These state fishing records will probably fall soon

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By Spencer Neuharth

Special to the American News

South Dakota has over 100 entries in its record fish database. It’s a diverse group, with species stretching from smelt to muskies and methods ranging from snagging to darkhouse spearing. Some of these records may stand for the rest of my life, while others will be broken before I renew the license on my boat.

State records are split into two categories. Restricted records refer to fish caught via a rod and reel, while unrestricted records are fish taken by any legal means other than a hook and line, such as snagging, bowfishing or spearing.

Two weeks ago my column was dedicated to records that will never be broken. That list included the pallid sturgeon, channel catfish, sauger, shovelnose sturgeon, black crappie, largemouth bass and Kokanee salmon.

Here’s a look at four restricted records that will likely be broken in the near future, perhaps at a lake or river where you often fish.

Smallmouth bass

In 1896, a biologist observed some small, aggressive fish in a South Dakota stream that branched off the Minnesota River. He identified them as smallmouth bass and deduced that they were the only ones in the state. His hypothesis was likely correct at the time, but he could have never imagined how the species would blow up a century later.

Today, smallmouth bass are one of the state’s most popular game fish and have spread to the Missouri River and Glacial Lakes. Anglers have only recently recognized that the state has the potential to pump out pigs, though, and smallies have now become the target of serious record seekers.

For example, Lyal Held, an angler from Barnesville, Minn., stated he and a friend were on a mission to catch a state-record smallmouth when he landed a 7-pound, 3-ounce giant from Horseshoe Lake in Day County. The fish measured 19 inches long and had a 19-inch girth.

Held caught his record smallie in April 2016, just over two years after the state’s previous record smallmouth bass had been pulled from Horseshoe’s waters in October 2013. That fish weighed 7 pounds and measured 21.5 inches long with a girth of 18 inches.

Chinook salmon

The historic 2011 Missouri River flood that pushed Lake Oahe’s smaller salmon and rainbow smelt downstream brought in a slew of lake herring from North Dakota. These lake herring matched up much better as a food source for the deep-dwelling salmon that remained in the reservoir, and the state Game, Fish and Parks Department correctly predicted that this would lead to a booming salmon fishery on Lake Oahe in the years to come.

Evidence of this first appeared in 2014 when GFP fisheries staff noted the average size of sampled male salmon doubled over the previous year, and two years later in 2016 there were five chinook salmon caught in Lake Oahe by anglers that were 20 percent larger than previous state-record fish. One of those fish, a 31-pound, 8-ounce fish caught by Darrick Koch, is the current state record.

Word has gotten out that Oahe has been on fire the past few years for gluttonous salmon, and it’s likely more and more anglers will be probing Oahe’s depths in search of the next record chinook.

Yellow perch

Maybe the strangest looking fish, besides the paddlefish, is a jumbo yellow perch. Their tiny fins compared to their ridiculous stomachs make them look like an disproportional abomination. If you’ve never seen such a thing, look to the Glacial Lakes region, which is the perfect place to land one.

Chase Jensen, from Aurora, caught the current record perch, a 2-pound, 13-ounce jumbo, on March 7, 2015, on Bitter Lake. On top of that, just one year later the GFP’s Facebook page announced that fisheries staff netted a different jumbo perch during walleye sampling that was “easily flirting with the state record.”

From mid-February to mid-March is one of the best times to find large, pre-spawn perch, and this late-ice period is also one of the most popular times for anglers to target them. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if a 3-pounder rose from a Webster-area ice-fishing hole in the near future.


The oldest record on this list is the muskie, a 40-pound fish caught by Daniel Krueger from Amsden Dam nearly 30 years ago. What gives me hope this record will soon be broken is the joint effort by biologists and sportsmen to create a trophy fishery in the state.

Stricter regulations, such as the recently adopted catch-and-release rule, along with increased stocking efforts and understanding anglers who want to see the species thrive might be enough for the state to produce another 40-pound-plus muskie. It’s by no means out of the question because Minnesota recently had an unverified 60-pounder caught, while North Dakota and Iowa both have recent records that go over 46 pounds.

Lakes in South Dakota that are potential candidates to hold the next record muskie include Lynn Lake, Amsden Dam, Big Stone and 81 Sloughs.

Outdoor Forum fishing columnist Spencer Neuharth studied biology at the University of South Dakota and worked as a fish biologist for five years.

Follow @OutdoorForumMag on Twitter.

Lyal Held holds up the current state-record smallmouth bass he caught in April 2016 while fishing Day County’s Horseshoe Lake. Held’s fish eclipsed the previous record, a smallie that was also pulled from Horseshoe’s waters two and a half years earlier, by 3 ounces. Courtesy photo by Lyal Held
Spencer Neuharth