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Idaho Mulls Clearwater, Snake Keeper Steelhead Season

Inland Northwest steelheaders may get a keeper season after all.

With enough A-run hatchery fish now expected back to Idaho to meet broodstock goals, managers there are asking for feedback on a proposal to open a season though with a reduced bag limit and maximum size restriction on prime waters.

IDFG says that there will be a surplus of 22,000 of the smaller summer-runs and is taking comment on a plan to open the Clearwater system and lower Snake for the harvest of up to just two a day, neither of which could be longer than 28 inches.

A PROPOSAL FROM IDAHO BIOLOGISTS WOULD OPEN RETENTION ON A-RUN STEELHEAD, BUT REDUCED THE USUAL LIMIT FROM THREE TO TWO. (BRIAN LULL)

That’s an attempt to prevent overharvesting as well as get as many of the bigger B-runs — both hatchery and wild — back as possible.

Idaho’s upper Snake and rivers further up Hells Canyon may be opened too with the same bag, but the size restriction would be shed from the Couse Creek ramp on the Washington side, upstream.

In a normal year, the daily limit is three hatchery steelhead and no size restriction.

Washington steelhead managers are also watching developments.

“We’re waiting to follow Idaho’s lead,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Madonna Luers, who added it may be a couple weeks before a decision is made, per a report by Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune.

This year’s worst-in-40-years Inland Northwest steelhead forecast of 112,000 initially sparked fishery restrictions all the way down to the mouth of the Columbia, inside cool-water refuges in the lower river and gorge, as well as the Snake and its tributaries.

With July dam counts just fractions of average and a dire mid-August inseason update of just roughly 60,000, those looked more than warranted. IDFG closed retention before any fish got anywhere near the Gem State.

State biologists now say that 113,000 steelhead are expected to return past Bonneville Dam this year — still very low, relatively speaking, but they took the fishery proposal to the Fish and Game Commission yesterday.

The panel wanted to consider public comment. To see their pitch, and to comment, go here.

Public input is being taken through Oct. 10.

Meanwhile, the commission went ahead and approved a coho season on the Clearwater and its North and South Forks, daily limit two and a season limit of 10. IDFG says there are enough of the Nez Perce-reintroduced salmon to meet hatchery needs and provide a “modest” fishery.

IDFG Reports Results Of Elk Calf Mortality Study In Couer d’Alene, St. Joe Basins

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

By Laura Wolf, Wildlife Regional Biologist

The Panhandle region placed 172 GPS radio-collars on 6-month old elk calves in the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe River drainages since 2015.  A couple reasons we collared so many elk was to determine survival rates and for those elk that didn’t make it, find out why they died.

A MOUNTAIN LION CACHES AN ELK CARCASS. (IDFG)

The GPS collars have a signal that activates once the collar hasn’t moved for several hours, indicating a mortality.  Next, the collar sends an e-mail to biologists with the location of the collar.  It’s pretty amazing technology, something that wasn’t available just a few years ago, and it’s giving us new insight into what’s affecting the elk population.  We try to hike out to every dead elk within a day or two of receiving the mortality signal so we have the best chance of figuring out what happened.

It can be difficult to look at a partially consumed elk carcass and determine how the animal died.  The more of the elk that is there, the easier it is to figure out what happened.  We want to find out why it died, or in our language, determine cause-specific mortality.  That’s why we try to get to the elk as soon as possible.

Once we get to the location and find the elk, we take a crime scene approach.  We conduct a careful search around the carcass looking for predator tracks, hair, drag trails in the dirt or snow, broken branches that indicate a chase, and blood on vegetation or the ground.  Next, we perform a necropsy (basically an autopsy for an animal).  We skin the entire animal looking for teeth or claw punctures and bruising on the skin or muscles (which means that something injured it while it was still alive).  We look for broken bones, parasites, and abnormalities of the internal organs.  Lastly, we saw open a femur bone to examine bone marrow.  Bone marrow is normally hard and white and is the last fat reserve the body uses during starvation.  Soft and red bone marrow means the elk was in very poor condition when it died.

The two most common predators that kill older calves in the Panhandle are mountain lions and wolves, but their kill patterns are quite distinctive, hence the crime scene approach.  Lions tend to ambush and bite the neck or throat of their prey.  The attack site and the kill site are often close together.  Lions often drag their prey to a more hidden spot and will cache the animal by covering it with snow, leaves, or needles.  Lions have a habit of shearing hair, which looks like someone cut the hair with sharp scissors.   Lions often enter the chest cavity first and eat the internal organs.

A LION-CACHED ELK CARCASS. (IDFG)

Wolves, on the other hand, are not ambush hunters.  They typically chase their prey long distances, biting hindquarters, flanks, neck, and face.  Wolves will eat the animal where it died and often scatter the carcass throughout the site as each wolf takes its own piece to consume.  Wolves will often chew on all the bones.  The site of an animal killed by wolves is often a much messier scene than that of one killed by a mountain lion.  There’s often very little of the carcass remaining when we get there.

WOLF-KILLED ELK. (IDFG)

So, what have we learned?  In the normal to mild winters of 2015 and 2016, 80% of the elk calves survived from January to June; 14% were killed by mountain lions, 3% were killed by wolves, 1% died of disease, and 2% were unknown deaths.  A survival rate of 80% for 6 month old calves is very high.

(IDFG)

In the colder, snowy winter of 2017, 50% of the elk calves survived.  Interestingly enough, the predation rates were similar to the milder winters; 16% were killed by mountain lions and 6% were killed by wolves.  Starvation (16%), heavy parasite loads (2%), and disease (2%) accounted for the difference in survival rates among the winters.  Calves were in worse body condition in 2017 as determined by bone marrow condition.  We could not determine cause of death in 8% of the cases.

(IDFG)

What do these calf survival rates mean for the elk population?  We are working on some modeling now, incorporating other information like cow survival rates, calf:cow ratios that we get during our winter aerial surveys, and the percent of spikes in the harvest.  Once we get the results of the modeling , we’ll report to you on that.

Our jobs can certainly be gruesome at times, but it rewarding to determine what is happening with our elk populations so we can make informed management decisions.

IDFG Closes Steelhead Retention Due To Very Low Run, But Keeps C&R Op Open

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

An extremely small number of steelhead returning to Idaho so far has prompted Fish and Game to reduce the bag limit on adipose-clipped hatchery steelhead to zero – closing all rivers to harvest for the fall steelhead season.

Through Aug. 14, about 400 steelhead have crossed Lower Granite Dam about 30 miles downstream from Lewiston. The 10-year average for that date is about 6,000 steelhead.  Regardless of the size of the hatchery return, anglers have been required to release any wild fish caught since 1987. Catch and release of wild fish is an important conservation tool to protect them, and it continues this year.

AN IDFG GRAPH SHOWS HOW THIS YEAR’S STEELHEAD RUN COMPARES TO PAST ONES. (IDFG)

Closing harvest of hatchery steelhead while leaving it open for catch-and-release fishing will also help ensure enough broodstock return to steelhead hatcheries to produce the next generation of fish.

Although only a fraction of the steelhead run has crossed Lower Granite Dam, fisheries managers are tracking the run as it moves upstream.

Historic run data shows that by Aug. 15, about half of the fish should have already crossed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which is the first dam where the fish are counted. Through Aug. 14, only 3,900 Idaho steelhead have crossed Bonneville.

Fisheries managers are carefully watching steelhead returns, and if there’s an unexpected increase, harvest can be reopened, but at this point, that’s very unlikely. Washington and Oregon have also restricted steelhead harvest for anglers in the Columbia River to protect Idaho-bound fish.

“We realize steelhead anglers will be disappointed, and many will choose not to fish this fall as a result of the decision to close harvest,” said Lance Hebdon, Fish and Game’s anadromous fish manager. “We will continue to monitor hatchery and wild steelhead returns as the run continues to determine if changes are needed.”

Fisheries managers say they’re aware some people are concerned about the possible effects of allowing catch-and-release angling on a small return.

“Based on our experience, catch-and-release fishing has proven to be an effective conservation tool, and we’ve been able to allow it in the past while still protecting a below-average return of wild fish,” Hebdon said. “We realize that catch and release is not zero-impact, but it is very low impact. With the expected reduction in angler participation, we are confident that the protection is there. We have documented populations rebounding even with a limited number of spawners.”

Every year’s run of adults is produced by at least two years of outmigrating young fish, which provide a buffer during years of poor returns.

Fish managers know that fewer people fish for steelhead when the run is small, and even fewer will fish because harvest is not allowed. But it’s important that anglers practicing catch-and-release treat all steelhead with care and release them with minimal handling. Here are some tips for properly releasing fish unharmed.

Idaho’s steelhead runs typically fluctuate from year to year, but what makes this year unusual is an exceptionally small hatchery return at the same time as a small wild run. The 1996 steelhead run, for example, had only 7,600 wild fish, but they combined with 79,000 hatchery fish.

Fish and Game has only closed all steelhead fishing (harvest and catch and release) once in the last 43 years. Harvest restrictions and length limits have been implemented in the past for the Clearwater River, Snake and Salmon rivers to adjust for low returns.

Fisheries managers are hoping this is a short-term situation. All salmon and steelhead runs to Idaho this year have been below average, and small runs were forecasted based on early indicators last year.

Portions of this steelhead run migrated to the Pacific in 2015, which was a low-water year with early hot weather that produced hazardous river conditions for young fish leaving Idaho. Ocean productivity was also poor that year, which persisted in 2016, and made conditions even more difficult for fish.

While closing the harvest for adipose-clipped steelhead could put a damper on fall fisheries, an abundant run of fall chinook returning to Idaho will provide some good fishing opportunity. The forecast is for 27,000 chinook, and those fish are now arriving.

Fall chinook fishing season opens on Aug. 18, and anglers can harvest six adult chinook daily, and there’s no bag limit on “jack” fall chinook smaller than 24 inches. Here is the full rules and seasons brochure.

Salmon and steelhead runs tend to be cyclical, and to learn why things are likely to improve next year, read F&G wild salmon and steelhead coordinator Tim Copeland’s article about early signs pointing to improvement.

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

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

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.

IDAHO FISH AND GAME IS CALLING ON PRIEST LAKE ANGLERS LIKE JAMIE CARR — HERE WITH A 30-ISH-POUNDER CAUGHT SEVERAL YEARS AGO — FOR INPUT ON HOW THE FISHERY SHOULD BE MANAGED IN THE FUTURE. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

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 FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

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.

WHEN ALL WAS SAID AND DONE ON IDAHO’S FREE FISHING DAY EARLIER THIS MONTH, RICHARD MILLER OWNED THE STATE RECORD FOR HYBRID TIGER TROUT … THOUGH WITH HOW FAST THE HIGH MARK WAS BROKEN THAT DAY, WHO KNOWS HOW LONG HE’LL HOLD ONTO IT! (IDFG)

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.

‘Free Fishing Season’ Returns To Northwest Starting This Weekend

Early June is “free fishing season” here in the Northwest, a chance to get friends and family without a license out and with all kinds of events and opportunities to take advantage of this weekend and next.

SPRINGERS ARE AMONG THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR FREE FISHING DAYS ACROSS THE NORTHWEST. KRIS RONDEAU NABBED THIS BIG ONE ON OREGON’S UMPQUA WHILE ANCHOR FISHING THE LOWER END WITH A GREEN LABEL HERRING BEHIND A SPINNER. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

First up is Free Fishing Weekend in Oregon, June 3-4, which ODFW calls “the perfect weekend to take a friend or family member out fishing, crabbing or clamming.”

The agency has lined up a mess of events all over the state Saturday, and for even more ideas, check out the weekly Recreation Report!

Idaho’s Free Fishing Day is June 10, and Fish and Game will be hosting activities across the Gem State, including its Southwest Region.

Then, on June 10-11, it’s Washington’s turn to host the free fishing.

What to fish for in the Evergreen State? WDFW suggests coastal lings, spinyrays throughout the state and Columbia River shad, among other opportunities, and for even more, check out the June Weekender.

Just remember, even though the fishin’s free, all the usual bag limits and regulations apply.

 

IDFG Says Chinook Seasons Could Reopen After Count Picks Up

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

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.

WHAT MAY BE THE LATEST RETURN OF SALMON ON RECORD IS GIVING IDAHO MANAGERS AND ANGLERS HOPE THAT RIVERS CAN BE REOPENED FOR CHINOOK LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT BY GARRETT GRUBBS SEVERAL SEASONS AGO ON THE CLEARWATER. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

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

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

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.

IDFG REGIONAL FISH PROGRAM MANAGER JOE KOZFKAY HOLDS A MOMENTARILY STUNNED SMALLMOUTH CAPTURED AS PART OF A STUDY OF BASS BETWEEN BROWNLEE AND SWAN FALLS DAMS. (ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG)

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.

THIS PILL-SIZED DEVICE WILL HELP FISHERIES BIOLOGISTS TRACK BASS DURING THE STUDY. (ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG)

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.”

A SMALLMOUTH AWAITS ATTENTION FROM KOZFKAY. (ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG)

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

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

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.

RAINBOW TROUT ARE GIVEN A GOOD HEAVE INTO A SOUTHWEST IDAHO LAKE. FISH AND GAME OFFICIALS BELIEVE THAT THIS WINTER’S BIG SNOWS WILL HELP REFUEL FISHERIES IN RESERVOIRS HIT BY DROUGHT AND LOW LEVELS. (ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG)

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.

WHILE IDAHO FISH AND GAME DOESN’T REAR SPINYRAYS AT HATCHERIES LIKE IT DOES TROUT, SEED STOCK FROM ONE LAKE CAN BE USED TO BUILD NUMBERS IN ANOTHER. (ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG)

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

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

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