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1981 - New to Idaho Waters

Idaho has about 120 fish species within its lakes, streams, and reservoirs. Of those, only about 40 species are native, meaning they were in Idaho naturally. The remaining 80-plus species were intentionally introduced, mostly to provide recreational fishing opportunities.  Managing these fisheries means balancing recreational angling with the conservation of native fish.

Native fish in Idaho - Chinook salmon, steelhead, cutthroat trout, and sturgeon, amongst others - support some of the state’s most popular fisheries. Introduced fish have created many outstanding and extremely popular fisheries, as well. Unfortunately, through predation, competition, or hybridization, introduced fish sometimes cause serious problems for native fish populations. In those cases, fishery managers are faced with the challenge of balancing native fish conservation with non-native sport fishing opportunities.

Though we may tend to think these challenges are relatively new, our predecessors recognized them years ago. The first Statewide Fishery Management Plan was created in 1981, marking the first time statewide policy regarding native and non-native fish management was established.  Not only did the plan acknowledge the potential conflicts between native species and non-native sport fisheries, it emphasized the importance of native fish conservation, establishing a statewide policy that stated, “nonnative salmonids and warmwater game fish will not be introduced into waters where they adversely affect goals and objectives set for native, coldwater or anadromous programs.” 

Idaho citizens hold wide ranging values and opinions about whether native fish or recreational fisheries should take priority, so it’s not surprising that thirty-three years later, fishery managers and policy makers still work to strike an appropriate balance.  Fortunately, a better understanding of native fish distribution, innovative management techniques and fishing regulations have helped insure popular recreational fisheries don’t come at the expense of native fish populations.

One recent development helping minimize the risk of non-native fish is the production of sterile fish. Cutthroat trout, Idaho’s state fish, are native to many lakes and rivers throughout the state. Because they are closely related to rainbow trout, the two species can easily cross-breed, or hybridize, damaging or even eliminating genetically pure cutthroat populations.  By stocking rainbow trout that can’t reproduce, managers insure hatchery raised rainbows won’t crossbreed with their wild cousins. Virtually all rainbow trout stocked in Idaho where wild cutthroat exist are now sterile.

Another benefit to using sterile fish is the assurance introduced populations can’t reproduce and take over a water body. Because sterile fish populations are entirely dependent on stocking, their numbers are controlled by fishery managers, and the decision to stock them is ultimately reversible. Sterile tiger muskies, lake trout, brook trout, and grass carp have all been stocked into Idaho lakes and ponds to provide fishing opportunities (or control vegetation in the case of grass carp) without the risk of reproduction.

Catch-and-release regulations are another management tool for supporting many native fish populations. For example, sturgeon, wild salmon, and cutthroat trout became scarce in many areas where angling effort was high. Catch-and-release regulations has helped restore populations and fishing opportunity.

While eliminating harvest has pleased many anglers, others enjoy a fish dinner. One way of providing harvest opportunity for trout without harming native fish populations is the use of “catch-out ponds.” Historically, hatchery trout were stocked into many streams to supplement the population and provide harvest opportunity. Time has shown the vast majority of trout stocked into streams are never caught by anglers.  For that reason, IDFG stocks trout into ponds, often adjacent to wild trout streams. Though not a strategy for fish like sturgeon, these catch-out ponds are one way to meet diverse angler demands, providing trout harvest opportunities without overharvesting wild, native populations

Finally, there are times when non-native fish threaten to eliminate important native fish populations and we simply can’t have both. In those cases, aggressive control of a non-native fish population may be the only answer. Lake Pend Oreille is one such example.

Idaho’s largest and deepest lake, Pend Oreille once provided the most productive fishery in the state and had produced world record bull and rainbow trout. The fishery was based on kokanee salmon, trophy rainbow trout, and native cutthroat and bull trout. While not native to Pend Oreille, kokanee had become the primary food source for native bull trout.  Unfortunately, a non-native population of lake trout began to take over the lake in the late 1990’s threatening the well-balanced fishery.

In response to the dramatic declines in kokanee abundance and the threat to native bull and cutthroat trout due to lake trout, a large-scale suppression effort was initiated in 2006. The two-pronged effort included a financial incentive to encourage anglers to harvest lake trout, and an extensive netting effort to remove lake trout. After eight years of suppressing the lake trout population, it has been reduced by approximately 80 percent.  Kokanee populations have come roaring back, allowing IDFG to re-open the kokanee fishery in 2013. Through effective control of non-native lake trout, not only have the kokanee and trophy rainbow trout fisheries been restored, but the future of native cutthroat and bull trout is secure.

Idaho Fish and Game’s formal policy for managing native and non-native fish began in 1981 with the first statewide fishery management plan, and it has been evolving ever since. Policies are reflections of societal values. As long as public values are diverse and changing, policies will continue to be modified and adjusted. One thing seems fairly certain -- IDFG will continue to use technology, innovative management approaches, and public input to balance native fish conservation with recreational angling long into the future.

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Upper Salmon Chinook Update 7/7/14

The Chinook harvest increased this past week on the upper Salmon River, but once again, anglers upstream of the Pahsimeroi River fared better than those downstream. Anglers downstream of the Pahsimeroi, in location codes 16 and 17, averaged 81 hours per Chinook caught and 162 hours per Chinook kept. Upstream in location codes 18 and 19, anglers averaged 18 hours per Chinook caught and 38 hours per Chinook kept. At this point in the season, an estimated 44 hatchery adult Chinook have been harvested downstream of the Pahsimeroi and 324 hatchery adult Chinook have been harvested upstream.

The Salmon River has been slowly dropping for the past week. It is currently flowing at approximately 2,410 cfs through the town of Salmon, which is down from 3,000 cfs a week ago. Mid-day water temperatures have been in the low to mid 60s, and the visibility is good. As of today, 1090 Chinook have returned to the Sawtooth hatchery and as of July 3rd, 311 Chinook have returned to the Pahsimeroi hatchery.  - Brent Beller, Fisheries Technician, Salmon Region

Upper Salmon Chinook Update 6/30/14

Chinook anglers on the upper Salmon River had mixed results this past week depending on where they decided to fish. Anglers downstream of the Pahsimeroi River, in location codes 16 and 17, were working hard to find the fish and averaged 202 hours per Chinook caught. Upstream of the Pahsimeroi, in location codes 18 and 19, anglers did much better and averaged 13 hours per Chinook caught. At this point in the season, an estimated 23 hatchery adult Chinook have been harvested downstream of Pahsimeroi and 123 hatchery adult Chinook have been harvested upstream.  For  more details go to the Chinook Harvest Report.

The Salmon River near the town of Salmon was on the rise most of the week, but it did begin to drop again Sunday morning. As of today, it is back down to approximately 3,000 cfs and the visibility is good. As of June 27th, 150 adult Chinook have returned back to the Pahsimeroi hatchery and as of June 30th, 157 adult Chinook have returned to the Sawtooth hatchery. - Brent Beller. Salmon Region Fisheries Technician

 

Celebrating the Nation's Icon

The bald eagle soared off the endangered species list in 2007, rebounding from 417 breeding pairs in the continental United States in 1967 to over 10,000 today. The recovery and delisting of the nation's symbol marks a major achievement in conservation. Idaho’s breeding bald eagle population has experienced a 20-fold increase, growing from about a dozen known nesting territories in 1979 to more than 250 today.

Recovery

Uniquely North American, the bald eagle has a long and symbolic history in the United States. It first appeared on an American coin in 1776, and became the national emblem in 1782 when around 100,000 nesting pairs lived throughout the United States ranging from Alaska to northern Mexico. But by 1963, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that only 417 nesting pairs remained in the lower 48 states.

Beginning in 1940, Congress attempted to protect the bald eagle by passing the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which made it a crime to take or sell the eagles. But it was the chemical DDT, developed after World War II as the first of the modern synthetic insecticides, which really took a toll on the bald eagle and other raptor species. DDT accumulated in the birds and caused them to lay eggs with thin shells. Concerns about the bald eagle resulted in its protection in 1967 under the predecessor to the current Endangered Species Act (ESA). As a result, the bald eagle was one of the first species protected by the ESA when it was enacted in 1973.

Two important factors made the recovery of the bald eagle possible, the most critical being the federal government’s ban on the use of DDT in 1972. Second, listing under the ESA has reduced threats to bald eagle habitat, including nesting sites and summer and winter roost sites. In addition, federal and state agencies, tribes, private landowners and others played a vital role in restoring populations by protecting important habitat, reintroducing the bald eagle back into the wild, monitoring species recovery and conducting extensive public education efforts.

Nesting in Idaho

Since monitoring began in 1979, the number of known bald eagle nesting territories in Idaho has increased from about a dozen to more than 250 today. Statewide, recovery population goals have been exceeded by approximately150%. As part of the post-delisting monitoring period, IDFG now coordinates statewide monitoring of all known bald eagle nests every five years. Because 2014 is an “on” year for the survey, many nests are probably being checked this week; once all the data are in, results will then be compared to the last complete survey conducted in 2009.

Nest sites are usually located in the tallest trees (sometimes on cliffs or rock outcroppings), from which the birds have a clear view of their surroundings. Eagles generally use the same nests year after year. In Idaho, if wintering conditions permit, pairs remain on their territories year-round, constructing new nests or adding to existing ones between October and the end of February. Females lay one to four eggs (usually just one or two) in late February to early April. After 35 days of incubation, eaglets hatch in mid-April or early May. During the nesting season, eagles usually carry prey to a perch or deliver it to the nest to feed their young. Adults feed chicks by tearing off pieces of food and holding the pieces to the beaks of the eaglets. The nestlings begin to feed themselves at about seven weeks of age.

Winter Roosts
Bald eagles are especially visible in the winter when migrant eagles begin to appear on their traditional Idaho wintering grounds near sources of food—rivers, lakes and shorelines. Populations peak during January and February. Large groups of eagles gather at roosts—perching sites where birds spend the night. Stands selected for roosting are usually made up of mature trees with strong limbs high above the ground. Roosts provide physical protection, views of the surrounding area and any approaching danger, and serve various social functions.

In winter, the birds are primarily concerned with feeding and conserving energy. Although fish are the bald eagle's primary food, a fish need not be alive to attract a bird’s attention. Winter die-offs of salmon at some of Idaho's lakes and rivers, such as Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho, attract bald eagles. Eagle Watch is an annual event near Coeur d’Alene where people gather to view hundreds of bald eagles feeding on salmon. Other important winter foods include waterfowl, small mammals, winter-killed deer and, occasionally, upland birds or mammals when severe winter weather causes dependable sources to become unreliable.

In addition to Lake Coeur d’Alene, large concentrations of wintering bald eagles are found along Lake Pend Oreille, and sections of the Snake, Salmon and Boise Rivers. Although some nesting pairs remain in Idaho year-round, the winter population is supplemented by migrants from Canada.

Every year, volunteers and agency biologists participate in a mid-winter statewide survey counting eagles along specific routes. The intention is to monitor bald eagle numbers throughout the state. The count’s total has ranged from 480 to 832 birds.

Idaho’s count is part of a national effort called the Annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey. The survey is a true public-private partnership with hundreds of volunteer citizen scientists taking part, in addition to federal, state, and non-governmental agency biologists. Forty-three states actively participate, with over 740 standardized survey routes across the country.The data are collected during a two-week window every year; then sent to a national database set up to monitor eagle populations in the lower 48 states.

So as you are spending time outdoors this Fourth of July weekend, look for our nation’s icon and relish this great conservation success story… the return of our country’s national symbol from the brink of extinction.

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Upper Salmon Chinook Report 6/23/14

Chinook fishing opened on the upper Salmon River this past weekend, and fish were being caught right away. The river was running at approximately 3,000 cfs through the town of Salmon on Saturday and the visibility was good. Interviewed anglers harvested Chinook in all the river sections open to fishing. Anglers were having to put in a lot of effort to find them, especially in section 16 between North Fork and the Lemhi River. Fishing should improve as we move forward and more Chinook continue to move up river into the fishery while the river level keeps dropping.

As of June 19th, two adult Chinook had been trapped at the Pahsimeroi Hatchery and two adults had also been trapped at the Sawtooth Hatchery.  - Brent Beller, Fisheries Technician

Clearwater Region's Chinook Update 6/24/14

Hi everybody, this is the Clearwater Region’s Chinook Salmon Update (6/24/14).

Because harvest shares haven’t changed from last week and many of the fisheries are ending, I’m going to jump right into what’s going on for each of the fisheries in the Clearwater Region.

Clearwater River Basin Fishery                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

First, I’d like to let everybody know that right now the only river reaches open to Chinook Salmon fishing in the Clearwater River Basin are the Middle Fork Clearwater, South Fork Clearwater, and Lochsa rivers and only Jacks are allowed to be harvested in these river reaches.  Because we have met our overall harvest share in the Clearwater River Basin we will be closing the remaining open river reaches to all Chinook Salmon fishing at the end of fishing hours on Sunday June 29, 2014.  That means on Monday June 30, 2014 the entire Clearwater River basin will be closed to Chinook Salmon fishing. 

All in all I think this was a fairly good Chinook Season. The fish did come in fast and furious and as the result many of the fisheries didn’t last long, but that is the nature of the beast for Chinook Salmon fisheries. Most of the river reaches we managed got at least two or three good weeks of fishing, and unfortunately that is all about you can expect when the run doesn’t get spread out when migrating up the Columbia and Snake rivers (likely due to the lower and clearer water conditions in the Columbia during their migration.)  Most of the river reaches we manage we were able to get within a few percent of our harvest goals.  We may have been off a little more on a couple of the river reaches, but in reality it is very difficult for us to get more accurate than this. 

Many of you had comments about how we might be able to do a better job managing this fishery in the future, and I look forward to chatting more about these ideas during our public meetings this winter.

Rapid River Fishery

Last week was another good week of fishing on the Rapid River run although it wasn’t as good as the previous week.  Catch rates were around 11 hours a fish in the Little Salmon River and about the same in Salmon River.  Based on reports from our creel personnel, it looks like we are seeing similar catch rates in the Little Salmon River for the beginning of this week as well.  Some have asked why we closed the entire lower Salmon River to fishing last week.  The reason is to protect upstream migration hatchery and wild salmon.  In fact, the Pahsimeroi run is so weak this year that if we didn’t make the closures we did, we could actually harvest enough of their fish to could close this fishery down before the fish really got there.  Right now the only area open to Chinook fishing (for the Rapid River run) is the Little Salmon River.  We will look at harvest numbers as well as the number of brood stock we are collecting and let you know tomorrow (Wednesday) if there are any closures for the Little Salmon in the immediate future. 

Hells Canyon Fishery

The Hells Canyon Fishery did not receive much effort last week and the fishing was tough (32 hrs/fish).  As result, we estimated that only 14 adults were harvested bringing our total harvest to 420 fish.  Our harvest share is around 1,000 adult fish and as a result this fishery will likely remain open for quite some time. 

I’m leaving for vacation this Friday and as such this will be the last weekly update I provide.  Don Whitney (Harvest Monitoring Biologist) will keep you posted on the status Little Salmon Fishery.

So this is it from me until the Steelhead and Fall Chinook seasons begin.  Have a great summer. - Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager

Clearwater Region Chinook Salmon Update 6/17/14

There are a lot of rule changes occurring this week so I want to make sure you are all aware of these first.  So the rule changes are as follows:

Rule Changes in the Clearwater River drainage

In the Clearwater drainage at the close of fishing hours on Sunday June 22, 2014 all Chinook Salmon fishing for adults and Jacks will end downstream of confluence of the South Fork Clearwater and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers (adults harvest is already closed in this area).  This includes the entire mainstem Clearwater River, and the North Fork Clearwater River.  In addition, all harvest for adults will end at the close of fishing hours on Sunday June 22, 2014 in the Middle Fork Clearwater, South Fork Clearwater, and Lochsa rivers.  That means starting on Monday June 23, 2014 only the harvest of adipose clipped Jacks (salmon less than 24 inches)  with a daily limit of four (4) will be allowed in the Middle Fork, South Fork, and Lochsa rivers.  All other areas will be closed.  These closures are occurring because we anticipate our harvest share of adult fish will be met in the entire Clearwater River drainage and because reaches downstream of the confluence of the South Fork Clearwater and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers will have met their quota for Jacks.

Rule Changes on the Rapid River Run

On the Salmon River, fishing for all Chinook Salmon (adults and Jacks) will end at the close of fishing hours on Thursday June 19, 2014 between Rice Creek Bridge and Time Zone Bridge and between Shorts Creek and Vinegar Creek.  The Park Hole (the Salmon River between Time Zone Bridge and Shorts Creek) will remain open through the weekend and then close to all Chinook Salmon fishing (adults and Jacks) at the end of fishing hours on Sunday June 22, 2014.   The Little Salmon River will remain open to the harvest of both adult and Jack Chinook Salmon until further notice.  These closures are being made to protect hatchery and wild Chinook Salmon migrating to upstream fisheries and because we anticipate we will be close to reaching our adult harvest share for this entire fishery by the end of the weekend.

Rule Changes for the Hells Canyon Fishery

No rules changes will occur on this fishery through the weekend.  This fishery will continue until further notice.

Clearwater River Fishery Update

Chinook Salmon fishing in the Clearwater River drainage was excellent last week with catch rates below 10 hrs/fish in most areas open to fishing.  Harvest totals are listed on the Fish and Game website.  We have 340 fish left in our adult harvest share.  For that reason, we anticipate that Chinook Salmon fishing in all reaches will not last much past this weekend.

Rapid River Fishery Update

Fishing on the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers was excellent last week with catch rates less than 10 hrs/fish in the Park Hole area and Little Salmon River.  I myself got involved with this fishery last week and had a great time catching fish and visiting with all of you – I look forward to doing it again.   Due to the high effort and good catch rates, we estimated around 3,000 adult fish were harvested last week.  This high amount of harvest is the reason for these closures.  Be prepared for a quick closer on the Little Salmon River after the weekend if we are close to meeting our harvest share.

Hells Canyon Fishery Update

Fishing was also excellent below Hells Canyon Dam.  In fact it was the best we have seen all year there (catch rates of 7 hrs/fish).  A large reason for this is the low amount of effort that occurred there.  I suspect a lot of the people that often fish there were fishing the Little Salmon or Salmon rivers.   To date around 600 adult fish have been taken from the Hells Canyon Fishery.  Our harvest share is around 1,000 fish. 

Well it looks like we are in store for another good week of fishing before many river reaches start closing down.  I’m already hearing good reports out there, so be sure to take advantage of it while you can. 

Good luck and be safe. - Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager

2003 - Digital Tools for the Digital Age

In the digital age not many people stop to think about how word of ‘good fishing’ spread in 1938.  Few had telephones.  If they did, word of a hot fishing location might ‘accidently’ spread by people listening on the party-line telephone system, or by the operator, who routed calls, telling a friend; but most fishing reports spread by word-of-mouth.  In 1938, as it is today, the information was always suspect because everyone knew two truths about anglers. First, they all lie; and second, a true angler would never divulge detailed information about where fishing was really good!

Things have changed in 2014. The electronic fishing tools available to anglers continue to expand.  Today there are electronic recording fish-finders that tell you the bottom contours, water temperature, fish species, size and depth of the fish you are pursuing – all on a LED screen.  GPS devices record to-the-foot where the best habitat is located. There are cameras you can send over the side of your boat or down your ice fishing hole to see the fish you are pursuing in real-time. 

And the timeless desire to tell a fishing and hunting story is being blogged, tweeted and Facebooked. This often happens  from locations where anglers are catching fish (or not) within seconds of landing the ‘big one,’ or hunters posing for the ‘beauty shot’ in the field.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game has also taken their ‘game’ to the digital age in developing the online Hunt and Fishing Planners for the hunter and angler.

Fishing Planner
In 2010 the Fishing Planner allowed anglers to search basic information showing the type of fish you could expect to find, along with basic maps and references to rules for fishing.  Just two years later the Fishing Planner App made this information available on mobile phones. The Fishing Planner was updated in 2014 with features that find your device location, tell you how far you are from the nearest fishing area, show maps and satellite imagery, link to how-to videos, report on what to expect to catch or find, fish stocking reports, links for buying licenses or permits, the roads to follow and trails to take to reach your desired destination, locations and amenities of the closest boating, fishing, and hunting access sites, rules etc.  It does nearly everything for angler except clean your fish. 

Hunt Planner
Idaho has hundreds of hunting opportunities each year, which are listed in great detail in Idaho's hunting regulation books.

At times the regulations may seem complex, but this is for good reason. They are designed to provide the best opportunities for a wide range of weapons and harvest desires. Some of us dream of a giant branch-antlered bull stepping slowly into view, close enough we can feel its breath as we try to hold our draw. Others are looking to fill our freezer. Many of us are somewhere in between.

No matter what calls you out into the field on a cold fall morning, the Hunt Planner is designed to help you to explore all the options and find the right hunt for you.
Let's demonstrate how you might use a couple of features for our two examples:

To find the best chance of success with your general deer tag, you can use the Search Harvest Statistics option to look for hunts with a greater than 50% success rate in the previous year.  This highlights two deer hunts in Unit 16 which have enjoyed a 45% or better success rate for the last dozen years!

For the best chance at an archery bull, one might search Harvest Statistics for past archery elk hunts, just as we did for a freezer-filling deer hunt.  Another option would be to use the HuntPlanner which allows us to limit our search to Southwest Region archery-only elk hunts. Using the advanced options we can further filter on controlled hunts with a 50% harvest success where 100% of the harvest was 6 points or greater in 2013. One hunt remains: Hunt 2148 (Hunt Area 46, 15 tags).

Beyond a search engine for hunting opportunities, the Hunt Planner contains a number of lesser-known features that hunters may find useful:

Just like anglers, hunters protect their secret spots, too. However, with online tools it’s easier to explore new country and find your own favorite hunting spot.

What’s Next
In 1938, it would be safe to assume no one ever dreamed of Idaho Fish and Game offering powerful tools like the Hunt and Fishing Planners. Since we launched our desk-top Planners, technological advances have expanded the information we can provide for our customers at the touch of your phone or a click of your mouse.  With more than half the households in the United States having occupants owning smartphones, we will continue to build for the latest technology to improve customer service to our hunting and fishing public through their mobile devices.  Stay tuned.

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