The Hagerman area is a beautiful destination for sightseers, who gaze at springs spilling out of canyon walls into the Snake River. Those springs create a perfect environment for growing trout, which are used to stock waters throughout southern Idaho.
Joe Chapman, who manages Idaho Fish and Game’s Hagerman hatchery, sheds some light on a unique fishing opportunity in the area — its famous yellow trout.
Q: What exactly is this trout? It’s not a true golden trout, although it’s commonly called that. Can we settle on calling it the Hagerman banana trout?
A: The true golden trout is actually a subspecies of the rainbow trout and native to California. The fish we stock is a very rare mutation of a rainbow trout. Instead of the normal coloration most rainbow trout have, these fish have a yellow, or golden, color because they lack the melanin pigment.
They have been called yellow trout, palomino trout and banana trout, and they occur throughout the United States. Several agencies use them in their stocking programs, so I don’t think it would be fair to call them “Hagerman” banana trout. A more common mutation among rainbow trout creates a blue phase, but I don’t know of any breeding programs for these fish, and I have been told they can’t reproduce.
Q: Do these yellow trout occur in the wild?
A: Yes, but it is extremely rare you would ever see one. I tell people for every 5 million rainbow trout eggs we receive, we may get one yellow trout, and I may be short on that statement. The blue trout is more common, and for every 100,000 eggs we receive, you will get one blue trout.
Yellow trout are more common in a hatchery, where they can be protected from predation. In the wild, their color makes them easy targets for aquatic predators and birds, so odds are against them surviving to adulthood.
I talked to my brother, Jerry, (manager at Fish and Game’s Niagara Springs steelhead hatchery) and he said yellows seem to be more prevalent in steelhead than in our Hayspur strain of rainbow trout. They may also be more prevalent in different strains of rainbow. I know they are also found in brown trout populations.
We regularly stock yellow trout in ponds on the Hagerman WMA and the Filer Ponds. If we have excess, we also stock them at Dierkes Lake and Dog Creek Reservoir and some ponds in eastern and western Idaho.
Q: Care to share any secret angling tips?
A: I’ve caught hundreds of them and will admit they can be finicky if they were stocked some time ago, but so can a normal rainbow trout. The secret is to find out what they want, and that may mean digging deep into your tackle box.
If they were recently stocked, I’ve found they are not difficult to catch. However, the longer they are in the pond, the more difficult they become to catch. ... I remember one year tossing lure after lure to a huge yellow trout that ignored everything. As a last resort, I tied on an ice-fishing micro-jig and hooked it. You never know what will work on a particular day.
What I’ve found works well for any trout in the area are gold spoons, such as Little Cleos, Thunderbolts, Kastmasters and Daredevils and plugs such as Rapalas. If you don’t get any hits after a few casts, move or try something else.
I’ve also caught them on spinners, such as Mepps and Panther-Martins, and also used small crappie jigs, such as tube jigs or maribou/deer hair jigs. I am a very impatient fisherman, so if I’m not catching fish it’s time to move or try something new.
I am also a staunch believer in polarized sunglasses. These eliminate the glare on the water and allow you to see the fish. Often, I can spot the fish in the water and throw ahead of them. The sunglasses allow me to set the hook as soon as I see the fish inhale my offering, which results in more hooked fish.
Another tip to remember, especially at this time of the year, is that fish are cold-blooded — their body temperature is the same as the water they are in. When the water is very cold, they don’t move as quickly as they will in a couple months, so slow down your retrieve.
As the water warms, these fish will become much more aggressive and smack your offering. Knowing how a fish behaves at different water temperatures can make you a more successful fisherman.
Q: The Hagerman WMA opened for fishing on March 1. Can you tell us some details about fishing there, such as how many trout you stock every month?
A: We follow a stocking request given to us by the regional fisheries managers. This year, we stocked about 5,500 fish into the WMA ponds before opening and continue stocking about 1,800 fish each week. In the summer, the water temperatures can get too warm to stock in certain ponds on the WMA, then stocking will be stopped until water temperatures cool.
About the Hagerman WMA
The Hagerman Wildlife Management Area opened for fishing March 1. It has about a dozen ponds and lakes, along with bathrooms, picnic tables, handicap accessible dock and fish-viewing pond.
Getting there: It’s about 103 miles from Boise. From the Treasure Valley, head east on I-84. Take exit 141 in Bliss and travel south on U.S. 30 through Hagerman.