Tag Archives: idaho department of fish and game

Field Dressing Big Game Goes VR In New Idaho Simulator For New Hunters


Thanks to a partnership between Idaho of Fish and Game and the Boise State College of Innovation and Design, learning to field dress a big game animal just got a lot easier.

Over the past year, Brennon Leman and Dakota Kimble, who are part of Boise State’s Games, Interactive Media, and Mobile Program have been working working with Idaho Fish and Game staff to develop a virtual reality simulation to teach new hunters how to field dress big game. Leman and Kimble recently put the finishing touches on the simulation, which will soon be piloted in a handful of Idaho hunter education classes.


For Idaho Fish and Game officials, the hope is that virtual reality technology will help  new hunters understand the basics of field dressing animals, which is usually taught through text books or videos.

“We talked to hunter education instructors and new hunters to identify some of the biggest barriers to entry for big game hunting, and we found that field dressing was one of them,” said Ian Malepeai, Idaho Fish and Game’s Marketing Program Manager.

While Idaho hunter education courses cover field dressing, the tools available for hands-on instruction are limited, according to Brenda Beckley, Fish and Game hunter and angler recruitment manager.

“We don’t currently have a demonstration on how to properly field dress a deer or elk. VR could change that, and bridge the gap from knowing how to field dress an animal and actually doing it,” Beckley said.

VR simulation as an instructional tool

While much of the attention on VR is tied to the world of video games and entertainment, roughly two-thirds of the future market for virtual and augmented technology is likely to be in industry simulation, according to Anthony Ellerston, director of the Games, Interactive Media and Mobile program at Boise State.

Virtual reality is already being used for instruction and training in professional sports, medicine, customer service, insurance and more. It’s biggest advantage as a training tool is its ability to submerge the user into real-life experiences and hone certain skills under controlled conditions, leading to better retention of information when it comes time to apply it in a real-world setting.

“It’s the same for hunter education, and learning how to field dress an elk,” Ellerston said. “You can watch a video on YouTube, and you can get a sense of how it’s done. But what we give you with this simulation is the muscle memory. By making you physically go through the process, it’s much more likely that you will remember it and perform it correctly.”


Virtual reality represents the next frontier in both gaming and instruction, and will be a medium that the next generation of hunters grow up with, said Malepeai.

“VR is developing rapidly and becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous,” Malepeai added. “For Fish and Game, new, innovative tools like this are going to be instrumental in giving younger generations of hunters the confidence and tools to strike out on their own.”

About the simulation

“For this to be used in our hunter education classes, it was important that the simulation take the user through every step of the process, from the time that the animal is reduced into a hunter’s possession until they have finished field dressing the animal,” Beckley said.

When students put on the VR headset and take the two controllers into their hands, they are transported to the Idaho backcountry, with a freshly downed elk on the ground in front of them. Before they can “grab” a knife using the buttons on the controllers and begin field dressing the animal, students begin by attaching a tag to the antlers of the elk.

After that, the field dressing begins with skinning the animal, removing one of the rear hindquarters, followed by the front quarter, neck meat, backstrap, and tenderloin. Students have to manipulate the legs and hide with their free hand and move their body around the animal as they work, mimicking the real-world mechanics of field dressing an animal.

Illuminated dots guide the location of their cuts, and users can read from in-game written instructions if they need additional help.


Where you can find it

While there are a variety of VR platforms, Fish and Game’s field dressing simulation is currently only playable on Oculus virtual reality systems, including the Rift and Quest consoles.

Fish and Game plans to pilot the VR field dressing simulation in instructor-led hunter education classes in its Nampa  and Idaho Falls regional offices within the next six months.

The simulation will also be available outside of Idaho, both to hunter education programs in other states and to the general public. The simulation was designed to be compatible with any hunter education program in the nation, and about a dozen other state fish and wildlife agencies have already expressed interest in incorporating the simulation into their curriculum.

For anyone with an Oculus VR headset at home who is interested in trying it out, the simulation can be downloaded at https://idfg.idaho.gov/Zka

Plenty Of Porky Perch At Idaho’s Cascade, Though Fewer Smaller Ones


Lots of large perch remain, but fewer smaller sizes could affect the fishery in the future

Since 2012, Fish and Game fisheries staff in McCall has annually conducted fall fishery surveys on Lake Cascade. We sample all fish populations in the lake, which helps manage all game fish in the reservoir.

So what did we find in our 2017 survey?

Lots of big perch

The perch population looks healthy. All ages of fish are present in the lake, and there’s still a large number of perch over 12 inches. Of all the perch we caught in nets 59 percent were over 12 inches.


We have seen a decline in perch less than 11 inches in both 2016 and 2017 surveys. This is a result of predation on small perch by the large numbers of big perch and also pikeminnow, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout and birds. If this trend continues, it will mean fewer jumbo perch in the future.

One of the primary food items for perch are juvenile perch and large numbers of big perch can have a huge effect on juvenile perch numbers as most get eaten. The good news is that as the large group of big perch decline, it allows for large numbers of small perch to survive and become the next generation of jumbos. Perch grow 1.5 to 2 inches a year, thus 12-inch fish are six to seven years old and 14 inch and larger perch are eight to 12 years old.

As a result of Fish and Game’s continued pikeminnow removal efforts their numbers have remained steady since 2012. However, in this years’ survey, the percentage of adult pikeminnow increased.  This is expected as young pikeminnow that are not killed in traps or by chemical treatment  grow in size. This illustrates the need for continued adult pikeminnow removal to protect the perch fishery.

Rainbows and smallmouths

We saw good numbers of rainbow trout in the fall 2017 survey ranging from 12 to 21 inches with most in the 12 to 17 inch range. However, we didn’t see as many rainbows over 17 inches than we have in the past.


We collected a number of 10 to 20-inch smallmouth bass with half of those larger than 16 inches. Trends in juvenile bass are unknown because our nets are not designed to collect those small fish.

Annual fish surveys are vital to managing Lake Cascade, which is the fourth-largest body of water in Idaho, contains many fish species and is a popular spot for anglers.

Managing for the future

The lake’s rainbow trout and kokanee fisheries are a direct result of annual stockings, and smallmouth bass are a self-sustaining population that we watch, but only manage with rule changes.

Yellow perch management is much more hands on and depends on the control of northern pikeminnow numbers. Therefore, of particular interest to managers is the status of the perch and pikeminnow populations.

We closely monitor perch population and fish sizes to ensure there are abundant perch over 9 inches, which cannot be eaten by pikeminnow, so they’re important for spawning and angler harvest.

Biologists also want to see good numbers of younger perch to replace the large fish as those older fish die of natural causes or angler harvest.

We closely monitor pikeminnow numbers and sizes and pikeminnow predation because it’s the biggest threat to the perch fishery.

Pikeminnow predation on perch was the primary cause of the fishery collapse in the 1990s when large numbers of adult pikeminnows ate virtually every perch under 9 inches in the lake.

Today, pikeminnow numbers are much lower than in the 1990s because since 2004, Fish and Game has removed large numbers of them using large traps and rotenone (a chemical pesticide which specifically targets fish) in the North Fork of the Payette River to remove pre-spawning adults.

Family Tired Of Venison Tacos? 5 Ways To Spice Up Ground Elk, Deer


We love deer and elk steaks, but you can only get so many off an animal. That means lots of wild game meat is ground into burger, but there are other options that make tasty meals and snacks.

Many hunters have their big game animals processed by professional butchers. If that’s the case, chances are good you will end up with lots of ground meat. Don’t worry, you can still use that meat for nearly everything below.


If you do your own butchering, you have more options. And a quick note about processing the meat before it’s ground. Deer or elk burger has a reputation for having “gamey” flavor, which is usually not a compliment, but it can be just as tasty as steaks of you process it with a few things in mind.

Trim, then trim some more

You want as much lean, red meat as possible. Trim as much membrane as you can, which is the white or silvery tissue that connects muscle.

Trim the fat, too. Without going into great detail, deer or elk fat is different that fat in beef or pork. Usually deer and elk fat tastes bad. That isn’t a universally held opinion, and some people say it tastes fine. The flavor of fat is partially dependent on what the animal was eating, but you will rarely have better tasting meat if you don’t trim the fat. The goal is to get as close as you can to pure, red meat going into the grinder or slow cooker.

Meat you plan to grind can be almost any size as long as it fits into your grinder, but chunks about an inch or two in diameter, or smaller, tend to grind more easily.

After you have your meat trimmed, you get to decide what to do with it.


If you’re going to make jerky, you want to thinly slice the larger chunks of meat into strips. The process then involves soaking slices in a brine and smoking or drying them. Drying can be done in a food dehydrator, smoker, or even your oven at its lowest setting with the door open ajar.

There are many jerky recipes available in cook books and on the Internet. Remember when making jerky the pieces should be dry, but still supple. Too dry and it will be brittle and crunchy, which is overcooked. Although jerking is a method of preserving, it’s still best to store it in the refrigerator or freezer.

Slow cooking

This is a good way to prepare a large batch of meat that you can freeze and use for future meals, such as tacos, burritos, casseroles and others.

It’s also good for extra-tough cuts of meat, such as shanks (the lower leg muscles). Cut the meat into roughly even-sized chunks so they will take about the same duration to cook.

This meat also works well for stew, chili and soups and other slow-cook recipes.

Patty sausage

If you have lots of ground meat from your butcher, making patty sausage is still an option, and it’s simple to do. All you have to do is thaw the meat and mix in seasoning. You also may want to add ground pork to increase the fat content, which will hold it together for cooking and make it juicier.

You can make breakfast sausage or Italian-style sausage that tastes great when mixed with spaghetti sauce and other dishes, depending on what spices and seasoning you use.

If you’re grinding sausage from scratch, plan to add between 10 percent to 50 percent pork to your venison, depending on your taste. Use inexpensive cuts of pork, which gives it a milder flavor, and also gives you more sausage.

Summer sausage

This sausage is a little trickier because you have to stuff the meat into sausage casings, but you can also form the meat into logs by wrapping them in plastic wrap, twisting the ends tight and smoothing out the log before slowly unwrapping to keep the shape even.

After grinding a mixture of venison and pork and stuffing the casing or making logs, you smoke the sausages or logs at low temperature for several hours. These make fantastic appetizers, and you can freeze them for later use.

Pepperoni sticks

These are tasty and great pocket snacks for your next hunting or fishing trip. They’re a little more work because making them requires mixing the spices and also stuffing them into long, narrow casings, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. You can find the casings at specialty stores, sporting goods stores or online, as well as whole kits for making pepperoni sticks. If it’s too much of a hassle, many meat processors will make it for you

More tips for processing game meat

* Pay attention to sanitary guidelines and cooking temperatures. Use a meat thermometer to ensure meat has reached the proper temperature when smoking or drying.
* You know what flavors you like and dislike, so learn the basics of a recipe and adjust to suit your tastes. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
If it’s your first attempt with a new recipe, start with a small batch. If it doesn’t turn out how you like, you can change it for your next batch.
* If you’re making patty sausage, cook some as soon as it’s done. Put a small, thin patty in an oiled frying pan, cook it a few minutes and taste it, then add more seasoning if needed.
* When freezing, don’t put too much meat into one package. Aim for each package to hold enough for one meal.
* Take advantage of prepackaged seasoning mixes. They take a lot of the hassle out of figuring out which spices to use and how much, and many are created for wild game, not domestic meats.
* Get a kitchen scale that will weigh about 10 pounds of meat. It will ensure you get the right ratio of game meat to pork, pork fat, or beef fat.
* Use a vacuum sealer if you plan to freeze summer sausages, jerky or pepperoni for later use. It will prevent freezer burn or drying.
* Create a personal cookbook. Set up a folder on your computer’s desktop and put notes and recipes in there. It’s easy to forget what recipes, seasoning or game-meat/fat ratios you used, especially if you take recipes off the Internet, and you may not find them next time you look.


2017 Idaho Big Game Hunting Outlook


2017 should be another productive hunting season despite harsh winter

Idaho big game hunters have been on a roll in recent years with a top-10, all-time deer harvest in 2016, an all-time record whitetail harvest in 2015, and a top-five, all-time elk harvest in 2015.

Overall hunting success rates over the last five years have averaged 40 percent for deer and 23 percent for elk. Word has gotten out that big game hunting in Idaho has improved because the nonresident deer tags sold out last year for the first time since 2008, and only 300 nonresident elk tags (out of 10,415 available) remained unsold.

The 2017 tags are selling faster, and at current pace, Fish and Game could sell all the nonresident deer and nonresident elk tags by the end of October to nonresidents, or to residents as second tags.

So what does all that mean for big game hunters taking to the field this fall? They will see similar numbers of elk and white-tailed deer, but fewer mule deer.


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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Mule deer

Last winter took its toll on mule deer, particularly young bucks, because most of the fawns born last year died during winter, and they would have been two-points this fall.

Most of southern and central Idaho had record, or above-average snowfall, coupled with prolonged winter weather. Deer and elk weathered repeated snowstorms and snow depths not normally found on their traditional winter range coupled with Arctic temperatures. That prompted Fish and Game officials to launch a massive feeding effort that included up to 13,000 deer and 12,000 elk.

Despite that, statewide average survival for mule deer fawns was 30 percent, which was the second-lowest since winter fawn monitoring started 19 years ago.

The big question in many hunters’ minds is how much that will affect their fall deer hunts. Deer hunters killed 66,925 deer in 2016 (mule deer and whitetails), down slightly from the previous year, but still a respectable 36 percent success rate statewide, including 34 percent in general hunts.


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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Like most things related to big game hunting, it’s hard to predict what will happen during the upcoming season because there are many variables, but past hunting seasons may provide some insight.

The 2011 deer harvest – which followed the lowest winter fawn survival since monitoring started in 1998 – was 2,555 fewer deer than the previous year, or a drop of 6 percent. Last winter actually tied with 2008-09 winter for second-lowest fawn survival at 30 percent, and in 2009, the deer harvest was 1,380 fewer than the previous year, a drop of 3 percent.

How does that happen?

There are a couple things to keep in mind. First, although mule deer fawn mortality was high in those years, whitetail herds were less affected by winter kill. Whitetails have typically comprised 30 to 40 percent of Idaho’s annual deer harvest during the last decade. That means sometimes white-tailed deer harvest compensates for fewer mule deer.

While last winter’s mule deer fawn survival was well below average, it was still not catastrophic to the overall mule deer population.

Adult mule deer doe survival was 90 percent, and although Fish and Game does not radio collar adult bucks and monitor them during winter, their survival likely tracked similar to does.

Yearling bucks (two-points) typically account for a significant share of the mule deer buck harvest, but over the last 19 years, annual average survival for fawns was 57 percent. While the 2016-17 winter fawn survival was about half the average, there’s still a large mule deer population remaining, including adult bucks and breeding-age does.

Mule deer

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

With a normal, upcoming winter, the herds could quickly rebound. To aid that, Fish and Game has reduced doe permits for most hunting units in southern and central Idaho to help more of them survive into breeding season.

Another thing to consider is prior to this year, mule deer populations were trending upward for several years, so while biologists expect a drop in the harvest, there’s a good chance it will fall within the range of the last five years.


Hunters shouldn’t see a big change in elk populations this year. Elk are hardier than deer and able to withstand the rigors of hard winters, and elk herds have increased in recent years and produced some outstanding hunting seasons.

Hunters killed 22,557 elk in 2016, which was down 1,670 animals from 2015, but still the second highest in 20 years. (For more perspective, 2015 was the fourth-highest, all-time harvest dating back to 1935.)

Elk hunters in 2016 had 21 percent success statewide, including 39 percent for controlled hunts and 17 percent for general hunts, but general hunts accounted for 62 percent of the harvest.


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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

“This is the good-old day of elk hunting,” said Craig White, F&G’s Magic Valley regional supervisor. “There was only one period when Idaho hunters were harvesting as many elk as they are now.”

However, elk herds didn’t survive winter completely unscathed. There was higher calf mortality due to the harsh winter, which means some zones will have a “blip in the recruitment of young bulls,” White said, adding that it will likely be short-term.

Adult winter survival, particularly breeding-age cows, was “bulletproof,” he said, so any decline in herds will likely be replaced next year, barring another extreme winter.

While Idaho is reliving some of its glory years for elk hunting, the location of the animals has changed. During record harvests in the 1990s, Central Idaho’s backcountry and wilderness areas were major contributors. They are less so these days, but other areas have picked up the slack.

“We grow more elk in what I like to call the front country,” White said.


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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Harvest results support this. The Panhandle is currently the top elk zone in the state, and the top 10 zones include the Weiser River, McCall, Tex Creek, Palouse, Boise River and Pioneer, all of which have major highways running through them.

Those zones provide accessible opportunities for many hunters, but also have unique challenges because there’s often a mix of public and private lands where the elk roam.

Elk herds are doing so well in some zones, such as the Weiser and Pioneer zones, those herds are over objectives and Fish and Game has increased cow hunting opportunities to thin the herds.


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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

But elk hunters in some areas will have to navigate a mix of public and private lands, such as large sections of commercial timberlands in Central Idaho that used to be open to the public, but are now closed.

For new elk hunters, or experienced hunters looking for a new place to hunt, White recommends taking a longer view than this season. Elk populations are likely to remain healthy in the foreseeable future, so now’s a good time to learn a zone where there are abundant herds.

“Be patient,” White advises. “Make it a multi-year commitment, and get to know the area.”

Idaho offers a variety of over-the-counter tags for elk hunters. Out of 28 elk hunting zones, only two are limited to only controlled hunts. Hunters should research each zone and look beyond the general, any-weapon seasons to find additional opportunity. Many archery and muzzleloader hunts provide antlerless, or either-sex hunting, and also early and late hunts.

White-tailed deer

Idaho’s whitetail deer are about as reliable as you can ask for in a big-game animal. Over the last five years, Idaho’s mule deer harvest has swung by nearly 20,000 animals, but during that same period, whitetail harvest varied by only about 10,000 animals, which included an all-time record of 30,578 whitetails harvested in 2015.


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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

Whitetail harvest dropped about 2,700 animals in 2016, but it was still in the top-10, all-time, and hunters can expect to similar numbers, or more, of whitetails this year.

“We feel we’re in pretty good shape, and it’s going to be a normal year,” said Clay Hickey, wildlife manager for the Clearwater Region.

Winter in prime whitetail country in the Panhandle and north/central Idaho was closer to average than southern Idaho, although Hickey pointed out there was more snow than usual at lower elevations. Fish and Game doesn’t monitor whitetails the same as it does mule deer, but Hickey said there’s no indication of an above-average winter kill.

It’s also been two years since Fish and Game has detected outbreaks of the lethal hemorrhagic disease that hit some local herds hard in recent years. Hickey noted many of those herds have “rebounded as you would expect,” and Fish and Game is starting to get complaints from landowners about too many deer in areas where herds were thinned by the disease.

Whitetail hunters have lengthy seasons and lots of either-sex hunting opportunities, and hunters will see a good mix of age classes, and plenty of mature bucks. Hickey said Fish and Game’s white-tailed deer plan calls for 15 percent of the harvest to be bucks with five points or more (on one side), but it’s currently higher.

“We’re averaging over 20 percent of the bucks in the harvest are five-points or more in almost all our whitetail units, and lots of units are over 25 percent,” he said.

whitetail buck

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While the areas north of the Salmon River have the highest densities of white-tailed deer, the animals are widely distributed throughout the state and provide hunting opportunities in most places, but typically at lower densities.


As IDFG Mulls Priest Lake Fishery’s Future, Agency Calls On Anglers To Comment


Fishing at Priest Lake isn’t what it used to be, which is fine for some anglers, but others would like to see it change. Fish and Game wants to know if the current management is still working, or if change is needed.

“We want the anglers to tell us what kind of fishing opportunity they want, which will dictate how we manage Priest Lake over the next 10 to 15 years,” Fish and Game Regional Fisheries Manager Andy Dux said.


Currently, Priest Lake is mostly a lake trout (also known as Mackinaw) fishery, and few of the once-abundant kokanee salmon remain. Native cutthroat trout are available in modest numbers, and native bull trout are nearly gone, except in Upper Priest Lake.

Historically, the lake had a larger kokanee population that supported more anglers and fishing effort, more than double the angling hours currently expended by lake trout anglers. Kokanee also provided food for lake trout and bull trout, allowing them to grow to record sizes. The current state record lake trout, a 57.5-pound monster, came from the lake in 1971, which coincided with its abundant kokanee populations.

In 2013, Fish and Game formed the Priest Lake Fishery Advisory Committee consisting of local stakeholders representing varying interests. The group worked with F&G staff over the past several years to look at Priest Lake’s current fishing opportunity, and weigh that against its potential.

The committee developed three alternatives upon which F&G is asking anglers to provide their preference.

  • Alternative 1: Continue existing management primarily for a sustainable lake trout harvest fishery and continue native fish conservation efforts in Upper Priest Lake.
  • Alternative 2: Restore a kokanee fishery capable of supporting high catch rates and harvest while enhancing native cutthroat trout and return to limited cutthroat harvest. Also, increase native bull trout to allow for a trophy  fishery, while managing for a low-density lake trout population. Continue native fish conservation efforts in Upper Priest Lake.
  • Alternative 3: Provide mixed-species fishing opportunity by reducing the lake trout population to support moderate catch rates and harvest while allowing kokanee to reach moderate densities and provide moderate catch rates. Provide conservation benefit and improve fishing for native cutthroat and bull trout. Continue native fish conservation efforts in Upper Priest Lake.

The department is hosting three public meetings in July, and you can see below for details on times and locations. F&G will also conduct a random survey of license-holders and an online opinion poll in late-summer or fall.

Why only three alternatives?

The Priest Lake Fishery Advisory Committee was tasked with developing a short list of alternatives for broader public consideration. At first, each committee member had a separate alternative, then the members worked to find common ground, make modifications and settle on three options.

Fish and Game staff provided technical guidance, which helped to focus on ideas that were most feasible and would provide the desired fishing opportunities.

Fisheries managers did not advocate for a particular option. They spent years working on the successful kokanee restoration on Lake Pend Oreille and shared with the committee some of the valuable lessons they learned in the process. Even with this guidance and experience, the alternatives for Priest Lake still face challenges and have risks.

A brief history of Priest Lake’s fishing

Priest Lake’s native sport fish are cutthroat trout, bull trout and mountain whitefish. Non-native lake trout and kokanee were introduced decades ago, and for many years, kokanee supported the lake’s most popular fishery.

Kokanee not only provided great fishing for anglers, the fish were also an important food source for bull trout and lake trout, which attained trophy sizes. That balance of predators and prey fish lasted into the 1970s, then quickly fell apart. Mysis, a small freshwater shrimp, was introduced in the late-1960s to provide more food for kokanee. Unfortunately, mysis tipped the balance in favor of lake trout, which feed on shrimp until the fish grow big enough to switch their diet to kokanee.

Mysis allowed the lake trout population to grow at the expense of kokanee, whose population crashed in the mid-to-late 1970s and have never recovered. This also happened to a lesser extent as lake trout preyed on, or outcompeted, cutthroat and bull trout. That is why Fish and Game tries to curb lake trout populations in Upper Priest Lake to relieve pressure on those native fish.

Fish and Game previously attempted to boost kokanee numbers by stocking more of them, but those efforts were thwarted by predation by the lake’s abundant lake trout. Millions of kokanee fry, as well as hundreds of thousands of juvenile cutthroat, were stocked, but to no avail.

“You have too many lake trout mouths to feed, and the kokanee disappear as soon as you put them in,” Dux said.

Are lake trout bad?

It is easy to argue that the establishment of lake trout in Priest Lake was a bad thing, but having a lake trout-dominated fishery now isn’t necessarily good or bad.

Lake trout caused declines in native cutthroat and bull trout, and collapsed the popular kokanee fishery. However, the damage they caused is largely done, and what remains is a different fishery that generates about half the angler effort on Priest Lake that it historically had.

But lake trout are a desirable sport fish for many anglers, and since the 1980s, Fish and Game has managed the Priest Lake primarily for lake trout, while focusing on conserving native fish in Upper Priest Lake.

Maintaining the current fishery is an acceptable option, so long as anglers understand what fishing will be like. In the presence of lake trout, kokanee will remain depressed except in occasional years, such as 2012, when they bumped up a bit before crashing again. Good kokanee fishing will remain sporadic and fairly unpredictable.

Lake trout are far more abundant than they were historically, offering a consistent fishery with good catch rates for anglers who target them. However, frequency of the trophy-sized lake trout has dropped from decades ago because although mysis provide a stable forage, they don’t provide enough nutrients for lake trout to reach trophy sizes.

The average lake trout is currently about 15 to 25 inches, and it generally takes 10 to 20 years for them to reach those sizes. While average size has declined, these mysis-fed lake trout have bright orange filets that are excellent table fare for anglers.

For anglers who like targeting native cutthroat trout, the existing fishery will likely offer good catch rates into the future. However, the cutthroat population will provide limited or no harvest opportunity at current levels. Bull trout are essentially nonexistent in the main lake, so they will only be encountered in Upper Priest Lake, and no harvest is allowed.

Parallels between Priest and Pend Oreille

Part of the interest many anglers have in changing Priest Lake’s fish management is the success of restoring kokanee at Lake Pend Oreille. That lake had a similar situation with a collapsed kokanee fishery following an increased lake trout population.

Fish and Game did an extensive, multi-year project to dramatically reduce lake trout and afterward saw a rapid resurgence of kokanee. The kokanee fishery was reopened, and angling effort quickly expanded. Now, anglers are  catching lots of kokanee, while others are still catching a few large lake trout and Pend Oreille’s famed trophy rainbows.

“Lake Pend Oreille is a case study that provides us with the confidence we can bring back a fishery like what Priest Lake previously supported,” Dux said.

After the recovery of kokanee at Pend Oreille, some anglers asked Fish and Game to do something similar at Priest Lake. However, other anglers value having the option to either pursue kokanee at Pend Oreille, or lake trout at Priest Lake.

That’s why fisheries managers want to learn if there’s a majority of anglers who prefer one over the other that would trigger a management change at Priest. If change is preferred, managers can determine the best strategy, what it would cost, and how to pay for it.

Sometimes a happy medium isn’t so happy

The obvious answer may seem to be splitting the difference and somewhat reducing the lake trout population in an attempt to grow more kokanee. Theoretically, it’s possible and likely would produce a fishery that appeals to the greatest number of anglers.

Unfortunately, this alternative is the least predictable. It’s difficult to know how much of a reduction in the lake trout population would be needed to produce a corresponding gain in kokanee, or how long it would last.

What’s likely to occur is a short-term see-saw between those species, a fishery that is less stable, and a constant challenge of determining the right number of lake trout to remove in order to balance the predator-to-prey ratio.

Biologists know despite short-term fluctuations, long-term conditions would still favor lake trout, so it would likely require constant, and potentially expensive, management for a modest change in the ratio between lake trout and kokanee.

“We don’t have a great track record of being able to manage for a balance between predator and prey in these big lakes systems, particulary without the level of resources we had available on Lake Pend Oreille,” Dux said.

However, if there’s an overwhelming desire for that option, biologists would do their best to make it happen.

What if nothing is done?

Simply put, the lake’s fisheries will remain mostly as they are now. Fishing will be mostly for lake trout, and their average size will remain in the 15-to-25 inch range with an occasional larger one, but Priest Lake is unlikely to produce many of the trophy-sized lake trout it had in the past.

The small population of kokanee will likely persist, and in rare years when conditions favor them, there will be a modest, but short-term, blip in the population. Fish and Game and its partners will continue to protect cutthroat and bull trout in Upper Priest Lake.

“This is the most predictable and easiest alternative to implement,” Dux said. “The current fishery certainly is good in the eyes of many anglers, and if this option has broad support, Fish and Game will stay the course with existing management.”

Public involvement opportunities

Anglers and others interested in the management planning process for Priest Lake have several opportunities to comment.

Public meetings will be held:

  • Thursday, July 13, 6:30 p.m PDT in Coolin at The Inn at Priest Lake.
  • Monday, July 24, 6:30 p.m. PDT in Priest River at the Priest River Events Center, 5399 U.S. 2.
  • Thursday, July 27, 6:30 pm PDT in Coeur d’Alene at the Panhandle Region Office, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave.

Later this summer, Fish and Game will mail out surveys to a randomly selected number anglers, and at the same time, make an online poll available on Fish and Game’s website (idfg.idaho.gov) for whoever wants to take it. Fisheries managers plan to make a decision on how to proceed with the lake’s management by the end of 2017.

Panhandle Lake Yields 3 New State Records — In Same Day


The state record for Tiger Trout stood at 17.5 inches before Free Fishing Day on June 10. By the end of the day, it had been broken not once, not twice, but three times at Deer Creek Reservoir during the fishing events sponsored by IDFG and the Pierce/Weippe Chamber of Commerce.


To start off, a 17.6-inch fish was caught, just barely breaking the record. This new record quickly fell, as an 18-inch fish and a 19.5-inch fish were caught  The new record was landed by Richard Miller, and weighed 2.65 lbs. Mr. Miller’s fish has been verified and certified as the new state record. Congratulations Richard! This up and coming fishery is sure to produce some even bigger Tiger Trout in the future, so get out there and see if you can break the new record!

A tiger trout is a hybrid between a brown trout and a brook trout. They’re a sterile fish that is stocked in a few select location around the state which you can see on Fish and Games Fish Planner page.

If you want to get a better look at tiger trout, check out this video when they were stocked in Deer Creek Reservoir.

IDFG Says Chinook Seasons Could Reopen After Count Picks Up


Migration conditions in the lower Columbia River and a late run have challenged Fish and Game’s normal process for setting Chinook salmon seasons. Fisheries managers closed the spring/summer Chinook season as a precaution on May 24 on all rivers, except Hells Canyon, due to low numbers of Chinook counted at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. It’s the first dam the fish cross, and the first opportunity managers to count fish destined for Idaho, and since then, Chinook returns have improved.


On Friday, June 2, the Fish and Game Commission will meet via conference call to consider a proposal to reopen fishing for spring Chinook salmon on the Little Salmon River, and to open summer Chinook salmon seasons on the Clearwater, South Fork Salmon and upper Salmon River.

The run is much later than usual, and possibly the latest on record. Anadromous Fishery Manager Lance Hebdon said it’s still too early to say for certain where fisheries will occur, or how long they might last.

“The good news is we’re now fairly confident that we’ll have some sort of a fishery in the Little Salmon River, but that’s all we can really say at this point. We’ll provide as much fishing opportunity as we can, and we’ll get the word out as soon as a decision is made.”

Although fishery managers expect to have sufficient returns to allow a harvest of several hundred spring Chinook, they expect the lower run size will limit the duration of the season.

“We’re evaluating fish passage information on a daily basis right now to determine if, when and where we have the opportunity for harvest,” Hebdon said.

Low numbers of wild Chinook may further constrain some fisheries. The number of wild Chinook destined for Idaho waters that have crossed Bonneville Dam is much lower than average. If those numbers don’t increase, fishing may be limited to areas where anglers are unlikely to hook wild Chinook, such as the Little Salmon River. Areas typically open to fishing, like the main Salmon between Rice Creek and Vinegar Creek may remain closed.

IDFG, UI Studying Brownlee, Snake River Smallmouth


A stunned smallmouth bass emerged from the flood-swollen Snake River. It was a slab by anyone’s standards – 19 inches and 4.5 pounds, mottled bronze with dark bars on its broad sides and as pot bellied as a sumo wrestler.

If you’re wondering “where does a smallmouth like that come from?” Idaho Fish and Game biologists and a University of Idaho graduate student are wondering the same thing, and they’re working to find out.


The bass rose to the surface of the cold water because it was momentarily stunned by an electrical current, then netted, weighed, measured and surgically implanted with a pill-sized transmitter that will send a radio signal to receivers, which will track its whereabouts in the Snake River between Swan Falls Dam and Brownlee Reservoir.

Bass fishing in the river sections between Swan Falls and Brownlee Reservoir is inconsistent, Fish and Game’s Southwest Region Fish Manager Joe Kozfkay said. It’s good in some sections and poor in others, and same for tributaries. Biologists want to find out why.


Because of smallmouths’ popularity and recreational importance, more information is needed to better manage the fishery. Most of the previous research focused on Brownlee Reservoir, largely due to the popularity of its smallmouth fishery, and also issues related to dam relicensing.

“Brownlee Reservoir is one of the better smallmouth bass fisheries in the West,” Kozfkay said.

By comparison, less is known about the bass upstream of the reservoir and in the Snake River tributaries, such as the Boise, Payette and Weiser rivers. Biologists want to learn whether those smallmouths are one large population, or independent populations, and if different, how should they be managed to enhance and/or protect the existing fishery.

Fisheries managers aren’t expecting any big surprises or anticipating major changes in current rules for bass fishing, but one never knows until the studies are undertaken.

“While the overall bass population seems to be doing very well, we have some real questions about how much smallmouth move around,” said Jeff Dillon, Fish and Game’s state fish manager. “Those movement patterns are key to knowing whether different harvest rules might be beneficial in some areas.”


Biologists did a similar study decades ago on channel catfish and learned there’s a “giant swirling population” between Swan Falls and Brownlee dams where fish move up and down the river and can easily sustain harvest levels.

Evidence suggests that some smallmouths spawn in tributaries where they may be more susceptible to angler harvest. But is the current level of harvest sustainable, or is it detrimental to the population?

The study will determine ages, growth rates, mortality, age at maturity, and recruitment, then use population simulation models to see how different harvest regulations might affect the Snake’s smallmouth fishery.

Biologists have been capturing smallmouths this spring in different sections of the Snake River, and also in the Boise, Payette and Weiser rivers, and implanting more than 150 of them with tracking transmitters.

Crews will do multiple surveys throughout the year to see if fish seasonally migrate during spring, summer, fall and winter. Smallmouths will also be genetically tested to determine whether populations are interrelated or separate.

Lastly, 1,130 smallmouths have been marked with orange tags with a phone number and website where anglers can report where they caught the fish, and whether they harvested it or released it. Reporting the tag number and location will help biologists know where the fish was caught compared to when and where it was tagged, and how many fish are being harvested.

Based on previous research in Brownlee, biologists know about 25 percent of the legal-sized bass get harvested from that reservoir each year, which Kozfkay said is sustainable without decreasing the overall population.

If biologists determined there was a localized population in the Snake or the tributaries where 35  to 40 percent of larger smallmouths were being harvested, rule changes might be considered to protect some of them.

Kozfkay said he’d be surprised if harvest rate was high on the larger smallmouths prized by anglers, but one complaint biologists frequently hear is about a lack of fish exceeding the 12-inch minimum harvest size.

The study will help biologists determine if there’s actually a lack of fish in that size range, or if they are simply eluding anglers.

IDFG: Big Runoff Will Give Reservoirs Big Fishing Boost


Reservoirs are filling across southern Idaho, and fisheries managers are looking forward to the benefits that big water brings.

“When we have these great water years, we have so much more habitat,” said Dave Teuscher, fisheries manager for the Southeast Region. “And the amount of forage is just incredible.”

Teuscher said he wishes he could stock about 3 or 4 million more trout in reservoirs so he could take advantage of all the water. He explained that in years with a lean snowpack, reservoirs are often drained to minimum pool during summer. Depending on the reservoir, that can mean as little as 10-percent of the pool remains to sustain fish.


There’s a bottleneck for the reservoir’s fish population because the fish are condensed into tight space until the following spring, and also subject to stress from warm water, low oxygen and predation.

But when reservoirs fill, and in some cases spill over, prime spring conditions with abundant cool water and plentiful forage last longer. Reservoirs may end the summer with up to four times their normal pools of water, which gives fish more space to live, grow and avoid predators. Those conditions produce more and larger trout, and the benefits often last several years, even if drier conditions resume.

“The difference is off the charts,” he said. “It’s night and day.”

Joe Kozfkay and Doug Megargle, fish managers for the Southwest and Magic Valley regions, are taking the opportunity to restock waters that were drained so low in recent years they could no longer sustain fish, and in some cases, completely dried.

They will immediately start restocking trout. Kozfkay said there will be plenty available considering high-flowing rivers are unsuitable for stocking trout. Managers will reallocate hatchery trout scheduled for stream stocking to reservoirs, lakes and ponds until rivers recede, which could be mid summer.

Kozfkay also plans to restock some reservoirs with bass and bluegill, including Blacks Creek Reservoir, Paddock Reservoir and Indian Creek Reservoir, as well as several ponds in the Treasure Valley area.

Magic Valley manager Megargle said Little Camas Reservoir, Mormon Reservoir and Thorn Creek Reservoirs will get trout this year.

Managers have a large, but not unlimited, supply of rainbow trout available in hatcheries. They can provide immediate fishing opportunity by stocking standard 10-to-12 inch “catchables,” or their larger hatchery cousins, known as “jumbos,” which take longer and are more expensive to produce, but get caught at a higher rate by anglers than smaller fish.

Managers can also stock inexpensive “fingerling” trout that are about 3 to 6 inches, but will quickly grow and provide fishing for anglers. In full reservoirs brimming with food, those fish can grow up to an inch a month.

Restocking warmwater fish, such as bass, bluegill, crappie and perch, is different than stocking trout. Because these fish are not typically available from Fish and Game’s hatcheries, they have to be transplanted from other waters.

“It’s rather labor intensive,” Kozfkay said.


Managers also don’t restock warmwater fish to provide immediate fishing opportunity. The goal is for transplanted adult fish to spawn and produce a larger population. With a little help from nature, that can happen in a few years because warmwater fish are prolific, and refilled reservoirs are usually very productive.

“The fish populations can blow up in a hurry, and that’s exciting,” Kozfkay said.

The timing can be tricky because managers want the new crop of fish transplanted before the fish spawn in the spring.

“You have a short window of time from when they move into the shallows and can be captured, but before they spawn,” he said.

While big water years are good for growing trout and restarting warmwater fish and panfish populations, no one’s crystal ball is clear enough to know how much water there will be in the future.

A few lean snowpacks and/or hot, dry summers could put some reservoirs back in the same predicament. Managers have to balance that reality with the time and money required to restock reservoirs with fish.

“It’s a gamble,” Kozfkay said. “But the optimist in me is excited to do it.”

2017 Idaho Spring Turkey Prospects: ‘Fair-to-good’ Numbers


Spring turkey hunting outlook: fair to good; general season opens April 15

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 – 11:46 AM MDT


Winter decreased some flocks in southern Idaho, but Panhandle and Clearwater should have good hunting

General turkey season opens Saturday, April 15, and you can see units that have general hunts in our turkey hunting rules , as well as details about the seasons. Hunters will find most general hunting opportunity in the Panhandle, Clearwater and Southwest Regions, and beyond that most areas are limited to controlled hunts. 

(Idaho Fish and Game)

Higher-than-normal snowfall in much of the state likely decreased turkey populations in some areas, but hunters should still find fair-to-good turkey populations depending on the region. 

“In Southwest and Eastern Idaho we anticipate populations to be down based on field reports, turkey populations remain good in the Clearwater and Panhandle regions,” said Jeff Knetter, upland and migratory bird coordinator. 

Knetter explained turkeys typically cope with winter differently than big game. They typically seek out feed from agriculture operations, such as feed lots and feed lines for livestock. 

In areas where that’s not an option, they can have difficulty surviving winter if they’re unable to get natural food off the ground. Fish and Game in cooperation with the National Wild Turkey Federation fed some birds during winter the Cambridge, Council and Garden Valley areas to help them get through winter. 

Hunters are also warned that many areas have experienced flooding during late winter and early spring, so they should double check access to their favorite hunting spots. They might also encounter lingering snowdrifts that block them from their hunting spot. 

turkeys, spring, Southwest Region

(Photo by Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game)

Fish and Game’s regional wildlife managers give an overview of what’s happening with turkey hunting in their regions. 

Panhandle Region

Turkey season in the Panhandle is looking quite good despite the snow that accumulated in the lower elevations this winter. Wintering turkeys are typically associated with agricultural land, often around livestock feeding operations, so food is usually available.  

Although the region had at near-normal winter snowpack, the winter did not begin in earnest until mid-January and snowfall in December and early January was below normal, so turkeys were not stressed for a long period. Things are now opening up and we’re seeing a very nice spring greenup due to the abundant moisture. 

A challenge for turkey hunters this year might be access due to poor road conditions due to flooding, but there should be abundant turkeys. During the spring season, hunters may purchase and use up to two turkey tags; only toms may be harvested in spring. As always, remember to respect private property, and ask first before you hunt there. 

Wayne Wakkinen, Panhandle Region Wildlife Manager

Clearwater Region

Last fall was warm and wet and early winter and snow pack was below average. This winter has seen what would be historically more normal snowpack, but valley snow levels were above normal. Despite this, turkeys in the Clearwater appear to be doing well. Snow at lower elevations came off relatively early and turkeys have had the advantage of spring green up.

The largest challenge to Clearwater turkey hunters this year will also be access. Warm weather and rain on snow events have caused flooding, road washouts and slides. Additionally, snow is gone at lower elevations, but some hunters will find it difficult accessing some valley hunting spots because of snow drifts on roads at higher elevations.  

Clay Hickey, Clearwater Region Wildlife Manager

Southwest Region

Turkey populations have been increasing steadily the last several years. However, this past winter was hard on turkeys in places experiencing prolonged deep snows. Turkeys along the lower Boise River appear to be doing well. Unit 38 and a portion of Unit 32 are controlled hunts and hunting in low country along waterways often requires landowner permission. The Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area in Unit 38 is open to turkey hunting for controlled-hunt tag holders. 

Units 33 and 39 are general hunts with small turkey populations scattered throughout.

In the northern part of the region, the National Wild Turkey Federation provided feed to private landowners in several areas, which helped turkeys come through the harsh winter pretty well. Access will be limited at higher elevations until sometime in May.  

There are turkey populations at Cecil D. Andrus Wildlife Management Area near Brownlee Reservoir. Motorized travel is restricted on the Andrus WMA until May 1, but walk-in hunting is open.

Hunters can also find Access Yes! properties with turkey hunting opportunities near Indian Valley, and north of New Meadows. 

Rick Ward and Regan Berkely, Southwest Region Wildlife Managers

Magic Valley Region

The region has a limited number of turkeys in Unit 54, with most residing on the west side of the unit. Turkeys are limited to controlled hunts only in the region, and normal survival is anticipated after the winter. 

Daryl Meints, Magic Valley Region Wildlife Manager. 

Upper Snake Region

In general, the Upper Snake has small populations, and the bulk of these turkeys are associated with the South Fork of the Snake River and Snake River riparian areas. Those areas likely had some winter mortality to further depress these limited populations. I would anticipate turkey densities to be slightly below what we have experienced over the last number of years. Hunting is limited to controlled hunts across the region.

Curtis Hendricks, Upper Snake Region Wildlife Manager

Southeast Region

The region has severe winter conditions from late December through March, and anecdotal reports indicate that some winter mortality on turkeys occurred in isolated areas. We anticipate turkey densities to be lower than in previous years. However, turkey numbers were extremely high this past year, and despite some winter mortality, there should still be robust turkey populations for hunters to enjoy. During the early period of the spring season, hunters might find turkey distributions to be slightly different due to lingering snow at higher elevations. 

Zach Lockyer, Southeast Region Wildlife Manager

Salmon Region

The region has low turkey densities, about 400 in Custer County and about 125 in Lemhi County. There are very limited controlled hunts for those birds.  The region likely had some winter mortality to further depress these limited populations and hunt success. Where the turkeys occupy lower elevations in the region, access will not be a problem due to snow.  

Greg Painter, Salmon Region Wildlife Manager