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Hooked on Fishing

By Joe Chapman, Idaho Department of Fish and Game By the time you read this, fishing season will be open at the Oster Lakes and Riley Pond on the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area in the scenic Hagerman Valley. Most of the geese and ducks have already vacated the area, and the few that remain are already protecting nesting areas. The warm weather during February had a few eager fisherman investigating the Oster Lakes and Riley Creek before the fishing opener on March 1. I am always amazed at the brave souls who will risk snow and biting cold to get that tug on the line at this time of the year. Every year I struggle with trying to live up to the high expectations of fishing here. We had a couple of incredible years a few years ago that resulted in phenomenal fishing, thanks in part to donations of large fish from the private sector that are not available now. Anyway, although it may be more of a challenge to find a fish over 5 pounds, we will be stocking some nice-sized rainbow trout in Oster Lakes 1-4, Riley Pond and Riley Creek and will continue to do so weekly throughout the spring. The rest of the wildlife management area opens July 1. In addition to rainbow trout, we have been fortunate to obtain some yellow trout eggs from a private hatchery the past couple of years, and some of these novelty trout are now up to 14 inches. I have been told that these are a cross between an albino steelhead and a rainbow trout. They seem to be more difficult to catch than a standard rainbow, so I'll pass on a couple tips to catch these later in this article. Each spring I recommend tips that have worked for me in the past on the opening week to get that limit of trout. First of all, these fish will not be "educated." They have never seen a lure or fly tossed at them, so almost anything should work initially. This period will last about a week, maybe two, then you will have to toss non-conventional lures to hook them. They get smart pretty fast after watching their siblings get yanked from the water. If you want to take a few home for the skillet, try corn, marshmallows, worms or PowerBait. If you're using lures, try roostertails, Panther Martins, Mepps and spoons. Even crappie jigs will work. I like to use 4-to-6 pound line, an ultra light rod, and small terminal gear. I also wear polarized sunglasses so I can see into the water and watch my lure, bait or fly. As I get older, I find my reflexes aren't as fast as they once were, and if I can see the fish inhale the offering, I have a split-second jump on it and can usually set the hook before the fish spits it out. Also, if I'm not catching fish in one spot, I move or switch tackle. I am a very impatient trout fisherman (unless I'm with kids), and if I can't get a strike within a dozen casts, I'm outta' there. Here are a couple tips that have helped me catch the elusive yellow trout. First, because they are easily seen, polarized sunglasses enable you to watch their reaction to your presentation. Often, they will follow your lure, and then simply move off uninterested. I cast back out, then when the lure is near them, jiggle the rod tip a bit to give the lure more life. Often this stimulates an attack. These fish like bright silver and gold lures and spoons, and I have enticed and hooked many with small bass plugs. Make sure that if you use bait, the entire hook is covered, as these fish will avoid the bait if the hook shows. Don't feel shy about eating these "golden" fillets either, as they are every bit as good as a normal rainbow trout. Lastly, to save you some money and aggravation, I'd like to review a couple of the fishing regulations that we see broken every year. First, keep in mind that the limit is six trout (no size limit) on the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area. Don't keep more than your six fish, or they will cost you $75-$25 minimum fine plus $50 minimum court costs-for each one over your limit, if you get caught. Every year we have numerous folks who try and push their luck and learn an expensive lesson. Next, make sure you have your license on you and you are attending your fishing rod. You can help your child fish, if they are under 14, but that doesn't mean throwing out the line, setting the hook, then handing the kid the rod. They need to actively toss that line out with you, set the hook, and reel in the fish. Also, if you are going to give fish to another person, you must give them a proxy statement with the fish. These are found on page 41 of the fishing rules brochure. And please be courteous to the other folks out there, especially the kids. There is nothing better than seeing a youngster's eyes light up when they tie into a big one. If the kids are younger than 14 and a resident of Idaho, they do not need a fishing license and can catch six trout each. Once they turn 14, they need to purchase a junior fishing license for $13.75. They can use the annual junior licenses until they turn 18, at which time they need to start buying adult fishing licenses. Finally, please don't litter. We get tired of picking up baby diapers, old fishing line, beer cans and bottles, and old bait jars left by careless anglers. This area is a gem in the Magic Valley; let's keep it that way. Now get out there with your kids and catch some fish. I'll see you out there. Joe Chapman is the manager of the Hagerman State Hatchery.