By Phil Cooper - Idaho Department of Fish and Game
The general fishing season in Idaho, often referred to by anglers as Ôstream season", opened the Saturday before Memorial Day for many years.
A few years ago that changed, and most streams are now open all year.
Having started my career in southeastern Idaho, I remember well the fanfare that came with the stream opener. Many small cities in southeast Idaho held highly popular fishermen's breakfasts on the opening Saturday. Excited anglers came before dawn for pancakes and eggs before heading out for their first day of wetting lines in area streams.
The events were great fundraisers for area sportsman's groups as well as a day that anglers looked forward to all winter. There were likely similar events held around the state, but the one in St. Anthony was an event to behold. Many anglers in eastern Idaho were headed to the famed Henrys Fork of the Snake River, one of the best fly-fishing reaches in the entire country.
Stream fishing is king in the low precipitation areas of southern Idaho. Many of the smaller lakes in southeast Idaho go dry in late summer. Because of the arid climate, there aren't a lot of lakes there that hold fish year to year, and they must be replanted in spring with catchable, but not remarkable, sized trout. Anglers wanting to catch large fish had wait for Memorial Day weekend to head to rivers and streams.
One of the many outdoor blessings we enjoy in the Panhandle is the abundance of lowland lakes that hold a wide variety of fish species that can grow in size year to year. By my rough count, there are 68 smaller, low elevation lakes to choose from - making it almost a challenge to decide where to go on any given day. Fortunately, being open all year makes it possible to fish them all.
As the spring days get longer and the sun higher over these lakes, warm water species, such as bluegills, crappies and yellow perch, move into shallow water where the sunlight penetrates to the bottom and warms the water. They feed actively and aggressively, making them easy to catch.
In addition, many lakes still contain many holdover hatchery rainbow trout that were planted in previous years. These are found all over area lakes, not just in the shallow water. They have grown considerably after being planted at 10 inches or so, and provide excellent fishing and eating opportunity.
While the best fishing on area low elevation lakes is typically found in May and June, anglers who switch tactics and fish deeper water can have excellent results throughout the summer. Mountain lakes, often covered by a layer of ice into mid-July, can also provide good late summer fishing. However, many are "hit and miss," and the trout in these lakes may bite aggressively one day and not at all the next. Either way, the scenery, solitude and wildlife viewing more than compensate should the fish not cooperate.
As for fishing rules, Idaho Fish and Game has taken great effort to simplify.
The new fishing rules are now in effect for three years, and the publication has been reorganized to make it very easy to follow. Daily bag limits, size restrictions and exceptions for specific waters will not change until 2016, as this is the first year of the new three year rules.
If you fish, take a look at the new publication. I feel certain you will like how it is laid out.
On page 11, there is a short guide that tells you how the publication is designed. The first step is to go to the section on the region you plan to fish. Immediately below the region designation are the fishing season dates for that region. The next box gives limits for all species in that region. The next box lists any waters in that region in alphabetical order that have specific regulations. If the water you are planning to fish is not listed - and most are not - you are done. Go fish!
If the water is listed, the next few pages explain the rules for that water.
Anglers should note, however, that some waters, such as Henrys Lake, Henrys Fork of the Snake River, Big Wood River and Silver Creek, are still closed for fishing in the winter and early spring to protect spawning populations of native fish.
Good fishing! We have some of the best fishing anywhere right here at home.
Phil Cooper is the regional conservation educator in the Panhandle Region.