Fishing in Idaho: Here’s what you need to know before you go

Fishing is one of Idaho’s favorite pastimes, and with good reason. The Gem State is loaded with awesome angling opportunities. Are you ready to catch some fish? There are countless lakes, rivers, ponds and streams to try out. But before you put a line in the water, make sure you know the rules and get the proper licenses.


Many Idaho waters are open to anglers year-round, including most sections of the Boise River, Snake River and large reservoirs such as Lucky Peak, C.J. Strike and Lake Cascade. Some trophy fisheries, such as Henry’s Lake, the South Fork Boise River and Silver Creek have shorter seasons. A handful of bass lakes, including Lake Lowell near Nampa, have special rules to protect spawning bass.

Idaho Fish and Game enforces special seasons, limits and rules on a handful of waters around the state. Get an updated copy of the IDFG rules booklet to make sure you stay legal. Rules booklets are available anywhere fishing and hunting licenses are sold, or at any IDFG office.


To fish in Idaho, all anglers 14 and older must have a fishing license. Residents younger than 14 may fish with a licensed adult and keep their own limit; fish caught by nonresident kids count toward the licensed adult’s limit.

As of 2018, resident adult licenses cost $30.50 and junior licenses cost $13.75. Licenses are valid starting January 1 and expire December 31 every year, regardless of when they are purchased. Daily licenses cost $13.50. Three-year, lifetime and hunting/fishing combo license options also are available, as are non-resident licenses. Discounts are offered for seniors, veterans and folks with disabilities. See the license section of the IDFG rules booklet for a full list of options, prices and where to buy them in person. You also can buy one online.

If you plan to fish a lot, buying your license for the new year right after Christmas is always a good bet—it will save you a trip to the store before your first outing of the season.


A standard license allows anglers to fish with one rod for most game and non-game species in Idaho. There are three special permits anglers can add to their license:

The two-pole permit allows anglers to fish with two rods at once. This comes in handy for setting up a stationary bait rod and actively fishing a second rod with lures or flies. A two-pole permit costs $15.

When lakes freeze over in the winter, ice fishing rules take effect. Licensed anglers can fish with up to five rods at a time through the ice. A two-pole permit does NOT allow an angler to fish with 10 rods. That’s a good thing — fish are occasionally known to pull unattended rods to a watery grave.

A salmon tag allows anglers to target and keep anadromous Chinook salmon, as long as they are hatchery fish caught in-season using legal methods. A salmon tag costs $15, and anglers are required to record each catch on the tag, including a location code, in order to legally harvest fish.

Catching freshwater Kokanee salmon — a popular target in lakes such as Lucky Peak, Arrowrock and Anderson Ranch — and landlocked Chinook salmon does not require a salmon tag.

A steelhead tag allows anglers to fish for majestic, ocean-run rainbow trout. These tags cost $15 and work the same way as salmon tags. Anglers can only keep hatchery fish marked by a clipped adipose fin, and legal catches caught in-season must be properly marked on the tag.

Let’s fish!

With your license and rule booklet in hand, you are ready to hit the water. Read the Idaho Statesman’s weekly fishing coverage to learn where the fish are biting and other useful tips. Pick up a handful of lures, study your target species, and don’t be afraid to get creative! Before long, you’ll have a favorite fish species, good stories to tell, and secret honey holes to share with your friends and family.

Tight lines!

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