A look at Lake Oahe

A month after history was made at the St. Lawrence River, the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Oahe begins the final stretch of the 2022 season. After Oahe, the Elites hustle over to La Crosse, Wis., for the season finale on the Mississippi River.
The second-to-last Elite tournament takes the series back to the Great Plains, where the rolling hills of South Dakota are divided by this huge Missouri River reservoir. At 685 square miles, Oahe, pronounced oh-WAH’-hee, is the largest man-made impoundment in the United States and ranks ninth overall in surface area. The 370,000-acre reservoir has 2,250 miles of shoreline and a maximum depth of 205 feet.
Oahe is one of three massive reservoirs of the Missouri River — Lake Oahe, Lake Sakakawea and Fort Peck Lake are the top three manmade lakes by surface area, ranking among the United States’ top 20 lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers started construction of Oahe Dam near Pierre, S.D., in 1948 and began generating power for much of the region in 1962.
Oahe, which has ranked in the top 10 of the Central Division of Bassmaster’s Top 100 Best Bass Lakes, stretches some 230 miles north to Bismarck, N.D. The Elites are only allowed to fish South Dakota waters, but that gives them about 130 miles of river and backwaters to find five bass longer than 12 inches each day.
The tournament will take off out of Mobridge, a town of 3,400 about 20 miles from the North Dakota border. Mobridge was named after the old Missouri railroad bridge. Indian Creek State Park is site of takeoffs at 8 a.m. ET each day, and weigh-ins are set for 4 p.m. ET at the nearby Walleye Up Statue on Park Blvd. All B.A.S.S. activities are free of charge.
The only other Bassmaster event on Lake Oahe was the 2018 Elite, which was based in Pierre. There were miles and miles of unproductive water reported, while a number of the leading anglers shared stretches.
Behind one of the few limits topping 20 pounds, Mark Daniels Jr. totaled 69 pounds, 9 ounces to win by just over 3 pounds in the event dominated by smallmouth. The 2018 Elite ended on July 2, and over four days there were 173 limits caught out of a possible 276, with an average fish weight of 2-4.
Cliff Pirch of Payson, Ariz., was the highest finisher among current Elites, climbing with above-average limits after a dismal start. Pirch weighed the biggest bag of the tournament at 20-11 to finish third.
The fishing has reportedly improved on Oahe since the Elites’ 2018 visit, and former Classic qualifier Troy Diede is proof. Last year on July 16 while practicing for the South Dakota Bass Federation tournament, the Sioux Falls angler landed a 7-4 smallmouth to break the state record. He had caught a 6.39 the previous day.
The anglers had their first of three days practice on Sunday, and they have an off day Wednesday. Practice days could be long as there is safe light for around 15 hours this time of year, as evidenced by Matt Herren’s photo taken near 10 p.m. during the Elites’ last visit.
When the sun does go down — or comes up — the scenes in big sky country rarely disappoint. Anglers posted about the beauty and scenery of South Dakota, along with how they really felt out in the wilderness.
Like many of the anglers, photographer James Overstreet had to journey a bit farther west to enjoy the Painted Hills in Badlands National Park. Here, JO took this spectacular landscape by rising before the sun to get in position “for the juice.” It was “kinda like hanging out on another planet,” he said.
Many who made it to the tournament continued west for sightseeing. Eric Lopez, the B.A.S.S. director of events, got up close and personal with Mt. Rushmore and (from left), George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
Chad Pipkens did some pre-practicing on Lake Oahe in 2018 and offered a report, calling the sights along the lake “rad looking. Lake Oahe is insanely unique and very secluded … with zero cell service and rarely a boat in sight.” It’s gotten more crowded since, and fishing is expected to be better, too.
The weather, specifically wind, can be detrimental to fishing on Oahe. It’s not so much getting bites but more getting around. Anglers, with few places to gas up on the water, might be apt to stick to one general area and not move around that much. The wind rarely blows under 10 mph on the plains around Oahe, making an angler’s game plan even more critical.
Oahe is becoming known for its big smallmouth, just as the upper Midwest is known for big fish statues — Mobridge has this scrap metal sculpture of a cowboy riding a walleye. The 90 Elites will head out onto Oahe looking for some hardware of their own and the $100,000 that goes with it.
There’s a lot on the line in the penultimate 2022 Elite tournament, including Brandon Palaniuk’s lead in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Jay Przekurat, who at the St. Lawrence last month became the youngest Elite champ and first to win with more than 100 pounds of smallmouth, will try to hold his lead in the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings. Points are huge as anglers position to be among the top 43 or so to secure an automatic berth to next year’s Bassmaster Classic. The action unfolds beginning Thursday on Bassmaster LIVE.