North Idaho’s crown jewel cutthroat trout streams – including the Coeur d’Alene, St. Joe and St. Maries – are in their first full year of expanded catch-and-release regulations befitting their popularity.
“It’s too early to peg significant results,” said Jim Fredericks, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional fisheries manager. “But in 2000, when we expanded the catch-and-release section on the St. Joe from Prospector Creek down to Avery, we soon saw an increase in larger cutthroat. So the regulation does work.
“We can only assume that there will be larger fish throughout the St. Joe with the rules expanded the length of the river.”
Key provisions of the rules for the streams in the Spokane River drainage include:
•Cutthroat trout must be released if caught anywhere in the Spokane River drainage – including all of the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe rivers.
•The catch-and-release season for cutthroats on these streams runs year-round – no more April-May closures.
“Our enforcement officers patrolled the rivers fairly rigorously last year and compliance by and large was very good,” Fredericks said. “The signs fishing clubs help us put up along the rivers helped a lot.
“Fishermen really bought into this program.”
•The Panhandle’s “Winter Stream Season” (Dec. 1 to Saturday of Memorial Day weekend) has not changed. Both cutthroat and rainbows still must be released during this season, but harvest is allowed on whitefish and brook trout.
•Bait and hook rules have not changed. Even though cutthroats must be released throughout the Spokane River drainage, bait and barbed hooks are still allowed on the North Fork Coeur d’Alene downstream from Yellowdog Creek, on the Little North Fork Coeur d’Alene downstream from Laverne Creek, and on the St. Joe River downstream from the North Fork near Avery.
Barbless-hook and no-bait rules apply only upstream from those points. However, fisheries biologists and sportfishing conservationists encourage anglers to use artificial flies and lures with barbless hooks throughout the system.
“The cutthroat fisheries in the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe rivers are at high numbers we haven’t seen since the ’90s,” Fredericks said. “Both rivers should be excellent again this year, with the main difference being that the snowpack is lower and they should clear up and be fishable much sooner.”