable. They stare you in the face each and every day, mocking you until they are crossed off the list. A “Fishing Goal List” for 2020 will have more teeth than a lackadaisical resolution announcement on your facebook page.

Step 2: Write...


A friend quoted one of our favorite fishing movies at the tying table the other night. It got me thinking about the great fishing movies that have graced the big screen. I can't say that there are many, but here are five that you should check out during the winter months. I know there are some that didn't make the cut, but this is a start to your winter binge watching:

#1 - Grumpy Old Men: Not only is this one of the greatest fishing movies of all time, it is one of the great "one line" sources of all time. So many one liners, in fact, that there is an IMDb page dedicated to quotes from the flick. I really need to watch this movie again.

#2 - Grumpier Old Men: Sequels usually leave much to be desired, but this movie carries on right where they left off. Hilarity ensues.

#3 - Doc of the Drakes: This is a 20 min short film about a doctor fishing the drake hatch in Idaho. He has Parkinson's. Inspirational, captivating, funny and genuine. The sequel, "Hit em again Doc", is also great, but not...

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I bet the most commonly asked question of fishing enthusiasts by friends and family who are rarely seen holding a rod and reel is, "So...Why do you fish anyway?"

I never really have a good "elevator" reply for why I fly fish. Mainly because there are a variety of reasons that seem to change each time out. I know I'm guilty of mentally asking the same question of others who enjoy a pastime that's not my cup of tea. It may be difficult for them to express just how much they enjoy a particular activity, and it may not. It really doesn't matter. If something makes us happy, and is not immoral, I'd say it doesn't require explanation.

I, on the other hand, would like more people to pursue fly fishing. I believe that more fly fishing enthusiasts in the world mean more people working hard to protect our wildlife and fisheries. For that reason, I need an elevator pitch. I need a quick statement that let's people know why I fish in hopes that they will be intrigued enough to inquire further into the prospect of trying for themselves. Maybe by the end of this I'll have...

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It's been cold in the hills lately! Snow, ice, cold feet and hands...burrr! For us, this is one of the great parts about South Dakota. Not only does the cold still offer some great days of fishing in our neck of the woods, it also offers us a chance to catch up on some tying for 2020! If you tie your own flies, and want to fill your box with better bugs for next year, these are 10 patterns you MUST put some time into when the cold is just too much to bear.

  1. Clouser Minnow/Kreelex: Pretty much anything that swims will eat this fly. Always have some sparsely tied in your box. My favorite colors are chartreuse/white, and blue/white/red. For the kreelex, chartreuse/silver, gold/silver will not go wrong. Great pattern all year round (especially in winter, spring, and fall).
  2. San Juan Worm: Pink and Red, Orange and red, or solid red. Invert the hook with dumbbell eyes for summertime carp and catfish (red). Many anglers call it a cheat fly because it works so well.
  3. Hot Spot Pheasant Tail: Mayfly...
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Education. I don’t know what it is that pushes someone to become intent upon teaching others a craft. Maybe it’s that next step in the progression of a purists pursuit of perfection. You come to enjoy a craft to the point where, just maybe, your skills are better used to help others progress. We know we can catch fish. But when we share our knowledge with others in the fishing community, and see the fruits of that labor, it’s like we are catching those fish right along with you. Our passion for fishing has flourished into fly fishing education on a grand scale. Within this community full of stereotypes, misconceptions, and mythical ideologies that aspiring fly flingers may find off-putting or challenging, we hope to spark a glimmer of simplicity that might help light the way for others hoping to advance their fly fishing craft.

What we find when teaching others to fly fish is that it can be easy to get caught up on one specific area of the sport. Maybe casting is difficult for you, or bugs are just not your thing...it's easy to get hung up on that. But when you take...


The first annual Spearfish Creek Fly Shop Fall Fly Fishing Festival was held October 6th, 2019 at the Snappers Club building in the Spearfish City Park. Lunch was barbeque pork, beans, & cole slaw from Dickey's Barbeque. They did a great job! After lunch, we provided a short program about Spearfish Creek Fly Shop staff, their paths into fishing, and what it means to their lives today. Many people have had mentors as they’ve grown as anglers. It was interesting that two anglers at the event were mentored by Wayne Lindstadt, who was in attendance. Wayne runs a fish hatchery just north of Spearfish.

Many fishing stories were shared throughout our day together. We met two local anglers who have been fishing all around the world! But, as we know too well, you need not leave your own backyard to experience world-class angling opportunities. We heard many fishing stories of great days on Spearfish Creek (bot in the canyon and in town). Made us very proud to call this place home.

Tyson Gonzales, one of our SCFS guides, gave a great recap on spring, summer, and...


Yeah, we've got snow in the hills. But it is still autumn. Most times (even with the most dedicated anglers) people will hunker down when the weather turns and wait for it to warm up. We're here to suggest that you NOT be a fair weather angler!

Yes, it's cold. Yes, there might be snow and some wind. Other anglers will be sitting in their warm homes sipping coffee or cocoa just dreaming about the fish they could be catching. But the fish do not stop eating, so you shouldn't stop fishing either. They will move a bit to find deeper water, but they will comfortably eat all winter. Here is what you can do to catch fish, even on the coldest days.

1. Get the fly down to the fish. Use tungsten and a few lead-free weights if necessary. If you aren't catching fish, try more weight before you try a new fly. Make you are you near the bottom. You WILL likely lose some flies. Be ok with it.

2. Use the right bugs. Search the water before you begin to get an idea of what bug to put on. A few of our favorites throughout the winter include skinny nelsons, zebra...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...


What do you think when someone is given the "expert" title? Better yet, what are your thoughts on self proclaimed "experts" in any field? I read an email lately from a membership organization regarding an upcoming meeting. The email referenced a guided trip that has been offered to the auction block for an upcoming fundraiser. The individual offering the trip was proclaimed an "expert" in the particular fishing experience being considered. I don't know this guide, and I don't know if the "expert" title was given by his constituents, or self proclaimed. One thing is for sure, the "expert" title does nothing to sell me on one's abilities. What does it take to acquire the expert title? Do you have to write a book? Host a seminar? Have so many year experience in a particular field? Know so much more than everyone else?

I cringe when I hear the term "expert". I think of elitists. I think of talking heads who speak at people rather than with people in their given field. I think of people who demand respect and admiration because of who they are or things they've...

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A lot of people we fish with have an expectation that they will resemble Brad Pitt while elegantly casting a big salmon fly across the Gallatin River to a hungry rainbow trout. In fact, most beginners believe that fly fishing revolves around throwing top water adult insect imitations, maybe because that is how it began. We have learned that the vast majority of a trout's feeding activity (90% or more) will occur under the water's surface. Yes, trout (and other species) commonly feed on adult bugs and terrestrial creatures, this is true. They are, after all, opportunistic feeders always looking for an easy source of protein. But the majority of the food available in streams and rivers begins underwater. Larva, pupae, nymphs, leeches, crawfish, minnows, beetles, frogs/tadpoles...all have substantial lives in the drink. For the fish...chasing adult insects is just not as easy as tracking down the slower development stages and struggling emerges as they strive to live out their destiny as adults propagating the species. It can be tempting to tie on that BWO at the first sign...

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Welcome to the new Spearfish Creek Fly Shop site. This isn’t just a place for you to find the right flies, fishing spots, or outdoor gear. This is a place to find friends, education, fun, and members of your new fishing family. We believe that walking around with this long stick and hand-tied deliciousness is more than just catching fish. It’s about the relationships and memories made while being a member of this cohort. It’s about reliving our adventures and bringing others along for the ride that makes this so special. Fishing is a part of our legacy, and we are not afraid to admit it! Can’t wait to see you on the water.