Ask Zimo: Don’t get stuck (or even worse) wading in mud and silt

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comNovember 14, 2013 

Q: Last year, I hunted for ducks at the big pond by the road at the Ted Trueblood Wildlife Management Area with my son. I almost died.

Over the years, there has gotten to be silt on the bottom, so when the water level is 3 feet, of that, 18 inches or more is silty mud.

I headed out for a duck that my son shot, and halfway there, I realized the silt was too thick. It was almost to the point of pulling my waders off my feet.

I froze, realizing that if I fell forward, or worse, backward, that my arms would only sink through the silt and never actually touch anything for me to stand back up.

A cold sweat rushed up my spine. I slowly turned and tried to make my way back toward the shore.

I was concentrating so hard on each step — don’t fall down, don’t fall down. A genuine fear of falling in and drowning in front of my 12-year-old son scared me to death.

I did make it to the shore. Then I loaded up and left the pond. I have thought about that day for the past 364 days. If someone falls down, they will not be able to stand back up.

So what is the solution? Is there a plan to maintain the ponds by the Fish and Game? Maybe drain them, and dig out the silt?

There is also a sign on the gate that warns against giardia in the water. I think some of that water in the ditch that fills the pond comes from a cattle farm upstream.

Can you ask the Fish and Game about these two concerns?

HOYT MICHENER, via email

A: Wow, that was some close call and a wake-up call to hunters.

Even though it happened at the Ted Trueblood WMA, I’ve also found similar problems wading the Snake River, and the river’s marshy creeks and sloughs.

There are some places where the water level is well below the top of your waders, but if you step in a silty soft spot, it’s much deeper. The suction of the mud is really scary, as your experience shows.

Combine that with the river current of the Snake, Lower Boise and Lower Payette rivers — other popular duck-hunting spots — and you can get into trouble.

It shows the importance of looking before you leap, and I really appreciate your warning.

Idaho Fish and Game recognizes the silt problems at the Ted Trueblood WMA, located near Grand View, and the need for dredging.

Irrigation runoff supplies the water, and there needs to be a better way to capture the silt, the agency said.

The estimated cost to make the improvements is about $100,000, and Fish and Game has consulted with Ducks Unlimited about potential funding, but nothing has been worked out yet.

About the water quality — the U.S. Bureau of Land Management placed signs in the area warning of E. coli (not giardia) after testing the water.

The bottom line for now is that hunters should be very careful wherever they wade. Area rivers and ponds can be treacherous if you’re not on your toes.

Fish and Game recommends that hunters use hunting dogs or boats to retrieve downed waterfowl. At the least, a wading stick can also help out.

HOT QUESTION

Q: Is Skinny Dipper Hot Springs still closed?

SEVERAL SKINNY DIPPERS, via Twitter and Facebook

A: The night closure is still in effect at Skinny Dipper Hot Springs, a popular recreation spot located north of the Banks to Lowman Highway between Banks and Garden Valley.

It’s open from dawn to dusk as state and federal officials try to figure out what to do with the area.

There is a proposal to close the hot springs because of health and safety concerns, and the BLM sought public comments during the summer.

Now it’s just wait and see as the federal agency finishes a stream-alteration assessment and engineering analysis.

The hot springs has been around as long as I can remember and should be left as a recreation spot. It’s an icon and one of the closest hot springs to Boise.

True, there are concerns about public safety and law enforcement.

The trail getting to the hot springs can be a little dicey in the dark, and there is partying at night.

The federal agency has to deal with those problems, but it should keep the hot springs open. If it takes improving the trail and hot springs, and more law enforcement, fine.

LITTLE SALMON FENCING

Q: I went steelhead fishing the other weekend in Riggins and noticed the Little Salmon being fenced off from the Rapid River confluence downstream a mile or two.

I heard rumors of a developer buying the property and keeping it for himself. Any insight? Can the public still fish this great steelhead/salmon stretch?

BILL AND OTHER ANGLERS, via email

A: Idaho Fish and Game says anglers can still fish the stretch, but they have to abide by the rules of the landowner that are posted at gates.

The state agency put out a news release last week about the area in question after the private property owner extended fencing on the property between Idaho 95 and the Little Salmon River, north of the mouth of Rapid River.

The landowner is not required to allow public access to the river from U.S. 95, Fish and Game said, but the agency understands that the landowner will continue to allow river access from the highway to anglers complying with conditions identified on signs at several traditional access locations.

Anglers have to respect private property to keep access to the river.

Fish and Game is working to secure more access points to the Little Salmon River through donations and purchases from willing sellers as funds are available.

This area has been the scene of a land dispute for several years.

The Idaho Transportation Department claimed this area as right of way, and the adjacent landowner claimed his deeds superseded the Transportation Department’s claim.

The dispute was taken to court and the landowner won. Not getting into too much legal mumbo jumbo, it sounds like the Transportation Department had right of way for highway building, but not for granting public access to the river.

The Little Salmon River near Rapid River is a bottleneck for salmon and steelhead, and also for anglers. It’s an important fishing area.

It’s also an important example of the value of public lands and public access.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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