Category Archives: Trout and Salmon

Horse and Mule Trout Surveying

Fisheries Work by Horse and Mule Trout Surveying
Today’s feature on back-country trout surveying comes to us from Nebraska Game and Parks.
from The Fishing Wire

Sometimes, if you want to get where the fish are, you have to go where other people are not.

Casey Cary leads the packhorse with survey equipment along the south fork of Soldier Creek. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
Such was the case for fisheries biologists in the Pine Ridge last week, as they recruited the help of a Game and Parks Commissioner, a Wyoming outfitter, and six four-legged friends to study one of Nebraska’s most remote public fishing areas.

With the help of horses and mules owned by Commissioner Rick Brandt of Roca and outfitter Casey Cary of Powell, Wyoming, fisheries staff members Al Hanson and Joe Rydell of Alliance administered a rare sampling of the south fork of Soldier Creek. The cold-water brook is one of three branches of the stream coursing through the Soldier Creek Wilderness Area before it merges to one and flows eastward to Fort Robinson State Park.

Similar to biologists throughout the state this spring, Hanson and Rydell have been persistently surveying fish populations, usually using trucks and motorboats to set and retrieve nets. The samplings help them make determinations about fisheries, such as populations, size and health of the various species swimming throughout the Panhandle. The Commission uses the information to make management decisions and advise anglers of the best fishing spots.

The biologists use a little different approach for cold-water streams, employing electroshocking equipment to stun fish, slowing them down just enough to be netted for study and then released. Many trout streams in Nebraska may be remote, but most of them are accessible by vehicle at least to some extent.

Brandt and Cary secure the load. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
Because of wilderness area regulations, surveying the headwaters of Soldier Creek’s south fork is a little more challenging. Wilderness areas, each of which are managed by one of four federal land management agencies (in this case, the U.S. Forest Service), have special rules to limit negative impacts from humans and ensure their preservation. The rules allow for no mechanized vehicles, including bicycles, game carts or even trucks driven by fisheries biologists. Horses, however, are permitted, and, for this fisheries project, hooves would have to be involved.

The survey party of four, along with this writer-photographer, rode on the backs of Brandt and Cary’s horses and mules for the seven-mile round trip while a packhorse carried the survey equipment. Included in the panniers and strapped to the saddle were long-handled nets and the electroshocking backpack unit with its wands. The unit, which looks similar to a metal detector, sends a non-lethal charge through nearby surrounding water.

Because of his past ventures by mule, Brandt was in familiar territory as the crew made its way up the creek. The avid horseman who owns a Lincoln excavation company was selected to the Commission’s board last year with a reputation for supporting big game conservation efforts, most notably Nebraska’s bighorn sheep program. He is one of the founding members of the Nebraska Big Game Society, which has provided financial support for many of the Commission’s conservation efforts for wild sheep, elk and mule deer.

Commissioner Rick Brandt of Roca is an avid horseman who loves riding his mules in the Pine Ridge. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
At least twice a year Brandt rides the northwestern Nebraska backcountry to catch sight of big rams and other Nebraska wildlife. During those trips, he often also takes a gander in the creeks to see what is swimming in their clear waters. This far up the creek, things are usually pretty quiet.

“I never see footprints up this far,” Brandt said, as he was pointing out some of the best spots for trout. “And I’ve seen some big fish up this way.”

Although a glitch in the backpack unit deterred Hanson and Rydell from surveying as much of the creek as they had planned, they were able to learn plenty.

“We found out what we wanted to know,” Hanson said. “We have some really quality brook trout up here. We also have some big browns and big creek chubs.”

In addition to nice fish, they saw some nice scenery in a landscape painted green with spring rains. With occasional sandstone cliffs, ponderosa pine trees and a variety of hardwoods towering above, the south fork meanders over a bed of stones with areas of shallow rapids between deeper slower-moving pools. It’s an advantageous situation if you’re a trout.

Al Hanson watches for stunned fish as Joe Rydell runs the electroshocking equipment. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
“This is some of our best rubble in the Pine Ridge,” Hanson said, as he watched fish dart through the clear water flowing over well-worn rocks at the creek’s headwaters.

Hanson, a longtime employee of the Commission and now fisheries supervisor for the northwest district, has familiarity with the upper third of the south fork, even if he does not get there as often as he would like to. He remembers using a horse and coolers to pack in fingerling brook trout to the upper end of the south fork in the 1980s and again in 1993. The latter stocking followed the flood of 1991, in which thunderstorm deluged the area with 12 inches of rain and was suspected to be detrimental for the brook trout population.

From last week’s observations, it appears the trout are naturally reproducing in the creek and doing well.

The upper end of the south fork of Soldier Creek may not be the easiest place to access, but few who have been there regret the journey – especially those who get there with the help of some hooves.

Catch More Tailwater Trout

Trout’s Fly Fishing- 5 Ways to Catch More Tailwater Trout
By: Kyle Wilkinson, Trout’s Fly Fishing Marketing and Brand Manager
from The Fishing Wire

Whether we like it or not- Winter is here. That pretty much gives us two choices- quit fishing, or keep fishing. I’m always of the opinion to ‘keep fishing’. One of the best parts about living in Colorado- and particularly on the Front Range- is the abundance of Tailwater fisheries that lie within an easy drive of our homes. That said, I still believe many anglers aren’t catching as many fish as they should be. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling with your success on winter tailwaters, give these 5 tips a try next time you decide to bundle up and get the boots wet in the months to come:

1. Use Yarn- many of you reading this may have heard this recommendation before, but it bears repeating. I feel that strongly about it. Simply put, yarn indicators are WAY more sensitive than plastic bobber-style indicators. Fish this time of year can be pretty lethargic (compared to summer) and typically won’t eat your flies with much aggression. Oftentimes your yarn won’t even dunk underwater but rather just ‘pause’ or ‘lean over’ when a fish strikes. If you’ve never used yarn indicators before, be prepared to be amazed with the sensitivity you’ll get. Side note- tips for yarn success- carry several and liberally apply some fly floatant before starting the day. Be prepared to dry off your indicator every couple hours and reapply. If you decide that your indicator is too waterlogged after a few hours, simply swap it out for a fresh one. While I realize these do require a little more maintenance than a thingamabobber, the fact that it leads to more fish in the net throughout the day is always worth it to me.

2. Putty and Split Shot- if you’re not using both split shot AND putty, you’re really missing out. Flows are at their lowest levels of the year and being able to dial in the weight on your nymph rigs is paramount to success. Any of the commercially made tungsten putties will work great so don’t get too caught up on which ‘brand’ to buy. Here’s how I put both split shot and putty to use for me this time of year. To start, select the size of split shot that will get you by in the shallowest water you’ll be fishing. Anytime you come to deeper water, simply pull out a little putty and apply it directly on top of the split shot, rolling it into a nice round ball. Voila. That’s it! Throughout the day you can add and remove putty as necessary to make sure you’re always getting your flies right down into the fishes faces. When you decide you need to take off a little (or all) of the putty you added, simply peel it off and place back in the original container. You can use and reuse tungsten putty for months on end before running out. The best part of using tungsten putty is that it avoids having to constantly pinch and remove split shot throughout the day. This will help protect your light tippets and is also just a whole heck of a lot faster way to make weight adjustments!

3. Never make a cast standing in the water that you could have made standing on dry ground. This is another HUGE one for me, but is a mistake I see anglers make time and time again. Whenever you approach a likely looking area, always make it a point to fish it while keeping your wading boots on dry ground.

Avoiding splashing around, crunching rocks, and in general- disturbing the water with your steps- is always going to leave the fish feeling much more at ease and in turn- more eager to eat your flies (this rule should actually be applied year round).

4. Tighten up your flies- If you don’t fish your flies spaced closely together during winter, I’m confident you’re missing out on a few fish throughout the day. I always like to say that a wintertime tailwater trout lives in a shoebox. (i.e. if you put a trout in a shoebox, it doesn’t have much room to move side to side). If I’m not getting my flies in this ‘shoebox’ zone, my confidence in getting an eat goes down drastically. My rule for spacing my flies during winter is to make a fist, and then extend my thumb and pink in opposite directions. This is the spacing you should be using- approximately 10″ or so. If you’ve never fished your flies this close together, consider yourself warned- it’s probably going to seem a little weird at first. One thing I can promise you though is that you’re going to need your net more throughout the day if you give it a try!

5. Watch the bubbles- we’ve already talked about indicators and weight, and I firmly believe that one of the biggest reasons people don’t catch as many fish as they should is that they’re simply not getting down to them. Next time your nymphing make sure to keep an eye on the bubbles on the surface. What are they doing? Are they moving the same speed as your indicator? If so, this is a dead giveaway you’re not getting down to the fish. Most fish this time of year are sitting very close to the bottom. The water on the bottom of the river is moving slower than the water on the surface. If you’re indicator is floating the same speed as the bubbles on the surface, this means that you’re not getting down to the fish. Simple as that. The goal is to always have your indicator floating SLOWER than the bubbles on the surface. This can quickly be achieved by adding a little more depth and/or weight to your rig. If you’ve never paid attention to this before I think you’ll be amazed at how much of a difference it makes and how quickly you are now able to dial in your rig, ultimately achieving a perfect drift to the fish!

Trouts Fly Fishing is a full service fly shop located in the heart of Denver, CO between Downtown and Cherry Creek North. A second location was established in Frisco, CO located right on Main St. In addition to selling fly fishing goods, Trouts also offers a wide selection of fly fishing classes, guided trips and destination travel options. Some of their trips include both float fishing and wade fishing on the Blue River, Colorado River, Williams Fork River, Eagle River, Roaring Fork River, Frying Pan and Arkansas River. Trouts has been proudly serving the angling community for over 15 years.

Gila Trout

Gila Trout Swim Mineral Creek
Devastating fire cleared path for rare trout’s return

Craig Springer, USFWS
from The Fishing Wire

Wear and tear on boot soles and a helicopter—that’s what it took to get 1,033 Gila trout safely placed in the remote headwaters of Mineral Creek, well inside the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico.

On November 18, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) working with its partner agencies, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Forest Service, released two age classes of Gila trout into Mineral Creek ranging up to a foot long. The rare yellow trout were spawned, hatched and raised in captivity in 2015 and 2016 at the Service’s Mora National Fish Hatchery. Hatchery fish are carefully paired and spawned to maximize genetic diversity of offspring which provides a safeguard for their survival in the wild. The captive fish also purposely face rigorous swimming conditions in the hatchery to further ensure their fitness when released.

These 1,033 trout traveled by truck eight hours to meet a helicopter at the Gila National Forest’s Glenwood Ranger Station. The aircraft made multiple flights carrying an aerated tank at the end of a long-line, each time full of Gila trout. Biologists from the three agencies had hiked in several miles in the rugged country to meet the trout and place them in the cool, shaded runs and pools of Mineral Creek.

Mineral Creek is tributary to the San Francisco River near Alma, New Mexico. Streams in this watershed harbor one of five known relict genetic lineages of Gila trout. The species lives only in New Mexico and Arizona along the Mogollon Rim, an area of conservation emphasis for the Service. This release is a large step forward in conserving Gila trout, noted Andy Dean, lead Gila trout biologist with the Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, based in Albuquerque. “This repatriation into Mineral Creek adds another stream to harbor Gila trout, as outlined as a necessity in the Gila Trout Recovery Plan,” said Dean. “Not only does this add a population within the San Francisco River drainage, it also helps establish Gila trout populations across a larger geographical area. More Gila trout over a larger area adds greater security to this rare fish.”

That desired security will be achieved when the Mineral Creek population is naturally reproducing, and multiple year classes swim its waters, perhaps in 2018.

Mineral Creek came to the attention of biologists as a candidate stream to receive Gila trout following the massive Whitewater-Baldy Fire of 2012. Destructive as it was, the forest fire made Mineral Creek suitable for Gila trout. The fire burned in the headlands of the stream and summer rains washed a slurry of ash and debris down its course, removing unwanted competing non-native fishes. Though the mountain slopes and streamside vegetation are not fully stabilized post-fire, sufficient habitat exists to harbor Gila trout in Mineral Creek. With so few suitable streams available to repatriate Gila trout, biologists seized the opportunity.

Mineral Creek Canyon is steep to be sure. It’s certainly among the more remote and more difficult Gila trout habitats to reach, but it’s not the only stream to receive Gila trout from Mora National Fish Hatchery this autumn. Another 8,621 Gila trout have been placed in several other waters that advance the species’ recovery and should entice anglers to go after native trout in native habitats of southwest New Mexico.

Willow Creek received 3,039 Gila trout; Gilita Creek, 1,022; Sapillo Creek, 2,270; and West Fork Gila River, 2,290. These waters are readily accessible and won’t require shedding lots of boot tread to reach them as is the case with Mineral Creek. These trout—shards of sunshine—lie in dark water behind boulders and in the scour pools beneath log jams, waiting for bugs to come drifting by. They also wait for what anglers may throw their way. Anglers should visit the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish website to learn more about fishing regulations, which requires a free Gila trout permit.

The Gila trout is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The species was listed as endangered in 1973, and through conservation measures it was downlisted to threatened in 2006. A year later select Gila trout populations were opened to angling for the first time in 50 years.

To learn more visit www.fws.gov/southwest

Craig Springer, External Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Southwest Region

How Do Beavers Engineer Better Fish Habitat?

Oregon beavers engineer better fish habitat, more fish

After four years, scientists recorded a 175 percent increase in juvenile steelhead

Contributed by Michael Milstein
from The Fishing Wire

An ecological experiment that employed beavers to restore streams in Central Oregon found that the streams produced nearly twice as many juvenile steelhead within a few years after the beavers went to work.

While beavers’ natural engineering abilities are well-known, the project on Oregon’s Bridge Creek is the first to show that their reengineering of streams can yield such pronounced improvements in fish populations. The results suggest that, under the right conditions, beavers can restore the health of streams and their fish, faster and likely at lower cost than traditional river restoration that relies on expensive heavy equipment.

“What was most surprising was how fast we saw changes, and how fast the fish responded,” said Chris Jordan, a fisheries ecologist with NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and coauthor of the research. “Beavers are themselves agents of change and we can see in this case how those changes cascade across the landscape.”

The results of the research on Bridge Creek, a tributary of the John Day River, were published in Nature’s online journal Scientific Reports by a team of scientists from Eco Logical Research Inc., Utah State University, NOAA Fisheries, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and South Fork Research. The research was funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and NOAA Fisheries.

Large numbers of beavers once coexisted with salmon and steelhead across the Northwest until they were trapped nearly to extinction in many areas. Streams such as Bridge Creek also deteriorated under pressure from grazing and other activities. Many streams became incised, cutting trench-like into the ground. The falling water table left streamside vegetation stranded on high terraces, where its roots could no longer access water.

Such streams provide poor fish habitat. Beavers also struggled because a lack of large wood left them to construct dams with small willows easily washed out by high flows.

“We used restoration as a large scale manipulation to a watershed to determine if and how restoration can improve fish habitat,” said Nick Bouwes, owner of Utah-based Eco Logical Research Inc. and lead author of the study. “We also used a very cheap approach which mainly relied on beavers doing most of the heavy lifting for us.”

In 2009 scientists tested what would happen if beavers got a foothold. The scientists jump-started the beavers’ work by sinking posts (called beaver-dam analogs, or BDAs) into the streambed of Bridge Creek to help the animals build and anchor their dams against the current. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management reduced grazing in wetland areas along the creek, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closed the watershed to beaver trapping.

Quickly, beavers began building dams using the BDAs throughout Bridge Creek. By 2013 beavers had built 171 dams with help from the BDAs or naturally, eight times more dams than the average of the few years before scientists installed the BDAs.

But the real change was in the stream. Beaver dams anchored to the BDAs raised the water level, creating large pools where sediment was deposited. Soon the trenches began filling in, and water spread out onto the adjacent floodplain, giving rise to streamside vegetation and creating side channels and backwaters. Water temperatures slightly cooled in stretches with beaver dams compared to those without.

“We went from a place where the beavers couldn’t even manage to build dams, to a place where the beavers control the landscape,” Jordan said. “We got it started, but the beavers did the work.”

The changes improved fish habitat, with a deeper more complex stream channel. Over seven years the scientists tagged 35,867 fish with tiny electronic tags to track their movements and survival.

They found that beaver ponds held more juvenile steelhead than adjacent upstream areas. Plus, the ponds created more wetland habitat. Overall in Bridge Creek fish density increased and juvenile steelhead survival jumped 52 percent compared to a control watershed where scientists had not installed BDAs. Only four years after scientists first installed the first BDAs in Bridge Creek, they recorded a 175 percent increase in juvenile steelhead production compared to the control watershed.

While the quality of habitat improved, the quantity of habitat also increased as stream channels and wetlands expanded into the floodplain, Jordan said.

“It’s hard to point to any one thing as the most important change,” Jordan said. “It’s all of the changes that makes better quality habitat, and makes more habitat too.”

“Because of the large scale nature of the experiment and the intense monitoring, this study represents one of the few examples of detecting benefits of restoration to a fish population- and perhaps the first to show beavers as the restoration agent to cause such a response,” Bouwes said.

More ambitious efforts to use beavers as agents of restoration are now underway in other parts of the Columbia Basin. An interagency team of scientists has also developed the Beaver Restoration Guidebook to assist landowners and others interested in recruiting beavers as natural engineers.

Additional Information:
NWFSC: Working with beaver to restore salmon habitat

Why Is There A Complete Closure of Yellowstone River?

Montana Imposes Complete Closure of Yellowstone River Due to Fish Disease
from The Fishing Wire

An unprecedented fish kill has brought complete closure of miles of one of America’s greatest cold water fisheries.

(Bozeman, Mont.)—Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is implementing an immediate closure of all water-based recreation (fishing, wading, floating, tubing, boating, etc.) on the Yellowstone River and its tributaries from Yellowstone National Park’s northern boundary at Gardiner to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel. This significant action on the part of the Department is in response to the ongoing and unprecedented fish kill on the Yellowstone. This action is necessary to protect the fishery and the economy it sustains. The closure will also help limit the spread of the parasite to adjacent rivers through boats, tubes, waders and other human contact and minimize further mortality in all fish species.

In the past week, FWP has documented over 2,000 dead Mountain Whitefish on some affected stretches of the Yellowstone. With that, FWP estimates the total impact to Mountain Whitefish in the Yellowstone to be in the tens of thousands. FWP has also recently received reports of the kill beginning to affect some Rainbow and Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout.

Test results from samples sent to the U.S. and Wildlife Service Fish Health Center in Bozeman show the catalyst for this fish kill to be Proliferative Kidney Disease – one of the most serious diseases to impact whitefish and trout. The disease, caused by a microscopic parasite, is known to occur in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. It has been documented previously in only two isolated locations in Montana over the past 20 years. Recent outbreaks have occurred in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In trout, research has shown this disease to have the potential to cause 20 to 100 percent mortality. The parasite does not pose a risk to humans.

The effect of the disease on Yellowstone’s fish populations is exacerbated by other stressors like near record low flows, consistent high temperatures, and the disturbance caused by recreational activities.

FWP Director Jeff Hagener says in coming to the decision, the Department had to weigh the totality of the circumstances and risk to the fishery.

“We recognize that this decision will have a significant impact on many people. However, we must act to protect this public resource for present and future generations,” said Hagener.

“A threat to the health of Montana’s fish populations is a threat to Montana’s entire outdoor economy and the tens of thousands of jobs it sustains,” said Gov. Steve Bullock, noting that Montana’s outdoor recreation economy is responsible for more than 64,000 Montana jobs and nearly $6 billion in yearly economic activity. “We must be guided by science. Our state cannot afford this infectious disease to spread to other streams and rivers and it’s my responsibility to do everything we can to stop this threat in its tracks and protect Montana jobs and livelihoods.”

FWP will continue to monitor the river and will lift the closure when stream conditions such as flow and temperature improve and fish mortality ceases.

In addition to the closure on the Yellowstone, FWP is asking for the public’s assistance in preventing the spread of this parasite by properly cleaning (CLEAN.DRAIN.DRY) all equipment prior to moving between waterbodies (i.e., boats, waders, trailers). FWP has also set up two Aquatic Invasive Species decontamination stations set up along I-90 near the affected area in an effort to help reduce the chance of this parasite moving to other rivers.

Lake Trout on Lake Michigan

Tips for Targeting Lake Trout on Lake Michigan

By Buzz Ramsey
from The Fishing Wire

It’s no secret that lake troutt have become the most numerous fish in Lake Michigan and you cannot consistently win tournaments without spending most of your tournament and pre-tournament days targeting them.

Although lake trout can position themselves throughout the water column, for example, in mid-level temperature layers where the bait and other sport fish like salmon are found, they spend a large portion of their time on or near the bottom of the lake. This tendency to hug the bottom is especially true during the middle of the day when the sun is bright.

In addition to being drawn to investigate flashers and lures trolled in the bottom-hugging zone lake trout prefer, these fish will positively respond to the stirring up of bottom sediments. It seems the more you can stir up the bottom by occasionally dragging (it’s really more like skipping) your lures and/or occasionally bouncing your downrigger ball on bottom the more lake trout you will catch.

Some avid trollers targeting lakers will extend a short length (18-to-24 inches) of chain or wire from their downrigger ball to help draw these bottom-hugging fish into their gear. The reason adding a short length of chain, such that it will scratch bottom occasionally, is used is that it will accomplish the goal of stirring up bottom sediment without jeopardizing the loss of your downrigger weight. Keep in mind this technique is best used when trolling over flat bottoms and not where bottom structure makes just skipping the bottom difficult or impossible.

Another method used to stir up bottom sediment is to employ a triangular shaped flasher, like an 8 or 10 inch Fish Flash, which will stir up bottom sediment without hanging up or tripping from your downrigger release. Try running near bottom, occasionally touching sandy bottoms, in combination with a 48-to-60 inch leader and spoon, spinner, Spin-N-Glo or spinning bait. You want your gear running fairly close, ten (10) feet behind the downrigger ball, so it will be in or near the sediment cloud.

An all-time-favorite trolling combination used by anglers wanting to target lake trout is to rig a size 2, 4, or 6 Spin-N-Glo in combination with a size 0 or 1 dodger. The dodger’s side-to-side swaying motion adds additional action to the already lively Spin-N-Glo and is the go-to combination for many charter operators and avid anglers. Most rig their Spin-N-Glo 24-to-30 inches behind their dodger. It’s important to place a few plastic beads between your Spin-N-Glo and hook so this lure will spin freely.

Some of the more productive Spin-N-Glo colors for lake trout are Luminous Spot, Stop N Go, Luminous Green, California Watermelon, and Red Hot Tiger. These finishes are now available with glow-in-the-dark wings. So, in addition to the phosphorescent bodies the wings also glow. To see them visit www.yakimabait.com or ask your local dealer.

And it’s not just dodgers that are used in combination with Spin-N-Glo. Take last year’s Salmon-A-Rama “Yakima Bait Rewards Program” winner who trolled a Spin-N-Glo in combination with Fish Flash to take home real money – it could be you this year.

Managing Chinook Seasons in Idaho

Managing Chinook Seasons Is A Constant Work In Progress

By Roger Phillips, Idaho Fish and Game public information specialist
from The Fishing Wire

Idaho Chinook

Idaho Chinook

Spring Chinook fishing opens April 23, and anglers often wonder how many salmon there will be and how long the season will last. It’s a challenging question to answer because unlike most Idaho fisheries, salmon seasons are dependent on how many fish return from the ocean each year.

That number varies wildly from year to year, and Fish and Game must balance the wants of anglers with ensuring enough Chinook are available to keep hatcheries operating, protect wild fish listed under the Endangered Species Act, and abide by agreements with other states and tribes to share the harvest of hatchery Chinook.

It’s a tricky mix of management that can complicate the answer for folks who just want to know how long salmon season will last.

The good news

Idaho has had an unprecedented run of chinook fishing seasons. This year will be the 16th straight year Fish and Game has provided a season, which is the longest unbroken streak dating back to 1954. Before then, salmon fishing was largely unregulated.

Chinook fishing kicks off with the spring run, and there’s fishing in the Snake River, Clearwater River and Salmon River and several tributaries. Over the last 20 years, spring chinook runs have averaged 54,160 fish annually. The previous 20 years (1976-95), the spring runs averaged 17,646, and fishing seasons were sporadic and often short-lived.

Last year, about 95,300 hatchery chinook crossed Lower Granite Dam about 25 miles downstream from Lewiston. Non-tribal anglers in Idaho harvested 22,075 of them during the spring and summer seasons.

The forecast for this year is 66,100 hatchery fish to cross Lower Granite, which means about 24,000 will be available for sport anglers to harvest. But biologists won’t know how exactly how many can be harvested until fish start reaching Idaho, and the run has just started.

Forecasting the season

Each winter, Fish and Game biologists predict the upcoming run based on the return of jacks from the previous year. Young salmon, known as smolts, migrate to the ocean each spring at about two years old. Those smolts grow in the ocean and return over the next three years.

Some chinook return to rivers after spending only a year in the ocean. They’re known as “jacks” because they’re almost all males, and younger than most other salmon returning. Most chinook that return to Idaho spend two years in the ocean, so the number of jacks is an indicator of how many “two-ocean” chinook will return the following year.

Finally, a small percentage returns after three years in the ocean, and on rare occasions, four years.

Biologists use last year’s jack salmon return to forecast the size of this year’s run, and that information allows Fish and Game to set a salmon season before the first Chinook arrives in Idaho.

Biologists also monitor the run as fish move past fish counters at the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, and they use fish embedded with tiny electronic tags known as PIT tags to determine where the fish are headed.

“We’re able to make the forecast of fish returning to each hatchery or river section based on PIT-tagged fish,” Fish and Game’s anadromous fish manager Pete Hassemer said.

Spring run

Chinook start crossing Lower Granite Dam in April, but the peak usually hits in May. That’s when Fish and Game closely watches the number of fish arriving in Idaho, where they’re heading, and how many fish anglers are catching.

Since the seasons and limits were based on a forecast, it’s important to track the actual return and harvest by anglers. Small daily bag limits help keep the harvest within quotas and spread the fishery over a larger area and ensure enough fish are available for anglers farther upstream.

“We’re catching fish in the early part of the run without knowing exactly how many fish are coming back,” Hassemer said. “Fishing can be really good, and there’s a limited number of fish available to anglers, so they can catch those fairly quickly.”

How’s fishing?

It’s more than a curious question – it’s how Fish and Game determines how many fish are caught each day and how long the season lasts. Fish and Game personnel count anglers and interview them throughout the fishery to see how many fish they’re catching.

“Our creel program has been designed to ensure we conduct enough angler counts and interview enough anglers to have a good understanding of how many fish are caught each day,” Hassemer said.

Fish and Game communicates weekly with the other states, tribes and federal agencies during the season to share information. By Tuesday of each week, biologists have a good idea if there are enough fish remaining to sustain fishing through the following weekend.

Fish and Game posts updated information on its web page so anglers can see how many have been caught. They can find that information at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/ by looking the under “Chinook Salmon” under the Fishing tab. (Direct link: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/fish/?getPage=114).

The goal is to provide good information for anglers so they have a better understanding where fish are being caught, how good the fishing is, and when closures might occur.

“We generally avoid closing on Friday because we want to give anglers as much opportunity as we can,” he said.

Different rivers, different fisheries

But anglers should remember that their portion of the Chinook return can be caught very quickly, especially when fishing is good and the harvest share is modest.

That’s often the case during popular river stretches. On the Lower Clearwater River, the season typically lasts about 15 days after the first fish arrive. On the South Fork of the Salmon River, the harvest share can be caught within a few days of the peak run arriving.

“Once fish start arriving in the smaller streams and the water is low and clear, anglers are quite successful,” Hassemer said.

Fishing seasons on the Lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers tend to last longer and are a little more predictable.

Snowpack and spring run-off influence the timing of the runs. Spring chinook tend to follow peak spring run-off, so when the Salmon River starts receding, usually in late May, early June, it’s time to go salmon fishing.

Biologists also carefully watch tag data to ensure fish bound for hatcheries in the Upper Salmon aren’t overharvested lower in the river system. Long-term data shows about 90 percent of the chinook harvested in the Salmon River around Riggins and White Bird are bound for the Rapid River Hatchery.

A moving target

Considering forecasts rarely predict the exact number of fish, biologists keep a watchful eye on the actual return. Sometimes late-returning fish will allow them to keep the season open a little longer. Other times, fewer fish than expected return, and the season is cut short.

But Fish and Game’s goal is to ensure anglers get an equitable share of the available harvest.

“We really try to make sure we don’t close too early and have anglers off the water when they could be fishing for these prized salmon,” Hassemer said.

High-Water Trout on the White River

River Rigging for High-Water Trout on the White River

White River Trout

White River Trout

Winter is an outstanding time to catch big trout from the White River, and high water normally lends itself to casting lures like the Rebel Tracdown Minnows that we would be using.

by Jeff Samsel

The flooded signs at the Wildcat Shoals access made it immediately clear that this trip to Arkansas’ White River would be unlike any other I had experienced. With all eight turbines at Bull Shoals Dam running around the clock and 10 floodgates open, the river was rocking, to say the least.

Winter is an outstanding time to catch big trout from the White River, and high water normally lends itself to casting lures like the Rebel Tracdown Minnows that we would be using. When you’re talking about floodwaters, though, the fish tend to hold tight to the bottom in any eddy they can find, and they won’t move very far to feed. Even with sinking lures, traditional casting strategies simply don’t get the lures down enough in the strong current.

Guides on this highly dynamic tailwater must continually adjust for conditions, and long-time guide Donald Cranor figured out exactly how to cope with the excessive water. For three days our group drifted over gravel bars and along the edges of grasslines and pulled Tracdown Minnows on “river rigs,” which kept the lures swimming just off the bottom and among the fish.

“That’s where the trout are when the water is like this, so that’s where you want your lure,” Cranor said.

A river rig is essentially a three-way rig, pegged with a 3/8-ounce bell sinker. White River guides routinely use this rig to drift with bait, but Cranor proved that it also works exceptionally well for delivering a minnow-style lure just off the bottom. Guides use an Albright knot to attach a leader to the main line so one end drops about a foot to the weight, and the other end, which is about 3 feet long, leads to the bait or lure. A small three-way swivel and two sections of leader could also be used.

We had excellent success with 2 ½- and 3 ½-inch Tracdown Minnows, including slender-profiled Tracdown Ghost Minnows, mostly in trout color patterns and in blue back/orange belly.

The TD47 Tracdown Ghost Minnow comes with barbless hooks, so it was the main tool we used for fishing a highly productive special regulations area, where only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. A good strategy, if an angler wants to spend some time in the special regs area and some time in general waters, is to have two rods set up with river rigs and a barbless Tracdown Ghost Minnow on one and a regular Tracdown Minnow on the other.

Cranor suggests a simple presentation for dragging a minnow lure on a river rig. “You can work it a little with tugs, just to make the lure flash, but often the best thing to do is just hold the rod still let the lure do the work,” he said.

As the White River gradually settles, casting the same Tracdown Minnows to the shore and working them with jerks and pauses will be extremely effective for brown and rainbow trout.

The Bull Shoals tailwater offers approximately 100 miles of trout water and year ’round action, with two distinctive trout fisheries. Rainbows are managed as a put-and-take fishery, with year-round stockings of nearly 1.5 million fish annually.

Brown trout enjoy excellent reproduction, and the population is managed as a trophy fishery. The daily limit is one fish, with a minimum size of 24 inches, and anglers mostly release trophy browns that would be legal to keep. Spawning areas are also protected with special regulations, including a total seasonal closure of the most important spawning area, immediately below Bull Shoals Dam.

Fishing with minnow-style lures produces excellent numbers of brown trout measuring from the mid-teens to low 20s, and any fish that grabs a lure in the White River could turn out to be a brown trout that weighs 10 or 20 pounds (or much larger).

Planning Information:

Guided Fishing, Cranor’s Guide Service – www.whiterivertroutfishing.net
Riverside Lodging, Cedarwood Lodge – www.cedarwoodslodge.com
Rebel Lures, www.rebellures.com

Idaho Steelhead and Salmon are Heavyweights

Big Idaho Steelhead

Big Idaho Steelhead

Steelhead and Salmon are Idaho’s Heavyweights

Editor’s Note: Today’s feature comes to us courtesy of Idaho Fish and Game. We’d all like to skip “Super Tuesday” and go fishing for super salmon.
from The Fishing Wire

Want to catch big fish? Of course you do, and if you want to consistently catch them, steelhead and salmon are your best bets. Let’s look at the tape, scale and ticker.

The average Idaho rainbow trout is around 10-14 inches and weighs about a pound. A trophy- size rainbow is about 20 inches and weighs in the 4-pound range. A 30-inch rainbow is probably a once-per-lifetime fish that weighs in the 10 to 15-pound range, although several northern Idaho lakes consistently grow trout that large and larger.

Now let’s look at steelhead. Steelhead are rainbow trout that leave Idaho in the spring as juveniles known as “smolts” and migrate to the ocean, then spend about a year or two there before returning as adults much larger than trout.

The average-sized “A” run steelhead is between 23 and 26 inches and weighs 4 to 6 pounds. “A” run steelhead are most common in the Snake and Salmon rivers. Their larger cousins, the “B” run steelhead, are found mostly in the Clearwater River system, although some are also in the Salmon and Snake rivers. The fish have a different life history. “B” run fish spend two or three years in the ocean and return much larger, typically 31 to 34 inches and 10 to 13 pounds, but some are upwards of 20 pounds.

Big fish, big numbers

Over the last five years, an average of about 141,000 steelhead have returned to Idaho annually.

Adult steelhead start returning to Idaho in late summer and “winter over” in rivers before making their push to the upper tributaries to spawn in late winter and early spring. That gives anglers roughly seven months to fish for them, and the most popular times are during October and March.

Chinook salmon are even larger than steelhead. They’re typically in the 12 to 15-pound range, but chinook over 20 pounds are common. Over the last five years, chinook returns to Idaho have averaged about 134,000 fish. The first chinook typically return to Idaho late March and early April and are segregated into three categories: spring, summer and fall runs.

So let’s do some quick math. In recent years, Idaho got about 275,000 steelhead and chinook annually, although run sizes vary from year to year. Steelhead and chinook dwarf your average trout and likely will exceed the largest trout you catch in a given year, and possibly in your lifetime.

Got your attention?

Unlike a once-per-lifetime trout, steelhead and chinook are plentiful, reliable, predictable and not difficult to catch. You need to have the right gear, know a few basic fishing techniques and know when to go.

You also need to know the basic rules. A full set of rules and seasons can be found in the current Idaho Fish and Game fishing rules booklet, or online at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/. But a critical thing to know is that only hatchery steelhead and chinook can be harvested. You can identify a hatchery fish by the clipped adipose fin on the fish’s back directly in front of its tail. If the full adipose fin is intact, you have to release the fish unharmed. You will also need a permit to fish steelhead and salmon in addition to your fishing license.

Timing is (almost) everything

March is prime time for spring steelhead fishing and one of the best times for novice steelhead anglers to give it a try. The fish migrate into the smaller tributary streams, which means there’s easy river access along highways and lots of fish in the rivers. Some favorite steelhead spots are the South Fork of the Clearwater River upstream from Kooskia, the Little Salmon River along U.S. 95 between New Meadows and Riggins, and the upper Salmon River along Idaho 75 and U.S. 93 between Salmon and Stanley.

While you can be assured there will be ample steelhead in these rivers during March and April, river conditions can vary wildly depending on rain or snow melt. Rivers can go from low and clear to high and muddy within a day or two.

As a rule of thumb, most anglers prefer to fish for steelhead during spring when river temperatures are in the mid-30s to low-40s. Stable weather and consistent river flows tend to produce the best fishing. But even if conditions are imperfect, the fish are still there, and you can catch them. It’s just going to be more challenging.

Chinook start returning from the ocean in the spring and typically reach Idaho during, or shortly after, peak spring runoff. Fishing usually starts lower in the Snake and Clearwater rivers around Lewiston in late April and May. Anglers follow the spring and summer chinook upstream through their migration all the way to the headwaters of the Salmon River near Stanley.

Fall chinook have a different life history. They start arriving in late summer, and unlike spring and summer chinook that spawn in headwaters, fall fish spawn in the lower river systems, mostly in the Snake River.

Gearing up to go

If you’re not used to tackling large fish, you will probably need to invest in some new gear. There’s a variety of steelhead and salmon rods available, and you need a reel with a good drag. Both steelhead and chinook fight hard, and they are often hooked in strong river currents, so you will want line suitable for the battle. Use 10 to 15 lb test for steelhead, and 15 to 20 lb test for chinook. You may want to go heavier if you’re fishing strong current.

Check with your local tackle shop or sporting goods store to find suitable tackle, and employees there can usually show you how to rig for steelhead and salmon. You can also watch several “How To” videos on popular methods used for both steelhead and salmon, at Fish and Game’s website on the pages for steelhead and chinook under the “Fishing” tab.

Etiquette

Steelhead and salmon fishing are popular in Idaho, and when the fish reach those smaller tributary streams, the banks can get crowded with anglers. Good etiquette means respecting other anglers’ space, and also not being a “hole hog” who takes over a popular fishing spot and excludes others. Be assured there will be competition for prime spots, but in most cases, anglers have a good track record of working with each other so everyone gets a fair chance at hooking a fish. An educational video – Angler Etiquette: Fishing with the Crowd – is available on Idaho Fish and Game’s website athttp://fishandgame.idaho.gov/fishing/etiquette. The video covers commonly held practices in the fishing community on fishing around others and how to avoid potential conflicts.

The insider intel

There are several online tools anglers can use to time their fishing trips during the prime times when fish are there and conditions are best:

Columbia Research Station’s “Dart”: http://www.cbr.washington.edu/dart

This website compiles data about steelhead and salmon and also tracks fish as they pass through the Columbia and Snake River dams. You can get daily counts at each dam, and also historic timing when the runs typically go though each dam.

USGS Streamflows: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/id/nwis/current/?type=flow

This website gives you real-time stream flows for most rivers in Idaho and water temperatures at some gauging stations. You can also find annual hydrograph charts that show when rivers typically get peak spring run off.

Pit tag data: http://www.ptagis.org/

This website provides information about fish that are embedded with “pit tags,” which are small transmitters. There are pit-tag detectors in some Idaho streams, and anglers can use them to track the steelhead and salmon as they move upstream.

— Roger Phillips

Phillips is a Public Information Specialist for Idaho Fish and Game

Missouri’s March 1 Trout Opener

Remedy for Fishing Fever is Missouri’s March 1 Trout Opener

Today’s feature comes to us from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
from The Fishing Wire

Thousands of anglers flock to trout parks around the state for opening day of catch-and-keep trout fishing.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As the wintery season winds down, anglers throughout the Show-Me State are beginning to show some signs of trout fever. Symptoms include: tying flies, putting new fishing line on reels, checking waders for holes, and practicing casting. Most anglers who get trout fever get rid of it by doing one thing—visiting one of Missouri’s four trout parks to participate in the catch-and-keep trout season.

Tuesday, March 1, marks the opening of catch-and-keep trout fishing at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Montauk State Park near Licking, Roaring River State Park near Cassville, and Maramec Spring Park near St. James.

“This year’s trout opener should be good and comparable to previous years,” said MDC Fisheries Unit Chief Bruce Drecktrah.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) operates trout hatcheries at all four parks. To help predict angler turnout on opening day, hatchery staff rely on permit records going back more than 70 years. Montauk, Bennett Spring, and Roaring River hatchery staff expect crowds of about 2,000 anglers at each location and Maramec Spring staff are planning for a crowd of about 1,500. Based on these predictions, hatchery staff will stock three trout per expected angler on opening day for a total of more than 22,500 fish averaging around a foot in length. The hatcheries will also stock a mix of “lunkers” ranging in three to 10 pounds.

Trout Season Outlook

Due to the heavy rain and record-breaking flood that took place this past December, MDC crews have been inspecting flood damage and evaluating the impact these floods may have on hatcheries, fish production and fish numbers.

“We have plenty of fish for this year’s trout season,” said MDC Fisheries Division Chief Brian Canaday. “But due to the heavy rains and flooding our trout stocking will be slightly reduced throughout the season. We will stock approximately two fish per trout tag sold at each trout park instead of our usual 2.25.”

Canaday added that MDC staff will continue to evaluate hatchery fish inventories, stocking plans, and make adjustments throughout the season as appropriate.

Permits

It’s important to know anglers need a daily trout tag to fish in Missouri’s trout parks. Daily trout tags can only be purchased at each of the four trout parks. Missouri residents 16 through 64 need a fishing permit in addition to the daily tag. Nonresidents 16 and older also need a fishing permit.

Economic Outlook

Trout hatcheries are just one way that conservation pays in Missouri. MDC stocks more than 800,000 trout annually at the state’s four trout parks and approximately 1.5 million annually statewide. Trout anglers’ spend more than $100 million each year in the Show-Me-State, which generates more than $180 million in business activity, supports more than 2,300 jobs and creates more than $70 million dollars in wages. About 30 percent of Missouri trout anglers come from other states, so a substantial portion of trout fishing expenditures is “new money” for the state’s economy.

March 1 marks the opening day of catch-and-keep season at Missouri trout parks, including Montauk State Park pictured. MDC expects thousands of anglers for opening day and will stock more than 22,000 trout for it.
For more information on trout fishing in Missouri, visit https://huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/fishing/where-fish/trout-areas.

REMINDER TO TROUT ANGLERS: To prevent the spread of the invasive alga called didymo or “rock snot,” the use of shoes, boots or waders with porous soles of felt, matted or woven fibrous material is prohibited at all trout parks, trout streams, Lake Taneycomo, and buffer areas. Go online for more information to http://on.mo.gov/1V6qc6W.