Spring into fishing season

Roger Phillips / Idaho Statesman /

We’re about three weeks away from spring. In Southwest Idaho, that can mean anything from sunny and 60s to frigid snowstorms — and everything in between.

But let’s be optimists and hope for some decent weather to start our spring fishing.

These areas have traditionally provided good fishing. Of course, it’s hard to tell from year to year, but with this many options, you should be able to find some place to wet a line and hook a fish.

Lake Lowell

Why it’s worth the trip: It’s one of the most convenient but sometimes overlooked fishing spots in the Treasure Valley. The lake has a variety of fish, including perch, bluegill, crappie and catfish, but largemouth and smallmouth bass are its biggest attraction.

Even though Lake Lowell isn’t at the top of everyone’s list, it’s also no secret. It hosts several bass tournaments throughout the year and is popular with powerboaters. Shore anglers like to fish near dams, boat ramps and docks.

There’s easy access for smaller boats, such as pontoon boats and float tubes, and there are lots of opportunities for uncrowded fishing.

Because it’s relatively shallow, especially on the south shoreline, the water warms fairly quickly in the spring.

Even if we don’t get some early warm days, the bass often get active a lot earlier than most people realize.

Notes: Motorized boats are allowed only from April 15 to Sept. 30. For a map of the lake’s access points, visit fws.gov/deerflat.

Upper Salmon River

Why it’s worth the trip: Steelhead fishing beneath the Sawtooth Mountains with a herd of elk grazing in the distance truly is a unique experience.

More than 100 miles of road-accessible steelhead fishing awaits the intrepid angler who hits the Upper Salmon River in spring.

Road conditions are a little challenging from erratic spring weather, because sideways snowstorms aren’t uncommon. But it’s all worth it. People catch a lot of steelhead up there as the fish make their final push to the tributaries and hatcheries before spawning.

It’s a trick to catch the river when the conditions are right. Warmer temperatures get fish moving, but they also will eventually melt enough snow to blow out the river. Still, there’s almost always some fishable water, especially near Stanley.

Notes: Steelhead season ends April 30, but the best fishing is typically March through early April. After that, their bodies rapidly degrade as they prepare to spawn.

Little Salmon River

Why it’s worth the trip: This is arguably the best place to hook a chinook during spring if you don’t own a boat, and Riggins comes alive during salmon season. But beware that this river can be challenging.

Early forecasts are calling for a smaller spring chinook run than we’ve seen in recent years.

The chinook often arrive when the snow melts, and the little river starts raging. Timing is everything on the Little Salmon, and the peak of the run comes and goes quickly.

Assuming there’s a 14th-straight salmon season, I can assure you that someone will pull a large, hard-fighting, tasty fish out the river; it might as well be you.

The river is also a pretty good for spring steelhead fishing in March.

But large salmon run or small, chinook fishing on the Little Salmon has become a spring tradition.

Notes: The Idaho Fish and Game Commission typically sets the salmon season in April, but chinook fishing is usually best in late May and early June, depending on when the peak snow runoff occurs.

Duck Valley

Why it’s worth the trip: The Shoshone Paiute Indian Reservation has long been a destination for southern Idaho anglers.

There are three reservoirs there: Billy Shaw, Mountain View and Sheep Creek. They all have trout, and Sheep Creek has smallmouth bass. There’s also a section of the East Fork of the Owyhee River open for anglers. The tribe owns and operates the reservoirs and charges adults $15 per day to fish there; it’s $3 per day for those 14 or younger. Mountain View is open year-round, and the other two reservoirs open on April 1, but because of its elevation (about 5,000 feet), fishing is usually best in May and June.

The reservoirs are stocked well with hard-fighting rainbow trout. There’s usually a lot of fish in the 12-to-15-inch range, and there’s also larger fish and a few real trophies there.

The reservation is beautiful in the spring with warm, sunny days and cool nights. Summer, however, sparks a bloom of weeds that makes fishing difficult.

You also can camp at the reservoirs for an additional charge. There are boat launches, and the town has a grocery store.

Notes: For details on fishing and camping on the reservation, go to shopaitribes.org.

C.J. Strike Reservoir

Why it’s worth the trip: Few places can match Strike’s variety of fish, which include bass, trout, perch, crappie, bluegill, catfish, sturgeon, carp and more.

Though they’re all abundant, every year one species seems to explode, resulting in great fishing. Based on ice fishing, the perch population seems to be pretty healthy, but every year offers a few surprises.

Unlike many other reservoirs, Strike’s water level stays fairly constant, so you don’t have to worry about big seasonal fluctuations.

The reservoir is among the largest in Southwest Idaho and offers plenty of room for everyone. Most of the north shoreline is accessible by boat only, while the south is mostly road accessible and has several campgrounds and boat launches.

The reservoir has a long camping season, with options ranging from developed campgrounds to undeveloped, dispersed camping.

Lucky Peak Reservoir

Why it’s worth the trip: Lucky Peak is a bit of an enigma because it doesn’t give up its fish easily. You can’t just show up and expect to land a bunch. You might, but don’t expect it.

Put in some time and you can catch kokanee salmon. You can also catch trout from shore. The reservoir also has some trophy-sized smallmouth bass, but they can be as tough to find as an original thought in a candidate’s speech.

Spring also can provide good shore fishing for rainbow trout, and Arrowrock Reservoir upstream can be a good spot.

Owyhee River

Why it’s worth the trip: This Eastern Oregon river is a rarity in the Northwest — an easily accessible waterway dominated by large brown trout that feed mostly on insects. That makes the Owyhee a magnet for fly anglers.

The Owyhee is a year-round fishery that’s been known to produce quality, dry-fly fishing as early as February. Dry-fly fishing in March is pretty common.

The lower stretch of the river, where most of the trout fishing takes place, is dam-controlled, so flows are predictable and the river typically stays fishable throughout spring, when the reservoir catches most of the melting snow.

The river is fairly easy to wade, and there’s good road access. There’s also great scenery in the area, which is red rock country reminiscent of the Southwest.

But the Owyhee’s real draw is its abnormally large brown trout. They typically average 14 to 16 inches, and 20-inch fish or longer are common.

The fish get a lot of angling pressure, which is a curse and a blessing. They can be selective about what they eat, but they aren’t shy about taking insects off the surface in the presence of angler.

During a hatch, it’s common to have fish rising all around you, and at times the browns seem unflappable in their feeding frenzy.

Just as quickly, they can disappear and develop a case of lock jaw. But it’s almost always worth a trip to the Owyhee to see what kind of mood the fish are in.

Snake River

Why it’s worth the trip: There’s so much room to fish and so many fish in the section of the Snake that runs through Southwest Idaho.

Smallmouth bass fishing is fun and reliable on the river, and the catfish population is so healthy and durable that Fish and Game uses it as a source to stock catfish in ponds.

Spring is one of the best times of year to catch larger smallmouth bass because they move into the shallows to spawn.

The lower section of the river in southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon also is broad, shallow and slow-moving, so it warms fast in the spring.

If you pay attention to flows and water temperatures, you can get into some really fun bass fishing during spring.

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