Black Hills trout streams offer scenery, action
By BRENT FRAZEE
SPEARFISH, S.D. — Welcome to Dave Ciani’s world.
You won’t find concrete, sidewalks or buildings here. What you will find are beautiful cold-water streams, mountains and solitude.
That’s where Ciani is now, standing in a breathtaking ribbon of water in the Black Hills, searching for a place to cast his fly.
A swift current tumbles through the rocks, frothing as it races downstream. Rugged mountains and bluffs tower above, forming a backdrop that any trout fisherman could appreciate. And brook trout scatter at Ciani’s every step through a side channel, promising good fishing.
“I don’t come here with expectations of catching trophy trout,” Ciani says as he starts to work a pool. “I would forgo a 20-inch rainbow to catch small brook trout in a pristine area any day.
“For me, it’s all about being ‘out there.’ ”
For Ciani, that’s what it always has been about. He grew up in upstate New York and was fishing for trout by the time he was old enough to fashion a fishing rod out of a stick and some string. He would tag along with his dad on trips to the Adirondack Mountains, learning the ways of the wild trout — and just as important, learning to appreciate the special places the fish lives.
“I can remember how dad would just be awestruck by the beauty of where he would fish,” Ciani says. “At the time, I was too young to appreciate that.
“But the older I get, the more I take time to enjoy what’s around me when I go fishing.”
Maybe that’s why Ciani has such a special affection for the Black Hills in western South Dakota.
Oh, he’s been to places where the trout are bigger. When he lived in Montana, he caught some trophies out of famous streams such as the Missouri River.
But for beauty and solitude, Black Hills streams such as Spearfish Creek —the one he is in now — are hard to beat, he’ll tell you.
“The Black Hills has a lot of these breathtaking, pristine little streams,” says Ciani, 47, who lives outside Whitewood, S.D. “And they are loaded with wild brown trout and brook trout.
“You can get out here and not see another fisherman and still catch all kinds of fish.”
Ciani is proving that now. As he wades into a beaver-dam pond off Spearfish Creek, he spots trout lazily swimming all around him. He picks out one of the larger brookies and whips a pheasant-tail nymph in its direction.
The trout quickly darts up and slurps the fly off the surface before it even gets a chance to sink, and Ciani sets the hook. Then his flyrod bends sharply as the fish strains to get free.
Seconds later, Ciani has the trout in hand and pauses to admire its brilliant colors before releasing it.
“When I was a kid, I’d always be impressed at how colorful these wild brook trout are,” he says.
He sees plenty of those colors on this day. As he works a series of pools, side channels and ponds in Spearfish Canyon, he lands trout after trout — all of them fish that he has spotted and cast to.
But that’s nothing new. Ciani, a hunting outfitter who fishes for recreation, often finds success when he chases wild trout in the streams of the Black Hills.
Like many, he believes in matching the hatch — that is, the insect hatches that the trout key on.
“You have to feed them what they want,” he says. “If they’re feeding on caddis flies, I’ll try to imitate that. The same thing for everything from other flies to grasshoppers.
“We can get some big hatches, especially toward evening. That’s when trout will be rising all over the place.
“That’s when anyone can catch them.”
And when those hatches aren’t on? Then it takes some work.
“You can’t get too close to the big fish if you want to get them to hit,” Ciani says. “These are wild trout, and you still have to work to catch the bigger ones.
“I like to either make a long cast or float my fly down to them.”
But the real key to Ciani’s success is where he fishes. He is on a continual quest to get as far as he can into the wilderness to find wild trout.
That’s not hard in the Black Hills, which has the one of the largest tracts of public land in the lower United States and has 800 miles of streams and 22 lakes.
The region includes cold water to suit all needs. Beautiful little streams, many of them no wider than 20 feet, sprout up out of springs throughout western South Dakota.
Maps provided by the U.S. Forest Service and guide books put out by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks show where that water can be found.
Fishermen can drive right to the banks of some streams and wade in only steps from their vehicle. But for the adventurous, there are streams that are secluded and accessible only by hiking trails or logging roads. Those are the ones Ciani likes to fish.
“To me, that’s a big part of the fun — getting off the beaten path and finding trout in streams or little ponds that not a lot of fishermen know about,” Ciani says. “You can catch a lot of trout in some of that water because the fish just haven’t seen many flies before.”
And on the hot days of summer, the streams of the Black Hills offer another benefit — cold water.
”This water stays cold,” Ciani says. “I remember one summer day when I thought it was so hot that I’d just go without my waders. Well, my feet were numb after only a few minutes.
“I think that’s why our fishing stays good, even in the heat of summer. We’ll catch trouteven when the temperatures are up in the 90s.”