Dworshak Reservoir is the best thing that never quite lived up to its promise to Clearwater County, Idaho.
But a weekly dab of fertilizer is growing more incentive for anglers to visit and wet a line in 54 miles of heaven on the North Fork of the Clearwater River.
Idaho Fish and Game Department researchers are finding encouraging results in the fourth year of a project that adds nutrients to the water to boost production of the lake’s fisheries.
This is prime time for the public to come and see for themselves. Among the attractions:
•A huge crop of 2-year-old kokanee is swimming in the reservoir.
•Smallmouth bass are numerous and active in the waters that produced Idaho’s state record in 2006.
•The reservoir is filling toward its July 4 peak and dozens of boat-in mini-camps are reasonably accessible.
•Anglers are having a ball with a bountiful run of spring chinook salmon moving up the Clearwater River below the reservoir.
“From my office, I can look out and watch fishermen netting big chinook salmon the rivers have delivered to us right here in Orofino,” said local chiropractor and sportsman Dennis Harper.
“This community has a ton of opportunity.”
Dworshak Dam spawned controversy as it was completed in 1972 near Orofino on the North Fork near its confluence with the Clearwater. The public paid a high price – $312 million for the dam as well as losing what may have been the finest population of large-size steelhead in the world.
Recreation facilities help mitigate the loss, but some 100 boat-in mini camps around the 189 miles of shoreline are reasonably accessible for only a couple of weeks a year when the reservoir is near full pool in late June and early July.
Clearwater County officials negotiated a plan with cash-strapped Idaho State Parks and the Corps of Engineers to keep Dworshak State Park open this year.
The Corps maintains other camping facilities ranging from plush at Big Eddy and Dent Acres to remote up-lake in the Grandad area.
Hunters ply the area for black bears and turkeys in spring and deer and elk in the fall.
But the main attractions are the fisheries, primarily the kokanee and smallmouth bass.
Dworshak’s best fishing for numbers of kokanee tends to be in late March and early April, when the salmon concentrate at the lower end near the dam, Harper said.
“We heard of a lot of 50-fish limits in the early spring,” confirmed Sean Wilson, Idaho Fish and Game Department biologist.
This month, the fish began spreading up the reservoir. By midsummer, some of the fish will be upstream 40 miles near Grandad.
“The fishing pressure is very light up there,” Harper said. “It’s long and rough to drive in, but a boat with a lot of fuel can make it up there and back and enjoy being alone.”
The reservoir’s only fuel station is at the marina near the dam.
June kokanee hotspots tend to be around Canyon Creek, Elk Creek and Dent Acres, but the kokanee move, searching for densities of the zooplankton on which they feed.
“If you have trouble finding the kokanee on a given day, you can always go after the smallmouths, which are on virtually every point and rock pile,” Harper said.
The reservoir usually is full for the Fourth of July before water is withdrawn to feed cold water downstream to the Clearwater and Snake rivers for the benefit of salmon and steelhead.
However, officials aren’t sure Dworshak will completely refill this year with runoff predicted to be less than 60 percent of average.
While the lower water levels leave the shoreline mini-camps difficult to access, the popular destination and safe-harbor docks anchored in protected bays provide excellent floating recreation spots for families.
The bigger docks have picnic tables and a swimming area.
Locals bring a scrubbing broom and a bucket in case they need to wash off goose droppings before they settle in.