Anglers who want to get a jump on their fishing season in early spring can find places to catch fish throughout Idaho, and a surprising variety of them.
With daylight saving time here and spring here, there's also enough daylight for after-work or after-school fishing trips to a local fishing spot. That makes March and April great months for early season fishing as a lead-in to prime spring fishing in May and early June.
Idaho Fish and Game stocks trout year round, but expands its operations as more waters open in March and become suitable for trout. Typically, ponds are the first places, followed by small lakes and reservoirs, then larger reservoirs and streams, but it depends on many factors.
This year, Idaho Fish and Game is stocking 1.8 million catchable rainbow trout between 10 and 12 inches, which are stocked strictly for anglers to catch. They are typically stocked where they are easily accessible to anglers and there's high probability they will get caught.
There are also steelhead available in the spring, and at some lower elevations, warmwater fishing gets started in March and typically improves as we get warmer weather further into spring.
Tips for early season fishing
- Watch the weather: Fishing is typically better when temperatures are warming and the barometer is stable. A temperature drop or a storm typically slows fishing.
- Take it slow: Fish can be sluggish in cold water. Air temperature warms much faster than water, so even on a warm, spring day, the water is probably chilly. Bait is a good option, and if you're using lures or flies, a slow retrieve usually works better.
- Don't overlook warmwater fish: They become active sooner than you might think, but expect subtle strikes, and the fish to be in different places than where you found them last summer. Bass fishing can be good. Catch rates tend to be low, but the biggest fish are often the first to become active. Smaller, shallower waters typically warm faster than larger bodies of water. Ponds and small reservoirs are good options. Same goes for shallow coves, bays and flats in larger lakes and reservoirs.
- Get the latest information: Get the latest stocking reports with Fish and Game's stocking page for good places to catch rainbow trout and other fish.
- Watch for hatches: Fly anglers can find good early season bug hatches, which are typically chironomids (midges) or baetis (blue-wing olives). There are usually trout feeding on them.
- Fish locally: Especially if the weather forecast looks iffy. You don't want to drive several hours and then find unfavorable weather and water conditions. Spring is a good time of year to explore local ponds and reservoirs that you may have overlooked in the past.
Where to go
Idaho Fish and Game's regional fish managers suggested spots to try for your early spring fishing. Links are provided for more information and maps to get there:
Hayden Lake: Early spring is a great time for anglers to start trolling for kokanee in Hayden Lake. These kokanee grow faster than in other local waters, and anglers can expect to catch fish up to 14 inches or more. Standard kokanee trolling techniques work well. Access to the lake is available on the west end from the Honeysuckle boat ramp and from the northeast end at the Sportsman's Park boat ramp.
Coeur d'Alene Lake and Chain Lakes: March and April are great months to target northern pike. Early in the season is a popular time for shore anglers to target pre-spawn northern pike. Fishing with bait under a bobber is the most common technique. Catch rates aren't high during this time of year, but it is when some of the biggest fish are caught. After mid-April, northern pike actively chase lures and are frequently targeted by boat anglers. Shallow bays are good places to look for them.
Fernan Lake: Diverse fishing opportunity can be found at Fernan Lake in the spring.. Over 24,000 catchable rainbow trout were stocked in 2018, more than double than previous years. Similar stocking efforts are planned starting in spring 2019. As water temperatures begin to warm, fishing will start to improve for the assorted warmwater fish in the lake. These include perch, crappie, bass and catfish. Access to the lake can be found at the southern end, which includes docks and a boat ramp. There is also abundant shoreline access for bank anglers along the road that follows the northern shoreline.
Cocolalla Lake: Early season allows boaters to access to parts of Cocolalla Lake that are otherwise too shallow during summer and fall. This allows anglers to get on top of spring-spawning bass, perch, and crappie. In 2018, catchable rainbow trout were stocked for the first time in Cocolalla in over a decade. These fish have been popping up on ice fishing rigs all winter. Anglers can expect to see more catchable rainbows stocked in 2019 along with westslope cutthroat trout and channel catfish. Fish and Game maintains a dock and boat ramp on the north side of the lake.
South Fork Clearwater River: The South Fork is known for its B-run steelhead, and March is often the best time to fish for them. The South Fork of the Clearwater parallels Idaho 13 and 14 highways, which provide easy access to both fly and spin cast anglers. Early in March anglers, tend to focus their efforts in the lower 10 to 15 miles of the river, then they follow steelhead as the fish continue their migration upriver.
Dworshak Reservoir: Kokanee salmon and smallmouth bass fishing starts to turn on as the water warms in the spring. Kokanee fishing typically gets good in March, and they will get bigger later. The shallow bays and creek mouths of Dworshak tend to be where bass fishing first picks up. Catch rates can be slow in March, but it is often a good time to catch larger fish. Bank access is limited, but the boat fishing can be productive.
Lower North Fork of the Clearwater River: The lower North Fork below Dworshak Dam is a popular place to catch large B-run steelhead, and March and April are often the months when the best catch rates occur. Jig and bobber is the most common technique used by steelhead anglers in this stretch.
Mann Lake: This reservoir near Lewiston is stocked in March with 12-inch "magnum" rainbow trout. Mann Lake tends to be the region's warmest lake due to its low elevation, so it's often among the first places where anglers can find good fishing for warmwater fish, such as largemouth bass and crappie. Fishing can be at its prime toward the end of March. Bank fishing is limited to about half the reservoir, but anglers should be able to find good places to fish. This spring, anglers should be able to fish from the large dock at the boat ramp, or in many locations around the shoreline.
C.J. Strike Reservoir: This is a popular fishery because of its mild climate and variety of fish. C.J. Strike is most famous for its bass and panfish, including perch, crappie and bluegill, and perch fishing has been exceptional this year. Strike also has abundant trout that are targeted by trollers and bank anglers. Boaters with fish finders can often find and target schools of fish in the early season, but shore anglers can also catch fish if they concentrate on areas of the reservoir that warm early. Shore anglers can find trout by fishing where streams empty into the reservoir, or near the dam.
Snake River: There's a sweet spot in early spring when the water warms enough to get fish active, but before the big spring run off hits. Thanks to its low elevation, warm spring weather usually comes early, but can also be windy, which makes fishing tough. There's plenty of bank access, but if you want to cover lots of water a river-worthy boat is your best option. Bass will typically take anything that resembles a crawdad. Channel catfish are plentiful and will take worms, chicken livers, or commercial catfish baits.
Arrowrock Reservoir: Fish and Game stocked this reservoir with 13,000 trout in October, and many of those trout cruise the shorelines in early spring. Bank anglers using bait can catch limits of fish in the 16-inch range and there's easy vehicle access to the shoreline along the reservoir.
Lucky Peak Reservoir: This large reservoir close to the Treasure Valley provides some opportunities for anglers to catch trout near shore and lots of trolling for kokanee salmon for boaters. The reservoir can actually fish better in the early season during cooler weather because warm, sunny weather can melt the snowpack and make the reservoir cold and murky.
Treasure Valley Ponds: There are almost too many to list, but safe to say it's easy to find one near all the communities in the Treasure Valley. Here's a great list of ponds where trout are stocked, and there are often warmwater fish available.
Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir: Like many other southern Idaho reservoirs, this one offers a variety of warmwater fishing and trout. Rainbow trout fishing heats up in the spring with the weather, especially for shore anglers. The fishing also gets good for boat anglers as we get further into spring. The reservoir has some of Idaho's best walleye fishing, as well as perch, crappie and other panfish that can provide lots of action and great eating.
Oakley Reservoir: Oakley received 26,000 rainbow trout last year, and it has a reputation for fast-growing fish. Last year's hold overs and this year's stocking of 12-inch rainbows should provide good fishing for shore anglers and trollers and a nice mix of sizes. The reservoir also has walleye fishing that typically gets going in later in spring.
Hagerman Wildlife Management Area: This is a cluster of ponds, lakes and streams that are steps away from the Hagerman Fish Hatchery, which means a steady stream of trout are available to be stocked, as well as occasional contributions of large trout from nearby private hatcheries. This area also has fishing platforms, ADA-compliant docks, restrooms and a picnic area, which all make for a fun, comfortable place to go fishing. Here's an article about fishing at the Hagerman WMA.
Upper Portneuf River: March and April can be great months to fish the upper Portneuf River between Lava Hot Springs and Chesterfield Reservoir. There is a growing population of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and some quality hatchery rainbow trout. Prior to Memorial Day weekend, the anglers are restricted to catch-and-release fishing and no bait. It's a good place for early flyfishing.
Bear Lake: Spring at Bear Lake can be the best time of year to catch a trophy native cutthroat trout, which can start as early as April depending on weather conditions. These amazing trout can grow up to 15 pounds. Many of the mature cutthroat trout are over 4 pounds. During April and May, the mature trout cruise the west side of the lake before ascending to their spawning tributaries. Trolling is the most successful method. Silver-colored spoons or Rapalas are popular. Recent habitat projects have resulted in more wild cutthroat trout, and catch rates continue to rise. Wild cutthroat trout caught in Bear Lake must be released, but over 200,000 hatchery cutthroat trout are stocked annually for those interested keeping some to eat. Hatchery fish can be identified by a clipped adipose fin.
American Falls Reservoir: At over 55,000 acres, this large water body is home to two state records, one for rainbow trout and the other for rainbow/cutthroat hybrid. Other game fish lurking beneath the surface include yellow perch, largemouth and small mouth bass, cutthroats, and brown trout. Fishing can be hot shortly after the ice has come off this reservoir, which can make this destination an early favorite for spring. Trolling with spoons or Rapalas is an angler’s best bet. Amenities at this reservoir include docks, boat ramps, camping areas, and it has ADA-accessible areas.
Bannock Reservoir: This urban fishing spot is part of the Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello. This fishery is approximately 6.5 acres in size with a maximum depth of 35 feet. It is regularly stocked with catchable rainbows and occasionally a few lunkers. Fish limit is two. The Portneuf Wellness Complex is a large 80-acre manicured multi-use complex designed to serve soccer, lacrosse, and football games and tournaments, with sand volleyball and basketball courts available for pick-up games. The complex also supports over 2 miles of paved walking trails, a mountain bike park, and offers a playground for the kids. The reservoir is divided into a swimming area complete with a sandy beach and a fishing area with docks and a rock shoreline to accommodate anglers. Anglers can also bring their float tubes, and “beach bums” can bring kayaks and paddleboards. There are pavilions, bathrooms, and plenty of parking.
Edson Fichter Pond: This 3-acre urban fishery is tucked inside Edson Fichter Nature Area in south Pocatello. Access is by paved trails from a paved parking lot. No boats or float tubes are allowed, but who needs that with all the bank fishing and two large docks that are available. This pond is also ADA-accessible. Catchable rainbows and occasional behemoths are regularly stocked at this pond; just remember the two-fish limit. A smaller puppy pond is located near the fishery for those who wish to train or play with their four-legged friends, but this smaller pond is not stocked or open for fishing. Edson Fichter Nature Area boasts forty acres of natural landscape dominated by native plant species, trees, and springtime wildflowers connected by looping trails that lead visitors to the Portneuf River, the ponds, and to other parts of the site. Visitors enjoy seeing wildlife such as swallows, osprey, mule deer, foxes, waterfowl-- even an occasional bald eagle.
Henry's Fork River: This famed flyfishing river gets an early start on its rainbow trout fishing. Catch rates typically improve in March, especially on sunny days that get insects hatching and fish rising to the surface to feed. The section from Ashton downstream to St. Anthony is popular among anglers.
Birch Creek: Easy access and minimal snow depths make this creek a great early season option. Stable water temperatures increase fish activity and make them more willing to bite. High numbers of fish increase the likelihood of anglers to see trout on the end of their line. Anglers seeking rainbow trout will have more luck fishing downstream. Those seeking brook trout will find them more abundant upstream.
South Fork of the Snake River: The river is typically low and accessible for wading in early spring, and fishing can be good for trout and whitefish. Anglers can catch and keep a rainbow trout and be rewarded not just with fish for dinner, but with cash if they catch a marked fish. Take the head of a rainbow trout to the Fish and Game office in Idaho Falls, and on the first Friday of the month a Fish and Game employee will scan it. If the fish is embedded with a tiny wire tag, it is worth from $50 to $1,000. The program is to encourage anglers to harvest rainbow trout and reduce competition with the river's native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
Kids Creek Pond: This pond near Salmon will be stocked with catchable rainbow trout in mid-March. It provides a convenient place for people to do some early season fishing, and can also provide some big surprises.
Upper Salmon River: When the Deadwater ice dam breaks up in late winter or early spring, it sends a wave of steelhead upstream. The dam has already broken up this year, and anglers had a flurry of activity steelhead fishing. There will be steelhead available in the river system up to Stanley into mid-April. It's a popular place for anglers, and there's about 115 miles of river between Salmon and Stanley that is accessible off Idaho 75 and U.S. 93, and another 68 miles of road access downstream from Salmon.
Hayden Creek Pond: This pond is about 24 miles south of Salmon on Hayden Creek Road. It gets stocked with trout in February and monthly through spring and summer for nearly year-round fishing thanks to spring water that keeps it from freezing. That spring water also makes great trout habitat, and fish that don't get caught right away continue to grow, which gives anglers an opportunity to catch some larger trout. The pond also has a picnic facility and bathrooms.
Here's more information about statewide trout stocking.