Panhandle a mixed bag
Walleyes blossom at Pend Oreille
Unlike last year, Idaho’s 2012 seasons and rules are not changing significantly for Panhandle anglers, but the fishing opportunities continue to evolve.
Walleyes have gained significant ground in Lake Pend Oreille and are attracting more anglers who key on them, said Jim Fredericks, Idaho Fish and Game Department Regional fisheries manager.
The non-native fish apparently came down the Clark Fork River from Noxon Reservoir, showing in fisheries research nets more than a decade ago.
In 2010, fisheries biologists documented that walleye were reproducing in the Pend Oreille system.
“The walleye fishery has clearly developed at the north end of the lake as well as in the Pend Oreille River from the railroad bridge down to Albeni Falls Dam,” he said.
“Walleye are notorious for being hit or miss, but we’re hearing from anglers who had multiple-fish days last year. This year we expect to see a pretty big year class of 3-year-old fish in the 16-20 inch range.
“Time will tell how consistently anglers can catch them, but the fish are definitely there – down the Clark Fork, along the mouth of the Pack River and Sunnyside.”
There’s no limit on the number of walleyes an angler can catch in Lake Pend Oreille, and Fredericks hopes angler will harvest liberally.
“Fishing pressure and keeping the density down will be the trick to maintaining the higher growth rates,” he said.
Kokanee are booming in several Panhandle Lakes.
Spirit Lake has a record number of 2-year old kokanee that were virtually untapped in the winter fishery because of poor ice conditions.
“The jig fishermen should do very well on them this month as well as the summer trollers,” he said, noting the fish should run 9-10 inches long.
Lake Coeur d’Alene kokanee fishing should be even better than last year, when the fishery had rebounded enough to warrant increasing the daily limit back to 15 fish.
“The fishery has come back into better balance, with the chinook building in size and numbers behind the improvement in kokanee,” Fredericks said.
“We’ve simply had good conditions for kokanee and it’s showing.”
Lake Pend Oreille’s kokanee fishery continues to build from a near crash, but fishing for them is still prohibited.
“We’re very encouraged and likely will recommend a season, maybe with a six-fish limit or something like that, for 2013,” he said.
Pend Oreille’s rainbow numbers are improving and rules to help boost the trophy rainbow fishery are likely to be proposed next year.
Cutthroat trout have responded beautifully to catch-and-release regulations, he said.
The number of native cutthroats in the Coeur d’Alene River has increase more than five-fold in the past decade. Both the numbers and quality of the fish in the St. Joe River also have improved, he said.
Trout stocking remains the same in most waters with the notable exception of Hauser Lake, where no trout will be stocked this year.
“Fishermen were catching only 5 percent of the trout we were stocking in Hauser,” he said. “That’s not a good return for catchable-size fish that cost a buck apiece to produce.” Waters getting trout as usual include Kelso, Fernan, Cocolalla and Mirror.
Cocolalla Lake produces one of the area’s most productive perch fisheries for ice fishing, but in spring, most Cocolalla anglers turn to trolling for trout.
“It has a good mix of hatchery cutthroats and rainbows, plus naturally producing browns and brook trout,” Fredericks said. “And it’s one of our best lakes for trout grow, with beauties up to 18 inches.”