McCall-area provides a variety of fishing opportunities

Wow! April flew by and is gone! We’re now a week into May and the snow is almost completely gone in McCall and the surrounding valleys. The ice has come off the lakes and docks are being installed at the boat ramps. As the weather gets nicer and we move further ahead into the state’s ‘Idaho Rebounds’ plan, particularly into June, there’s no doubt outdoor recreation is going to pick up around here.

In the McCall Region where lakes are plentiful, fishing is among our most popular recreational activities. Maybe you’re getting excited to target jumbo perch on Lake Cascade, head into Horsethief Reservoir for some outstanding trout fishing, or even try your luck at catching a 30 pound lake trout on Payette Lake. Those are certainly some of the classic favorites, and are also some of the more popular fisheries in the area. But, there are several underutilized fisheries in the McCall Region, and I feel that it is timely to share some of these spots with you all. In these times of ‘social distancing’, its all about spreading out and avoiding crowds, so why not try fishing some new waters you haven’t tried before.

Not everyone knows that there are several places in the McCall Region to catch trophy smallmouth bass. We also have an outstanding largemouth bass fishery within our regional boundaries. I bet you didn’t know the current world record tiger musky was caught within a few miles of the McCall city limits. Even for some of the already popular fisheries, some species are underutilized. Lake Cascade, for example, not only produces jumbo perch but also some really large wild rainbow trout as well. Read on to learn more about some opportunities you may not have previously considered.

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Lake Cascade Rainbow Trout -
We all know about Cascade's giant yellow perch, but you may not know about the big rainbow trout that ply Cascade's waters. Spring time is the best time to troll for these beauties, as they are very hungry coming out of a long winter (although trolling can be good all the way through summer and fall as well). Anglers fishing near rocky points and near the dam seem to be very successful in the spring, in about 6 to 12 ft of water. Several gear types and baits can be successful for Cascade rainbows, including a variety of spinners and the classic night crawler. Be prepared with some sturdy line – you may find yourself hooking into fish weighing in excess of 5 pounds. Don’t forget to try for some big perch while you’re out there. Perch are spawning in the shallows this time of year, and if you find some of these spawning areas you could easily have a 20+ fish day.

Herrick Reservoir - 
Herrick Reservoir is definitely underutilized. Maybe it’s the fact that much of the shoreline is privately owned, or the fact that it is overshadowed by the larger, more well-known lakes in the area. Whatever the case may be, this is one that you should definitely not overlook. A Fish and Game survey crew conducted an assessment on Herrick Reservoir in the fall of 2019, and caught an abundance of yellow perch and rainbow trout measuring up to 14 inches (for both species) – Cascade’s not the only place to catch jumbo perch around here! If you want to check out Herrick Reservoir, be sure to study land ownership boundaries and stay on public land. This place is perfect for fishing out of canoes, float tubes, and small row boats, and offers some good spots to pitch a tent.

Horsethief Reservoir with boat dock and anglers fishing medium shot July 2005
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Horsethief Reservoir kokanee -
Horsethief Reservoir is a pretty darn popular trout fishery, but many folks don’t know that Fish and Game started stocking kokanee salmon in Horsethief Reservoir in 2016. Now, in addition to the opportunity to catch rainbow trout and brown trout at Horsethief, anglers now have the opportunity to catch some high quality kokanee, measuring up to 15 inches. Not only is Horsethief Reservoir a great place to fish, but its also got great camping. Camping will open for the 2020 season on May 30th, so be sure to head up to Horsethief and check out all of the recent improvements to the camping facilities. Kings Point campground got a major facelift in 2019, and will reopen this year; Osprey Bay and Easters Cove campgrounds will be closed for a good portion of 2020 to receive facelifts of their own. There are no reservations at Horsethief – camping is first come, first served. If you bring your boat (which you should), please be aware Horsethief Reservoir is a “no wake” water body.

Little Payette Lake -
Little Payette Lake has some phenomenal smallmouth bass fishing. During the spawning season (typically mid- to late-June) smallmouth bass build nests in the shallows. The males are nest guarders, meaning they will hang around the nests and protect them - aggressively chasing other fish away. If you can figure out where they are building their nests and target them during this aggressive period, it can be very exciting! Because Little Payette Lake sits at such a high-elevation and has a relatively short ice-free season, the smallmouth fishery is not sustained through natural reproduction. The young that are produced during the spawning season do not get large enough to make it through the winter by the time the lake freezes. So Fish and Game staff maintain this fishery by transplanting smallmouth from Oxbow Reservoir on the Snake River every few years. Transplanted fish grow very well in Little Payette Lake, and provide excellent opportunity for the anglers targeting them. While you’re there…don’t forget that Little Payette Lake has some GIANT tiger musky. The current world record tiger musky (over 52 inches and 44 pounds) was caught out of this lake in 2013. If you target these giants, you better bring some heavy gear and rig up with steel leader!

Lost Valley Reservoir -
Lost Valley is a fairly underutilized trout fishery. This is likely because, at times in the past, the fishing has been terrible in Lost Valley due to an overabundance of stunted perch that you can’t keep off of the line. These tiny perch also have a negative impact on Rainbow Trout growth rates, due to competition. Historically, Fish and Game chemically treated the reservoir every few years to reduce perch abundance and improve trout growth rates. However, more recently the irrigation company has helped us out by simply drawing the reservoir level down in the fall/winter to reduce perch abundance. Lost Valley supports stocked trout survival overwinter, which means fishing this reservoir in the spring has the potential to yield some especially large fish that were stocked the year prior and have put on some additional growth over the fall, winter, and current spring.

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Ben Ross Reservoir -
Ben Ross Reservoir is managed as a quality largemouth bass fishery, with regulations preventing harvest of any fish between 12 and 16 inches. Fish and Game and the local irrigation district cooperatively manage the infrastructure at Ben Ross Reservoir, which includes a really nice boat ramp and new handling docks. The reservoir is 100% on privately owned land, and the land owners are very generous in allowing public access to this fishery. Don’t take it for granted - please be respectful and clean up after yourself so we don’t lose this opportunity. Hit this reservoir in spring and early summer before the water gets too warm and the bite slows down. Spring-time fishing presents the opportunity to fish flooded habitat around the shoreline, where you might find success throwing crankbaits and soft-plastics to foraging fish.

Hopefully this list gives you a few ideas for fishing some spots you haven’t yet tried. Of course, there are plenty of other outstanding fishing opportunities not on this list: Some of the best spots are not on any list for that matter, so you won’t find them unless you get out and explore. As you get out and fish this spring/summer, please be respectful and responsible.

  • Practice social distancing and good hygiene
  • Follow Idaho health guidelines relating to group sizes
  • Bring all of your food and other supplies with you to minimize contact with rural communities
  • Pack out all of your garbage to keep our recreational areas beautiful

Maintaining open access to the areas we all love is dependent on our ability to follow these guidelines. Have fun, stay healthy, keep your tip up, and FISH ON!!

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