By Phil Cooper - Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Many people in northern Idaho have shifted their focus toward hunting now that summer is over.
However, some of the best fishing of the year remains available in area waters for outdoor recreationists who don't hunt, and for those who were already successful at filling the freezer during the recently completed archery elk and deer seasons.
Panhandle Region fisheries manager Jim Fredericks does a terrific job of keeping the public informed about fisheries programs and opportunities through an e-mail newsletter he sends out periodically. He recently sent one out and said it would be fine with him for me to use this opportunity to share some of the information with those who do not yet receive the newsletter. I will include some, but space limitations won't let me include all of that information. If you want to be added to the e-mail list to get everything, you can find out how to do that at the end of this column.
A few weeks ago, Idaho Fish and Game started receiving multiple phone calls asking if we could identify a fish by the caller's description. The first call had me a bit confused, when the caller said the fish was "bright gold" in color. My first thought was that someone had illegally dumped their goldfish bowl into the lake, and the golden carp had survived. However, when the caller provided further color descriptions and gave the location of the catch as Hayden Lake, it became clear that the caller had caught a spawning kokanee salmon.
In his newsletter, Jim Fredericks says that Fish and Game stocked kokanee in Hayden Lake in 2011 with the sole intent of trying to bolster the open water fishery. It has worked very well so far. As two-year-old fish, the kokanee grew to 16 to 18 inches and created a popular fishery. Now that they've reached maturity, their bright red bodies, green heads, and humped backs have some people wondering how they caught what appears to be a saltwater sockeye salmon in Hayden Lake.
Male kokanee salmon develop the appearance of ocean going sockeye when they mature. These spawning males have been spotted around the lake, and Fish and Game counted a couple hundred fish up Hayden Creek.
For the most part, while interesting and fun to see, the spawning activity won't likely have much of an impact on the population.
Fredericks said: "September spawning kokanee generally need cold running tributaries to reproduce successfully. While they may try to spawn along the lake shore, the relatively warm lake water temperatures cause embryos to hatch out prematurely. Successful lakeshore spawning is associated with a November/December strain of kokanee."
Those fish spawning in Hayden Creek will likely fare better, but accessibility and low flows in late summer seem to limit the number of fish that are able to make their way into Hayden Creek. In the big scheme of things, it is doubtful that there will be significant natural reproduction of kokanee in Hayden.
Fredericks says that is not a bad thing.
"The intent of the kokanee stocking in Hayden is to manage numbers primarily by fingerling stocking, not by natural reproduction," he said.
Fish and Game stocked another 100,000 fingerling kokanee in 2012, and this year increased the number to 150,000. Anglers should continue to enjoy some good kokanee fishing in Hayden in the future.
Speaking of kokanee, the return of kokanee harvest opportunity has been a welcome addition to the Pend Oreille fishery this year. While anglers are limited to a daily harvest of six kokanee in Pend Oreille, anglers have been taking advantage of the fishery and have generally had little difficulty finding good schools of kokanee and catching limits of 10- to 12-inch fish.
The Fish and Game research crew recently finished conducting the field portion of their kokanee population estimates. Analysis of the finding hasn't been finalized, but the number of all age classes of kokanee continues to be very encouraging.
Rainbow anglers are also delighted with the abundant kokanee population, considering that more kokanee means faster growing and larger rainbow.
Thanks are due for the continued support and financial contribution to the fishery by the Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club. Fish and Game recently released about 15,000 pure Gerrard (Kamloops) rainbow trout fingerlings into the Pack River drainage and Spring Creek. The eggs were acquired from British Columbia and the fish were reared at the Cabinet Gorge Hatchery. With help from the club, the fingerlings were recently adipose-fin-clipped so that Fish and Game can evaluate their performance and contribution to the fishery in the coming years.
Coeur d'Alene Lake kokanee fishing is now at its peak as fish congregate in Wolf Lodge Bay preparing to spawn in the next couple of months. They are not large at 10 to 11 inches, but they're very abundant and fishing should be great until the fish start to spawn in mid-November.
Chinook fishing can also be great in the fall on Coeur d'Alene Lake. With the help of the Lake Coeur d'Alene Anglers Association, Fish and Game staff members will be counting Chinook redds (spawning nests) in the Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe rivers. Initial counts show a good number of spawning fish in the Coeur d'Alene River, but very few in the St. Joe. Fish and Game is not planning any efforts to control the number of spawners this year.
Anyone who would like to get their e-mail address on Jim Fredericks' mailing list for Panhandle Fishery Updates, please call Fish and Game at 208-769-1414. Give us your email address, and we can add you to the growing list of people who want to stay informed using the great tools we call social media.
Phil Cooper is a wildlife conservation educator in the Panhandle Region.