Recent Articles: Clearwater

Idaho Fish and Game Releases Tigers!

Tiger trout, that is.

The Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game recently released Tiger Trout in several waters around the state. The fish were 8 - 12" long at stocking and should be easy to catch.

Tiger Trout are a sterile cross-breed between brook trout and brown trout and can be an aggressive predator on other fish species. In the wild, these species occasionally interbreed and we've documented "tigers" in both the Panhandle and Magic Valley regions. "Tigers" are being used as a fish management tool to control nongame and nonnative fish populations.

If you happen to catch one, please send us a picture.

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.

 

 

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.

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

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

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing 3/22/15

Clearwater Catch 2015

The South Fork of the Clearwater had a lot of anglers fishing along its banks this past week. Saturday had a high count of 114 anglers on the South Fork. We observed anglers fishing as far as mile marker 23 on highway 14. Many anglers are in drifting boats. It is also the area we documented with the highest amount of effort. Fishing has dropped off on the main stem (river sect 03) and the North Fork (river sect 05) but both areas still have good catch rates. The little Salmon River had the next highest effort and catch rates were good as well. The main stem of the Salmon River had very low effort but river flows were high which impacted effort and catch rates. So if you do not want to deal with the crowds the main stem of the Clearwater or the North Fork might be good areas to try.  Check Harvest Report for more details. - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

 

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing 3/16/15

Anglers in the Clearwater Region experienced some of the best catch rates observed so far in the Spring 2015 Steelhead season. The catch rate of 5 hours/fish was documented on the Clearwater River below Orofino, South Fork of the Clearwater River, the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam and on the Little Salmon River. Anglers on the North Fork of the Clearwater produced a catch rate of 7 hours/fish.

Early in the week, river flows were low to average with clear water clarity. Through the week, flows increased and water clarity became cloudy due to rain. High flows and muddy water conditions were observed by Sunday afternoon on the South Fork of the Clearwater and the Little Salmon River. For more details go to the Harvest Report- Amanda Schmidt, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing Report 3/13/15

South Fork Clearwater Steelhead 2015

Above average weather temperatures and lots of sunshine made for a beautiful weekend for anglers in the region. Although stream flows were above normal for this time of year, catch rates were fantastic. The best catch rates were documented on the Little Salmon River at 5 hours per fish caught. Anglers also did very well on the South Fork Clearwater over the weekend. Check Harvest Report for more details. - Amanda Schmidt, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing Report 2/17/15

As stream flows began to decline the past week, angling effort increased and produced some great catch rates through the region on the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon Rivers.

Most of the success on the Clearwater River downstream of Orofino occurred just below the mouth of the North Fork and above the mouth of the North Fork near the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery.  

The North Fork of the Clearwater was a popular fishing area and some anglers did exceptionally well. Inconsistent catch rates may have been contributed to the increased flows released from Dworshak Dam.

Angler effort and success picked up on the South Fork of the Clearwater over the weekend. The best catch rates were observed below the Mt. Idaho grade and near the town of Harpster.

In the lower Salmon River drainage, the best catch rates were observed on the Little Salmon River.

Anglers who were contacted on the Snake River were fishing at the tail race below Hells Canyon Dam. Got to Harvest Results for more detials.  - Amanda Schmidt,Fisheries Technician, Idaho Fish & Game

 

Ice Fishing Report - Cascade Reservoir Feb 12, 2015

If you're a bird watcher this week's report might just make you happy. With all the open water on Cascade there has been a plethora of waterfowl visiting the area, lots of ducks, geese, and swans. If you're an ice fisherman the outlook isn't so optimistic. With all the warm and wet weather we've been experiencing this past week the ice on cascade has gone for the wayside. The south end of the lake I would deem not safe. Besides the large open water gap between the bank and the ice itself there lies many more problems throughout the southern end of the lake. These problems would include but are not limited to large areas of open water, large cracks with open water gaps between them, and some rotten ice.  With that being said I cannot say that anyone should attempt to fish on cascade south of Sugarloaf Island.  This includes all the way from sugarloaf to the town of cascade.   I have attached a few photos that I took today of Ice conditions on the southern end of the lake. 

Now that we’re done being pessimistic, the north end of the lake continues to be fishable, with one exception.  That exception is finding a spot to access the ice.  With the influx of water from the thaw the level of the reservoir has increased causing the ice to pull away from the shore.  Along with this the ice closest to shore is still fairly weak and soft.  But if you can find your way onto the ice things are looking good.  The ice depth around poison creek were still 6-7” of solid ice.  There was a few places that you can actually access the ice around poison creek and the surrounding area.  The area around boulder creek I wasn’t able to find a place that I could access the ice without going over the top of my boots and getting wet.  If you’re a diehard ice fisherman and need to get that last little bit of fishing in the north end is where it can happen.  With that being said extreme caution should be used especially right now with warm temperatures and thawing ice. 

I guess I could mention that fishing still has continued to be fairly slow with those that have made it out on the ice.  There seems to be a greater ratio of big to small fish but the overall number of fish being caught is fairly low. 

DP - We lost two anglers on Winchester Lake this past week when they fell through the ice.  Please be careful and if there's a doubt - save yourself to fish another day.

 

 

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing Report 2/8/15

Fishing conditions and catch rates on the Clearwater River downstream from Orofino were good during the week but diminished over the weekend. On Saturday, cloudy water conditions were observed and water clarity decreased as water levels began to rise. By Sunday afternoon and the river flows reached 22,900 cubic feet per second causing swift and muddy water conditions with floating debris. The North Fork of the Clearwater was the most popular and productive fishing area over the weekend for both boat and shore anglers who were avoiding the muddy water conditions on the mainstem. On Sunday morning, approximately 100 anglers were observed fishing on the North Fork by IDFG personnel. The South Fork of the Clearwater was not monitored during the week, but anglers reported that they had caught more fish during the week days before water conditions began to become less favorable over the weekend. Saturday afternoon, flows on the South Fork began to rise and on Sunday water conditions were high and muddy. The majority of success over the weekend occurred as high upstream as the Mt. Idaho grade. Very little effort was observed on the Salmon River downstream of Riggins over the weekend due to the high muddy flow coming from the Little Salmon River. Most of the effort occurred above the mouth of the Little Salmon in river locations 12 and 13. A majority of the anglers checked from location 13 were anglers on guided trips. - Amanda Schmidt. Fisheries Technician, Idaho Fish & Game Clearwater Region