Perfect time to go fishing in North Idaho, says IDFG expert

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PRIEST RIVER — One of the many outdoor features we enjoy in the Panhandle is the abundance of lowland lakes that are available for public fishing. There are around 68 small, low elevation lakes with public access for anglers in the Panhandle Region.

It can be a “challenge” when you must decide where to go on any given day! These relatively small and shallow lakes hold a wide variety of fish species.

As the spring days get longer and the sun higher over these lakes; warm water species such as bluegills, crappies, yellow perch and bass move into shallow water where the sunlight penetrates to the bottom. Sunlight hitting the lake bed warms the water, and the warmer water temperatures cause the fish to feed actively and aggressively.

Beyond the warm water species, many of these lakes contain trout. Trout stocking has been delayed because of load limits on area roads, and the domino effect of the late start means fish plants will be stretched out longer than normal. Fish will be planted in area lakes as soon as the trucks can roll. A stocking schedule is posted on the Idaho Fish and Game website.

There are many holdover hatchery rainbow trout that were planted in previous years that have so far eluded anglers. Holdover rainbows can be caught this time of year in area lakes. These fish provide excellent fishing opportunity and are great to take home for dinner within the numbers the daily limits allow.

While the best fishing on area low elevation lakes is typically found in May and June, anglers who switch tactics and fish deeper water can have excellent results throughout the summer.

Before heading out for a day of fishing, be sure to check on the regulations for the water you have chosen for the day. Regulations booklets are available free at license vendors and IDFG offices. Regulations are also available online.

Idaho Fish and Game has taken great strides to simplify fishing regulations. In addition, fishing rules booklets are now in effect for three years resulting in fewer changes to keep track of. The current regulations cycle covers 2016-2018. The publication has also been reorganized and is now very easy to follow.

On page 6 of the current regulations booklet, there is a short guide that tells you how the publication is designed. Take a quick look at this page and it becomes easy to understand how to check the rules for specific waters.

After checking page 6, go to the section for the region you plan to fish. The five northernmost counties are the “Panhandle Region”. Colored tabs on each page make this easy to do. Immediately below the region designation are the fishing season dates for that region, followed by the limits for all species in that region. The next box lists in alphabetical order any waters in that region that have specific regulations. If the water you are planning to fish is not listed (and most are not), you are done. Go fish and follow the rules for the region! If the water is listed, the next few pages explain the rules for that particular water.

If everything falls into place and you land a big one, you can go to page 54 and check on the state record for the species of fish you just caught. You could see your name in the next regulations book as a state record holder! Only fish caught in publicly-accessible waters with legal fishing methods during an open season are eligible. Fish caught at private pay-to-fish waters are not eligible.

There is also a state records list for ‘catch and release’ records. Fish that are caught and released alive now qualify for recognition. These new records are based only upon the total length (snout to tip of the tail with the lobes squeezed together) of fish that are released. Fish must be photographed directly next to a ruler/tape or an object of verifiable length such as the regulations booklet. Salmon, steelhead and sturgeon must be measured and photographed in the water. At least one witness to the measurement and release is required.

Those who are new to fishing may want to check out our “Take Me Fishing” trailers that travel around the state. The trailers are brilliantly colored with fish illustrations, and the “Take Me Fishing” logo. Every trailer is stocked full of fishing equipment that is all set up and ready for anglers to give fishing a try...and no license is needed during the event if you sign in at the trailer.

The Panhandle trailer has been scheduled for numerous dates at popular lakes throughout northern Idaho in May and June. A new schedule in the form of a bookmark will be distributed to area schools with information about the program and dates and times where you can find the trailer. Check with your youngster to see if they brought a bookmark schedule home from school. Dates are also on the fish and game website under the fishing tab.

Inside the trailer are rod holders full of fishing rods all rigged up and ready to be signed out for the event. If you want to try fishing but do not have the needed equipment, this is your opportunity. Bait is provided and we can help you get started with some good tips on how to cast, detect a bite and land a fish.

The “Take Me Fishing” events are open to everyone. Your age and state of residence do not matter. It couldn’t be easier or cheaper to give fishing a try or come back to an activity you once enjoyed but have gotten away from!

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