Al Campbell, Field Editor

July 21st, 2003

Home Waters - part 5
Spearfish Creek
By Al Campbell

From humble beginnings near O'Neil Pass on US Highway 85, Spearfish Creek flows northeastward then northward through the northwestern corner of Black Hills of South Dakota. This is historic gold mining country. In fact, portions of this stream flow within ten miles of the gold boomtown of Deadwood where Wild Bill Hickock lived, gambled and met his fate. Today, Deadwood mines gold from tourists with its legal gambling, including slot machines and casinos that line Main Street. However, fishermen are more likely to mine a little gold in the form of brookies, brown and rainbow trout that inhabit the streams of the Black Hills.

Upper Spearfish Creek

From its beginnings to its junction with Hanna Creek (east fork of Spearfish Creek), the stream runs parallel to US Highway 85; so access is as easy as pulling off the side of the road. Truly a spring creek in nature, this portion of the stream is full of brookies with an occasional brown trout thrown in for good measure. If size isn't a concern, but non-stop action is, this is the place to fish.

Freestone Flows

From Cheyenne Crossing where Hanna Creek joins the flow, Spearfish Creek turns northward and follows US Highway 14A. Registered as a National Forest Scenic Byway, it's a spectacular drive with abundant parking areas and pull-offs that allow complete access to the water. If you're not careful, you might find yourself getting lost in the beauty of the towering cliffs and emerald pines just long enough to miss the rainbow trout that inhaled your fly. This is especially true in autumn when the trees are at the height of their color.

Autumn Colors

Brown and brook trout dominate the portions of the stream, from Cheyenne Crossing to Savoy. This is gentle water that wanders through grassy meadows and occasional beaver ponds. If you want to battle a tackle testing brown or brookie, try casting a small nymph into the catch and release waters of Yates Ponds north of Cheyenne Crossing. The fish in these ponds are shy and selective, but big enough to thrill the most experienced fly caster. Bait fishermen will be disappointed when they see the signs near these ponds; they are restricted to the use of artificial lures, and no bait is allowed within 100 feet of either pond.

Little Spearfish

Much of the stream's water is removed near Savoy and piped to the Homestake Mining Company's hydroelectric plant near Maurice. Spearfish Creek between these two points is small and slow and the fish hold in the deepest pools. Brown trout and small rainbows are the prime offerings here, especially where Little Spearfish Creek and Iron Creek empty into the stream. A journey up either of these feeder streams will provide some excellent fishing for brookies in the six to twelve inch class. A size 14 Royal Wulff or Adams is a good bet for some fast summer action.

Maurice Intake

From the Homestake hydroelectric plant downstream to Maurice Intake Dam #1, rainbow trout are the dominant species. Eight to fourteen inch fish are the average, but fish to several pounds can be caught. This is fast water with prolific hatches of aquatic insects throughout the year. Fish the stream's edges and swirls behind rocks and points for the best results. This portion of Spearfish Creek is the only place in the Black Hills where rainbow trout naturally reproduce on a regular basis. All rainbows in this stretch of water must be released and bait is strictly prohibited. Of course, this results in more and bigger rainbows for us to catch and that's why we fish, isn't it?

Most of the water is removed from the natural streambed at Maurice Intake Dam #1 and piped directly into the town of Spearfish. This is due to several large sinkholes in the streambed that effectively de-water Spearfish Creek downstream from the intake dam. Rerouting the water results in steady water flows in the town of Spearfish and northward for about 20 miles to its junction with the Redwater River.

Fishing in the town of Spearfish is excellent. The trout are abundant and less spooky since they don't get a lot of fishing pressure. Access in town is easy, and you aren't likely to have a lot of competition from other anglers. I'll probably never fully understand why people who claim they just want to catch fish would shy away from a resource like this because the setting isn't what they envision for a trout stream.

When Spearfish Creek leaves the town of Spearfish, it enters private land for the remainder of its journey to the Redwater River. Access is very limited, but those who are lucky enough to know a landowner that will grant fishing permission are treated to some excellent fishing, especially in late summer when hoppers are abundant.

Insect hatches on Spearfish Creek are often heavy. Caddis hatches are heavier in this creek than anywhere else in the Black Hills, and the fish are more than willing to feed on insects. The Yellow Sally stonefly hatches in June and July are strong and reliable. Midges hatch all year and keep the fishing temptation alive even during the winter. Like the rest of the streams in the Black Hills, Spearfish Creek is open to fishing all year, so winter fishing is fairly common.

Unlike many other streams in the Black Hills, Spearfish Creek isn't likely to dry up during a drought. Last year when so many streams went completely dry in their lower stretches, Spearfish Creek had nearly normal flows and provided excellent fishing all summer.

Canyon Colors

No fishing excursion to the Black Hills would be complete without a visit to the hungry fish that inhabit Spearfish Canyon. If the fish don't capture your heart, the scenery and history of this place will. Either way, it'll be a treat you won't easily forget. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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