Fishing in Idaho: What a beginner needs to know

It’s never too early — or too late — to start fishing. It’s a cheap, fun way to enjoy the outdoors.
It’s never too early — or too late — to start fishing. It’s a cheap, fun way to enjoy the outdoors. Special to the Idaho Statesman

Fishing is a great hobby — there are few things more wholesome and rewarding to do with your free time. But for many people, perceived obstacles stand in the way.

Some worry they won’t know where to go or what to use. Others think it will be too expensive. Still others are intimidated by the many rules and regulations.

[Related: From big Macks to sabre-toothed tiger muskies, Idaho has its own river monsters.]

These challenges aren’t nearly as daunting as they may seem. Heck, just recently, an Idaho man and his young daughter wrestled a monster, 14-pound rainbow trout through the ice on a tiny ice fishing pole rigged with light line and a small hook.

But you can’t catch the fish of a lifetime without getting a line in the water. If you’ve been looking at picking up fishing as a hobby, here are some quick and easy pointers for getting started.

What to buy

The list of essentials is shorter — and less expensive — than you might think. It includes a license ($25.75 for Idaho residents), a rod-and-reel setup (I’d recommend spending $50-$75, which will get you something decent and durable), a net ($10-$20) and a small tackle box filled with hooks, sinkers, bobbers, needle-nose pliers and a handful of lures (spinners, jigs, rubber worms and a couple of crankbaits will suffice). You can be in and out of a sporting goods shop for less than $200.

Where to go

There are hundreds of fishing destinations here in Idaho. If you’re looking for a quick trip, the Boise River in town is well-stocked with rainbow trout, as are many city ponds. Kleiner Pond in Meridian, Wilson Springs Ponds in Nampa and the Caldwell Rotary Ponds are local favorites. If you’re up for a bit of a drive, the Snake River southwest of Kuna offers excellent fishing for bass and catfish. C.J. Strike Reservoir (and a handful of smaller lakes) in the Bruneau area east of Boise offer great fishing for bass, bluegill, crappie and perch. And farther east, the Hagerman Hatchery ponds are a great place for beginners to learn the basics and catch stocked trout, bass and bluegill.

What to do

Catching fish starts with finding them. When you arrive at your fishing hole, take a moment to survey the water. Are fish rising to the surface to feed? Can you see them swimming around? What kind of prey items are available? Do you have bait or lures that match what the fish are feeding on? Generally speaking, fish in current (rivers and streams) will hang out in deep, slow pockets and pools, waiting for an easy meal to drift by. In still water (lakes and ponds), look for structure like rocks, trees, weed beds or inlet streams. These features provide places for fish — and the things fish eat — to hunt and hide. Make sure you know what species live where you are fishing by checking out Idaho Fish and Game’s “Angler Guide” tool online. You can download Idaho’s fishing regulations or get a free copy at most sporting goods stores and bait shops.

Completing the catch

Just about every species of fish will eat a live worm, so that’s a good place to start. You can fish near the surface using a bobber, or near the bottom using sinkers. If artificial lures are more your style, tie on a spinner or crankbait (cast, retrieve, repeat) or a jig (cast, allow to sink, and then “jig” back toward you). When you get a bite, wait until you have tension on the line and then pull back firmly to set the hook. If the fish is pulling line away, let it run, and then crank when it stops. With big fish, this will prevent the line from breaking. When the fish is close enough to land, net it (or better yet, have a friend net it), head first. Wet your hands before you handle the fish, and be careful of any teeth or spiny fins that could prick your fingers. Take some photos to document your catch, and then gently release your fish (or put it on a stringer if you are planning to keep and eat it).

Enjoy the experience

Like any new hobby, fishing is full of nuances. Every time you go, you’ll learn something new that will make you a better angler. But the key is to find the joy in the beauty and relaxation of the outdoors. The fish will come eventually — and when you land that first big one, you’re sure to be hooked for good!

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