We're about three weeks away from spring. In Southwest Idaho, that can mean anything from sunny and 60s to frigid snowstorms - and everything in between.
But let's be optimists and hope for some decent weather to start our spring fishing.
These 10 areas have traditionally provided good fishing. Of course, it's hard to tell from year to year, but with this many options, you should be able to find some place to wet a line and hook a fish.
Why it's worth the trip: It's one of the most convenient but sometimes overlooked fishing spots in the Treasure Valley. The lake has a variety of fish, including perch, bluegill, crappie and catfish, but largemouth and smallmouth bass are its biggest attraction.
Even though Lake Lowell isn't at the top of everyone's list, it's also no secret. It hosts several bass tournaments throughout the year and is popular with powerboaters. Shore anglers like to fish near dams, boat ramps and docks.
There's easy access for smaller boats, such as pontoon boats and float tubes, and there are lots of opportunities for uncrowded fishing.
Because it's relatively shallow, especially on the south shoreline, the water warms fairly quickly in the spring.
Even if we don't get some early warm days, the bass often get active a lot earlier than most people realize.
Getting there: If you head south from Nampa or Caldwell, you're likely to run into Lake Lowell. There are many access points along Lake Shore Drive on the lake's south side.
Notes: Motorized boats are allowed only from April 15 to Sept. 30. For a map of the lake's access points, visit fws.gov/deerflat.
Why it's worth the trip: There's surprising variety in this little corner of Idaho's banana belt, with waters teeming with trout.
It's in the heart of the Thousand Springs area, and most of the trout are products of a huge concentration of hatcheries in the area.
The springs feed streams and ponds that are the perfect temperature for trout.
March 1 is opening day for the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area, which has several well-stocked lakes and ponds. Riley Creek and Malad River also are nearby.
If the fishing isn't so great, Clear Lakes Country Club near Buhl is a short drive. There's lots to see and do there, including an indoor hot springs and restaurants.
Hagerman has some private campgrounds with RV hookups so you can get in some early-season camping.
Getting there: Take Interstate 84 east to U.S. 30 near Bliss and follow it Hagerman.
Notes: There are different regulations within the different areas, so check the rules booklet carefully and know where you're fishing.
UPPER SALMON RIVER
Why it's worth the trip: Steelhead fishing beneath the Sawtooth Mountains with a herd of elk grazing in the distance truly is a unique experience.
More than 100 miles of road-accessible steelhead fishing awaits the intrepid angler who hits the Upper Salmon River in spring.
Road conditions are a little challenging from erratic spring weather, because sideways snowstorms aren't uncommon. But it's all worth it. People catch a lot of steelhead up there as the fish make their final push to the tributaries and hatcheries before spawning.
It's a trick to catch the river when the conditions are right. Warmer temperatures get fish moving, but they also will eventually melt enough snow to blow out the river. Still, there's almost always some fishable water, especially near Stanley.
Getting there: Take Idaho 21 to Lowman, or Idaho 55 to Banks and head east on the Banks to Lowman Road, then continue on Idaho 21 to Stanley. From there, you can fish all the way to Salmon and beyond.
Notes: Steelhead season ends April 30, but the best fishing is typically March through early April. After that, their bodies rapidly degrade as they prepare to spawn.
LITTLE SALMON RIVER
Why it's worth the trip: This is arguably the best place to hook a chinook during spring if you don't own a boat, and Riggins comes alive during salmon season. But beware that this river can be challenging.
Early forecasts are calling for a smaller spring chinook run than we've seen in recent years. (See page 016 for more information on salmon forecasts.)
The chinook often arrive when the snow melts, and the little river starts raging. Timing is everything on the Little Salmon, and the peak of the run comes and goes quickly.
Assuming there's a 14th straight salmon season, I can assure you that someone will pull a large, hard-fighting, tasty fish out the river; it might as well be you.
The river is also a pretty good for spring steelhead fishing in March. (See page 017 for more details about steelhead fishing.)
But large salmon run or small, chinook fishing on the Little Salmon has become a spring tradition.
Getting there: Take Idaho 55 north to U.S. 95 or from the western Treasure Valley take U.S. 95 north to Riggins.
Notes: The Idaho Fish and Game Commission typically sets the salmon season in April, but chinook fishing is usually best in late May and early June, depending on when the peak snow runoff occurs.
Why it's worth the trip: The Shoshone Paiute Indian Reservation has long been a destination for southern Idaho anglers.
There are three reservoirs there: Billy Shaw, Mountain View and Sheep Creek. They all have trout, and Sheep Creek has smallmouth bass. There's also a section of the East Fork of the Owyhee River open for anglers. The tribe owns and operates the reservoirs and charges adults $15 per day to fish there; it's $3 per day for those 14 or younger. Licenses are sold on the reservation or at several locations in Boise and in Bruneau.
Mountain View is open year-round, and the other two reservoirs open on April 1, but because of its elevation (about 5,000 feet), fishing is usually best in May and June.
The reservoirs are stocked well with hard-fighting rainbow trout. There's usually a lot of fish in the 12-to-15-inch range, and there's also larger fish and a few real trophies there.
The reservation is beautiful in the spring with warm, sunny days and cool nights. Summer, however, sparks a bloom of weeds that makes fishing difficult.
You also can camp at the reservoirs for an additional charge. There are boat launches, and the town has a grocery store.
Getting there: From Mountain Home, take Idaho 51 south to the Nevada border.
Notes: For details on fishing and camping on the reservation, go to shopaitribes.org.
C.J. STRIKE RESERVOIR
Why it's worth the trip: Strike really needs no introduction. It's a short drive to a place with good fishing, camping and excellent access for shore anglers and boaters.
Few places can match Strike's variety of fish, which include bass, trout, perch, crappie, bluegill, catfish, sturgeon, carp and more.
Though they're all abundant, every year one species seems to explode, resulting in great fishing. Based on ice fishing, the perch population seems to be pretty healthy, but every year offers a few surprises.
Unlike many other reservoirs, Strike's water level stays fairly constant, so you don't have to worry about big seasonal fluctuations.
The reservoir is among the largest in Southwest Idaho and offers plenty of room for everyone. Most of the north shoreline is accessible by boat only, while the south is mostly road accessible and has several campgrounds and boat launches.
The reservoir has a long camping season, with options ranging from developed campgrounds to undeveloped, dispersed camping.
Getting there: For the lower end, take Interstate 84 to Simco Road and continue to Idaho 67. Take a right on Idaho 67 and immediately start looking for Strike Dam Road on the left. For the upper end, take I-84 to Mountain Home and Idaho 51 south to the reservoir.
LUCKY PEAK RESERVOIR
Why it's worth the trip: If you own a boat, you could be on this reservoir trolling for trout or kokanee after work instead of staring at the TV and wondering what's for dinner.
Lucky Peak is a bit of an enigma because it doesn't give up its fish easily. You can't just show up and expect to land a bunch. You might, but don't expect it.
Put in some time and you can catch kokanee salmon. You can also catch trout from shore. The reservoir also has some trophy-size smallmouth bass, but they can be as tough to find as an original thought in a candidate's speech.
What Lucky Peak lacks in easy fishing it makes up for in convenience. If you're cruising on a sunny evening with the motor humming and the water gently slapping the hull, how many fish you catch might be low on your priority list.
Spring also can provide good shore fishing for rainbow trout, and Arrowrock Reservoir upstream can be a good spot.
Getting there: Take Idaho 21 a few miles east of Boise.
Why it's worth the trip: This eastern Oregon river is a rarity in the Northwest - an easily accessible waterway dominated by large brown trout that feed mostly on insects. That makes the Owyhee a magnet for fly anglers.
The Owyhee is a year-round fishery that's been known to produce quality, dry fly fishing as early as February. Dry fly fishing in March is pretty common.
The lower stretch of the river, where most of the trout fishing takes place, is dam-controlled, so flows are predictable and the river typically stays fishable throughout spring, when the reservoir catches most of the melting snow.
The river is fairly easy to wade, and there's good road access. There's also great scenery in the area, which is red rock country reminiscent of the Southwest.
But the Owyhee's real draw is its abnormally large brown trout. They typically average 14 to 16 inches, and 20-inch fish or longer are common.
The fish get a lot of angling pressure, which is a curse and a blessing. They can be selective about what they eat, but they aren't shy about taking insects off the surface in the presence of angler.
During a hatch, it's common to have fish rising all around you, and at times the browns seem unflappable in their feeding frenzy.
Just as quickly, they can disappear and develop a case of lock jaw. But it's almost always worth a trip to the Owyhee to see what kind of mood the fish are in.
Getting there: From Parma, go south to Idaho 18 and west to Roswell Road to cross the Snake River into Oregon. From there, go north on Oregon 21 through Adrian and watch for the signs pointing to Lake Owyhee State Park. Follow those to the river.
Notes: Don't forget to buy your Oregon license before you fish there. Licenses are available in Adrian, Ore. You also can buy them at dfw.state.or.us.
Why it's worth the trip: Bruneau Dunes is another banana belt location where some people kick off their camping and fishing seasons at the small lakes and ponds. The lakes are well suited for float tubes and small boats.
You can catch largemouth bass and bluegill there, and when bluegill fishing is good, it can be nonstop action.
There are trophy rules on the bass fishing, and it's basically catch-and-release fishing for bass.
This is a great place to take the family. It's an easy day trip, and if you want to camp, Bruneau Dunes State Park is a full-service campground with electrical hookups, running water and toilets.
If the fishing isn't on, the dunes are a great place to let the kids romp and go nuts.
It's also a short drive to Crane Falls Reservoir and Cove Arm, which are two similar lakes that have good fishing for bluegill and crappie during spring.
Getting there: From Mountain Home, go south on Idaho 51 to Idaho 78 and follow the signs to the park. For Crane Falls and Cove Arm Lake, continue south on Idaho 51 to Crane Falls Road.
Notes: There's an entry fee to Bruneau Dunes State Park unless you have an annual state parks pass.
Why it's worth the trip: There's so much room to fish and so many fish in the section of the Snake that runs through Southwest Idaho.
Smallmouth bass fishing is fun and reliable on the river, and the catfish population is so healthy and durable that Fish and Game uses it as a source to stock catfish in ponds.
Spring is one of the best times of year to catch larger smallmouth bass because they move into the shallows to spawn.
The lower section of the river in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon also is broad, shallow and slow-moving, so it warms fast in the spring.
But it can be a little tricky depending on snow melt and dam releases, because river levels go up dramatically in the spring.
If you pay attention to flows and water temperatures, you can get into some really fun bass fishing during spring.
Getting there: Head south or west from the Treasure Valley and you can't miss it. [0x14]There's a cool website that shows all the access points and boat launches on the Snake River in Oregon and southwestern Idaho: snakeriverwatertrail.org.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors