Fishing Guide: Prime fishing times and where catch them

BY ROGER PHILLIPS * RPHILLIPS@IDAHOSTATESMAN.COM Fishing season is here, and it's time to start planning ahead. Here are some of the prime fishing times and where you can catch your favorite fish.

March 4, 2010 

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Mountain rivers and streams are your best bets for trout in the summer.

STEELHEAD

Where: Little Salmon River, upper Salmon River, South Fork of the Clearwater.

When: March and early April.

What you should know: Steelhead are making their final push to the headwaters in March, which means a concentration of fish in the smaller tributaries. This makes them more accessible to bank anglers, and all of these rivers are easily accessible by road. It's a great chance to catch some big fish.

Don't expect to be alone. Spring brings out crowds, which depending on your perspective, means it's a "zoo" or "like a festival."

CRAPPIE

Where: C.J. Strike, Brownlee reservoirs.

When: April through early June.

What you should know: Last spring, C.J. Strike went absolutely nuts with crappie, and people were catching them by the bucket load for months. Hopefully, this won't be a case of "you should have been here last year."

Early signs are positive. The fish already are showing again at C.J. and are bigger. If catch rates match last year's, grab your rod and go. Crappie are a great fish to eat and can provide almost nonstop fishing action. It's a real treat for kids and new anglers.

Don't overlook Brownlee, which is a consistent crappie hot spot in May and early June. Brownlee's levels fluctuate with spring runoff, but when the cold water starts warming up, it provides excellent fishing for crappie, bass and catfish.

TROUT

Where: Mountain View and Magic reservoirs and Lake Billy Shaw.

When: Late April through early June.

What you should know: The two reservoirs on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation typically have excellent fishing in late April and May. Last year, it was Mountain View that provided the best rainbow trout fishing on the reservation, which was a bonus because it's the least expensive of the two ($10 vs. $25 for an adult daily license).

Billy Shaw has become a de facto fly fishing lake because bait is not allowed there. Fly anglers like to fish it from float tubes and pontoon boats. Only electric motors are allowed.

Gas motors are allowed on Mountain View, and it gets a lot attention from trollers, bank anglers and fly fishermen. The fish at Mountain View tend to be smaller on average, but there are still trophy fish there. Camping is allowed at the reservoirs, so it's a nice overnighter in the spring.

Magic may be a sleeper this year. It seems to have off years, but when it's on, there's excellent trout fishing for large fish. All you need is your Idaho fishing license.

CHINOOK SALMON

Where: Little Salmon, South Fork of the Salmon River, upper Salmon River.

When: June and early July.

What you should know: Salmon forecasters are calling for one of the biggest chinook runs in recent history.

There's bound to be good fishing on the Little Salmon River after the peak spring runoff subsides, which could be early this year. Fishing can be fast and furious on the Little Salmon and then be over, and it's hard to predict when it will happen.

If you want more predictable fishing, the South Fork of the Salmon usually has excellent fishing right around the Fourth of July weekend.

If you want to avoid crowds, go to the upper Salmon. It doesn't get as intense pressure as the other rivers, which have limited space and get very congested.

Note: The salmon fishing season has not been set, so not all places may be open for fishing, but it's a safe bet that they will be this year. We will keep you posted as the season gets closer.

TROUT

Where: Boise River and tributaries.

When: June, July and early August.

What you should know: Idaho's snowpack is shaping up to be below average, which means spring runoff likely will be less intense and shorter in duration. That means you will be able to get on undammed river sections sooner than after big snow years.

The South Fork below Anderson Ranch Dam is the area's most popular float-and-fish river during summer.

Above Anderson Ranch Reservoir is a long stretch of classic trout water where wading is easier and the fish tend to be less pressured and easier to catch.

The Middle Fork provides about 50 miles of prime trout water from Arrowrock Reservoir to Atlanta that's easily road-accessible, although on a very rough road.

The North Fork also has 20 miles of river easily accessible by roads and more miles of hike-in water.

BASS

Where: Brownlee Reservoir, Lake Cascade.

When: June and July.

What you should know: Brownlee is one of Idaho's most productive reservoirs, and you can catch a lot of bass there. The reservoir is about 50 miles long, which makes it an excellent place for boating, but there also are rocky points and coves with good bank access. The reservoir usually fills in summer, so it's a great time to get out and explore it. If the bass aren't in a biting mood, something else usually is.

Lake Cascade has become a sleeper spot for smallmouth bass in the past few years and has produced some very large fish. It's also a large reservoir, and a boat will help you find fish, but the area near the dam has become a hot spot for smallmouths and there's easy access for bank anglers.

TROUT

Where: Mountain lakes.

When: September and October.

What you should know: Many people schedule their trips to mountain lakes in the summer, but the best fishing of the season is usually in fall because fish have to pack on the pounds for the long winter ahead.

You also get the bonus of most people disappearing from the high country after Labor Day.

The Stanley and McCall areas have a multitude of lakes from which to choose. You also can find them around Ketchum and in the Seven Devils Mountains, which are accessible from the Riggins or Council areas.

Go to fishandgame.idaho.gov to get stocking information on mountain lakes. Many are stocked with fingerlings, so it takes a few seasons for those fish to reach catchable size.

BASS

Where: Snake River and Salmon River.

When: September and October.

What you should know: Anglers who do a "cast and blast" trip in Hells Canyon typically report a fish on every cast when it comes to smallmouth fishing.

That's the good news. The bad news is the logistics can be difficult unless you have a jetboat or a raft. But the entire Snake has good smallmouth populations, although some sections can get very weedy after a hot summer.

The lower Salmon River is an overlooked spot for smallmouth bass, and fishing is best during late summer and early fall. There's good road access between Riggins and White Bird and more miles of river available downstream for floaters.

STEELHEAD

Where: Snake River, Clearwater River, Salmon River.

When: September, October and November.

What you should know: For some steelhead anglers, the only time to fish is right when they arrive from the ocean. The fish are fresh and strong and will aggressively take flies and lures if you catch them in the right mood.

The fish start arriving as early as late August, but people really start going after them in September.

Part of the fun of fall fishing is the rare chance to catch steelhead when it's sunny and warm. The fish remain in the river until they spawn in the spring, but if you want steelhead fishing in T-shirt weather, this is the time.

Roger Phillips: 373-6615

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