- Fishing, Life, Discovery
- Freshwater Streams, Insects, Dry Flies, Rainbow Trout
- Autumn, Badlands, Sunrise, Adventure
By Buddy Seiner
The smell of a South Dakota autumn day can bring a rush of reactions within one’s brain. The strongest among them for me is the desire to fish, fueled mostly by memories of epic angling adventures of old.
Autumn fishing days just always seem to produce the perfect combination of scenery, serenity and success on the water. What better time, then, to take children fishing? The fish are hungry, food is prevalent and beautiful weather will have their sense of adventure tingling.
With National Public Lands Day gracing the United States on September 22, it made for a perfect excuse to take my children outside for a South Dakota adventure. And so, that is how we found ourselves camping in the back of my pickup truck at Iron Creek Lake, south of Spearfish, South Dakota, the evening prior to Public Lands Day.
Elk hunters and a few cabin owners were our only company this evening. The pack of coyotes howling over the ridge brought a backbone chill that made the kids shiver with excitement. A full moon shone through the tinted windows of my topper as we relaxed carefree under fleece blankets and zero degree sleeping bags. Sunrise for these kids would not need to hurry.
The next morning reminded me of how lucky I am. Despite temperatures in the low 40’s and cover jostling matches replacing precious sleep time, these kids were up before the sun and ready for our next adventure. No complaining, no whining, no challenges. Just positivity and a youthful exuberance that acted as a catalyst for my adventure anticipation. First on the schedule for our day celebrating public lands…fishing in the Black Hills National Forest.
The number one rule for fishing with kids is to give them plenty of opportunities to catch. Bluegills and perch will often play the role of prey in this situation, but on this day, hungry rainbow trout took the lead. Iron Creek Lake is full of them. Early morning ripples indicated a school of fish feeding along a shallow weedline.
As a fly angler, I’m always searching for feeding activity and possible food sources, and I’m constantly equipped with a box of Black Hill’s bugs, hand-tied to my liking, begging for the approval of any trout that will pay attention.
The aforementioned list of autumn attributes returns to relevancy when I write that the fish were hungry and the food was abundant. Small baitfish were stealthy and swimming about, pale morning duns (mayflies) were emerging from the weeds below the surface, and dragonflies were skimming the water in constant danger of becoming the next trout meal.
When fish are actively feeding on many different food sources, using a fly that will initiate an instinctive reaction can sometimes be the best bet. A small, unweighted, thin mint fly attached three or four feet below a clear bobber provides just enough weight to reach the threshold of hungry fish and it did not take long for them to accept our offering.
“FISH ON!” I exclaimed, hoping my kids would come running.
The oldest was first to respond, eagerly snatching the rod and taking over the tug-of-war battle.
A big rainbow trout emerged from the mirror-like lake and dove for the weedline. Before long, the shimmering scales of the rainbow were reflecting the early morning sun’s rays like a disco ball at a dance. Its colors brought audible sounds of surprise and wonder from the children. “It’s important to always keep a fish in the water,” I explained. If you are going to take a photo, do so very quickly. Four seconds out of the net, and back into the water went the hungry trout. The clear water provided the perfect window to watch as it swam back toward the feeding frenzy of fellow fish.
Boy, did we hook into fish that morning! Not all of them made it to net, however. Trout have an uncanny ability to throw a hook, unlike any other species, but that didn’t matter to any of us.
The reverberating echoes of “FISH ON!” hanging over the northern Black Hills that morning was enough to give any angling-minded individual a nice shot of dopamine (or a nagging rush of envy). By 9:30 we packed up and headed to Spearfish, South Dakota.
There is a lot that should and could be said about Spearfish, but I’ll just share that I plan to live there someday. That should suffice to indicate my level of appreciation for this town and the amenities that exist, and it is not only because of the great fishing. We began the morning at the Termesphere Gallery where the kids ooed and awed over spectacular art and a unique gallery setting. It is a must stop while in Spearfish.
The other never-miss location in Spearfish is the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives. I did a story about it for the Fish Stories Archive, of course, the fish are always a highlight, but we also took time to tour the grounds, making a special stop in Ruby’s Garden. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy the quiet.
After lunch in the park, it was time to celebrate National Public Lands Day with a visit to Badlands National Park. This 244,000 acre park protects one of the most rugged, harsh, and spectacular environments on the planet. Bison, bighorn sheep and prairie dog sightings are all but guaranteed in this landscape, with many other species making possible cameos. We pulled into Sage Creek Campground and were immediately greeted by two large bull bison grazing the hills near the entrance. For it being midday, the campground was already occupied with many tents and vehicles.
The yellow jackets and tiny biting insects were also abundant, and the “sweltering” heat was an unwelcome surprise for late September. We quickly set up camp before seeking refuge from the bugs and heat in nearby Wall Drug. Wall Drug donuts are a thing of legend, so we purchased a few for the next morning’s breakfast before driving the Badlands Loop at sunset. The views were nothing short of spectacular. The kids were having a hard time retaining their appreciation for landscapes, but we were fortunate to find a long-eared owl in the town of Interior. It allowed us close enough to say hi, but did not want to be photographed. Darkness soon consumed the Badlands and we joined a caravan of other campers headed for Sage Creek.
The drive back to Pierre was more quiet than normal. I assume the 6-year-old and 2-year-old were just a bit worn from the short adventure. The 10-year-old finally piped up after 30 minutes of driving to prove that her silence was spent in careful reflection.
“Dad…thanks for taking us camping,” she said with a grin. “We are lucky kids.”
My tiny heart skipped a beat and likely grew a few sizes in that moment. Yet another reminder of how lucky I am to have kids that appreciate the outdoors and the experiences they have in them. Admittedly, that gratitude was not at all expected on my part, but it was exactly what I needed after a great weekend enjoying our public lands.
Buddy Seiner – President, Fishing Buddy Studios; Founder of Fish Stories Archive (http://fishstories.org/) and podcast Listen to some awesome Fish Stories.