One of North America’s largest man-made reservoirs, Lake Sakakawea, can be found in the heart of North Dakota. This lake has countless miles of shoreline, it’s an adventurer’s paradise. In fact, it has more shoreline than the state of California. You can fish the entire lake throughout the year, and never fish the same spot twice. Lake Sakakawea is a deep lake, with average depths of well over 100 feet in the basin. This lake has a lot of character. The shoreline is littered with red bluffs, rolling hills, and other hints of the badlands. It’s very uninhabited and vast, so there’s plenty of room to find your own spot. And yes, Lake Sakakawea fishing is world class in numbers and size.
The great thing about Lake Sakakawea fishing is the timing in which it heats up. Normally, ice out can be as late as May. And because it’s so deep, it takes some time to warm up. So when June and July bring mid-summer patterns on most lakes; Lake Sakakawea fishing is just heating up. And best of all, the lake is very healthy right now. There is an abundance of food and no shortage of walleyes over 20 inches in length.
Lake Sakakawea has literally every type of bottom contour imaginable. It has endless points, flats, humps, islands, etc. as well as rocks, sand, gravel, mud and everything in-between. The sheer size of the lake can make it intimidating when you see it at first. This can make it impossible, at times, to determine where to start. But knowing the lake’s tendencies can help get you pointed in the right direction.
Lake Sakakawea Fishing is Slow in the Spring
As previously mentioned, it can take weeks after ice out for the lake to become productive. You really have two options early on.
- Head up the river on the north end of the lake in search of warmer water.
- Be patient in the backs of bays for some big bites.
We normally pitch jigs and minnows this time of year. There are also times where soft plastics shine, as well as pitching crankbaits in the shallows. The big females are laying up along shore so you want to stay away from the shoreline and cast in. They’re usually laying up in a few feet of water, warming up. You won’t catch big numbers this way, but you have a great chance at a giant or even personal best.
Another tactic I like to do this time of year is run planer boards up shallow, paralleling the shoreline. This keeps the bait in the zone the entire time, where pitching you’re only covering a segment. My walleye crankbait of choice is a Rapala Original #13 floater for this situation. With about 40-50 feet back from the planer board, the bait is only running around 3 feet deep. You’ll be amazed how well this works, and you catch a lot of walleye, pike, smallmouth, and other species in the mix. But keep in mind, there are a lot of serious walleyes in Sakakawea.
Summertime Fishing is the Fun Time
Normally, the far north and east end of the lake heat up first. When the month of June rolls around, you can find fish shallow in these areas, and in big numbers. They start to group up back in the bays and along shallow flats, making them easy to find. For whatever reason, I have my best luck (by far) in the morning with these tactics. Not saying you can’t catch fish in the evening, it’s just my experience.
As summer kicks into gear, the fish start to move out of the bays and near the mouths and into the main lake. This is the best time of year to fish Lake Sakakawea, in my opinion. When you find the walleyes, you usually find them in big schools. 75 to even 100 fish days are possible in late June and throughout July.
The key to fishing Lake Sakakawea this time of year is covering a lot of ground. Don’t waste too much time on a spot if you’re not marking fish. Keep moving until you find them. And the fish bite all day long, not just early and late. I will get into my Lake Sakakawea fishing tips shortly.
The presentations that work for summertime walleyes on Lake Sakakawea are endless. But here are the strategies I key in on.
- Slow Death Rigging – A classic bottom bouncer, clear leader, and a slow death hook and crawler is very popular here. The water is normally clear, and when you find dirty water you often find fish as well. Adding a blade in front of the hook will help give it the necessary flash for triggering fish in these conditions.
- Trolling Crankbaits – I do a lot of trolling for walleyes in the summertime, and it works well on Sakakawea. The key is using your electronics and finding the depths where schools of baitfish and fish are located. Then you can use a variety of trolling tactics and crankbaits to pull them up. I tend to favor long, minnow-style crankbaits for this reservoir. Their forage base is big smelt, and as they say, match the hatch.
- Jigging Raps – The popularity of using jigging raps has exploded in recent years on the lake. You can’t go a day without seeing someone doing it, if not everyone. When you find fish, simply sit on them. More often than not, they will hit a rap. We tend to favor the larger sizes, with natural colors on this lake.
While you can also fish them with spinning rigs and jigs, I’ve found that these 3 are more often than not my go-to methods all summer long.
Fall is Pig Walleye Season
Fall fishing on Lake Sakakawea is so overlooked it’s crazy. I spent a lot of time on the north end last fall, and most days you had key spots all to yourself. Everybody is either hunting or has already put their boat away. This is the time of year you owe it to yourself to make a trip. The big fish just seem to show up everywhere, and pictures on social media prove it.
The only problem, if there is one, is the fish can be found anywhere at this time of year. I’ve seen them in 8 feet of water and we’ve had to pull them out of 40+. And this can change day by day, taking just a bit longer at times to get on the fish. But when it all comes together, you have a strong chance at a 30”+ walleye.
More than Just Walleyes
Without a doubt, walleyes are the king species of the lake. I would guess that on any given day, 95% or more are targeting them. But did you know, it’s also a fantastic pike and smallmouth fishery? We catch numerous pike over 40” each year, usually while fishing for walleyes. And I’ve had days where we’ve had smallmouth on almost every cast for hours. And not just any smallmouth, but some pushing 20” as well.
If you’re setting your sights on walleye, and stumble into a large pod of smallies, I highly recommend you stop and fish them. We cast jigs with plastics as well as small crankbaits to target them. Usually, you’ll find them around rock piles, and there are many on this lake.
Without a doubt, now is the time to plan a trip to Lake Sakakawea. As stated, the fishery is so healthy right now. There isn’t a shortage of food, numbers, or size of fish; and I don’t see this changing any time soon. There are a lot of places to stay on this lake, and the accommodations are all over the board. There are also some guide services available if you need some help getting pointed in the right direction. And check out my email address in my bio, I’m more than happy to help as well.
Lake Sakakawea Map
In order to understand Lake Sakakawea fishing means knowing the lake’s tendencies. For example, the north end ALWAYS heats up first and is the best place to start fishing in the spring. Soon after, the east end starts to warm and that can be phenomenal as well. But USUALLY as summer moves on, the east end fish move west, following the clouds of smelt. And smelt is the lake’s primary food for walleyes so you want to understand how and where they are as well. You know the old saying, if you find the baitfish…the fish aren’t usually far behind.
During wet years, the smelt is EVERYWHERE. But during the low water years, the water tends to stay a bit too warm for strong sustainability of the fishery. But keep in mind, just because there’s a shortage of baitfish doesn’t mean fishing is over. FAR from it. Here are some more tips for fishing Lake Sakakawea.
Lake Sakakawea Fishing Tips
Seek and Destroy – One of the best tactics for fishing Lake Sakakawea is to troll around and scout baitfish and fish with your electronics. This is where having solid electronics really helps. I will literally bounce from point to point, as well as any structure that sticks out, in search of walleyes. They’re usually unmistakable the way they hold near the bottom. I know this sounds simple, but if there aren’t fish…move on to the next point. But when you find them, you really find them!
Play the Wind – More often than not the action is on the windblown side. Few lakes have I found this to be true more than this lake. When the waves pound into the shore and create dirty water, it creates prime walleye territory. Look for transition lines and also don’t be afraid to fish in the dirty stuff either. The fish are usually there.
Bottom Bouncin’ – As I stated earlier, you’ll want to be ready to pull out some heavy bottom bouncers when the fish slide deep. I typically use 1, 1.5, and 2-ounce bottom bouncers, especially when they get deeper than 20 feet. You can run spinners or slow death, or any variation of it. But at times, it’s also tough to beat a plain leader and a crawler too. Be prepared to try different colors, blades, hooks, and leader lengths.
Lake Sakakawea Map – You’ll want to have good mapping when fishing Lake Sakakawea. I use Humminbird’s because of Lakemaster mapping. It’s far superior to anything else on the market. With all of the structure in the lake, 1-foot depth contours are a MUST. I honestly wouldn’t fish the lake without it.
Lake Sakakawea Resorts
Believe it or not, there’s not a ton of resorts that are located on the lake. There are, however, a ton of RV campgrounds that stretch from east to west, and north to south. But if you’re not going to be towing a camper, here are some of your best options for Lake Sakakawea resorts.
Indian Hills Resort – Indian Hills traditionally is a camping area, but they’re recently added on some new housing (I track the progress on social media). This is a great location, as you’re in the middle of the lake. This allows you to either put your boat in there, or you can transport to any other stretch of the lake. The staff here is awesome, and I stop here for pizza and ice cream during hot summer days. You can also gas up here on the lake, in case you’re running around and getting low on fuel. Check them out at their website, www.fishindianhills.com.
Dakota Waters Resort – This is where I hang out most of the summer. It just so happens, I liked this area and resort so much…I got a seasonal camping spot nearby. So if you drop in here during the summer, drop the owners my name and demand some cheap bait! But in all seriousness, Dakota Waters has 8 cabins available for rent for a really great rate. And when you walk out, you’re literally a stone’s throw from the water. You can get gas here on and off the water, as well as beer, bait, and food (which is always expanding). This area is literally my 2nd home, and when you venture west you’ll find some of the most scenic water that Lake Sakakawea has to offer. Check them out at www.dakotawatersresort.com.
4 Bears Casino – I can honestly say in all of the years I’ve fished Lake Sakakawea…I’ve never stayed here. That’s not to say anything bad, I simply usually tow my camper and don’t need to stay up there. But, this is another great location to hang your head near the lake. The north end of the lake is probably the most consistent part all year long. There are numerous islands, humps, points, and other cool structure that screams “walleyes are here”. And when it gets really late in the year, you can simply shift south towards the old river channel. Either way, you’ll find all the supplies you’ll need if up there or you can find it at one of the bait shops near the landing. You can view them at 4bearscasino.com.
Again, there are a lot of places that offer camping, but these are the 3 that most people tend to use who want to stay near the water.
Lake Sakakawea Fishing Reports
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to come by good, accurate Lake Sakakawea fishing reports simply because most guys don’t divulge that information. I used to run hunting and fishing forums, and that was always a struggle. With that being said, there are various places that provide solid fishing reports. I will list these places below as the more reliable reports.
Mike Peluso Outdoors – Mike is fast becoming one of the go-to fishing guides for Lake Sakakawea. His knowledge and patience make him a solid choice for booking a day on the water. He provides fishing reports almost daily, and they’re usually long and informative. You can also find Mike’s reports on various social medias, including Facebook. Look Mike up as he fishes the entire lake (wherever it’s hot). His website is MikePelusoOutdoors.com.
6 Mile Corner Bait Shop – This is one of your best options for a bait shop on the lake. Not only is the staff friendly, but extremely knowledgeable about the bite on Lake Sakakawea. When the fishing season is in full swing, they post regular reports on their Facebook page. I read these myself, even when not fishing the lake. No fluff, they tell it like it is. Check them out on Facebook.
Big Muddy Guide Service – This is a guide service on the lake that I believe primarily focuses more on the east end of the lake. They usually post a fishing report at least once a week, and it’s another good source for specific information about the lake. You can view their Lake Sakakawea fishing reports at BigMuddyGuide.com.
I hope you found this guide to fishing Lake Sakakawea helpful, and if you have any questions, feel free to comment in the box below. I check them every day, and I’m more than willing to help. The BIG lake is a wonderful fishery with so much room to roam. And with it being nearly uninhabited, it’s one of those few lakes where you can really get away. See you on the water.