Copyright ©1999 Spring Creek Communications
March-ing Through Spring in Idaho
To many, March may not appear worth a hoot when it comes to fishing and hunting. Actually, lots of outdoor sport is available this month for those who know where to look! And, as spring progresses, it just gets better. See below for a summary of spring throughout the state.
by Sharon Watson
Hunting is pretty limited in March. You can go rockchuck popping on any sunny afternoon with some success, though you should know that every adult chuck killed this month may starve out a litter of pups waiting below in a dark den.
For much faster shooting, wait until all those pups are nearly mature and running around above ground. Ditto on southwest Idaho’s teeming Columbian ground squirrels – unless you want to put a good dent in their numbers before they destroy the eggs of all sorts of upland game birds in April and May.
Cottontail rabbit season ended in February, but jackrabbits can be hunted all year. Rabbit numbers have been low in Idaho in recent years, however. Some hunters of coyotes live for nothing else, maybe partly because they can be hunted year-around.
Turkey season is April 15 through May 25, 1999, except in Panhandle Units, where it starts later. (Check 1999 Idaho Turkey Rules, page 7.) The deadline for spring controlled hunts has passed, but there is a fall controlled hunt available this year. Applications for the draw must be received within the month of May. All spring wild turkey hunters may apply for a fall turkey controlled hunt permit during the same calendar year.
For some, "offbeat" fishing is what March is all about. Take Rocky Mountain whitefish, for example. They’re still pooled up by the hundreds in many streams, yet March weather is rapidly moderating to make chasing them much more enjoyable than in bitter January. The way to load up on pooled-up whiteys is to screen a supply of stonefly nymphs from shallow rock-riffles. Then drift these baits on very light line and tiny hooks near the bottom of deep rocky pools with a sluggish current – while avoiding ice floes. During spring runoff when the rivers are especially muddy, fishing for anything will be slower.
And then there is steelheading which anglers tend to do with great passion, as well it deserves. It might be considered "offbeat" only in the sense that it’s not what it was in the 60s. Both spring and fall seasons (January 1 through April 30 and September 1 through December 31) are available this year. See the Fish and Game Rules Booklet for the exceptions (page 15). In addition to your fishing license, a steelhead permit is required. Only hatchery steelhead can be harvested. A hatchery steelhead will have the adipose fin missing.
Or, take ice-out trout fishing as another "offbeat" March and April fishing sport. Higher reservoirs may not be breaking up yet, but many low elevation waters are. Would-be trout spawners move inshore by the thousands in ice-out waters, then cruise in finny phalanxes parallel to shore within easy casting range. They’re looking for a tributary spawning streat or suitable in-shore gravel, but no matter – these fish are big, hungry, and easy to catch. (Even if your favorite trout reservoir didn’t freeze over this winter, fish there will follow the same inshore-cruising pattern this month and next.)
On higher reservoirs, March can be a great ice-fishing month. Again, weather is tending to moderate, so jigging tiny baits through six-inch holes on a vast, windy icesheet might seem a little closer to sanity, depending on what part of the state you are in. For plentiful yellow perch, fish live grubs (not worms) within a few inches (not feet, as in the summer) of bottom. If you can’t find live grubs locally, try "Berkley Power Wigglers" that are said to fish circles around the real thing. These artificial grubs are also so tough that one angler caught 140 fish on a single bait! For ever-cruising trout under the ice, use worms, salmon eggs, or Berkley’s now-famous Trout Power Baits, jigging about halfway down.
The Snake River in the Hagerman Valley of southern Idaho is a favorite fishing spot in March through May. The deep canyon is often 10 or more degrees warmer than it is up on the sagebrush flats. The wind up on the flats will send your Stetson from Twin Falls to Jackson Hole, but probably won’t even muss your hair down in the bottom of the canyon. (The same effect works in mid-summer, too, when the canyon can be a hot wok and you a pea pod.) The river is full of rainbow and in the area of Lower Salmon Dam holds good numbers of bass. Public ponds carry trout and bluegill and are best fished as early in the year as the law allows.
Reports of numerous sturgeon catches below Bliss and on to C. J. Strike reservoir reach our ears from time to time.
If you prefer warmwater species, one look at the gray, wind-whipped reservoirs along the lower Snake River and you might decide to stay home until April. Don’t do it – fishing there can be terrific in March for bass, crappie, bluegill, perch, and channel catfish. All these species tend to lie deep right now, and they don’t move around much. That means you’ll have to probe with lures, bait, or electronic fishfinders to locate them. Bites will be unbelievably light in most cases – a mere lowering, not a twitch, of the most delicate rod tip! Keep your hooks ultra-sharp and maybe "stoop" to scent-emitting baits on lures to encourage fish to hang on a bit longer.
If you’re a smallmouth angler at heart, you probably already know to bottom-hop (no, make that "crawl") scented jigs along rocky bottoms this month and next. Try also dragging a few shallow-diving crankbaits through muddy surf – really big female smallmouth spawners will start cruising such gravelly areas about now. Largemouths will be found far back in sunny, weedy bays, shivering their fins off but ready to do battle.
Walleye fishing at Salmon Falls Reservoir is typically fairly slow until later in the spring when spawning urges take over. The chance to catch abig one, however, could be about as good now as it ever will be and it should not be necessary to fish as deep as will be required in the middle of the season.
Getting Ready for Big Game Hunting
This is also the time of year for deciding where you want to hunt big game this year. For general season hunts, you’ll have to go by the 1998 Idaho Big Game Rules until the 1999 becomes available in April. You should be able to still get copies at local sports vendors. If not, stop in at the Fish & Game headquarters in Boise, or any of the regional offices. Keep in mind that general season nonresident elk tags are usually sold out by May 1. Deer tags are usually available throughout the season. The 1999 Big Game Rules typically aren’t ready until mid-April, after biologists finish their detailed analysis of harvests. Major changes in the Rules aren’t anticipated, but there are always some. Rumor has it that in the Middle Fork and Selway Zones, the elk hunts may change to six-point only.
Nonresidents can call 1-208-334-3700 and request that the rules booklets be mailed to them along with a 1999 nonresident application. If controlled hunts are the only hunts you are interested in, then you should wait for the 1999 rules to come out in April. (Call and get your name on the mailing list.) However, by then, all the general season elk tags could be sold out. (Deer tags are generally not sold out anywhere, except in southeastern Idaho.) In order not to waste your hunting license cost, it is advisable to purchase a general season elk tag and then exchange it for a controlled hunt tag later if you get drawn for the controlled hunt of your choice. That way, if you don’t draw, you can still hunt elk in Idaho. To exchange the tag, there is a $3.50 fee.
Spring is always an exciting time in Idaho as we pull out of winter and away from the boob-tube.