October 2013 Panhandle Fish Update from Jim Fredericks

Spawned kokanee covered with bees

Greetings Anglers:

I wanted to take a few minutes to send out an update on some of the fishery issues throughout the region as summer wraps up.  For those who don’t shift their focus to things with fur and feathers over the next couple of months, the fishing in area lakes and streams will be some of the best the year has to offer.  I hope you have a chance to get out and enjoy it.  There’ve been a few notable events and frequently asked questions that I thought I’d touch on. 

Hayden Lake

One of the most frequent questions we’ve heard over the past month is “since when are there sockeye in Hayden Lake?”  Being on this distribution list you probably already know that those “sockeye” are actually kokanee.  We stocked kokanee in Hayden Lake in 2011 with the sole intent of trying to bolster the open water fishery, and boy has it worked well so far.  As 2-year-old fish, the kokanee grew to 16-18 inches and created a popular fishery.  Now that they’ve reached maturity, their bright red bodies, green heads, and humped backs have people mistaking them for their saltwater cousins.  Spawning kokanee have been spotted around the lake, and we counted a couple hundred fish up Hayden Creek (including the one in the photo).  For the most part, while interesting and fun to see, the spawning activity won’t likely have much of an impact on the population.  September spawning kokanee generally need cold running tributaries to reproduce successfully.  Though 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’s doubtful that there will be significant natural reproduction.  That’s not a bad thing, however.  The intent all along has been to manage numbers primarily by fingerling stocking.   We 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. 

Pend Oreille

Speaking of kokanee, the return of kokanee harvest opportunity has been a welcome addition to the Pend Oreille fishery this year.   Though limited to a harvest of six, anglers have been taking advantage of the fishery and have generally had little difficulty finding good schools of kokanee and catching limits of 10-12 inch fish.  The research crew recently finished conducting the field portion of their population estimates, and though the numbers haven’t been finalized, 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.  In addition, thanks to the support and financial contribution of the Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club (LPOIC), IDFG 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 further help from LPOIC, the fingerlings were recently adipose-fin clipped so that we can evaluate their performance and contribution to the fishery in the coming years. 

The netting operation resumed in early September, and the crew is currently concentrating their efforts on spawning lake trout.  That will continue through mid-October when spawning aggregations disperse.  At that time, the effort will be shifted to juvenile lake trout in the northern part of the lake, and to a lesser extent in Scenic Bay.  The netting will continue through April, with a midwinter break from mid-December through mid-January. 

Priest Lake

I hope by now everyone recognizes no decision has been made with regard to Priest Lake fishery management, and lake trout are NOT being netted from Priest Lake.  We completed the major portion of a lake trout population assessment with the University of Idaho this spring, which involved capturing just over 4,000 lake trout, nearly 3,000 of which were tagged and released.  The assessment will help answer many questions about the current status of the lake trout population – harvest rates, growth rates, food habits, and age-structure.   The lake trout study will be part of several other assessments in the next 3-4 years (kokanee ecology, Mysis shrimp status, angler use) that will help guide a long-term management decision on both Priest and Upper Priest lakes.  IDFG has assembled a group of local Priest Lake angler and stakeholders to serve as an advisory group for the decision making process.  We’ve been meeting every couple of months and will continue to do so until a plan has been developed and readied for public comment. 

In the meantime, IDFG will continue to work with the USFWS and Kalispel Tribe to prevent lake trout from dominating Upper Priest Lake.  Gillnets will continue to be used on an annual basis for a week in late spring, and a trap net will be placed in the Thorofare in October/November to prevent lake trout from moving up from the lower lake. 

 Coeur d’Alene Lake

North Idaho Bears and 2011 Huckleberry Crop

About 50 of you responded with an opinion on the huckleberry crop this year – THANKS!  I got results back from several parts of Idaho, and some from Washington as well.  Looking just at the Idaho Panhandle, individual experiences ranged all the way from “A” to “F” grade.  When it was all said and done, as a group you rated the 2011 huck crop as a C minus.  Not particularly good, but not totally out of whack either.  Units 1, 4 and 4A stand out with the poorest crops this year (in general), while Unit 5 was the only unit to get a B average:

Overall C-
1 D+
2 C-
3 C+
4 D+
4A D
5 B
6 C
7 C
9 C


Bears do just fine with serviceberries, buffalo berries, raspberries, elderberries, etc., but huckleberries are key.  In poor huck years, several things happen the next winter:

  • Cubs (and some yearlings) survive poorly in the den that winter.  In real bad years, very few cubs will make it and we’ll lose most of an age class.  We can track this for years from the ages of harvested bears (we get the age from that tooth we swipe from you by counting the rings just like a tree).
  • Few new cubs are born the next year.  Female bears generally have to reach 100 lbs before their body will allow them to have cubs, and you’d be surprised at how many come up short of that in poor berry years.  It’s not surprising to lose most of this age class as well after a bad berry year.
  • The second year’s cub crop can also be affected a bit by poor female body condition.  Often we’ll see a reduction here as well, even though another year has gone by.  It seems that some females can’t recuperate in just one summer and birth rates can still be somewhat lower that second year.

The population dynamics of bears depends a lot on the amount of available food.  In Idaho, the means berries to a large degree.  Our bears are relatively small, and reproductive rates are slow.  In the eastern US, adult bears are substantially larger.  There, they have plenty of berries, but they also have a lot of “hard mast” and in particular acorns and beechnuts.  These are packed with oils (calories) and bears there can put on weight fast.  We can’t compete with that, but then again….they don’t get to live out here!

Generally, with a poor huck year, we see an increase in the fall harvest, as well as complaints of bears in towns.  Often this increase is mostly made up of male bears, for whatever reason (males generally move around more than females, so maybe that’s tied in somehow).  Based on the huck report, we might see a bit of an increase in the fall harvest, but maybe not as much as I was anticipating based on my own observations.

Hunting seasons are underway in many units, and finally we’re getting some cool weather late this week.  It’ll probably go right from hot and dry to cold and wet, but who cares – time to hit the field.  Best of luck to you!