Anglers who want to get a jump on their fishing season in early spring can find places to catch fish throughout Idaho, and a surprising variety of them.
With daylight saving time here and spring here, there’s also enough daylight for after-work or after-school fishing trips to a local fishing spot. That makes March and April great months for early-season fishing as a lead-in to prime spring fishing in May and early June.
Idaho Fish and Game stocks trout year round, but expands its operations as more waters open in March and become suitable for trout. Typically, ponds are the first places, followed by small lakes and reservoirs, then larger reservoirs and streams, but it depends on many factors.Here are some tips for early season fishing.
Watch the weather:
Fishing is typically better when temperatures are warming and the barometer is stable. A temperature drop or a storm typically slows fishing.
Take it slow:
Fish can be sluggish in cold water. Air temperature warms much faster than water, so even on a warm, spring day, the water is probably chilly. Bait is a good option, and if you’re using lures or flies, a slow retrieve usually works better.
Don’t overlook warmwater fish:
They become active sooner than you might think, but expect subtle strikes, and the fish to be in different places than where you found them last summer. Bass fishing can be good. Catch rates tend to be low, but the biggest fish are often the first to become active. Smaller, shallower waters typically warm faster than larger bodies of water. Ponds and small reservoirs are good options. Same goes for shallow coves, bays and flats in larger lakes and reservoirs.
Get the latest information:
Get the latest stocking reports with Fish and Game’s stocking page for good places to catch rainbow trout and other fish.
Watch for hatches:
Fly anglers can find good early season bug hatches, which are typically chironomids (midges) or baetis (blue-wing olives). There are usually trout feeding on them.
Especially if the weather forecast looks iffy. You don’t want to drive several hours and then find unfavorable weather and water conditions. Spring is a good time of year to explore local ponds and reservoirs that you may have overlooked in the past.
Here are the best places in the region for spring fishing.
Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir:
Like many other southern Idaho reservoirs, this one offers a variety of warmwater fishing and trout. Rainbow trout fishing heats up in the spring with the weather, especially for shore anglers. The fishing also gets good for boat anglers as we get further into spring. The reservoir has some of Idaho’s best walleye fishing, as well as perch, crappie and other panfish that can provide lots of action and great eating.
Oakley received 26,000 rainbow trout last year, and it has a reputation for fast-growing fish. Last year’s holdovers and this year’s stocking of 12-inch rainbows should provide good fishing for shore anglers and trollers and a nice mix of sizes. The reservoir also has walleye fishing that typically gets going in later in spring.
Hagerman Wildlife Management Area:
This is a cluster of ponds, lakes and streams that are steps away from the Hagerman Fish Hatchery, which means a steady stream of trout are available to be stocked, as well as occasional contributions of large trout from nearby private hatcheries. This area also has fishing platforms, ADA-compliant docks, restrooms and a picnic area, which all make for a fun, comfortable place to go fishing. Here’s an article about fishing at the Hagerman WMA.
Upper Portneuf River:
March and April can be great months to fish the upper Portneuf River between Lava Hot Springs and Chesterfield Reservoir. There is a growing population of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and some quality hatchery rainbow trout. Prior to Memorial Day weekend, the anglers are restricted to catch-and-release fishing and no bait. It’s a good place for early flyfishing.
Spring at Bear Lake can be the best time of year to catch a trophy native cutthroat trout, which can start as early as April depending on weather conditions. These amazing trout can grow up to 15 pounds. Many of the mature cutthroat trout are over 4 pounds. During April and May, the mature trout cruise the west side of the lake before ascending to their spawning tributaries. Trolling is the most successful method. Silver-colored spoons or Rapalas are popular. Recent habitat projects have resulted in more wild cutthroat trout, and catch rates continue to rise.
Wild cutthroat trout caught in Bear Lake must be released, but over 200,000 hatchery cutthroat trout are stocked annually for those interested keeping some to eat. Hatchery fish can be identified by a clipped adipose fin.
American Falls Reservoir:
At over 55,000 acres, this large water body is home to two state records, one for rainbow trout and the other for rainbow/cutthroat hybrid. Other game fish lurking beneath the surface include yellow perch, largemouth and small mouth bass, cutthroats, and brown trout. Fishing can be hot shortly after the ice has come off this reservoir, which can make this destination an early favorite for spring. Trolling with spoons or Rapalas is an angler’s best bet. Amenities at this reservoir include docks, boat ramps, camping areas, and it has ADA-accessible areas.
This urban fishing spot is part of the Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello. This fishery is approximately 6.5 acres in size with a maximum depth of 35 feet. It is regularly stocked with catchable rainbows and occasionally a few lunkers. Fish limit is two. The Portneuf Wellness Complex is a large 80-acre manicured multi-use complex designed to serve soccer, lacrosse, and football games and tournaments, with sand volleyball and basketball courts available for pick-up games. The complex also supports over 2 miles of paved walking trails, a mountain bike park, and offers a playground for the kids. The reservoir is divided into a swimming area complete with a sandy beach and a fishing area with docks and a rock shoreline to accommodate anglers. Anglers can also bring their float tubes, and “beach bums” can bring kayaks and paddleboards. There are pavilions, bathrooms, and plenty of parking.
Edson Fichter Pond:
This 3-acre urban fishery is tucked inside Edson Fichter Nature Area in south Pocatello. Access is by paved trails from a paved parking lot. No boats or float tubes are allowed, but who needs that with all the bank fishing and two large docks that are available. This pond is also ADA-accessible. Catchable rainbows and occasional behemoths are regularly stocked at this pond; just remember the two-fish limit. A smaller puppy pond is located near the fishery for those who wish to train or play with their four-legged friends, but this smaller pond is not stocked or open for fishing. Edson Fichter Nature Area boasts 40 acres of natural landscape dominated by native plant species, trees, and springtime wildflowers connected by looping trails that lead visitors to the Portneuf River, the ponds, and to other parts of the site. Visitors enjoy seeing wildlife such as swallows, osprey, mule deer, foxes, waterfowl — even an occasional bald eagle.
Henry’s Fork River:
This famed flyfishing river gets an early start on its rainbow trout fishing. Catch rates typically improve in March, especially on sunny days that get insects hatching and fish rising to the surface to feed. The section from Ashton downstream to St. Anthony is popular among anglers.
Easy access and minimal snow depths make this creek a great early season option. Stable water temperatures increase fish activity and make them more willing to bite. High numbers of fish increase the likelihood of anglers to see trout on the end of their line. Anglers seeking rainbow trout will have more luck fishing downstream. Those seeking brook trout will find them more abundant upstream.
South Fork of the Snake River:
The river is typically low and accessible for wading in early spring, and fishing can be good for trout and whitefish. Anglers can catch and keep a rainbow trout and be rewarded not just with fish for dinner, but with cash if they catch a marked fish. Take the head of a rainbow trout to the Fish and Game office in Idaho Falls, and on the first Friday of the month a Fish and Game employee will scan it. If the fish is embedded with a tiny wire tag, it is worth from $50 to $1,000. The program is to encourage anglers to harvest rainbow trout and reduce competition with the river’s native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
Kids Creek Pond:
This pond near Salmon will be stocked with catchable rainbow trout in mid-March. It provides a convenient place for people to do some early season fishing, and can also provide some big surprises.
Upper Salmon River:
When the Deadwater ice dam breaks up in late winter or early spring, it sends a wave of steelhead upstream. The dam has already broken up this year, and anglers had a flurry of activity steelhead fishing. There will be steelhead available in the river system up to Stanley into mid-April. It’s a popular place for anglers, and there’s about 115 miles of river between Salmon and Stanley that is accessible off Idaho 75 and U.S. 93, and another 68 miles of road access downstream from Salmon.
Hayden Creek Pond:
This pond is about 24 miles south of Salmon on Hayden Creek Road. It gets stocked with trout in February and monthly through spring and summer for nearly year-round fishing thanks to spring water that keeps it from freezing. That spring water also makes great trout habitat, and fish that don’t get caught right away continue to grow, which gives anglers an opportunity to catch some larger trout. The pond also has a picnic facility and bathrooms.