The Fishing Line: An ode to South Dakota’s best-named Glacial Lakes

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Enemy Swim Lake has a unique, harsh-sounding name, but for decades it has been a friendly place for anglers vying for panfish. Photo by Spencer Neuharth

By Spencer Neuharth

Dry Lake #1, Dry Lake #2 and Dry Lake #3 make up a trio of lakes in eastern South Dakota with less than creative names. They’re not to be outdone by the four lakes that share the name Swan Lake, three lakes called Clear Lake, three called Lake Albert, or the three Twin Lakes scattered across the Rushmore State, though.

For every boring and unoriginal lake name, though, there’s one with an imaginative title. Here are some of the best-named lakes in South Dakota’s Glacial Lake Region, which call on a mix of Americana and Native American roots.

Roy Lake, Marshall County

Humans typically have to go to incredible lengths to get a lake named after them, like be a governor, general or explorer. Roy Lake, on the other hand, honors a dog named Roy who drowned there. We don’t know much about Roy, but he must have been a very good boy.

Lake Albert, Kingsbury County

Speaking of lakes and namesakes, Lake Albert in Kingsbury County is named after one of the greatest American explorers to ever live. John James Abert was the head of the Army Corps of Engineers for 32 years in the early 1800s and is largely credited for helping map the West. The only problem is that his last name is Abert, not Albert.

The lake was formally named in 1839 to show praise for the legendary cartographer, but the name has since been corrupted and is now called Lake Albert. Maybe folks got it confused with the other two lakes named Lake Albert in South Dakota.

Enemy Swim Lake, Day County

Not only does Enemy Swim Lake produce some of the best fishing for panfish in South Dakota, its name also carries a story that’s worth retelling.

Legend has it that a group of Sioux men danced and sang around a campfire on the lake’s southern peninsula. Meanwhile, a group of Chippewas planned a water attack that would catch the Sioux by surprise with the aid of nightfall. However, the Sioux heard the Chippewas splashing in the water and were able to strike the raiding party before it ever hit dry land.

As the Sioux chased the Chippewas, they yelled “Toka nuapi,” which translates to “the enemy swims.” The Sioux eventually caught up with the Chippewas near Shepherd’s Point and killed the entire party.

(Editor’s Note: To see a detailed lake map of Enemy Swim Lake, go to Pg. 16.)

Punished Woman Lake, Codington County

Like Enemy Swim Lake, Punished Woman Lake has an interesting history as told by Native American lore. It goes back to 1773, when great sorrow befell a band of Sioux that was camped along the lake. Among the group was Big Eagle, White Tail Wolf and We-Wa-Ke.

Big Eagle was a young warrior who won the heart of the fairest maiden, We-Wa-Ke. However, the two were never wed because We-Wa-Ke’s father didn’t approve. Instead, her father accepted gifts of an elder chief, White Tail Wolf, in exchange for the right to take We-Wa-Ke as his wife.

On the night when the tribe celebrated White Tail Wolf and We-Wa-Ke’s union, We-Wa-Ke and Big Eagle fled the camp. The tribe tracked down the two young lovers, and White Tail Wolf murdered them both. As they were buried, White Tail Wolf called on the Evil Spirit to deliver them to the Land of Everlasting Sorrow. Instead, the Great Spirit sent a bolt of lightning from a cloudless sky and killed the vengeful White Tail Wolf.

Medicine Lake, Codington County

At 1.5 times saltier than the ocean, Medicine Lake is a unique body of water that has a uniquely fitting name. Medicine Lake achieves this high level of salinity by being an endorheic basin, which means it’s a drainage for other lakes, but has no output of its own.

How it works is that Medicine Lake receives water from other small bodies of water like Round Lake and McKillicans Lake. Because Medicine Lake has no outflow or underground diffusion, the only way water leaves the lake is by evaporation. This process of evaporation leaves behind minerals in the lake, and when the body of water is refilled by precipitation the cycle starts over again.

Through the course of thousands of years, the lake has achieved a level of salt that doesn’t support life. Even ducks and geese that are said to accidentally drop in on the lake leave after a couple minutes. Those same qualities are what some consider to have medicinal purposes, though. Local Native American tribes considered the lake to have therapeutic powers, and people still flock to the lake for the coveted epsom salts to this very day.

Bitter Lake, Day County

Similar to Medicine Lake, Bitter Lake also used to have water that was noticeably different than other lakes in the area. Prior to the flooding of the 1990s, it was classified as an alkaline slough when it was about 3,000 acres with a depth of 3 feet. Today, it’s 15,000 acres with a depth of 25 feet.

Bitter Lake got its name because of the unpleasant tasting water during its smaller period, but now it’s revered by sportsmen for the incredible perch and walleye fishery it has become. The name is still accurate, though, as it could be used to describe the landowners who saw their pastures swallowed up by high water.

About the Author: Fishing columnist Spencer Neuharth is from Menno, S.D., studied biology at the University of South Dakota and worked as a fish biologist for five years. For more information go to boofcommunications.com.