Al Campbell, Field Editor

June 30th, 2003

Home Waters - part 2
Castle Creek
By Al Campbell

Somewhere in the west/central area of the Black Hills a spring is flowing the first signs of life into a small stream known as Castle Creek. Adding to this small trickle, other springs contribute their bounty as the collection of water moves eastward toward an impoundment called Deerfield Lake. Humble beginnings for sure, but a lot of productive streams start this way.

Dr. Ryan on Castle Creek

By the time this stream reaches a width no wider than a long step, it is supporting small brookies and enough watercress to serve up a tart salad to the 4th infantry. The watercress supports an army of scuds, sowbugs and aquatic insects capable of feeding all the hungry trout that can comfortably fill the steam. The balance of nature served up by a cold-water fishery is robust and full of life.

By the time Castle Creek reaches the width of a good standing jump, brookies big enough to eat are plentiful and ready to chase down any fly, ven if it isn't presented in a proper fashion. Add a foot to the stream's width and you'll find a few rainbows that migrated upstream from Deerfield Lake and decided to make that water their summer home. Although food is plentiful, the best feeding season is short and the trout can't afford to let a good meal go downstream; so fishing is rather easy. That is, if you can cast accurately enough to keep your fly out of the willows, chokecherries and rosebushes which shade the creek in many places.

For the most part, Castle Creek above the lake passes through meadows and pastures on private land. However, there are public access points complete with parking lots and walk-though points in the barbed wire fence, that were put there for fishermen to have full access to the stream. A short running jump could navigate the passage from one bank to the other in this area, so wading is out of the question; but fishing is as good as you can find, if you don't mind catching fish less than a foot long. In the springtime when rainbows are moving upstream to spawn, you might catch a whopper, but the average fish will not exceed a foot the rest of the year.

DD Burkholder on Ditch Creek

A few hundred yards before Castle Creek empties into Deerfield Lake, Ditch Creek joins it, nearly doubling its size and flow. Venturing up Ditch Creek produces similar fishing you would find along Castle Creek, and public access is plentiful except in a few areas where people have homes. Late in the summer, a hopper pattern on either creek won't float long before it disappears into the mouth of a hungry fish. You won't find finicky trout here, but a careless approach to the stream bank will send fish fleeing to the cover of overhanging banks.

Castle Creek Afternoon

If you like float tubing, you might think you found a chunk of heaven in the waters of Deerfield Lake. Rainbow Trout, splake (a cross between lake trout and brookies), and brook trout are abundant and eager. Crayfish are very abundant and in constant danger if they venture far from the protection of the rocks they inhabit. Aquatic insect life is abundant. A variety of wet flies (like the Deerfield Special) and streamers (especially those that look like crayfish) will produce hard strikes and strong fights. These fish average about 10 to 14 inches, but some are truly big. The state record brookie (seven pounds) was caught on a black woolly bugger in this lake. Some of the rainbows and splake get even bigger, but you won't catch the big guys on every cast. The biggest fish will be found searching for crayfish near rocky banks.

Below the dam, you'll find a few brown trout mixed with the brookies. Here is where the "instant experts" usually fail in their articles on this creek. The South Dakota Fish and Game biologists have intentionally kept brown trout out of the waters above Deerfield Dam, but several articles I have read by instant experts and one book writer, list brown trout as inhabitants of the entire Castle Creek drainage. Brookies, bows and splake above the lake; and brookies, browns and a very few bows below the lake, is how the fish are distributed.

Gus and Gil, easy access Castle Creek

The stream below the lake is a much different fishery than anything you'll find above the lake. A parking lot about a mile and a half below the dam, and a (closed to vehicles) service road provides easy foot access to the stream, and the fish get picked on by a fair amount of fishermen during the summer. The fishing is still good and the brookies are bigger, but not nearly as easy to fool as they were above the lake. To put a perspective on it; you might only catch a couple dozen fish in a day below the lake, but they will be bigger in size.

Common insect life in this area includes small mayflies like baetis, callibaetis and PMDs. Several varieties of caddisflies and small stoneflies can be found here in the summer, but by August the fish will be looking for hoppers, especially on windy days. As with most small tailwater fisheries, the trout can get somewhat picky about pattern, size and presentation, although a size 14 or 16 Orange Shwapf is usually a killer the brookies can't resist. They usually don't tolerate wading well, so fishing is best done from the bank, not the middle of the stream. The stream averages 8 to 20 feet in width in this area.

Dr. Ryan on Castle Creek

About three miles below the dam, the first of several streams with discolored water from ancient mining operations enters Castle Creek. This is where many fishermen turn around and head back to the parking lot. This is also where a few of the "instant experts" who have written about this creek, complained about tainted water and a damaged fishery. I'm glad they feel that way. It leaves many miles of excellent fishing to those of us who don't mind fishing discolored water that is otherwise fine. It also means the fish are less disturbed, greater in numbers, and larger in size. A bonus is the lack of other fishermen you're likely to see.

From this point downstream to Rapid Creek, the stream receives less fishing pressure except for the areas near Castle Peak campground and the old town of Mystic. The complexion of the creek is more like a freestone stream than the spring creek or tailwater fishery it offered upstream. The water flows faster, bigger and bushier flies work better, and the fish are less picky about what they eat. The fish are generally bigger too. Unfortunately, there are more trees and bushes along the stream-bank to contend with and steal your flies.

The further downstream from Deerfield Lake you go, the more browns you'll find in your catch. If you're only here for brookies, stay close to the dam or move above it. If your only care is catching fish, choose your medicine based on the type of fishing you prefer, and the size of fish you want to catch.

I prefer to fish all of the water. I'm very familiar with much of the stream, and growing familiar with the rest of it. It's my home water, and I know plenty of its secrets. I can point out riffles that always hold a fish, and great looking pools that seldom produce a bite. I can point out the snag where Slicfoot and I caught brookies all afternoon one day, and the pool where a doctor from Wisconsin made his first cast into the stream as I snapped his picture. I can show you where Gus and Gil first learned some of my secrets of the stream and where they learned to read it for better success.

Castle Creek Friend

I can do that because I know the stream in ways the "instant experts" never will. I am intimately familiar with that stream and its personality to a level those other guys can't imagine. I have walked its banks, courted its fish and learned its secrets in ways that can only be accomplished with time spent there. It is my playmate, my friend, and something I call "home water." ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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