Every Friday (note the new publication day), we’ll post fishing writer Jordan Rodriguez’s weekly report in the Playing Outdoors blog. His column appears three Tuesdays per month.
With the exception of steelhead fishing, rivers are pretty tough sledding right now. I’ve heard reports of ice covering the Owyhee and snowed-in roads blocking access to the South Fork of the Boise. The Boise River in town is probably the best bet right now, but fishing has been slow of late. Drifting some flies or bait into deep riffles might work, but the best bet right now is ice fishing!
C.J. Strike Reservoir (Ice Fishing)
C.J. Strike continues to be highly productive, especially for yellow perch. Anglers are finding schools in 20 to 30 feet of water out from the Jack’s Creek, Cottonwood Park and Narrows Road access points. Bring a four-wheel-drive vehicle and be prepared to hike in a little farther if the roads are drifted over. Perch are biting just a few cranks off the bottom on small jigs tipped with worm or cut bait. Yellow, white and perch-patterned jigs are good colors to try, and perch meat makes the best cut bait. My buddy and I caught about 50 in a three-hour stretch last weekend, so it can get fast and furious when you find a school. If you aren’t getting bites, keep moving until you find some fish. Perch are far and away the most common catch, but rainbow trout, bluegill and crappie also are possibilities.
Getting there: Head east on I-84 to Mountain Home, then follow Highway 51 south to Bruneau and Highway 78 west along the south bank to reach the popular access points.
Lake Cascade (Ice Fishing)
Fishing has been hit-or-miss at Cascade this season, but anglers had better luck last weekend, weighing several giant perch over 2 pounds. You likely won’t catch as many fish at Cascade as you might at C.J. Strike and other fisheries, but it’s still the place to go to chase those record-sized jumbos. According to a 2016 Fish and Game fish population survey, there are some 3-pound record-breakers waiting to be caught! Small lures like Hali jigs and Rapala Rippin’ Raps tipped with worms, wax worms or cut bait are the best bets, and big rainbow trout are always a possibility, too. Snow and slush conditions are tough in spots, so drive slowly if you are snowmobiling and bring waterproof boots or waders. Most anglers are accessing the lake on the north end from the Poison Creek boat launch. Blue Heron and the City Ramp are also plowed and accessible.
Getting there: Take Idaho 55 north to Cascade. For the latest conditions and fishing reports, call Tackle Tom’s at (208) 382-4367.
Horsethief Reservoir (Ice Fishing)
The action was a little slow during the recent Youth Fishing Day event, but fishing has picked back up over the past week. Anglers can expect to catch mostly stocked rainbows in the 12-to-14-inch range, but there are also some brown trout, and I even heard a rumor of kokanee salmon (which I substantiated — Fish and Game stocked more than 5,000 kokanee in Horsethief this summer). Anglers seem to be having the most luck with worms and marshmallows fished near the bottom, and trout are showing up in fairly shallow water. The road into the lake has been re-plowed, so access shouldn’t be a problem. Slush conditions are hit-and-miss. Bring a shovel and waterproof footwear.
Getting there: Take Idaho 55 north to Cascade and turn east onto Warm Lake Road. The lake is located eight miles in from the turn-off.
Clearwater River (Steelhead)
Steelhead fishing has been hot on the Clearwater over the last week or two. I’m seeing great catch rates and some monster B-run fish for anglers willing to brave the icy conditions. According to Fish and Game harvest reports, anglers were averaging four hours per fish caught in the main Clearwater near Orofino, and six hours per fish caught on the North Fork Clearwater below Dworshak Dam. Those are outstanding catch rates for steelhead, especially with some B-run giants in the mix. Drift fishing with roe balls, bobber fishing with jigs or fly fishing with streamers have been the most productive methods.
Getting there: Visit the Idaho Fish and Game website for a complete list of salmon and steelhead fish counts, season information, rules, and the latest harvest reports.
Lure of the Week
Berkley Pitbull Crankbait: When it comes to bass crankbaits, it seems the options are endless. So how do you choose one? I use two criteria: look and wobble. First-off, you want the lure to look like a food item for bass. So try to match something you know fish will be feeding on. Bluegill and perch are great options for largemouth bass, while smallmouth tend to prefer crayfish patterns. I absolutely love the bluegill paint job on the Berkley Pitbull model (pictured), which has been really effective for me on largemouth. The second attribute is wobble, or how the lure moves through the water. Different styles and lengths of plastic nose bills help determine how deep a lure runs, how dramatically it wobbles, and how erratic it looks in the water. The Pitbull runs about six feet deep, and it also has an internal rattle to attract fish from a distance. Usually, I use a straight cast-and-retrieve, but changing speeds or “killing” the lure for a second or two also can trigger a strike. Two words of caution on crankbaits: watch your fingers on the razor-sharp treble hooks, especially when un-hooking a flopping fish. And be careful using them in areas that have a lot of snags. They are fairly expensive (the Pitbull runs about $7, and crankbaits in general tend to run anywhere from $4 to $12), and those treble hooks snag up pretty easily on exposed wood and rock.
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors @idahostatesman.com.