Brookies belong in frying pan

The brookie sailed out of nowhere, slammed the Renegade, and danced across the surface of the mountain lake.

You've got to love the way brook trout hit your flies, lures or bait. They're easy to catch, go crazy at the end of a fishing line, and taste great.

Their populations continue to mushroom in mountain streams, beaver ponds and lakes in Idaho, so you don't have to worry about throwing a mess of them in the frying pan with butter and seasoning salt.

Even though they are chars, they're close cousins to trout and taste just as good — or better.

I love to eat trout, but don't take them from streams and rivers where their populations aren't that great.

I remember the days when you could keep 15 cutthroat trout and you didn't feel bad about having a fish fry for the family. Now, you wouldn't think of bagging one.

That's not the case with brookies. With many places catch-and-release for trout, the little brightly colored, non-native char fits the bill for anglers who want to eat their catch.

But brookies aren't all that great for some Idaho waters. They were originally found in the eastern United States and Canada and brought to Idaho by early settlers. They were also introduced to lakes and streams throughout the West by fish-and-game agencies.

They're popular, but they're prolific and out-compete Idaho's native trout for food and habitat.

Here's some interesting stuff from Kevin Meyer, an Idaho Fish and Game fisheries research biologist.

Brook trout can reproduce at a much younger age than most native Idaho fish, often when they are 1 year old. They spawn in the fall instead of the spring, so young fish start feeding earlier in the year than the young of most native trout.

Brook trout get bigger, faster. The size advantage allows them to pick the best areas for feeding. They actually bully native trout out of the way, Meyer said.

It's easy to see how competitive they are when you see them in lakes and streams. They think nothing of hitting your fly.

So, Fish and Game biologists are trying to remove brook trout from the streams where they were stocked long ago, to protect native trout such as bull trout.

Studies of brook trout by Fish and Game are surprising. Surveys in Pike's Fork, which is a neat little stream in the drainage of the North Fork of the Boise River, northeast of Idaho City, show how difficult it is to remove these little critters.

Biologists removed more than 3,000 brook trout in six miles of stream. They used electrofishing equipment, which stuns the fish.

In just three years, the abundance of the brook trout was no different than it was before the fish were removed.

I guess anglers can help Fish and Game by catching brookies and putting them in the frying pan.

The general limit on brook trout is 25, but it may vary depending on the waters.

Rivers are different

Swimmers have to realize that rivers are different from reservoirs.

I was running the Main Payette below Banks in my whitewater canoe when I noticed a guy swimming across the river near Banks Beach. He was a healthy young adult, but he looked pretty shook up.

He took a swim across the river and was totally out of breath. He was calling to his buddy that he was pretty tired — so tired, in fact, that he was concerned about getting back to the beach.

The example brings the point home that swimming in a river is a lot different than swimming in a reservoir.

The river may look calm, but there are hidden currents, swirls and undertows.

The swimmer has to burn energy combating the effects of currents and other hydraulics of the river.

That's why a life jacket is a must when swimming in a river.

Gary Wilson of Horseshoe Bend wanted me to address the safety issue.

"My boys, 11 and 14, are Class III (intermediate) paddlers and don't even swim around the beach on the Payette without a PFD. And, they make that choice on their own, though I would enforce it if they didn't."

His boys are in Idaho River Kids with Tom Long at Cascade Raft and Kayak, where they have learned swift-water self-rescue and basic rescue techniques.

I agree. In a lake you can take a break, tread water and just float.

In a river, you're using your energy to tread water and avoid the current and swirlies. It takes a lot out of your energy — fast.

It's swift water and anything can happen. We had a swimming mishap on the Payette River last month that resulted in a fatality.

A river is no place to be without a life jacket. It will keep you afloat, even if you get tired.

Phone numbers

We recently found an air pump at Beehive Bend, where most rafters end their trip on the Main Payette River.

It would have been easy to return, except there was no phone number on it.

Many rafters mark all their gear with their phone numbers. You'll see phone numbers on dry bags, oars, ammo boxes and even sleeping bags and stoves.

It's a good policy for all outdoors folks, from campers to ATV riders. What if something falls off the back of your ATV or mountain bike while you're on the trail?

Marking outdoor gear with phone numbers is a good way to get it back.

Most Idahoans will return gear if it has a phone number.