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Panhandle Region Fishing Outlook

Higher than normal snowpack in the Panhandle Region will probably result in tougher fishing conditions during the stream and river opener on May 25. Water will be high, cloudy, and cold. Early season anglers would be wise to wear a life jacket when walking stream banks or wading. The positive side is that fishing conditions should improve by the end of June and a gradual snowmelt could provide good conditions throughout the summer. The Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe Rivers will provide excellent fishing for cutthroat trout this year with the Moyie River providing excellent stream fishing for rainbow and brook trout. New fishing regulations in the Priest Lake drainage will offer more harvest opportunity for exotic species like brook trout and lake trout, with additional protection for kokanee and cutthroat trout. The lake trout limit increased to six fish in Priest Lake and Upper Priest (no bait is allowed in Upper Priest Lake). Kokanee are closed to harvest to help rebuild the Priest and Upper Priest kokanee fisheries. All Priest Lake tributaries are now open to harvest of brook trout, but no harvest of cutthroat is allowed. The statewide brook trout limit increased to 25, making Priest Lake tribuaries very attractive to stream anglers who like to harvest fish for eating. Priest River and tributaries now have the same cutthroat slot limit as the Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe Rivers. Two cutthroats may be harvested, but none can be between 8' and 16'. Coeur d'Alene Lake chinook and kokanee fishing should be improving. Large numbers of small kokanee are providing abundant forage for chinook. Chinook numbers are still not up to desired levels, but fish size is improving. We will be stocking 40,000 fingerling chinook this June, and another 31,000 wild smolts will help rebuild the fishery. Kokanee size should be down to 12-13 inches this year, which is desireable. Large kokanee size the last three years has been an indication of extremely weak year classes. The management goal is 11" which provides plenty of kokanee to feed chinook as well as the best catch rates for kokanee anglers. Warmwater fishing should be good region wide, but may be delayed by the prolonged winter and higher, colder water flowing through some systems. The tiger muskie record may top 40 pounds this year if there are any fish left from the 1990 year class. We stock tiger muskies every third year at one fish per acre to maintain this trophy fishery. Peak fishing time is in July. Shepherd, Dawson, Freeman, Hauser and Blue lakes are all managed for tiger muskies. Anglers are encouraged to harvest lake trout and rainbow from Lake Pend Oreille to help keep the kokanee population from collapsing. Kokanee survival rates are still low and the population is headed for a collapse if anglers don't help reduce the predator population. The kokanee fishery in Spirit Lake should be better this year. We have been stocking 200,000 kokanee fry a year and the wild population is rebounding from some very low year classes the past two years. For additional information, contact us at the IDFG Panhandle Region Office, (208) 769-1414.