Monthly Archives: August 2021

Steelhead Survival of Catch and Release Angling Tips

Steelhead Survival of Catch and Release Angling
Written by Will Lubenau, University of Idaho
from The Fishing Wire

Safely release steelhead

The second field season for the steelhead tagging study being conducted in Idaho has officially started. Tagging at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River began on July 2, 2020. As of July 19th, 205 steelhead have already been tagged and released as part of this research to evaluate how many wild and hatchery steelhead are caught by anglers, and how often each year.

For the second field season, the goal is to tag a total of 2,000 steelhead; 1,000 adipose-intact fish and 1,000 adipose-clipped fish so obviously we are just getting started with our second season. Anglers will be asked to examine all fish caught for a tag that is located near the dorsal fin. To report a tagged fish, please go to Those who return a tag to Idaho DFG get a reward.

Researchers at the University of Idaho have been taking our first look at the data from the first season of the steelhead study and are learning some interesting things. For additional information on preliminary study results, you can read an article recently published in the Lewiston Tribune.

There are two primary objectives to this study., 1) estimate how many wild steelhead are caught in Idaho’s steelhead fisheries and 2) take a closer look at how well steelhead survive being caught and released. These are important to understand for Idaho’s steelhead fisheries since we manage for both hatchery fish harvest opportunity and wild fish recovery as part of the fishery structure.

Currently, IDFG uses hatchery fish to estimate how many wild fish are caught in the state. IDFG assumes hatchery and wild fish are encountered by anglers at an equal rate. For example, if based on IDFG surveys it is estimated that 40% of hatchery fish were encountered by anglers, then it is assumed that 40% of our wild fish were also encountered by anglers. This study was set up to test if that assumption was accurate.

We tagged 878 wild steelhead at Lower Granite Dam last year. Of the 878 fish, 200 were caught and reported by anglers. However, we recognize that some tags are caught and not reported so it is important to account for non-reporting in our estimates. Since some of the tags had rewards associated with them, we can use that to estimate how many tags were caught and not reported. By combining the tag reports with an estimate of how many tags were caught and not reported, we get an idea of how many wild fish were encountered.

The main findings so far.

In the first year of the study, the encounter rate for Idaho’s wild fish was about 35% while the hatchery fish encounter rate was about 40% to 45%. With wild steelhead conservation being a primary concern for IDFG, this is good news because it means the wild steelhead encounter rate estimated in the past may have been conservative.

To estimate survival of caught-and-released wild fish, we used detections from PIT tag arrays (click here to learn more), fish weirs (click here to learn more), and hatcheries to document survival of our study fish. About 65% of the wild fish reported as caught were detected after capture and known to have survived while about 62% of fish not reported as caught were detected and known to have survived. Preliminarily, the nearly equal rates of detection for fish reported as caught and fish not reported as caught suggest that catch-and-release angling has little influence on steelhead survival.

For more information on Wild salmon and steelhead click here.

Poison Ivy and Other Summer Itches

h, the itches of summer. A huge poison ivy vine on my woodshed got me thinking about all the things that made me itch and sting during summer while growing up. There were many.

Poison oak and ivy were the most common plants. I always thought one had “leaves of three, let me be” and one had five leaves. And that one ran up trees and structures like a vine and the other grew up out of the ground like small plants.

I have learned that both can have three or five leaves and that vines run under leaves and can sprout up a stem with three or five leaves. And that poison ivy is much more common.

There is also a Virginia Creeper vine that looks like poison ivy and it will cause a rash, but not as bad as poison oak or ivy.

No matter the details, I finally learned to avoid them as a teenager, most of the time. From college on I seldom got the red itchy rash from it. For a while I thought I might have developed a resistance to it.

A fishing trip to the Ocmulgee River with Bobby Jean Pierce in the late 1970s made me think I was over it. We got down to the river bottom with our boat then took cans and started scratching up leaves, looking for swamp wigglers for bait.

We were crawling around on hands and knees, moving leaves with our hands. When my can was full enough with worms, I stood up and stretched. When I looked around, I realized I had been crawling around scratching in a huge poison oak bed.

I never developed a single itchy bump.

Then when I was in my 30s in the 1980s I cut down a tree for firewood. It was winter and I really did not pay attention to the vines running up the trunk. I cut it up as usual, loaded it in the truck, brought it home, split and stacked it.

I had sawdust all over me so I put my clothes in the washing machine and took a shower. The next morning I had some itchy rash. But worse, Linda had a red rash handprint on her stomach where I had rested my hand during the night.

I read that you can not transfer poison from one person to another, but that hand print proved different. You could see my palm and all fingers and thumb! It was so bad she had to go to the doctor for cortisone shots. My rash was not as bad.

Calamine lotion was a staple growing up and it was not unusual to see me or some of my friends with the pink crusty smears where we were being treated. And no matter how much we were told not to scratch it, we did.

Even more common were itchy bug bites. Mosquito bites happened every day and the red bump would itch for a day but then be gone. Chiggers and redbugs, the same thing I think, were longer lasting. I hated to get the red bump from them. It seemed to itch for days, no matter how much Calamine lotion was slathered on it.

One camping trip when I was 12 years old introduced me to another stinging critter. I went into our big six-man tent to get something, put my hand down on the floor and screamed. I thought daddy had left a lit cigarette in there and I had put my hand on it.

When we looked we found a small brown scorpion, the first I had ever seen. I thought I was gonna die. All I knew about those awful looking things was from movies where they killed cowboys.

Turned out it was about like a wasp sting. It hurt for an hour or so then got better. Since then I have seen hundreds of scorpions. I have to be careful around my wood pile and almost every time I open my garage door there will be one or two under it when it goes up.

I am not sure why I never saw a scorpion anywhere around home but there was one at Clarks Hill just 20 miles away. And they are common around Griffin, but thankfully they are small brown ones that are not very poisonous, unlike the ones in the movies.

I did get a bad scare on a trip to Cancun and Cozumel, Mexico years ago. We got off the ship and went to the beach. The water was beautiful so we decided to rent snorkel gear. The mesh bag with flippers, snorkel and mask were hanging around the roof of the thatched hut on the beach.

As we walked down the beach I felt something on my wrist. It was the one I was holding the bag, and a big black scorpion had crawled out of the bag and started up my arm. I managed to sling it off, kill it and put it in a small medicine box I had with me.

That critter was almost seven inches long, about three times as big as the little ones around here. I kept it at home for several years until it finally fell apart.

I am very glad that one didn’t sting me!

Wasps and bees are a whole nother story, as they say. My encounters with them have been numerous enough for another day.

I have sprayed that big vine on my woodshed with two different weed killers and I think it is laughing at me. So far not a single leaf has wilted. I bought some weed and brush killer at Tractor supply that is supposed to do the job. We will see.

Is There A Strategy and Science Behind Fish Stocking

The Strategy and Science Behind Fish Stocking
Why fisheries experts stock certain species and sizes of fish in public water.

Stocking Trout

By Chris Penne, Utah DWR
from The Fishing Wire

“Why did you stock that species of fish in that water?” is one of the most common questions I get as a fisheries professional. That question is usually followed by “And, why did you stock the fish at that size?”

While the answer to each of these questions can be tied to specific situations, there are some general reasons why biologists choose to stock certain species and sizes of fish.

Providing fish and fun

Rainbow trout are a favorite catch for many anglers. We stock them in Utah’s community ponds in the spring and fall.

The most common reason to stock a fish in a river, lake or reservoir is to provide anglers with a recreational fishing opportunity.

Stocking rainbow trout in waters across Utah is a good example of recreational fish stocking. Rainbow trout are stocked solely to provide a great fishing experience for anglers.

Rainbow trout are very adaptable. They can be stocked everywhere from high-mountain lakes and streams to valley reservoirs — and even into the fisheries in our towns and cities. Other fish stocked for recreational reasons include brook trout, Arctic grayling, walleye and channel catfish.

Munching other fish

Our biologists are always happy to find chunky wipers during survey work — it means they’ve been eating the prey fish we’re trying to control.
In addition to providing a recreational opportunity, some fish are stocked for more scientific reasons — to serve as management tools. This means the stocked fish have a job to do. Often, that job is to consume (and thereby manage) overabundant forage fish, such as Utah chub or golden shiner.

Bear Lake cutthroat trout are a great example of a predator fish. We’ve stocked them in Strawberry, Scofield and Lost Creek reservoirs to feast on populations of Utah chub, a fish species that would get out of control without a predator to keep them in check.

Wipers — a hybrid cross between a striped bass and a white bass — are another predator we often use to control prey fish. Wipers prevent the overpopulation of prey species in Minersville, Newcastle and Scofield reservoirs.

In each case, these fish have a job to do first, but there’s a major upside to having them in these waters: they reach large sizes, providing anglers with a chance to catch a trophy fish.

Helping fish in need

There are other species of fish in Utah, particularly fish that are native to the state (i.e., in Utah when European settlers arrived), which need stocking to boost or maintain their populations until conditions improve.

In most cases, populations of these fish have decreased as a result of changes humans have made to the fish’s environment. Stocking them helps maintain or enhance populations while biologists work with partners to find and address the factors leading to the population decline.

This can be a slow process, but there are recent indications it’s working. For example, in recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that two fish — June sucker in Utah Lake and razorback sucker in the Colorado River — be downlisted from endangered to threatened on the federal Endangered Species list.

This move to downlist is only possible because populations of both species are improving. More work still needs to be done, but raising and stocking these fish is one of the key factors in the progress they’re making toward recovery.

Stocking fish at the right size

The fish that fisheries managers stock typically fall into one of three categories: fry, fingerlings or catchables.

Supplemental stocking has helped Utah’s razorback sucker population.
Fry are newly hatched fish that are just a few days old. Fingerlings are months older than fry, and — just like the name implies — are about the size of your finger, typically 3 to 6 inches long.

Catchables are even bigger. They get their name because they’ve already reached a size anglers want to catch.

Choosing which size to stock often comes down to giving anglers the most bang for their buck.

It takes personnel time and money to raise fish. In fact, because fish put on more weight for every inch they grow, every additional inch a fish grows makes it more expensive to raise.

Stocking fish at the smallest size necessary to achieve management goals saves a lot of money. With that in mind, fisheries managers frequently conduct comparisons of different sizes of fish to see which size provides anglers with the greatest return.

These tiger muskie fingerlings were stocked in Scofield Reservoir in 2017. Today, any surviving adult fish could be more than 3 feet long!
Being cost conscious allows us to stretch our funding farther and maximize the number and variety of fish we can stock for anglers.

Using research to improve efficiency

Most of the rainbow trout stocked in Utah enter the water as either large fingerlings or catchables. If we stocked rainbows at a smaller size, we could put even more into Utah’s waters, but the vast majority of these smaller rainbows wouldn’t survive.

We’ve learned through studies that for every dollar spent to raise them in a hatchery, anglers catch larger rainbow trout, at a higher rate, than they would if we stocked the fish at a smaller size. Therefore, it’s more cost effective to raise rainbow trout to a larger size before stocking them.

In contrast, other species — such as kokanee salmon, splake, tiger trout, wiper and tiger muskie — perform well when stocked as small fingerlings. Stocking them at a smaller size saves money that would otherwise be spent feeding and maintaining hatchery space for the fish as they continued growing.

Some fish, such as walleye, are stocked as fry. We stock these fish by the thousands — and even the millions. Despite being about the length of your fingernail and the width of a pinhead, walleye stocked as fry are a major contributor to some of Utah’s fisheries. Willard Bay Reservoir is a good example.

A study conducted at Willard Bay found stocking only 500,000 walleye fry each year created measurable increases in the already existing walleye population in the reservoir. In fact, during two years of the three-year study, walleye stocked in the reservoir as fry made up a larger portion of each new year class of fish than those produced by natural reproduction.

Stocking walleye fry may not be successful in every water, but you can bet fisheries managers will try stocking fry first before considering stocking larger walleye, simply because anglers are receiving more for their money by stocking smaller fish.

Understanding the strategy

So, there you have it. The next time you’re looking at fish stocking reports or reading a news story about a fish that’s been stocked somewhere in Utah — or reeling in a stocked fish — you’ll have a better idea why that fish was stocked in a particular location, at a particular size.

Chris Penne

Chris Penne is the regional aquatic manager in the DWR’s Ogden office. As a self-described fish-head, he loves managing fish on the job and then catching them in his spare time.

I Love All Kinds of Fishing

I love bass fishing and all other kinds, too

There is nothing quite like the joy of sitting by the water watching a bobber float, waiting on a passing fish to bite your bait. You can kick back in peace and quiet, relax and enjoy watching the world go by.

There is nothing quite like the joy of running down the lake 70 mph at daylight, slowing as you go in a cove, hopping up on the front deck of your bass boat and making your first of thousands of casts. You concentrate on every little detail going on the water, how your bait is working and the images on your electronics.

I love both. I spent many happy hours while growing up sitting by mama or grandmama waiting on a bream or catfish to bite in ponds near home. There is something special about seeing the cork move to the side or go under when a fish takes your bait. And I learned a lot listening to them give me life advice.

Until 1974 when Jim Berry invited me to join the Spalding County Sportsman Club and we fished a tournament, my first ever, at Clarks Hill in April, I never realized how exciting fishing can be. I fell in love with the challenge of tournament fishing and the highs and lows of those events.

I will never forget sitting by a small fire on the bank of a cove at Clarks Hill with mama. We had put a trotline across the cove then built a small fire at dusk and set out our rods, hoping for a catfish. We talked lot that night, staying out there till well after midnight.

At 18 years old, that was the first time I really remember mama talking to me like an adult. It is a melancholy memory, I left for my freshman year of college a few weeks after that and my life at home was never the same.

I will also never forget the thrill of figuring out a pattern at West Point Lake in 1983, catching 18 keepers in two days that weighed 28 pounds, and placing fourth in the state Top Six tournament with 570 competitors.

That was a high. Lows like last July at West Point, where I fished for eight hours in a club tournament and got one bite and missed it, are all too common. Zero days happen as do winning days.

Every bite in a tournament is a challenge to get and then to land what hits. It is different from sitting on the bank. Not better, just different.

I have many great memories of fishing ponds and Clarks Hill with daddy and mama, as well as with friends and other family memories. I have more great memories of tournament fishing. My growing up memories cover about 18 years, my tournament memories cover 47!

To each his own in choosing the way to fish. Me, I will choose both!


from The Fishing Wire

Fish around these

LITTLE ROCK — Each year, AGFC biologists sink hundreds of fish attractors made from natural brush or environmentally friendly inert materials in water bodies ranging from community ponds to large U.S. Corps of Engineers reservoirs spanning tens of thousands of surface acres. Adding this sort of cover can help baitfish and young-of-the-year sport fish hide from predators. It also provides sport fish such as bass and crappie ambush points to conserve energy and increase their growth rate.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a fish attractor is its ability to concentrate sportfish in a known location for anglers looking for an enjoyable day on the water. During spring, when many species move shallow to feed and spawn, practically any flooded bush or grassline has the potential to hold fish. Changes in depth along points and creek channels can increase the odds of finding a willing target, but fish can be found fairly easily with enough casting to potential targets. During summer, when many fish move to deeper water to avoid the summer heat, fish attractors shine. As the water gets deeper, less cover is available, increasing the chances a fish will take up residence in whatever they can find. Sunken trees, brush, PVC structures and other manmade cover can be the difference between fun and frustration. But finding this cover often requires using electronic sonar to probe the depths and reveal what lies beneath. Even with the investment of electronics, anglers can spend hours scanning their favorite lake for likely spots.

Interactive maps show where the hot spots are.

AGFC fish attractors can shorten your search time to minutes.

Fish attractor locations as well as fishing access points to most lakes and rivers in the state can be found through the AGFC’s interactive map at Click on the Interactive Map tab to start this free software and zoom in to the areas that pique your interest. Fish attractors are labeled with a symbol of a white fish inside a blue square. Zooming in closer may reveal multiple attractors within the location. Clicking or tapping on the fish icon will open a box that describes the attractor’s location and construction materials. The latitude and longitude may be copied and pasted to your GPS device or Google Maps on your phone to take you to the attractor you are interested in. If you have a good cellular data signal where you fish, you can also click the “locate me” pin button in the upper left portion of the screen to place a blue dot where you are on the map.

For people who have a GPS-enabled fishfinder, the entire list of all fish attractors for each lake the AGFC manages also is available for downloading and easy navigation. Visit from your home computer and you will be able to download data files compatible with most major fishfinder and GPS units. A list of videos on the AGFC’s YouTube page can walk you step-by-step through the download process to help you get on the fish faster than ever before.

One Fish Tournament at West Point Lake

Sunday, July 25 was certainly a challenge at West Point for the 12 members and guests in the July Spalding County Sportsman Club tournament. We landed 16 keepers weighing about 25 pounds in eight hours of very hot casting. There was one five-bass limit and five people didn’t catch a keeper.

Jay Gerson made it two in a row, winning with the only limit weighing 7.97 pounds. Kwong Yu caught two keepers weighing 6.19 pounds for second and his 4.78 pound largemouth was big fish. Third went to Wayne Teal, fishing with Jay, with three weighing 3.60 pounds and Raymond English had two at 2.07 pounds for fourth.

Chris Davies and I started at 6:00 AM in the dark on a deep rocky bank that transitioned to shallow wood. I thought some bass may have moved to that area to feed during the night. The full moon would encourage them to feed at night, and bream should be bedding around the wood, another attraction.

It was the same bank I started on last July and got and missed my only bite that day on a buzzbait at first light. I started casting the buzzbait in the dark. We could barely make out the bank we were casting to in the moonlight.

Suddenly, at the end of a cast right beside the boat, a bass grabbed my buzzbait. I instinctively set the hook, the fish arched out of the water but luckily stayed on the hook and landed in the bottom of the boat. It was a 13-inch spotted bass.

I continued to fish the buzzbait around cover while Chris tried a variety of baits behind me. Neither of us could get a bite. As the sun got higher, I went to a rocky point where I have caught bass this time of year in the past. My first cast with a shaky head something thumped it as soon as the bait hit the bottom.

I tried to set the hook but the fish ran toward me, never a good sign. But then my line tightened up and went under the boat, the fish was hooked. Unfortunately, when I reeled the pound and a half fish to where I could see it, it was a channel cat. Fun to catch, good to eat, but no help in a tournament.

At weigh-in Zane said he caught two catfish while fishing for bass. A trip to West Point for catfish might be a good idea right now. If they are hitting artificial baits no telling what you can catch on catfish bait!

In the next shallow pocket I caught a 13 inch largemouth on my buzzbait, but largemouth have to be 14 inches long. Then Chris caught a 13-inch largemouth. Although we fished hard until quitting time and were the last boat to come back to the ramp, we did not catch another fish!

My 13 inch spot weighed one pound and was good for 7th place!


from The Fishing Wire

Catch big largemouth like this one

At this time of year, many of the bass we are after are deep. They’re away from the shoreline relating to offshore features. And though today’s electronics can help us find them, catching them is a whole other matter.

Let’s assume we know where they are, their depth and the type of structure they’re holding on. What lures would you throw?

One that’s high on my list is a big spinnerbait — the kind specifically designed for fishing deep. I’m talking 3/4-ounce and heavier. The kind that get down quick and stay there throughout the retrieve. The kind that can also attract bass from a distance, or pull them out of heavy cover … even trick those that aren’t in the mood to feed.

Why a blade bait, you ask?

Spinnerbaits are relatively snag proof. They have the ability to pass through cover too gnarly for other moving lures — particularly crankbaits. And that makes them ideal for probing submerged brush, rockpiles and thick grass.

Spinnerbaits are also great baitfish imitators.

Whether it’s a cluster of small threadfin or large, single gizzard shad, the right blade size, color and profile can fool bass into believing the lure is real. We’re talking willow-leaf blades, of course — either tandem or paired with a leading Colorado blade.

Willow-leaf blades are fish-shaped and they give off a tremendous amount of flash. Built with the right combination of components and head weight, they can maintain lateral movement while maximizing travel time through the strike zone. And that is precisely why slow-rolling a spinnerbait is so effective. The key is keeping the lure in frequent contact with the bottom or the cover related to it.

For instance, if you’re fishing the edge of a deep, submerged grassbed, you’ll want to be sure the lure stays in contact with the grass as it tapers off into deeper water. When the lure grabs the grass, rip it free and let it fall on a semi-slack line. At least until you feel the grass again. Then repeat. Strikes will usually occur as the lure is falling or when it regains forward motion.

The same applies to stumps, brush and rock. When the bait gets hung up, try ripping it free with a snatch of the rod tip. This sudden movement and flash mimics escaping prey and it can trigger a bass to strike.

The right setup

To better facilitate these moves, it’s important to have the right balance of tackle.

Big spinnerbaits require heavier line with stout rods and reels.

My personal preference includes a Shimano 7’2” Expride casting rod in a medium-heavy action with moderate-fast tip. That length and action is ideal for casting big blade baits, as well as taking up slack on long distance hooksets. And I can feel every pulse of the lure as the blades turn. I pair it with their slower, 6.2:1 ratio Metanium MGL III reel, which allows me to retrieve the spinnerbait at the right rate of speed — assuring that it stays deep throughout the retrieve. The Metanium’s magnesium frame telegraphs even the most subtle vibrations, so I know what the lure is doing at all times. And it has the guts to handle big baits and big bass in thick cover.

The line I spool it with depends on certain variables. If the water I’m fishing is super clear or the fish are line sensitive, I’ll go with 15- to 20-pound fluoro. If I want to “feather” the lure through the tops of submerged grass or brush, I may choose mono in the same pound rating for its buoyancy. In extra thick cover or if I know I’m on big bass, I’ll opt for Power Pro Super Slick braid — usually in the 30-pound class.

The business end

Assuming you have the right balance of tackle, let’s discuss lure choice.

Most spinnerbaits used for this technique come with tandem blades, consisting of double willow or Colorado-willow combinations. That’s not to say that single spins won’t work, they will at times. But if you surveyed the top touring bass professionals, most would tell you they prefer a tandem model with a leading Colorado and trailing willow-leaf. The Colorado will provide much of the vibration, while the willow-leaf will better match the profile of live baitfish. Willows also provide maximum flash without forcing the lure to rise too much.

Spinnerbaits designed for slow rolling are usually bigger in all aspects — the blades, frame, head and hooks are all upsized. But it’s important that all of these components are balanced and working together … even the skirt and/or trailer can influence the lures overall performance.

Some anglers prefer super-sized trailing blades — No. 7 or 8 willow leafs. That’s fine if you’re after giant bass. But keep in mind, the larger the blade, the more resistance it will

create, and the more likely the lure will “climb” during the retrieve. So, unless you have the patience of Job, I would suggest No. 5 or 6 willow-shaped blades. They turn easier, which can create more flash and vibration.

I generally prefer a No.4 front blade (either Colorado or willow) paired to a No.6 trailing willow leaf.

My spin on things

Years ago, I designed a spinnerbait for Hildebrandt, specifically for slow rolling. We named it the Tin Roller. And, as you can probably guess, it’s molded with pure tin.

We chose this material for several reasons. At the time of its design, a national ban on lead was being considered. Concerned, I worked with Hildebrandt to find an alternative material — one with similar properties but nontoxic to birds, mammals or fish. And after numerous trials, we found tin to be the best alternative. It wasn’t as good as lead. It was better!

Here’s how.

Because tin is much harder than lead, it transmits sound and vibration better. That means, when the lure is traveling and the blades are turning, the head, hook and shirt will shake more with each pulse. And that extra movement can attract fish. Also, because tin is approximately two-thirds the weight of lead by volume, a large profile spinnerbait can be finessed through structure with less chance of snagging … appearing more realistic as it pulses.

When it comes to blade finishes, nickel-silver or gold are the two most common choices. Skirt patterns are normally white, chartreuse, or a blend of the two. If a soft-plastic trailer is added, its coloration usually matches one of these patterns. Obviously there are exceptions. But day in and day out, these are the most reliable combinations.

These are the tools I use when fishing a spinnerbait through deep structure. Hopefully what I’ve shared will help you next time you’re out on the water.

Follow Bernie Schultz on Facebook and through his website.