By Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson
North Dakota native Jan Thames was a single mom on a fishing trip to Minnesota with her two sons in the early 1990s, searching for a motel to spend the night. She drove and drove until she eventually found one with an occupancy sign lit up. As fate would have it, it was not far from the farm she grew up on, and close to Roy Lake, a 2,000-acre body of water in the glacial region of northern South Dakota.
The next morning, she stumbled onto Roy Lake Resort, a place for sale at the time because the business was as down as was the lake level. Jan, a council woman battling gangs in a suburb of Houston and a former wildlife rehabber, wanted to find a business where she could mix her love of the outdoors with her drive to make a wonderful life for herself and her boys.
“I’ve always dabbled in things with an outdoor theme,” said Thames, a certified scuba diver who went as far as the Alps to break a leg skiing. She made an offer on the resort.
“They saw ‘sucker’ in neon lights on my forehead,” Thames said.
But she had the last laugh. The lake level rose 11 feet soon after the ink was on the papers. And, as they say, the rest is history.
For the past 19 years, Thames has been the innkeeper of a resort that can play host to as many as 60 people who come to fish Roy Lake in addition to the nearly 50 other lakes within a 20-minute drive. Anglers like outdoor telecasters and writers, Tony Dean (recently passed away) and Al Lindner, take their vacations there.
“I like to say God opened a window for me but I climbed through by the seat of my pants,” laughed Thames. Her resort is the kind of place where a fish camera below the dock is linked to a screen in the bar. Foot-long crappies are the stars of the show.
Roy Lake is fed by a chain of three lakes, the flowing waters eventually winding up in the Missouri River. Roy is labeled a trophy walleye water, with natural walleyes reproduction. The wall of the resort’s restaurant features an 11.5-pound walleye caught from that same dock where the crappies strike a pose. It dates to before Thames bought Roy Lake Resort. The wall also has a 10 1/4-pound walleye a resort guest caught not long ago.
The lake turns over in mid-September each year. By Oct. 1, anglers take to the waters with big chubs and Lindy Rigs to target the big fish as they fatten before ice up. Roy Lake has a variety of fish-holding structure, from points with sand and gravel to sunken islands. Look for the sharpest breaks. A drop of one foot for every foot out from shore is prime territory. Crystal clear water means walleyes can be deep. Use a 3/8-ounce Lindy Rig, a snell length of about 4 feet and a hook large enough to hold a tail-hooked 5-inch chub. The struggles of the minnow will attract the attention of big walleyes.
But walleyes aren’t the only species that draws anglers to Roy Lake. Try a 9-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass that has stood as the state record since it was caught a couple of years ago.
Smallmouth bass are one of Thames’ favorite fish. “I like catching them on surface lures, like poppers,” she said. Big Roy Lake smallies go 3 to 5 pounds. “I think you ought to be seeing more of the 5- to 6-pounders soon,” she said.
Lindy Rigs and big chubs work for the bass, too, in fall. Target similar structure as the walleyes, but, go shallower. A Fuzz-E-Grub jig tipped with a minnow is also a great combination to catch nice smallmouth bass.
While fall trophy fishing is the pinnacle of the year’s fishing, it’s merely a prelude to Thames’ favorite time of the year. Ice fishing in the region is so good it draws people like Dave Genz, the father of modern ice fishing.
Roy’s clear water creates some problems for daytime ice anglers. “The fish can see you through the ice,” she said.
Stick to nighttime fishing or use tip-ups – which ain’t all bad. Guests have been known to sit in the bar drinking beer and playing cards when they have to hustle to put on a coat and dash outside to set the hook on a 26-inch walleye or an 18-pound northern pike. And the pike could be even bigger. The state record Northern came from Roy, a 32-pounder.
With so many lakes nearby, the resort’s guides always know where the day bite is on for crappies, bluegills or big perch, she said. They take care to spread out the pressure and to protect the locations of hot bites to insure that overfishing doesn’t harm fragile panfish populations, Thames said. “We try to have a customer base that’s respectful of the lakes,” she said.
Because the resort is located in South Dakota, fishing isn’t its only attraction. The pheasant hunting is fabled. If the 55,000 acres of public hunting land in the county aren’t enough, the guides have access to private land. The area also offers hunting for deer, waterfowl and two kinds of turkey, Eastern and Merriam’s.
The resort has its own restaurant and the cabins have kitchens. If you’re looking for someplace to quench your thirst other than the bar at the resort, Lake City, population 42, is just down the road. “It has the best bar in South Dakota and a post office,” Thames said.
Remote? Yes. But, Roy Lake is only four hours from Minneapolis, 80 miles northwest of Aberdeen and two small airports nearby can handle small jets. Thames hopes to attract more business clients to group outings there.
Roy Lake Resort also has a swimming beach, boat launching facilities, picnic areas, a new nine-hole frisbee golf course, volleyball court, playgrounds, campgrounds and foot bridge to Roy Island. For cold weather, The lodge is located a mile from the 73-mile Glacial Lakes snowmobile trail which meanders through the backcountry.
For more on fishing Roy Lake, call (605) 448-5498 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.roylakeresort.com or the Roy Lake State Park Web site at www.sdgfp.info/parks/Regions/GlacialLakes/RoyLake.htm.
Reproduced with permission:
Mark Strand Outdoors
3077 Meadow Brook Drive
Woodbury, MN 55125