By Lance Hebdon - Idaho Fish and Game
After the snow and icy roads last week, there is no doubt that winter is here.
Yet despite colder weather and the appearance of Christmas lights, Treasure Valley residents have plenty of options for keeping cabin fever at bay with a close-to-home fishing trip to the Boise River. The year-round fishing season and proximity to Idaho's largest population center combine to make the Boise River a heavyweight among Idaho fisheries.
Recent surveys show that the humble Boise River in Ada County is in the top 20 fishing waters in the state with more than 50,000 angler trips each year. With the price of gas more than $3 per gallon, a fishing trip on the Boise River is a bargain compared to traveling to more distant waters.
Many of the folks fishing the river have learned that the Boise offers a diverse array of fishing without the long drive. With many easily accessible locations, there are plenty of places to throw out a line, relax in your chair, and watch the river roll by. But for those who like walking and wading, your efforts will be rewarded as the Boise River slowly reveals its secrets.
Wild rainbow and brown trout spend their entire lives in the Boise River, constituting the backbone of the Boise's fishery. In 2004, fishery managers estimated more than 1,000 wild trout, four inches or larger, per mile live in the Boise River. Occasional trophy fish show up in photos and in rumors being traded up and down the river.
Idaho Fish and Game hatchery personnel stock roughly 50,000 catchable rainbow trout annually to support harvest and increase catch rates at easily accessible locations. In fact, the Boise River is stocked with trout every month of the year except in the spring during high water events.
Steelhead trout are transported from Hells Canyon Dam to provide a trophy fishing opportunity close to home in November. Though steelhead fishing is a frenzy of action immediately after the fish are released, dedicated anglers continue to catch steelhead through March.
Last - and mostly overlooked by many anglers - is the mountain whitefish. This cousin of the trout lives in good numbers in the Boise River, and winter is the time to catch them.
Compared with trout, whitefish have a slender, silvery body without spots, slightly larger scales and a small down-turned mouth. Whitefish spawn in the fall, and fish may reach 18 inches in the Boise River. Though they can be fickle, whitefish have saved many a winter's day fishing trip.
Because of the popularity of the Boise River fishery, Fish and Game employees from the Southwest Region are working on four projects to gain better insight into the status of the fishery.
The first is population survey to document the number of wild trout and whitefish in the river, their size and the abundance of the different size groups. Population surveys are short term, labor intensive efforts conducted once every three years.
The second is a year-long creel survey to evaluate the amount of angler harvest and effort. Since June, Fish and Game creel survey crews have been counting and interviewing anglers on the Boise River from Barber Park to Americana Bridge.
The third is an estimate of the harvest of hatchery rainbow trout. Before they were released, the hatchery rainbow trout were tagged with small red tags that contain an identification number. When an angler catches one of these fish, they are asked to report the capture date, tag number and whether or not the fish was harvested. This information can be reported through the mail, online at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/apps/fishtag/, or the automated Fish Tag hotline at 866-258-0338.
The fourth is an evaluation of the age and growth of wild rainbow trout in the Boise River. Rainbow trout have widely variable growth rates depending on productivity of the water in which they live. For example, in low-productivity water, it may take four years for a rainbow trout to reach eight inches, while in highly productive water, a four-year-old trout may be more than 16 inches long.
Knowing the relative productivity of the Boise River will help Fish and Game complete the evaluation of this important fishery.
So don't put away that fishing gear just yet. Give the Boise River a try this winter. You just never know what you might catch.
Lance Hebdon is a fisheries biologist in the Southwest Region