FISHERIES -- Kokanee numbers in Lake Pend Oreille are rebounding, helping placate worries that flooding this spring would put a dent in the coveted game fish's population.
The landlocked salmon is showing the highest spawning numbers since 2004, according to an Idaho Fish and Game Department report summarized by the Associated Press. Current estimates show there are as many as 382,000 spawning kokanee in Lake Pend Oreille tributaries.
Fishing for kokanee once again has moved from a dream to a possibility, department officials said.
The flooding in the 1990s was sudden and intense, while this year's flooding was spread out over weeks.
That likely means the kokanee didn't get flushed out of the lake during spring floods.
"This year's runoff wasn't exceptionally high, but it lasted several weeks, which is a different scenario than the very high-magnitude, but short-duration floods of 1996-97," said Jim Fredericks, Fish & Game's regional fishery manager.
Idaho's wildlife agency also says its work eradicating lake trout and rainbow trout that prey on kokanee is also helping.
More than 115,000 lake trout, introduced to the lake in 1925, have been removed from the lake through netting and angler incentives between 2006 and 2010. The number of kokanee that spawn has increased annually since predator-removal efforts started.
In 2000, kokanee fishing was closed in the lake as the fish's population dwindled. Since then, the kokanee's numbers have risen.
"If the upward trend we are seeing continues, I'm optimistic that we'll have a real shot at re-opening the kokanee fishery again within the next couple of years," said Andy Dux, a principal Fish & Game biologist working on the lake.