Idaho offers no shortage of species to fish for. From the slow and mighty Snake River to the pristine depths of Lake Coeur d’Alene, there are more than 20 types of game fish to chase. As you prepare to embark on your 2018 fishing adventures, here are some species to put on your list.
Where: Salmon, Clearwater, Snake and Boise rivers.
How: Drifting jig-and-bobber rigs, fly-fishing with flashy streamers or back-trolling with side planers and crankbaits.
The Scoop: The steelhead is one of Idaho’s signature fish. These majestic rainbow trout migrate to the ocean, where they spend one to three years before returning to their home tributaries. Like salmon, steelies are notoriously difficult to hook once they enter the rivers — they aren’t actively feeding and typically strike out of instinctual aggression. There are two schools of thought on where to fish for steelhead. Some anglers congregate in bottlenecks where big concentrations of fish are found (the Salmon near Riggins and the Fish & Game stocking points in Boise are two prime examples). This “combat fishing” can be productive, but also chaotic. Others would rather hike or use a boat to find their own stretch of water. You might not encounter as many fish this way, but those that do come through will only have your lures to choose from. Steelhead fishing in Idaho requires an extra $12.50 permit, and wild fish with an adipose fin must be released.2. JUMBO YELLOW PERCH
Where: Lake Cascade.
How: Ice fishing with small jigs, trolling with crankbaits or bait fishing near underwater shelves and weed beds.
The Scoop: Genetically, these jumbo specimens aren’t different from other perch. But Cascade has perfect conditions for growing ’em big, giving it a national reputation as a trophy fishery. As a bonus, anglers can pursue perch year-round, trolling or casting from a boat throughout open water season and dangling jigs through the ice during winter. Late in the ice season is when the fish are at their biggest, particularly the record-setting females carrying extra egg weight. No matter the season, there are two keys to success at Cascade: locating fish on one of Idaho’s biggest lakes, and figuring out how to get the big ones to bite. For my money, perch-colored jigs, spoons or crankbaits tipped with a piece of worm or perch meat are the best options. Perch, especially big ones, are notorious cannibals. Locals are tight-lipped about their honey holes, but as a general rule, perch like to hang out near the bottom in 20-plus feet of water.
3. LARGEMOUTH BASS
Where: Lake Lowell, C.J. Strike Reservoir, local ponds, and dozens of waters statewide.
How: Retrieving crankbaits and spinnerbaits, flipping soft plastics, hunting top-water with flies and frogs, or bumping jigs along the bottom.
The Scoop: The largemouth is America’s favorite sport fish for a reason — there are countless ways to fish for them, and nothing beats their ambush predator hunting tactics. Sight fishing for big largemouth in shallow water or popping frogs across weed beds from the comfort of a float tube are two of my favorite ways to fish. With all the lure styles, colors and fancy gadgetry these days, it’s easy to get carried away buying bass tackle. My advice is to hone in on two or three methods you enjoy and practice them until you succeed. If you master a few presentations, chances are at least one of them will work for you, even on slow days.
Where: Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir, Oakley Reservoir.
How: Retrieving crankbaits or trolling with bottom bouncers, jigs or wedding rings tipped with a dead minnow or night crawler.
The Scoop: One of Idaho’s rarest and most elusive game fish, the walleye is only found in three lakes statewide. Sought after for its large size and firm, delicious fillets, the walleye is unique amongst Idaho species in both appearance and hunting style. Schools of the toothy predators like to drive schools of baitfish toward shallower water, where they become confused and trapped. Walleye then use their keen low-light vision to pick off their prey. Because of these tactics, anglers like a bit of wind — known as the “walleye chop” — to keep visibility down for potential walleye prey as they bounce bait-tipped minnow presentations along. Be sure to bring a landing net when hunting walleye. Big fish are known to deceive anglers by not pulling as hard as you’d think, and their toothy jaws are not to be trifled with. If you find walleye fishing is your newfound favorite, the Columbia River in eastern Washington offers great fishing for them.
5. TIGER TROUT
Where: Deer Creek Reservoir, Wallace Lake, Big Lake, Roberts Gravel Ponds.
How: Fly-fishing with dry flies and streamers, casting spoons and spinners, bait fishing.
The Scoop: Tiger trout are a relative newcomer to Idaho. A genetic cross between a brown trout and a brook trout, tigers are visually striking, aggressive and sterile. Thus, Fish & Game has begun experimenting with them in select waters as a new sport fish for anglers and/or as a means of controlling populations of smaller fish. They’ve only been around a few years, so there aren’t any monsters yet (the current state record measured 19 inches). But they are capable of reaching large, brown-trout-like sizes, so there should be some trophies available within the next five years. If you live in the Treasure Valley, it will require a road trip to fish for these striped beauties. As of now, they have only been planted in lakes far east or north of Boise. But stay tuned! I’ll keep you posted if they wind up swimming closer to home. In the meantime, you can watch live specimens in the Boise Cabela’s fish tanks.