Fishing

Where to fish in Idaho, season by season, from spring bass to winter perch

Bass fishing heats up at Lake Lowell

Idaho Statesman fishing columnist Jordan Rodriguez tackles Lake Lowell bass.
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Idaho Statesman fishing columnist Jordan Rodriguez tackles Lake Lowell bass.

One of the best things about fishing is that it constantly changes. You’ll never fish the same spot twice — weather, time of day and ever-changing lake and river conditions will make sure of that.

But you can plan ahead for success. Certain species and bodies of water turn on at fairly predictable times of year, and being in the right place at the right time is a good recipe for success. As you plan your 2017 fishing calendar, here are some seasonal adventures to try.

SPRING BASSIN’ AT LOWELL

Spring is a great time of year. It’s time to dust off your tackle box, enjoy the warmer weather and chase some hungry fish.

Lake Lowell in Nampa is the largemouth bass capital of Southwest Idaho, and nothing beats a warm spring day when the fish are biting. The lake opens for boating in mid-April, drawing scores of anglers from the Treasure Valley.

Bass fishing can be good all summer, but spring holds a certain magic. The fish are active and eager to put on some calories before spawning season. Water levels are at their peak, so there is lots of submerged vegetation in which bass can hide and hunt.

From shore, casting crankbaits or spinnerbaits along rocky shorelines is a good tactic. But the best fishing is done from a boat, which allows you to troll along the submerged weed line and throw jigs and soft plastic baits into open pockets. Most years, anglers in small boats, canoes and float tubes can explore miles of flooded forest along the south bank, where big bass often lurk in the trees.

Bass fishing at Lake Lowell is catch-and-release only through June 30.

Backup plan

Catchin’ crappie at Brownlee: Brownlee Reservoir on the Idaho-Oregon border is a great spring crappie fishery. These delicious, prolific panfish are often found in schools numbering in the hundreds. If you find them, you’re going to catch plenty. From a boat, use a fish finder to locate schools in 20-50 feet of water. Coves, shelves and rocky points are good places to look. Banks with steep drop-offs offer crappie fishing from shore. Small, brightly colored crappie jigs are the ticket. Tie multiple jigs on your line and you might even catch two fish on the same cast.

SUMMER ALPINE ESCAPE

Summer is peak fishing season. But when the temperatures start to creep into triple digits, nothing beats an escape to a high-mountain lake.

Idaho is absolutely packed with alpine lakes — it would take a lifetime to explore them all. There are chains of lakes in the Stanley wilderness, above Lake Cascade and up Brundage Road north of McCall, just to name a few spots.

Most alpine lakes require a hike. The walk can range from a couple miles — easily done in a day trip — to a full-on, 20-mile backpacking excursion. As a general rule, the harder it is to get there, the better the fishing will be.

Once you reach your destination, the fishing is pretty straightforward. Fly-fishing with terrestrials such as grasshoppers and ants is almost always productive, and spinners are a deadly lure for traditional anglers. Spin-fishermen can use flies behind a clear plastic bobber.

One thing that can drastically improve your luck is a float tube. It requires extra effort to pack one in, but having access to the entire lake is worth it.

The Bonneville Dam near Portland is the last blockage of the Columbia River before it reaches the Pacific Ocean. Every year, salmon make their way through the dam's fish ladders en route to Idaho, where they spawn.

BACKUP PLAN

Chasing Chinook on the Salmon River: Idaho anglers have the unique opportunity to fish for ocean-run Chinook salmon as they return to their native rivers. It is not for the impatient or faint of heart — Chinook are notoriously difficult to coax into a bite, and a weekend of fishing might produce only a handful of strikes. But if you successfully hook and land a big salmon, it will be your most memorable trip of the year. They are beautiful, majestic and powerful fish, and they make great table fare if you catch a hatchery fish.

Size up your tackle and fish with roe balls, streamers, jigs, plugs, spoons or brightly colored beads and yarn.

This enormous 4-year-old spring chinook, about 36 inches long and weighing 10 to 12 pounds each, elicited gasps from passersby as Idaho Fish and Game employees scooped the fish from their truck and slipped them into the Boise River. The fish were

FALL TROPHY HUNTING ON THE ‘O’

Fall fishing is defined by colorful surroundings, crisp air and fish that are eager to put on some weight before winter.

Located just across the Oregon border, the Owyhee River is a world-renowned brown trout fishery. Anglers come from far and wide to cast at trophy trout that often surpass 20 inches in length.

The Owyhee is primarily known as a fly-fishing destination, though traditional tackle is allowed. Brown trout spawn in the fall, but unlike salmon and steelhead, they continue to feed. Fish will slurp hatching dry flies, including midges, tricos, caddis and BWOs. They’ll also aggressively chase streamers, including sculpin, minnow, mouse and leech patterns.

Brown trout are catch-and-release only in the Owyhee, but on a cloudy fall day, it’s not uncommon to catch 20 or more fish — and odds are at least one will top the coveted 20-inch mark.

An Oregon license is required. Day passes are available, and diehards buy an annual license so they can chase bruiser browns year-round.

The Owyhee River's famed brown trout lure anglers from everywhere. The river provides excellent fly fishing on a consistent basis year-round and is only about a hour away from the Treasure Valley.

BACKUP PLAN

Snake River smallies: The Snake is an excellent smallmouth bass fishery, and the fish go on a feeding frenzy every fall. Smallies aren’t too picky, but the best bet is to fish with something that resembles a crayfish. Crankbaits, jerk baits, jigs and soft plastics do the trick for these hard-charging, acrobatic fighters. A boat can help you cover more ground, but it’s not necessary. You can easily stalk smallies from shore by focusing on rocky points and outcroppings.

Ice fishing is a fun, social and unique wintertime activity that can be enjoyed by anglers of all ages. It is a good excuse to get out of the house and a challenging twist on traditional fishing. In Idaho, the primary target species are perch and

WINTER JUMBO PERCH ON ICE

Fishing options drop off in the wintertime as many species become less active and access is limited by ice and snow. But the rewards can be rich for those willing to brave the elements.

Lake Cascade, north of Boise up Idaho 55, is building a national reputation for producing giant yellow perch. The state record has been broken three times in the last five years, each time inching closer to the coveted three-pound mark.

Cascade is typically frozen over from December through February. Location is key, and the biggest fish tend to be caught on the north end of the lake between Poison Creek boat launch and Sugarloaf Island.

Lure preferences vary, but most anglers use perch-colored jigs tipped with some kind of bait. Night crawlers, mealworms and cut bait — especially perch meat — are popular choices.

Cascade can be finicky, but it’s the place to be if you want to catch the perch of a lifetime.

Backup plan

Winter steelhead on the Clearwater: Winter is a great time to catch steelhead on the Clearwater River in northern Idaho — nothing will warm you up like hooking a huge, sea-run rainbow trout. Like most anadromous fish, steelhead are picky eaters, but they will take a plug, jig, streamer or roe. And the Clearwater is home to monster “B-Run” steelhead — fish that spent an extra year in the ocean and typically weigh at least 10 pounds.

Joe Dupont shows the basics of setting up a drift fishing rig for steelhead fishing.

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