Chamberlain, South Dakota: A “Walleye Producing Factory”
By Matt Walsh

Chamberlain, South Dakota on the Missouri River is a walleye-producing factory. This section of the Missouri River known as Lake Francis Case has the best spawning habitat in the entire river system and is host to much of the Lake Francis Case walleye population during the spawn in April. Anglers from across the mid-west migrate to Chamberlain to take advantage of this massive concentration of walleyes as well as the areas scenic rolling hills and local hospitality. Adding to its notoriety, Chamberlain was host to the Professional Walleye Trail for the last two years.

Locations and Techniques

There are areas that produce walleyes year after year. The shoreline in Chamberlain is covered with riprap where many of the walleyes will spawn. Long lining crankbaits in five to fifteen feet of water occasionally ticking the rocks is very effective. While trolling it is common to see walleyes so shallow that their dorsal fin (“dry back”) is literally out of the water. Another spot in Chamberlain known as “The Dredge Hole” located between the I-90 bridge and the railroad bridge can be very productive and the odds on favorite for larger walleyes. Try live bait rigging creek chubs or vertical jigging minnows. Note that this area is off limits to fishing from November 30th – May 1st.

North of Chamberlain is an area known as Kiowa. Although the walleyes can be extremely transient, when they hold in this area the action will be fast and furious. Further up river is Crow Creek. This is one of the best spots on the entire Missouri River system from February through June. Fish the old river channel in water 10 – 18 feet deep. Bottom bouncers and live bait rigs or jigs tipped with minnows fished slowly work well or try trolling #5-#7 Shad Raps on leadcore.

South of Chamberlain on the west side of the river is Carpenter Bluffs. When the water level is high enough during the spawn, pitching jigs right up to shore can produce a limit in a hurry. Sometimes other walleyes chasing the hooked fish will swim right into your landing net! Now that’s a quick way to bag a limit. From Carpenter Bluffs down to the White River try trolling the channel with leadcore and shad raps. This was a pattern that produced multiple tournament wins last year.

After the spawn in April walleyes begin to disperse from their spawning grounds. Some migrate north to Crow Creek; this area will produce typically through June. Most meander south, stopping along the way at key areas such as Boyer and Elm Creek. Eventually spreading through out the lower section of Lake Frances Case.

Is It That Easy? Understanding Current, Wind, and Water Temperature

As is the case with reservoirs (technically Lake Francis Case/Missouri River is a reservoir) walleyes are transient and constantly on the move. The old saying “here today gone tomorrow” could be replaced by “here one minute gone the next.” Understanding how current and ever changing water levels effect the walleye catching equation is crucial. For example, south of Chamberlain directly across from the White River is an area where the channel runs fairly close to the shoreline. The walleyes might be stacked in this area but inactive getting them to bite may be tough. When the Corps of Engineers begins releasing water from the dam, creating current in this area, all of the sudden-boom! The dinner bell starts to ring and the walleyes go on a feeding frenzy. Knowledge of how the current effects a particular spot will tilt the odds in your favor.

Wind and its effect on water clarity, bait location and water temperature are also very important. It is not uncommon to be on a school of walleyes when unexpectedly they disappear. Wondering what has happened, it becomes apparent the wind has just changed directions. The important thing to remember is to stay mobile and use your electronics. If the walleyes move and you don’t, it makes for a long day.

Especially in the spring pay close attention to water temperature a few degrees can make a big difference in the walleyes aggressiveness. The wind can push warmer water out of one area and into another, this may or may not move the walleyes but the walleyes in the warmer water will be more active. Understanding all of these variables takes some time and experience on the water. Hiring a guide to shorten the learning curve may be a good investment.

The Town of Chamberlain

Chamberlain is tailor made for the fisherman with easily accessible boat ramps, fish cleaning stations, and bait sold on almost every street corner. Accommodations in Chamberlain are abundant and vary from hotels/motels to bed and breakfasts and camping. After fishing try one of the areas steak houses or café’s. Like to play blackjack? Just up the road in Fort Thompson, South Dakota is the Lodestar Casino. For more information about Chamberlain, South Dakota click on the chamber of commerce web site at chamberlainsouthdakota.org. Less than a days drive, Chamberlain, is located just off Interstate 90 (I-90) 140 miles west of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 320 miles from Omaha, 421 miles from Des Moines, and 403 miles from Minneapolis.

South Dakota’s Free Fishing Weekend

Lake Francis Case limit on walleyes is four (three between 15”-18” with one over 18”) the possession limit is 8. There is no culling or sorting of fish. Fishing with two rods per person is permitted. Take advantage of South Dakota’s Free Fishing Weekend when South Dakota fishing waters are open to anyone from May 16th through May 18th to fish without a license. In addition, state park and recreation areas will host an open house with free entrance admission for the same three days. This is not only a great opportunity to save money but also to introduce your family or friends to the sport of fishing and a great outdoor adventure.

Matt Walsh guides on the Missouri River and eastern South Dakota he is owner/operator of The Walleye Wrangler Guide Service (walleyewrangler.com) and competes professionally on the RCL Circuit.