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Bigger Fish and Better Angler Success

As Fish and Game stocks rainbow trout this spring, they are doing something different that will lead to better success for Idaho anglers. A good share of the hatchery rainbow trout stocked in Idaho’s largest still-water fisheries this spring will be twelve inches instead of the standard of ten inches. Watch this video to learn why this is happening.

Fish and Game’s rainbow trout hatchery program exists for one sole purpose: putting fish in Idaho waters for anglers to catch. But during the last ten years, the cost of raising fish has skyrocketed. While the cost of fish food has increased by more than 150 percent, funding for the hatchery program has remained stagnant. In 2011, managers reduced fish production of put-and-take rainbow trout by 18 percent to keep the program within budget. At the same time they started tracking fish that anglers caught as part of a program called “Tag-You’re-It”.

Fisheries researchers tagged thousands of fish over a four year period, and tracked the tags with the help from anglers.

“We tagged a bunch of fish and put those fish out there, and essentially let the anglers do the work in returning that information to us through our hotline and our website,” said Senior Fisheries Research Biologist John Cassinelli. “So that has given us this large database.”

That database showed that twelve inch rainbow trout are more likely to be caught than ten inch trout. This knowledge has allowed researchers to reorganize the hatchery rainbow trout program in a way that puts larger trout in the creels of Idaho anglers without increasing the cost of the hatchery program.

The science and math show that for every limit of six rainbow trout anglers catch, Fish and Game must stock roughly 18 ten inch trout.  When 12 inch trout are stocked in the same waters, only 11 fish are needed for each six fish limit, on average.

Regardless of how many trout managers stock, the true measure of success for the hatchery program is how many trout anglers catch. As the program expands over the next 16 months, managers will be putting more twelve inch rainbows into most of Idaho’s large still-water fisheries. 

Check out the fish stocking page for monthly updates on fish stocking region by region.

 

 

Part of Idaho bighorn sheep collection returns home

Part of a bighorn sheep skull and horn collection will be making it's way back to Idaho. Thanks to the efforts of several individuals and groups. Fish and Game is interested in research value of these to determine historical range.

Read more about the effort online at the Billings Gazette.

Speaking of bighorns, have you seen these bighorn sheep opportunities in Idaho? The 2015 controlled hunt application period ends on April 30!

Potlatch River Steelhead

The Potlatch River is a smaller little known river that flows into the Clearwater River about 15 miles upstream of Lewiston, Idaho. For those familiar with this river, images of raging dirty water in the spring and barely a trickle in the summer often come to mind. At first appearance, this is hardly a river that one would consider to support any type of a quality fishery. Years of habitat degradation from farming, logging, grazing and human development has taken its toll on this river. However, about 10 years ago the Idaho Department of Fish and Game began surveying this river and what we learned was truly a surprise.

This river supported a thriving population of truly wild steelhead with almost no hatchery influence. Upon talking to some of the locals, they told stories of when their grandfathers caught steelhead in tributaries that are now dry. It became evident that this river had a lot of potential to produce more steelhead, and that is when it was decided to embark on a major habitat restoration program in this basin. To help direct where money is spent, we initiated a monitoring program to better understand where the steelhead occur, how many there are, and how they respond to the various habitat improvement projects.

We are currently in our tenth field season of studying the steelhead population in the Potlatch River basin. Much of our monitoring occurs in the East Fork Potlatch River and Big Bear Creek, two of the major steelhead producing drainages in the Potlatch. Our monitoring program consists of three major components.  We trap adult steelhead at a weir to estimate how many spawn. We use two rotary screw traps (see picture to the right) to catch juvenile steelhead to evaluate the number of smolts that migrate to the ocean each year. And we use PIT tag arrays to learn when adult and juvenile fish implanted with a small microchip enter or leave certain streams. By using at all this data, we can assess steelhead survival and how well the habitat restoration program is working.

Adult steelhead travel over 500 miles from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in tributaries of the Potlatch River. Since 2008, we have estimated between 71-106 adult steelhead return annually to the East Fork Potlatch River to spawn. In 2014, we estimated 96 adults returned to the East Fork which is the 3rd highest return to date. In one of the strong run years, we believe around 1,000 adult steelhead entered the Potlatch River to spawn somewhere in the watershed.

Juvenile steelhead leave the Potlatch River tributaries typically from March-June as they begin their journey to the Pacific Ocean. We monitor this outmigration and estimate the number of juveniles departing from Big Bear Creek and the East Fork Potlatch River drainages. In 2014, we estimated approximately 8,356 juvenile steelhead out-migrated from the Big Bear Creek drainage and 11,126 from the East Fork Potlatch River drainage. These estimates are typical and have ranged from 7,000-48,000 in the East Fork and 4,000-20,000 in Big Bear Creek. The picture below shows our crew PIT tagging juvenile steelhead.

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We will continue to monitor and evaluate the steelhead population in the Potlatch watershed as habitat restoration efforts continue. The IDFG, Latah Soil and Water Conservation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Forest Service, and Nez Perce Tribe have made significant efforts to improve habitat in this watershed. These efforts help insure this steelhead population will thrive for years to come and ultimately provide new fishing opportunities for anglers.  - Jason Fortier, Senior Fish Technician, Clearwater Region

Salmon River Steelhead Fishing 4/13/15

The Salmon River cleared up this past week as flows began to decline, and as result, catch rates improved considerably. Angler effort was very low downstream of Salmon, in location code 16, but the few interviewed anglers that were out averaged 2 hours per steelhead caught and no steelhead were kept. Upstream, in location code 17, angler effort was approximately half of what was observed during the previous week, and interviewed anglers averaged 14 hours per steelhead caught and 20 hours per steelhead kept. Above the Pahsimeroi, in location code 18, interviewed anglers averaged 8 hours per steelhead caught and 30 hours per steelhead kept. Once again, the majority of anglers were observed above the East Fork in location code 19. Anglers in this area continued to do well and averaged 9 hours per steelhead caught and 30 hours per steelhead kept.

Currently, the Salmon River through the town of Salmon is flowing at 1,680 cfs which is 114% of average for today’s date. The river is running clear and temperatures in the low to mid 40s were recorded throughout the week.

As of Thursday, April 9th the Pahsimeroi Hatchery had trapped 3,441 steelhead, while the Sawtooth Hatchery had trapped 3,240 steelhead. Additionally, Blue Mountain Pond in Challis was stocked with 150 adult steelhead on Tuesday, April 7th. Check Harvest Report for more details. - Brent Beller, Fisheries Technician, Salmon Region

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing 4/13/15

Angler effort continues to decline on the Main Stem of the Clearwater and lower Salmon River as the Spring 2015 Steelhead season nears its end. Most of effort this past week occurred on the Little Salmon River and on the South Fork of the Clearwater. The South Fork of the Clearwater produced the best catch rates of 2 hours/fish caught. Check Harvest Report for more details. - Amanda Schmidt, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

The Clark Fork Delta Restoration Project Videos

The restoration of the Clark Fork Delta has been a large conservation project for Idaho Fish and Game.

Two videos highlight some of the work so far.

 

The first in a series of videos about the Clark Fork Delta Restoration Project. In this episode, we take a look at the challenges and methods of gaining access to the delta.

The second in a series of videos about the Clark Fork Delta Restoration Project. In this episode, we take a look at the reasons why the delta is threatened and "The Vision" for restoring the Delta.

Pocatello Wellness Pond - A New Fishing Hole/Recreational Area Opening September 2015

Pocatello will receive a new urban fishing water this coming fall with the opening of the Portneuf Wellness Complex. The 7-acre pond will be stocked with fish and ready for anglers when the park opens to the public.

Last week, our staff were busy placing docks and working on other access improvements.

To see more of this exciting project, go to Facebook and search "Portneuf Wellness Complex. This will be a jewel for all Southeastern Idaho.

Catfishing in April on the Snake River

James R. writes: Fishing in the Snake River and look over and see my pole going crazy. I jerked-up and the catfish gave me a heck of a battle.

Dp - April and May is prime-time for catfish fishing in the Snake River in the Weiser/Brownlee area. Use worms or cut bait and fish on the river bottom. Who knows how big the fish may be on the end of the line.

Anglers Help Catch Steelhead Brood Stock

Anglers Catch Steelhead Broodstock for South Fork Clearwater River

Since 2010, Idaho Department of Fish and Game has been recruiting anglers to catch adult steelhead from the South Fork Clearwater River. These fish are being collected to develop a stock of steelhead that are more adapted to this river than fish used in the past (steelhead collected at Dworshak Hatchery). Our hopes are that the offspring from these fish will survive better resulting in more Steelhead returning to the South Fork Clearwater River in the future.

Typically we usually use weirs to trap adult steelhead to meet our brood stock needs. However, we don’t have this option in the South Fork Clearwater River, so we have turned to the angling public to collect the brood stock for us. Each year starting around the last week of February, IDFG personnel begin recruiting volunteer anglers and distributing tubes (see picture to the right) to capture and hold adult steelhead. Volunteers place hatchery steelhead they catch and want to donate to the program in a holding tube and place it in the river. Personnel from IDFG’s Clearwater Fish Hatchery operate transport vehicles and drive along the river collecting tubed steelhead that will be used as brood stock .

When the program began in 2010, the goal was to understand whether we could use anglers to catch steelhead from the South Fork Clearwater River, successfully spawn them, raise their offspring, and release these offspring one year later (as smolts) back to the South Fork. Initially we started with a goal of collecting 50 spawning pair. One year later (2011) we increased our goal to collect approximately 100 spawning pair to produce about 400,000 smolts. Due to our past success, this year Idaho Department of Fish and Game set a goal to collect enough spawners (225 spawning pair) to fulfill the entire 1.2 million smolt release goal in the South Fork Clearwater River. 

In order to accomplish this goal, IDFG began soliciting volunteer anglers to collect brood on February 13, 2015. Idaho Department of Fish and Game with assistance from the Nez Perce Tribe was able to enlist more than 100 volunteer anglers to participate in the South Fork Clearwater River localized brood program this year. Due to the warmer weather, steelhead seemed to be more spread out than in previous years, and anglers were successful in capturing fish from Stites on highway 13 all the way upstream to Mt. Idaho on highway 14.  Steelhead collected were placed in IDFG transport vehicles, and at the end of each day were hauled to Dworshak National Fish Hatchery where they were held until spawning.

We are proud to announce that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game with assistance from the Nez Perce Tribe, Dworshak National Fish Hatchery, and most notably the public were able to accomplish our goals of collecting 225 spawning pairs by March 7, 2015. These fish have all been spawned; and if all goes as planned, this will allow us to release about 1.2 million localized steelhead smolts into the South Fork Clearwater River in the spring of 2016.

As smolts from previous brood stock collections return as adults, we will be able to compare adult return success from fish produced through the localized brood stock collection and the adult returns produced through other hatchery strategies.

This project would be impossible without the participation of the angling public and the fish they collected. Many volunteers went above and beyond to help the project, some going so far as scheduling their vacation around this effort!  Many thanks to all the volunteers who participated!  - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region