Opening day is a thing of the past for anglers in the Idaho Panhandle.
“People will be getting used to our new rules this year as we’ve pretty much gone to year-round seasons with just a few exceptions,” said Jim Fredericks, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional fisheries manager.
The state paved the way for more year-round fishing a few years ago by going to catch-and-release for cutthroat trout in the region’s rivers. Even the Priest drainage is catch-and-release for cutthroats now.
As long as anglers were not killing a high percentage of the fish, there was no reason not to let them fish all year, he said.
Under this year’s new rules, even the tributaries of the Coeur d’Alene River and Lake Pend Oreille, for the most part, are open year-round.
Most of Idaho’s lakes already were on a year-round season.
Anglers still must check regulations for the exceptions, such as Hayden Creek, and for details on such things as differing catch limits.
“Overall, we believe the new rules are simplified and more readable,” Fredericks said.
Other highlights on the Idaho Panhandle fishing scene this year include:
Kokanee are back in good numbers at Lake Coeur d’Alene, and Priest Lake kokanee will be open to harvest.
Northern pike are booming in the form of giant fish at Twin Lakes, where a 40-pounder was caught last summer. Biologists hope anglers harvest plenty of pike there to keep the predators from overpopulating.
Cutthroat streams are continuing to produce premium catch-and-release fishing, especially on the St. Joe an Coeur d’Alene rivers.
Trout stocking continues to produce decent opportunities to catch trout at many Panhandle lakes. While the hatchery fish are caught fairly quickly at Kelso, Fernan and Hauser Lakes, the trout tend to grow to a bigger 12-20 inch range at Cocolalla and Mirror lakes.
Panfishing can be excellent at Panhandle lakes, with bluegills prolific at Rose, Kelso, Robinson and Rush lakes while good size perch to 10 inches were catching angler attention this winter at Cocolalla.
Lake Pend Oreille, while it isn’t out of the woods from the imbalance of predator fish and the decade-long crash of kokanee, is showing good signs of recovery, Fredericks said. The numbers of invasive mackinaw have been drastically reduced while rainbows larger than 25 pounds were caught in the lake last year.
Largemouth bass are holding their own against the smallmouth invasion in some waters, such as Thompson Lake off the lower Coeur d’Alene River.
“I hope they hold on,” Fredericks said. “There were zero smallmouths in Thompson 10 years ago; now they’re abundant.”
Kootenai River nutrient restoration (fertilization) continues in a stretch of about 12 miles of river downstream from the Montana border to increase food for trout in an experiment on growing bigger fish.
Walleye continue to gain water in the Idaho Panhandle, a trend not welcome by fish managers. “We’re finding more and more of them in the Pend Oreille system,” Fredericks said. “Electrofishing surveys from the Long Bridge (at Sandpoint) to Albeni Falls about 10 years ago found very few smallmouths and no walleye. Last year’s survey found abundant smallmouth and enough walleye to be alarmed about. We were finding juvenile fish, which means they are reproducing in the Pend Oreille system.”
Mature walleye have been turning up in the agency’s fishery surveys for around 10 years, he said, “but this is the first indication of successful reproduction over several years.”