Al Campbell, Field Editor

July 14th, 2003

Home Waters - part 4
Rapid Creek
By Al Campbell

If you were a bird, and you flew roughly ten miles north by northeast from the small spring that is the birthplace of Castle Creek; you'd find another spring that generates the first flows of the south fork of Rapid Creek. Like all the streams in the Black Hills, Rapid Creek starts as a spring creek and flows outward from the center of the Black Hills toward the prairie.

Al with Brown

From its beginnings to its junction with the North Fork of Rapid Creek, the South Fork runs parallel to Forest Service road 231; so access is as easy as pulling off the side of the road. An occasional beaver dam temporarily blocks this tumbling stream loaded with feisty brook trout. Although the occasional brown trout you will catch in the upper reaches of Rapid Creek are larger than their brookie cousins, they can't match the brook trout in color or enthusiasm.

The North Fork of Rapid Creek starts near and flows parallel to Forest Service road 17 on its south by southeast journey to its junction with the South Fork near the town of Rochford. Like the South Fork, this branch of Rapid Creek is alive with hungry brookies and occasional brown trout. Both branches of Rapid Creek have robust aquatic insect populations that are augmented in late summer by hoppers and flying ants. If you don't mind modest sized fish that are full of color and eager to inhale a fly, this is a good place to start any Black Hills fishing vacation.


From the town of Rochford, downstream to Pactola Reservoir (a distance of about 20 miles), Rapid Creek is joined by Castle Creek and Slate Creek. Access to this portion of the stream is provided by Forest Service road 231 and a walk-in trail that starts near the old mining town of Mystic and parallels the creek to the town of Silver City. Brown trout and planted rainbow trout are the common catches in this area.

Like the lower reaches of Castle Creek, this section of stream is slightly colored by runoff from old mines and iron bogs. The tainted water has a greater impact on the aquatic insect populations than it does on the trout populations, but it doesn't hurt the fish population nearly as bad as bait fishing and over-harvesting does. Unfortunately, the fact that large rainbow trout are stocked in this area is a strong invitation to bait fishermen looking to add some large fish to their stringers. By mid-summer, the walk-in area near Silver City has been hard hit and fishing gets tough.

Paul Dieter on Rapid Creek

Pactola Lake offers fishing for rainbow trout, lake trout to 20 plus pounds (the lake trout record has been broken already twice this summer with fish near 25 pounds) and some very large brown trout up to 20 pounds or more. It also has healthy populations of largemouth bass, crappie and perch as well as an occasional kokanee salmon. Trolling hardware deep behind a boat produces the best catches for large browns and lake trout in lake, but evening fly-fishing from a boat can be productive for rainbows.

The first three miles of stream below Pactola Reservoir is managed as a trophy trout area that is protected by catch and release regulations and artificial lures are the only legal means for catching fish in this area. The water is cold and clean all year and some of the trout grow to large sizes. Unfortunately, there has been some problems with poaching in this area, and game wardens are kept busy patrolling for bait fishermen. Despite the poaching problems, this continues to be a true trophy waterway, and some very healthy brown trout can be caught if you know how to fish for them.

Paul Dieter long cast

Access to these three miles of water is by foot only, but there are some easy trails to follow. Since the water is cold, the insects are usually fairly small with midges being the predominant species of insect. Long, accurate casts and careful approaches to the stream are the rule if you want a chance to hook one of these trout. If you are a beginner, this isn't the type of water that will bolster your confidence. Some very capable fishermen have left this area of Rapid Creek feeling humbled to the core; but if you can master her secrets, Rapid Creek will deliver some true treasures in this three-mile section of stream.

From the church camp three miles below Pactola Dam to the town of Rapid City (about 20 miles) access to the stream is limited to hiking and very few public access points. Where the road (SD Highway 44) does parallel the creek, private dwellings line the creek banks. Anyone willing to take a long hike will be rewarded with good fishing, but the canyon is steep and narrow and the hike in can be rough to say the least. A minor warning; rattlesnakes are abundant in several areas of this portion of the stream where access is gained by hiking down steep, rocky hillsides.

Some of the most productive fishing on Rapid Creek can be found in and immediately upstream from the town of Rapid City. Because of the urban setting, this part of the stream is often ignored and the fish see less pressure than other parts Rapid Creek. Except for Canyon Lake and the area immediately upstream from the lake, the creek sees little fishing pressure during the summer months.

Brown Trout

Special regulations to protect brown trout spawning populations apply to the stream near Canyon Lake. Like the area immediately below Pactola Reservoir, there is a catch and release area in Rapid City that is limited to artificial lures and zero kill. One might expect that fishermen would key in on this special part of the stream but it hasn't happened yet. Part of the reason for that is that the special regulation area is in the golf course, but the urban environment seems to deter fishermen too.

In 1972, Rapid Creek flooded killing several hundred people. After the flood, the flood plane through town was dedicated to the victims as a memorial park. Access to Rapid Creek all the way through the town of Rapid City is public and easy. A bike and walking path follows the creek through town from one end to the other. I have never found any other stream more accessible to the public and so under-fished. Caddisflies, mayflies, stoneflies and midges in abundance and variety are the mainstay of the trout diet in this area.

Perfect for father and son

Since the reservoirs upstream are dedicated to providing summer water for irrigation, summer flows are usually a little high, but there is never a concern for the creek going dry. During drought years like we have had recently, Rapid Creek has been a reliable stream with predictable flows and hatches. It's also a good place to snag a few evening hours of fishing after a tough day at work. Winter fishing in town can be spectacular while the upper reaches of the creek are locked in ice.

Fall on Rapid Creek

Downstream from Rapid City, Rapid Creek flows through private land and is largely de-watered for irrigation during the summer. A few large trout can be caught if you can get permission to cross private land, but the stream is more suitable to catfish than trout in this area. If you do manage to gain permission to fish this portion of the stream, you'll find some large trout that rarely see a fly, so fishing could be pretty good.

The most important aspect of Rapid Creek is that it is close to where I live. I can be on the stream in less than five minutes if I want to fish in town. It is truly my home water and one I know very well. I have fished every riffle and pool from one end of Rapid City to the other, and most of the creek upstream from town. There is a reason that several stretches of this stream (including the part that runs through Rapid City) are listed as a blue ribbon trout stream. I invite you to explore that reason for yourself. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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