Many anglers have driven by the South Fork of the Payette River, gazed into its translucent, Coke-bottle green water and wondered “where are the trout?”
The short answer is they recently arrived via a Fish and Game stocking truck so people have a better chance to catch fish on this scenic river during the most pleasant season to fish it.
Fish and Game will stock about 8,550 trout in the 10 to 12-inch range during summer. Stocking points include Mountain View Campground (near the Lowman Ranger District office), near the new fire station at Jolene Drive, Helende Campground, and at the 10 mile Bridge (immediately adjacent to Lowman Ponds).
Other stocking points may be added this summer. Regional Fish Manager Joe Kozfkay said the goal is to stock fish in places where Fish and Game can get a truck close to the river, there’s good public access for fishing and also good holding water so trout will stick around and anglers will have a decent chance to catch them.
It’s the second summer since stocking resumed after a long absence, and Kozfkay wants to get the word out to anglers.
“I don’t think the fishing got the attention it deserved,” he said.
The South Fork's trout population struggled for years because its beautiful, clear water is relatively sterile, so it doesn’t grow many insects that provide a food base for trout to grow.
“Almost the entire drainage is granite, so it’s inherently low in productivity,” Kozfkay said.
Biologists have surveyed the river and found as few as 100 wild trout (over 4-inches long) per mile. By comparison, Kozfkay said, "a good-to-great trout river would be 1,000 to 1,500, and an outstanding one would be 4,000 per mile."
Biologists also found that a typical 8-inch trout in the South Fork of the Payette is about four years old, which is about half the size of what a four-year old would reach from more productive rivers.
That’s why the river needs a boost to improve fishing, and stocking trout is the best way to get there. The stocked trout are sterile, so they can't spawn with wild fish, and the hope is that anglers catch the majority of the stocked trout.
The 2017 increase in hunting and fishing license fees provided resources to boost hatchery production and provide extra fish for area waters, which allowed Fish and Game to stock the South Fork without taking fish away from another spot. Stocking in the South Fork is expected to increase to 12,000 fish next year.
Kozfkay said the revised stocking program is an experiment and the department may survey angling effort and catch rates in the future to see if it’s cost effective to continue it.
In the meantime, he hopes anglers take advantage of this improved fishing opportunity in the South Fork.