Idaho’s Kootenai River Provides Cool Waters, Trout Opportunity


Many streams and rivers in the Panhandle are experiencing record low flows and warm water temperatures this summer. The result is tough conditions for fish and for anglers.

There are some angling opportunities worth considering that are not as impacted by the summertime water conditions. One such opportunity can be found on the Kootenai River near Bonners Ferry.



The Kootenai River is regulated by Libby Dam in Montana, and, as a result, receives reliable flows of cold water throughout the summer months. The cold water released from the dam provides good summer habitat for cold water fish species such as rainbow and cutthroat trout. Both are found in the Kootenai River.

According to Greg Hoffman, Fisheries Biologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stationed at Libby Dam, “Given the summertime water conditions and necessary dam operations, we are selectively releasing 50°F water from Libby Dam, which is the minimum temperature allowed for release this time of year.

By the time this water reaches Bonners Ferry, it has typically warmed to 55-58°F, which is great for both trout and trout anglers. In addition, releases from the dam are currently around 9,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), which also bodes well for both fish and anglers. River flows through the end of August will be between 7,000-9000 cfs and then drop to 6,000 cfs at the beginning of September, so the favorable water conditions should be sustained through late-summer and into early fall.”

According to a 2014 survey, there are approximately 275 trout/mile in the Idaho portion of the Kootenai River upstream from Bonners Ferry. Anglers are catching around 0.67 trout/hour according to a creel survey from 2011.

Although these numbers are lower than what is seen in other large rivers in Idaho, there are still plenty of fish to be caught by anglers wishing to pursue them. Trout in the Kootenai River are biting quite well, thanks to the cool and consistent flows provided by Libby Dam.

Rex Hoisington, owner and operator of River Rafting by Rex, stated “Trout fishing in the Kootenai River has been phenomenal, especially for this time of the year. It has slowed down a bit in the heat of summer, but the cold water from Libby Dam certainly appears to help.”

According to reports Rex has heard from anglers this summer, “Rainbow and cutthroat trout in the 16-20 inch range are much more commonly caught in the river than they used to be, and anglers are happy about that.”

Similarly, Tim Linehan, owner and operator of Linehan Outfitting Company in Montana, indicated that, “Trout fishing in the Kootenai River (in Montana, and up to the Idaho border) has been good this summer. It is not uncommon for seasoned anglers to each land 12-15 fish on a trip, and they are quite pleased with that.”

If the hot and dry summer conditions have produced slow fishing in some of your favorite fishing spots, consider an outing on the Kootenai River. If you decide to fish the Kootenai River, here are a few tips that should help. Most of the trout reside in the portion of the river upstream from Bonners Ferry. Although there is limited public access to this stretch of river, there are great opportunities for half-, full-, and multi-day float trips. For half- to full-day float trips, consider launching at Leonia, Montana (a new primitive access site funded by IDFG and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks). Be aware the Idaho border is a short distance below the put-in. Unless you have a Montana fishing license, enjoy the scenery and start fishing after floating under the Leonia bridge. A good place to take out is the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s Twin Rivers Canyon Resort. This float drifts you through some truly serene and wild country containing fantastic trout habitat and takes anywhere from 6-8 hours at the current flow conditions.

For multi-day trips, consider the same launch point, but take out at the public launch located approximately one mile downstream of the Highway 95 bridge in Bonners Ferry. Along the way, there are multiple islands managed by the Bureau of Land Management which are all available for overnight camping and may have existing, primitive campgrounds available for use.

As for fishing tactics and tackle that are tried and true on the Kootenai River, here are a few tips from successful anglers: “Anglers that are targeting trout are most successful when fly fishing as opposed to fishing with spinners,” according to Rex Boisington. “Fly fishing has been the most successful tactic. Surprisingly, afternoons and evenings have been more productive than mornings. Nymphing in fast water has been particularly productive; whereas, fishing dry flies in long, slick, glassy runs has not been as productive. The fish are there, but early in the day it’s just too bright and sunny,” according to Tim Linehan.

Whether you are a seasoned veteran or a new angler to the Kootenai River, consider spending time enjoying this North Idaho fishery. Please remember that the Idaho portion of the Kootenai River is subject to a special harvest rule of two trout per day, no rainbow or cutthroat trout under 16 inches; all other regional rules apply.

For more information or additional questions, please feel free to contact T.J. Ross (Senior Fishery Research Biologist) or Andy Dux (Regional Fishery Manager) at 208.769.1414.

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