Of Bounties, Fines and Plenitude

ifishwrite-040-lake pend-oreille-mackinaw-dwayne-parsons

Know Your Fish

I fish with a lot of different people in any given season. Many of them are from out-of-state and many are new to fishing altogether. The problem is we, like many states, have an increasingly complex set of regulations; yet the burden of knowledge rests on the angler. Many novice fishers don’t know a peno from a whitefish. In one case, I kept quiet. They would learn at the dinner table.

Go Figure

Your ability to correctly identify a fish caught in the Lake Pend Oreille reservoir and river systems as well as in the Clark Fork River flowing into North Idaho from Montana can mean the difference between reward and violation. This includes North Idaho’s Pack River, the primary river feeding the north end of Lake Pend Oreille and it’s tributary streams as well as lesser streams flowing directly into the lake system, of which there are many. Your knowledge of what fish is which may be the difference between a hefty fine, a sometimes hefty fish for the table or a rather hefty bounty for catching a predator the Idaho Department of Fish & Game deems undesirable to the Pend Oreille Lake fishery.

The Bounty

Though this is likely the last season on this system to carry a bounty on Lake Trout (Mackinaw), IF&G is contemplating introducing its controversial but effective plan on North Idaho’s Priest Lake system in 2013. The objective in this aggressive management policy is to reduce large predators considered responsible for the collapse of kokanee populations in these large bodies of water.

Kokanee (sometimes locally referred to as “bluebacks” are a variety of landlocked sockeye salmon that in good years run12 to 15 inches and populate in very large schools. Hunters and wood harvesters will often see red kokanee in huge numbers on streams that flow directly into these lakes from as early as October well into December as these freshwater salmon go upstream to spawn and die for the next generation of the species.

Kokanee were once so abundant in Lake Pend Oreille and Priest Lake that there was a commercial fishery for them. When I was in junior high school in the early 1960s, we could hand-line for them and keep 50 apiece. By the mid-90’s, the Priest Lake population had collapsed and those in Lake Pend Oreille were in danger of collapsing. The predator management policy introduced first on Lake Pend Oreille was a desperate measure by the department to cull large predators from the system where everything else had failed to revitalize the kokanee numbers.

In 2010, a bounty of $15 per head was placed on Mackinaw Trout (they are actually a char) as well as the Rainbow Trout in the lake as an incentive to reduce the over-abundant populations of these two species, and that under a harsh cry from avid anglers who were sure IF&G was destroying a legendary fishery. However the incentive dominated. some guys, giving in, made a fair living harvesting Lakers and Rainbow despite the fact that specialists from New Finland were brought in to net Mackinaw off their known spawning beds. Biologists radio-tagged some large macks to follow them to their redds and maps were drawn to show the netters where these large lake trout were choosing to spawn.

The third species in this discussion is the brook trout. You won’t likely catch one in the lake and river system other than some fair-sized ones on occasion in streams like Cocollala Creek. I’ve never taken one or heard of anyone catching one in the Pend Oreille River or Lake. Neither one is suitable habitat. I mention Brook Trout because their markings are very similar to that of Dolly Varden. Mackinaw, especially younger first-year and second-year specimens could be misconstrued to be Brook Trout by anyone not familiar with distinctions. So the point is: read the regulations and do as they suggest. Know the differences and respect what you catch. Beyond that, go and enjoy a good day’s catch!

~Dwayne K Parsons on Twitter @IFishWrite

Wind Swept

A Northeast wind bore down the river like a freight train, but we found the bass despite it—two fishing fools in a boat that shouldn’t have been out there.

This 3-pound smallmouth was ample reward.

This 3-pound smallmouth took aggressively under adverse water conditions because we were in the right place.

When the owner of Fish-N-Fool Lures called me mid-morning to see if I wanted to fish with him, I couldn’t say no. I’d attended one of his seminars in Spokane at a General Store sport shop a couple of nights before. I was primed, impressed with rich notes from listening to an innovative thinker. In my opinion, Rick Lawrence fishes well-outside the normal paradigm of accepted techniques. So I said “yes” and was on the road by noon to meet him an hour later.

We knew weather conditions were less than favorable, but we’re persistent fishermen. A hefty Northeast wind, not common in the Panhandle of North Idaho, had blown in over night carrying weatherman predictions of 25-mile-an-hour strength. Holding a boat steady in rippling currents with an electric motor under that kind of wind could prove impossible, but we had to try. We hoped for shoreline pockets where the wind would have less control over our profile.

We had to work for these fish; let me tell you. In the spring of the year one of our favorite crankbaits is the medium diver Rebel Crawfish because the river system is loaded with spawning crayfish. Rick took a 15″ Westslope Cutthroat on that crankbait, and I took one smallmouth, a full pound of fighting flesh. Using pinched barbs, we released both. But the wind was fierce and the currents near the small town of Priest River were excessively strong as the gates at Albany Falls Dam west of us were open to prepare Pend Oreille Lake above for possible flood conditions.

Anybody in his right mind would pass up a day like that, but when Fish-N-Fool calls you, you don’t turn him down. We fished first a small private lake for largemouth bass, skip-casting beneath willows thinking the trees would protect us, but with only two small fish landed and few strikes, we left for the river hoping to find shelter from the wind along Pend Oreille River’s steeper banks.

A mile or so downstream from the boat launch at Priest River, we realized no part of the channel was free of that ghastly wind. Sand blew off the low-water beaches as if we were in the Saharah Desert. You had to whip your rod tip to cast into that wind. We shifted from crankbaits to tube jigs, him using Gitzit Tubeworms and me, my usual Strike King Tubeworms, favoring 1/2 ounce over 1/4 ounce in those conditions.

Fishing the current lines and eddies we found pockets of smallmouth in various places. Rick proved to be a master handler of his Minn Kota Maxxum 101 lb electric trolling motor and we needed every pound of it to hold us in the powerful blend of wind and run-off current.

By the end of 2 hours under severe conditions, we took 12 bass apiece for a 24-fish total catch, the largest being the one in the photograph posted here, roughly 3-pounds–all released. When you’re a Fish-N-Fool like Rick and me, there are no bad conditions. Some are just worse than others. There’s always a way to catch fish if you can figure it out. First you have to find them, then you have to offer something they’ll take. I like it that way, and so does Rick. You’ll read more about him in future postings on this blog.

All in all we had a good and memorable wind swept day. #