The start of April marks the beginning of a unique angling experience in eastern Idaho.
It marks the start of the special Dry Bed salvage season and the chance to head out towards Ririe and bag up some fish for dinner and the freezer. No fancy angling here, just plain old harvesting. Because of the specialized and terminal nature of the fishery, a unique subculture of fishermen has evolved --anglers who maximize the opportunities that this special salvage season has to offer.
The Dry Bed, which is also called the Big Feeder or Great Feeder Canal, is a side channel of the South Fork of the Snake River. Early settlers to the area built headgates and diversion structures on the waterway, but biologically it has continued to function as an aquatic habitat capable of supporting fish populations.
Fishing is allowed year round, but each year when routine maintenance work is required on the headgates, certain standing exceptions in Idaho Fish and Game fishing rules come into play. These special rules were created because a stretch of the canal is de-watered to allow repairs, and fish are stranded in deep pools or large puddles as water levels drop.
Fish and Game rules for the Dry Bed include the exception that from April 1 - 30 it is legal to also take fish using hands, dip nets or snagging. Use of seine nets, chemicals, firearms, explosives, or electric current remains prohibited. The stretch of the Dry Bed covered by these special exceptions runs from Highway 48 - between Lewisville and Menan, near the Idaho Fresh-Pak Inc. plant - upstream to the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge located 1.5 miles northeast of Ririe. Most access to the canal is across private land, and anglers should get permission ahead of time.
"It's important for anglers to remember that these special exceptions do not apply to the top stretch of canal from the main headgates down to the railroad bridge, regular methods must still be used," Senior Conservation Officer Clark Shackelford said.
It is important to note that all regular bag and possession limits remain in effect.
"Any fish caught must be killed immediately," Shackelford said. "If I catch you carrying live fish in a bucket, you will receive a citation."
Because the Dry Bed is managed as a canal, rather than a branch of the South Fork of the Snake River, the regional cutthroat trout restrictions do not apply. The daily limit is six trout any size and 25 mountain whitefish.
Special maps of the Big Feeder are available free of charge at the Fish and Game office in Idaho Falls. For information call 208-525-7290.