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Spring fishing is heating up in Idaho

A happy angler with a nice Chinook salmon caught in Lake Coeur d'Alene (courtesy Lake Charters)

A happy angler with a nice Chinook salmon caught in Lake Coeur d’Alene (courtesy Lake Charters)

By Steve Stuebner

Spring fishing is starting to heat up in Idaho after a long winter that brought plenty of snow and freshwater to Idaho’s rivers and reservoirs.

Idaho outfitters are fishing for Chinook salmon on Lake Coeur d’Alene, steelhead on the Salmon River near Salmon, cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout on the South Fork Snake River near Idaho Falls, and rainbows and browns on the Boise River and Owyhee River in Southwest Idaho.

Don Houk with Lake Charters in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is taking guests to catch chinook salmon right now, and in April and May, he’ll be fishing for northern pike, small-mouth bass and kokanee.

Chinook salmon fishing is best in the winter and spring months, Houk says. “When they’re on, they’re fun!”

The Chinook are big — daily bag limits are 2 fish over 20 inches. “When you hook one, they’ll peel off a lot of line,” he says. “We target them in the top 20 feet of water from the surface.”

Get some friends together to go fishing on beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene! Lake Charters charges $440 for 1-4 anglers for a half day, and $675 for 1-4 anglers for a full day. Contract Lake Charters at (208) 667-3474.

Catching steelhead on the Upper Salmon River near Salmon (Courtesy Rawhide Outfitters)

Catching steelhead on the Upper Salmon River near Salmon (Courtesy Rawhide Outfitters)

Steelhead fishing is starting to heat up in the Salmon area as the ocean-going rainbow trout move upstream to hatcheries and spawning areas. Riggins-area outfitters stopped fishing for steelhead in mid-March. The run is smaller this year for a variety of reasons. But anglers are catching fish as the water temperature warmed up above 40 degrees in the last couple of weeks.

Idaho Fish and Game reports showed that anglers were spending an average of 15 hours per steelhead caught downstream from North Fork, but only 6 hours per fish caught between North Fork and Salmon, and 13 hours per fish caught between Salmon and the Pahsimeroi River.

Aggipah River Trips and Rawhide Outfitters are fishing for steelhead this spring. “When the river stays clear, it’s very fishable,” says Bill Bernt, owner of Aggipah River Trips in Salmon.

Outfitters takes guests fishing in drift boats with a padded seat, a portable heater and hot drinks, making it as comfortable as possible for a spring steelhead trip on the Salmon River.

Good fishing conditions depend on local weather. When the weather is clear and the water is clear, the fishing is good. When it’s raining and the river gets muddy, it’s not as good.

“Last week, we had a guests who landed six fish in one day, and another group that landed four,” said Kathy Cranney of Rawhide Outfitters in Salmon. “Today, it’s raining and the river is muddy. It’s kind of hit and miss depending on the weather and the day.”

Spring steelhead trips range in price from $400-$430 for two people, including lunch and drinks on the boat.

Contact Rawhide Outfitters at 208-756-4276, Aggipah River Trips at 208-756-4167.

Fishing on the South Fork Snake River with Westbank Anglers

Fishing on the South Fork Snake River with Westbank Anglers

In Eastern Idaho, home to some of the finest fly fishing in the world, outfitters are taking guests spring fishing on the South Fork of the Snake River, where they are fishing for native cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, cut-bows and brown trout.

Will Cumberland, manager of Westbank Anglers, said most people book full-day trips so they can maximize their fishing experience. “Our guides really like spring fishing, and they’re itching to get out on the river all the time,” he said.

The South Fork is running about 7,000 cubic feet per second right now, which is a good flow for being able to access the side channels and river oxbows where some of the big fish may be hiding, he said. Anglers are fly fishing below the surface with nymphs and streamers most of the time. Occasionally, the weather may warm up enough for a dry fly hatch.

“If you hit it on the right day with nice weather, it’s great fishing,” Cumberland said.

To reach Westbank Anglers in Jackson Hole, Wyo., call 800-922-3474.

A nice brown trout caught and released in the Boise River (courtesy Three Rivers Ranch)

A nice brown trout caught and released in the Boise River (courtesy Three Rivers Ranch)

In the Boise area, Three Rivers Ranch Outfitters takes anglers walk-and-wade fly fishing on the Boise River and Owyhee River below Owyhee Dam. “This winter has been pretty mild, so the fishing has been really good,” says Mike Raymondi, a guide for Three Rivers Ranch in Eagle. “We’ve been fishing more in town than usual, and we’re finding lots of really nice, big fish — a couple of big browns and some nice rainbows.”

Some of the fat browns have measured 25-28 inches in length, he said.

Fishing on the Owyhee River has been productive as well. They’re catching rainbow trout and brown trout on the Boise and Owyhee rivers. The guides help guests select the best flies to catch fish — typically nymphs and streamers at this time of year, fishing below the surface.

“Our guides work hard to find those big fish for our guests,” Raymondi says.

To go on a guided fishing trip with Three Rivers Ranch on the Boise River, it costs $275 for a half day, and $400 for a full day of fishing for two anglers. On the Owyhee River, it costs $445 for two anglers. Contact Three Rivers Ranch in Eagle at 208-939-6065.

Deep mountain snow gets outfitters excited about Idaho whitewater season

Pipeline Rapids, Lochsa River 2016 photo by Dani Smith Three Rivers Rafting

Lochsa Falls on the Lochsa River (courtesy Three Rivers Rafting)

BOISE — (March 14, 2017) – Mother Nature blessed Idaho with deep snow in the mountains this winter, ranging from 98 percent to 180 percent of normal statewide, setting up an outstanding year for fishing and whitewater boating on Idaho’s world-class rivers.

“We’re pretty excited! Things are shaping up to have one of the best seasons in a long time,” said Erik Weiseth with Orange Torpedo river trips, which offers multi-day trips on the Salmon and Owyhee rivers in Idaho. “This is going to be a season for the record books.”

In a year with robust snow, all of Idaho’s key river basins, including the Salmon, Snake, Lochsa, Owyhee, Bruneau, Payette, Henrys Fork, St. Joe and Moyie will have a full season. Idaho is known as the “whitewater” state with hundreds of miles of fun rapids and scenic canyons.

Jon Barker, owner of Barker River Expeditions, is booking Owyhee and Jarbidge-Bruneau trips through April and May right now. The desert canyons are spectacular, but they don’t always have enough snow for a long season. Right now, the Owyhee has 117 percent of normal snowpack and the Bruneau has 120 percent.

“I think it’s looking really great,” Barker says.

Owyhee River

Owyhee River (courtesy Barker River Expeditions)

Barker takes customers on the river, and he also offers multi-day guided canyoneering trips in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Idaho Public Television recently tagged along for program titled “Canyonlands Calling.” IPTV called the canyons “some of the wildest and most beautiful country in the West.”

This year, Barker is offering a 17-day, 206-mile trip down the full length of the Owyhee River, from top of the East Fork Owyhee River to the Middle Owyhee and the Lower Owyhee. “I’ve always wanted to offer that trip, and this year is the perfect time to do it,” he says.

Hells Canyon Adventures runs jet boat and float boat trips in Hells Canyon. They take families, reunions, business groups and tour bus groups down the mighty Snake River through big and fun rapids like Wild Sheep and Granite Creek. “I’m pretty pleased, the water looks really good and our bookings are strong,” says Mark Yates, jet boat captain.

Popular day trip rivers like the Lochsa in North Idaho, the Salmon in Stanley and Riggins, and the Payette will offer whitewater trips as the snowmelt comes off in the spring, and the deep snow will make for a very long season.

Snowpack in the Clearwater River Basin, for example, is about 112 percent of normal, just slightly above average. “We like average, average is what we want,” says Marty Smith, owner of Three Rivers rafting company in Lowell. “We should have good flows into June this year. We’re hoping we’ll also have a longer season on the Selway for trips into July.”

Middle Fork 2

Fishing the Middle Fork Salmon River … (courtesy Idaho River Adventures)

The Payette River looks to have a long season, and it’s already running strong with initial snowmelt happening now. “We’ve had an awesome amount of snow,” says J.B. Lawler, owner of Idaho Whitewater Unlimited. “We should have some really fun, big whitewater, and a long summer season.”

On the fishing side of things, the guides at Three Rivers Ranch in Eastern Idaho are expecting a great year. “A good water year means it’s going to be good for bug hatches,” says B.J. Gerhart, a fishing guide for Three Rivers. Insect hatches are important for fly fishing, and the Henrys Fork, South Fork Snake River, Teton River and other streams in the area are super popular for fly fishing.

Henrys Fork

Big rainbow caught on the Henrys Fork … Wow! (Courtesy Three Rivers Ranch)

The flows coming out of Island Park Reservoir are ideal for rainbow trout spawning right now, Gerhart says. Anglers can book fishing trips and stay at Three Rivers Ranch for a week to sample all of the different rivers in the area for fishing.

Spring flows on the Snake River are starting to happen in the Middle Snake region this week, as the Bureau of Reclamation releases flows from Upper Snake reservoirs for flood control. That has brought 212-foot Shoshone Falls to life, with flows ranging from 7,000-10,000 cfs, and that also means there are flows in the Murtaugh section of the Snake for whitewater rafting.

Idaho Guide Service offers trips on the Murtaugh section, the Hagerman reach of the Snake, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and on the Salmon River.

“We were just out on the Murtaugh last weekend – it was awesome,” says Olin Gardner, owner of Idaho Guide Service. “Now we need some warm weather so people want to go rafting.”