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Omak cutthroat on the bite

FISHING — Good fishing reports are coming in from far and wide.  Here's the latest on Omak Lake on the Colville Indian Reservation from Anton Jones of Darrell & Dad's Guide Service:

On Omak the fish are coming off the spawn and biting like crazy!  This year it appears that the bite rate is somewhat less than the previous couple of years, but drumroll… the average fish is much better.  We have trolled Jeff’s drift rigs (unbaited, to be consistent with the regs), squid rigs and spoons.  Fish have averaged about 20” or so.  Trophy sized Cutts are always a possibility here.  Dan Beardslee caught one over 18 pounds!  Next to Pyramid Lake in Nevada, this may be the best Lahontan Cutthroat Trout lake in the world.  Working speeds of 1.4 to 1.6 mph seemed to work best for our presentations, but vary it a lot to see what works best for you. 

Fishing tip of the week: Make small changes to increase your productivity.  I am loathe to change presentations, typically.  With me, the changes are usually location.  Sometimes, small changes in location can greatly increase catch rates.  Sometimes concentrations of fish move just a few hundred feet.  Think about the cover and food requirements for fish and make your adjustments accordingly.  Similarly, a small change in the profile of a lure (ie:  sizing up or down) can make a big difference in bite rate.  Too big a change can have you come up empty or at least unable to tell which variable was important. 

Cutthroat revival spawns more research at Priest Lake

FISHING — Note to self: Go fly fishing for cutthroats at Priest Lake this year.

In the late 1970s, I wrote a story about the excellent cutthroat fishing fly fishers enjoyed for the Idaho state fish at Priest Lake an Upper Priest Lake.  One day of "research," involved joining Greg Mauser, the Idaho Fish and Game Department fisheries biologist who was studying the lake's native westslope cutthroats at the time.

We cruised over the glass-smooth water along the shoreline in his powerboat. When we saw a pod of rising cutthroats in the distance, Mauser would cut the engine so we'd drift into the path of the oncoming trout.  When the rises approached casting distance, we'd lay out a dry fly ahead of the surface-dimpling cutties — and wham!  It was a blast.

The cutthroat fishery throughout the Idaho Panhandle, including Lake Coeur d'Alene and Priest Lake, was in a downward trend at the time. The decline persisted.

But recently, the Priest Lake cutthroats have been increasing.

Changes in habitats — especially to spawning tributaries — and changing fish communities, such as the infiltration of non-native lake trout, raised havoc with the cutthroat's centuries of adaptation.

Fishery managers, with their options limited, banned the harvest of cutthroat at Priest (and many other Panhandle waters).

The fish responded.

I ran into Mauser this fall. He said it wasn't like the good ol' days, but the autumn dry fly fishing for cutthroats was pretty darned good.

Fish and Game researchers have been sampling the fishery in order to monitor trout abundance. Cutthroats caught in sampling gillnets ranged to 18 inches long.

With only one year of surveys, the numbers per net don't mean too much except that they had consistent catches throughout Priest Lake. That's good news. Perhaps better news will come from follow-up surveys in upcoming years.

Biologists eye rules to protect Bitterroot River trout

Cutthroat trout deaths on Montana river may prompt regulation change
Over the past two years, reports of dead cutthroat trout on the upper reaches of Montana's Bitterroot River have launched an investigation by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to determine if fishing regulation changes are warranted to adjust to warming temperatures and higher water temperatures.

—Ravalli Republic

Idaho seeks comments on cutthroat plan

FISHING — The Idaho Fish and Game Department is asking anglers to comment on a draft management plan for maintaining and restoring native westslope cutthroat trout — a prized fishery linked to pure forest watersheds.

These fish, characterized by spotting and distinctive red coloring near its gills, still occupy about 80 percent of historical range in Idaho. That includes streams like the Moyie River and Kootenai River in northern Idaho, and, of course, the prime headwaters of the Spokane River system — the Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe Rivers.

Westslope cutthroats still occupy roughly 80 percent of their historical range in Idaho, but fish managers seek to avoid petitions to list them as threatened.

This draft plan is good reading.  It discusses the population status of westslope cutthroat trout in major watershed groupings and the conservation actions the Department intends to pursue to protect and enhance populations and habitat across the species range in Idaho. 

Comment on the plan by July 26, 2013.

May16: Another great day at Cutthroat Creek

FISHING — Rain, moose, bushwhacking, scattered yellow stoneflies, a half-hour hatch of March Browns, 47-degree water, one hook imbeddd in thumb requiring cord-jerk extraction (worked slick) and more cutthroats than you could shake a (fishing) stick at….  

It was another great day at Cutthroat Creek, where the trout are handsome, the anglers smell strong and the fishing is always above average.

Surprising predator gets some blame for killing Yellowstone Park elk calves

WILDLIFE — Which predator gets the blame for poor survival of elk calves in Yellowstone National Park?

A. Gray wolf.

B. Grizzly bear.

C. Lake trout.

Answer:  All of the above.

Check out the Billings Gazette story on the latest suprising research — which shouldn't be all that surprising to wildlife enthusiasts who understand the complex ways nature is connected.

Fly fishers score on large cutthroats at Omak Lake

FISHING — The Spokane Fly Fishers' club outing to Omak Lake last weekend was a success, according to the photo (above) and brief report from Mike Berube:

The club's outing to Omak Lk this past weekend was a good time. Everyone caught fish…. Threw streamers for two days and caught a lot of fish. It didn't seem to matter what pattern we used.

Omak Lake is a on the Colville Indian Reservation (tribal fishing license required) about 7 miles southeast of Omak. The 10-mile-long lake is large — 3,244 acres compared to Sprague Lake at 1,840 acres.  But it's also famous for producing trophy-size Lahontan cutthroat trout.  

  • The 18.04-pound Washington state record Lahontan cutt was caught in Omak Lake in 1993.

Public beaches and boat access are at the north end of the lake. 

Canada mines taint Elk River fishery in B.C., threaten downstream fisheries

FISHERIES — A new study says a metal-like element called selenium is leeching from coal mines into the Elk river drainage in southeastern British Columbia, threatening fish habitat in Canada and downstream in Montana.

The study found five coal mines in the Elk River Valley are causing toxic pollution, and four of the coal mines are planning expansions.

The Elk River in the area near Fernie, British Columbia, is a fishing stream prized by fly fishers.

The Missoulian reports a new coal mine proposal and three exploration projects are also under way.

The executive director of a conservation group called Wildsight says the selenium affects reproductive organs in fish and could lead to a population collapse.

The Elk River joins the Kootenai River at Lake Koocanusa.

The study was commissioned by Glacier National Park and carried out by the University of Montana’s Ric Hauer and Erin Sexton.

Expect more information on this alarming development.

North Idaho cutthroat need help from cool heads

FISHING —  Warmer water temperatures being recorded in North Idaho streams and rivers are creating unhealthy conditions for trout, especially the region's westslope cutthroats, Idaho environmental officials said.

A recent analysis by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality shows that nearly 900 miles of streams in Kootenai and Shoshone counties are reaching temperatures up to 80 degrees in warmer months, well above the optimal temperature of 55 degrees or colder for trout species that attract legions of fly fishers.

The biggest factor to the warming trend is excessive sun exposure and lack of tree cover that provides shade and protection, Kajsa Stromberg, DEQ spokeswoman, told the Coeur d'Alene Press in a story published Tuesday.

In addition, Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game studies over the years have documented major losses of deep holes and stream structure trout would seek to survive such conditions. Historic mining, logging and road-building practices contributed to the problems.

The region most affected by the warmer waters is the North Fork Coeur d'Alene River Sub basin, a region with a national reputation for producing great cutthroat trout fishing.

The warmer temperatures have a variety of negative impacts on trout, from making the fish lethargic to heightened risk and exposure to potentially threatening disease.

THE GOOD NEWS is that the DEQ is proposing a plan to lower water temperatures and improve access to colder, deeper waters to help reverse the warming trend.

  • The strategy includes building more rock structures and logs to narrow and deepen channels and improving access fish have to cold-water channels and natural springs. The plan, now open for public review and comment, would also protect more of the region's shoreline trees from timber harvest managed by the U.S. Forest Service and provide incentives to private landowners.

The agency is taking written comments on the proposal until April 10, followed by a public hearing. The agency will also submit its draft plan to the Environmental Protection Agency for review.

THE BAD NEWS is that the online reaction to the CdA Press story on this issue was dominated by comments suggesting the DEQ's proposal is an example of government waste or a "liberal" reaction to climate change. 

God help us if such ignorance is allowed to guide our stewardship of natural resources.

Catching huge cutthroats is kid stuff at Badger Lake

FISHING — Cool, wet weather has kept area lake fisheries alive into summer for local anglers.

While some fishermen give up on area fishing lakes in spring after the first few fast-action weeks of the season, others are finding more at the lakes than just the peace and quiet.

Luke Marcellus, 5, shares a little bit of his weekend action in this photo. Check out the quality of that cutthroat from Badger Lake. It measured 22.5 inches long, and it's fat as a corn-fed sow!

"There were three of us bottom fishing at Badger Lake," said Jared  Marcellus, who spoke so proudly of the fishing day, it was clear without asking that he's Luke's dad.

"It took 3 hours, but we limited; mostly small rainbows with one larger rainbow and the big cutthroat pictured with Luke."

"He is quite the fisherman for a 5 year old! I probably wouldn't have gone Saturday without his request."

We should all be so lucky as to have that motivation.

Giant cutthroat a gift from North Idaho catch and release rules

FISHING — A jaw-dropping cutthroat trout caught by Matt Seaton this week, out with his brother — North Idaho fly-fishing guide Josh Seaton — is a reminder that Idaho's catch-and-release fishing rules have giant benefits.

A few groups, primarily in the Silver Valley and St. Maries areas, have been pressuring the  Idaho Fish and Game Department to relax the catch-and-release rules enacted for the river a few years ago.  Apparently they can't imagine catching a trophy like this and releasing it back into the river to live, spawn and perhaps be caught again by another lucky angler.

Research proves that few wild trout in Idaho streams would grow to large sizes if anglers were allowed to harvest the biggest fish every year. These findings are especially applicable to cutthroat trout, which have evolved to be rather unselective in what they strike in order to survive in their clean, relatively unfertile waters.

This wild fish, running at least 25 inches long, was caught on a large streamer a few days ago in a location the anglers are identifying only as in "the Couer d'Alene watershed."  Super. Great job, Matt and Josh. Thanks for giving the rest of us a chance to be thrilled by that wild hunk of Idaho.

And thanks to Idaho Fish and Game for standing tall against selfish people who essentially are promoting the elimination of this size of fish from North Idaho waters within a couple of years.

Biologists react to photo of two-mouth trout

FLY FISHING — I posted the explanation for this photo of a two-mouth cutthroat trout caught Saturday by fly fisher Jay Kirchner in my blog earlier in the week.

Here's the reaction from two North Idaho fisheries biologists, indicating the rarity of the catch — and release.

"Never heard of such a thing!"

Jim Fredericks, IFG Panhandle Region fishery manager

"That looks like damage due to hooking disfiguration. I've seen this before, but never to that degree.

"Very rarely, we've documented two headed fish in hatcheries, but those fish look considerably different than that cutthroat trout."

Joe DuPont, IFG Clearwater Region fisheries manager, formerly the field biologist who conducted definitive studies of Coeur d'Alene River cutthroats.

"I have seen fish like this while doing electrofishing surveys, in several rivers. In most cases I believe the deformity is due to a severe hooking injury, but there are other possible explanations (pretty sure in most cases it's the result of an injury and not a genetic deformity). It's not really a second mouth, but the separation of the tissue that connects the jaw with the gular (tongue) structure. Remarkably, these fish are often healed up and in pretty good condition in many cases."

Chip Corsi, IFG Panhandle Region manager and fisheries biologist. 

Fly fisher had two chances to catch two-face fish in CdA River

FLY FISHING — Jay Kirchner was fly fishing on the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River Saturday morning when he hooked a scrappy cutthroat trout.

"It hit an Elk Hair Caddis on the surface," he said. "There was nothing odd about the strike or the fight except that when I could see it during the fight it looked odd. It wasn't until I got it in the net that I saw the fish had two mouths," he added, swearing he wasn't fishing up in the Selkirk Mountains at Two Mouth Lakes. 

"I laid it out on the shore for a quick picture, then set it loose again. The cutthroat happily swam off.

"Apparently the fish are so aggressive that some have decided to grow a second mouth to aid in their insect attacks!"

Although the photo is sharp, it's not clear whether the lower mouth is a deformity from the egg or whether it's the healed result of suffering hooking damage as a young fish.   Any ideas out there?

Kirchner is the public information officer for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest in Coeur d'Alene.

Climate change could slash 50 percent of native cutthroat trout habitat

FISHING — Native cutthroat trout are likely to feel the heat from climate change.

A new study shows a changing climate could reduce suitable trout habitat in the western U.S. by about 50 percent over the next 70 years, with some trout species experiencing greater declines than others.

The results were reported by a team of 11 scientists from Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, Colorado State University, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group.

The study, published today in the peer-reviewed science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, predicts native cutthroat throughout the West could decline by as much as 58 percent, while introduced brook trout could decline by as much as 77 percent.   Rainbow and brown trout populations, according to the study, would also decline by an estimated 35 percent and 48 percent respectively. (Read the study report.)

The study notes that the decline of cutthroat trout is “of particular significance,” because cutthroats are the only trout native to much of the West and a keystone species in the Rocky Mountain ecosystem.

Read on for reaction from Trout Unlimited, and some reason for hope.

Roading plans threaten Kelly Creek cutts, angler says

FISHERIES — A man with his eyes on proposed development in the Clearwater National Forest issued an alert this week in the Letters to the Editor section of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.   Read on if you're a fan of the westslope cutthroat trout that lure fly fishers to Kelly Creek.