Backcountry fishing: East Idaho is blessed with many opportunities to get away and fish

It’s like combining two great flavors — peanut butter and chocolate or pie and ice cream. Backcountry fishing melds the fun of hiking or exploring with the pursuit of fish. And summer is the prime time to do it.

Idaho has about 3,000 backcountry lakes and hundreds of miles of streams that are generally lightly fished and surrounded by world-class scenery.

Getting to these backcountry gems is half the fun and fishing them in total solitude is the cherry on top.

“We like to backpack into an area and disappear from the world,” said Kara Dressen, of trips with her husband. “I catch a couple and then he just goes until he’s done. No busy roads or traffic or competition, it’s just how fishing should be I guess, surrounded by majestic features and silence.”

Brett High, fish manager for Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Upper Snake Region said “backcountry” means different things to different people.

“Some people think Ryder Park is backcountry,” High said jokingly. He said East Idaho has about 50 alpine lakes in the surrounding mountain ranges, including the Centennial, Big Holes, Snake River, Lemhi and Lost River ranges.

“I’m biased but the alpine lake fishing in the Upper Snake Region is as good as it gets,” High said. “We have diversity, we have size, we have diversity of access with some trails being open to motorbikes and ATVs, and some without any trails at all. Nearly all of the lakes have fish. The lakes that have fish, all fish pretty well.”

To avoid “hot spotting” and listing specific lakes or streams in the backcountry, High spoke mostly in generalities about where to go. One good place to start in choosing a mountain lake or stream is Fish and Game’s Fishing Planner found on its website. Find the Fishing Planner’s interactive map that shows trails, stocking records and fish survey records on fish species present. Contour maps can help users determine how difficult or remote an area is to get to.

“That’s a great resource for people who are trying to do a combo trip,” High said. “That will help them tailor their trip to the type of experience they are looking for.”

East Idaho outdoorsman Fred Eaton also turns to the internet for directions.

“I usually will use Google maps and OnX to check out streams and hiking areas,” he said via online message, “then I go on a hike to a river and try it out, maybe make a backpacking campout out of it.” OnX is a hunting app that offers GPS mapping for hunting nationwide.

The appeal of backcountry fishing is a regular draw for Eaton.

“I love the peacefulness of fishing in the backcountry, seeing the amazing trout and wildlife you can find out there, and having that waterside campfire where you can enjoy your catch right where it came from,” Eaton said. “I try to get into the backcountry for fishing at least once a month. Sometimes it will be a few times a week, or go a month or two without.”

Another avid fisherman from Rigby, Eric Call, said he enjoys going to places that require effort to get to.

“I’ve fished most lakes through the Sawtooth mountains as well as some in the Lemhi mountain range,” Call said via online message. “Alpine lakes and the fish are spectacular.”

Speaking once again in generalities, High said most alpine lakes and streams have brook, rainbows or cutthroat trout in them. Waters that are fished less frequently often have smaller fish but greater abundance. Specifically, he said most of the streams flowing into the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River have brook trout. One example is the Buffalo River in the Island Park area.

“The Buffalo River has a lot of brook trout in it but they‘re not big fish,” High said. “You can drive to the springs that are the source of Buffalo River but there’s several miles in between where there is no access other than floating or hiking.”

Another stream that requires some hiking is Robinson Creek flowing out of Yellowstone National Park.

“There are places you can drive to Robinson Creek, but there’s some really good fishing off the road if you’re willing to hike and get up in there,” High said. “The same with Warm River.”

In the early 1900s, most of Idaho’s alpine lakes and streams were fishless. Fish and Game’s Roger Phillips explained why many of Idaho’s mountains lakes now are good fisheries.

“Most have fish in them thanks to Fish and Game’s mountain lake stocking program,” Phillips said in a news release. “Every year, crews hike, pack in by horseback and fly in fingerling trout, which typically grow to catchable sizes within a few years.”

Brook trout sometimes dominate streams where they are present.

“Brook trout can provide lots of fishing action, and they can be a lot of fun to catch for young or new anglers,” Phillips said. “There’s typically a 25-fish bag limit for brook trout, but check the Fishing Seasons and Rules booklet because there are exceptions. The trade off with brook trout is they can overpopulate mountain lakes, and while catch rates can be high, fish are likely to be small.”

High recommends the motorized users check on access before setting off.

“With ATVs, I’d recommend you first get the (Bureau of Land Management) or Forest Service travel plan maps to verify that the location you want to go is open,” he said. “There are some trails in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in the Copper Basin area that have access to ATVs, like Lake Creek or Corral Creek.”

For all backcountry visitors, the experts recommend going prepared with navigation tools and skills and extra clothing backup in case of nasty weather.

“Be sure to pack clothing for cold and wet weather, even during summer because thunderstorms are common and can drop the temperature by 20-30 degrees, and a warm, sunny day can turn cold and wet within minutes,” Phillips said. “Bring enough food and water to enjoy a day outdoors, and don’t forget other items, like sunscreen and bug repellent.”

“Nearly all the streams in Eastern Idaho have fish in them to one degree or another,” High said. “What better way to get out and learn what your backyard is all about, than by hiking and doing some fishing and just exploring.”

Mormon crickets don’t know about social distancing

I just don’t think that the Mormon crickets heard about the social distancing bit. They travel in hordes packed so tight that they will bring to remembrance the old biblical plagues; you’ll have flashbacks to Charlton Heston’s “The Ten Commandments” movie. If you hate bugs like Katy does, they will freak you out.

Hordes like this are cyclical; some years you see millions and then it may go for years before I see them in high numbers again. If you’re new to Idaho, you need to go check them out. Over the years, I’ve seen them in various places.

Years ago, there were millions on the road before Horseshoe Bend. There were so many that the Idaho Department of Transportation had up a warning sign about slick roads. So many were getting run over that it looked like an oil slick. It sounded like popcorn popping when you were driving since you were running over so many. The road was a mahogany color.

One year, thousands tried to cross the river behind Anderson Ranch Dam. They drowned by the thousands and were thick as a carpet on top of the water in the backwater eddies. It stunk like there was a dead cow in the river.

If you want to see some right now, I found many on the road down to Jordan Valley. I don’t know how long they’ll be there. They were by the concrete barriers on the east side of the road. They strung down the road for probably five miles but the concentrations were a lot less.

I see them but really didn’t know much about them. Where are they migrating to? Are they like the locusts in biblical times? I had to do a little research. They say they can grow to 3 inches long but the ones I see are about 2 ½ inches.

Weird, but they say they live in the rangelands dominated by sagebrush and forbs and are actually not crickets but in the katydid family. (See, they are in the locust family). They are a blackish/brown color although they say they turn this color when swarming but are green or purplish when living in solitary.

How far do they travel? Do they fly in swarms? They can’t fly, only walk, but can travel up to 1.2 miles per day.

According to some of the research that I did, their eggs hatch in the spring when soil temps hit about 40 degrees. Although a lot of time Mormon crickets seem to live almost in solitary confinement in the sagebrush there can be huge population explosions which leads to them forming large roving bands numbering in the millions. What’s weird is that there doesn’t seem to be definite research that explains what causes the fluctuations in populations.

One document that I read said the reason that they have their huge migrations is that they are hunting new sources of nutrition and to avoid from being eaten by their traveling partners. They have no known predators, per se. Sure, various animals and birds will feed on them but not in large enough numbers to thin them out.

I’m only used to seeing seagulls around water. I know it is a different type of seagull but there are a lot of seagulls out on the prairies. I’ve even had seagulls try to carry off whistle pigs when I’m out shooting. So maybe the seagulls that we see out there are surviving on Mormon crickets?

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to envision the damage that a horde of a million Mormon crickets could do on your crops if you’re a farmer or your pastures if you’re a rancher.

As we close, don’t panic if you look out your kitchen window and discover that the sun is blocked by the army of Mormon crickets covering your window. You hear the screams of slow-moving people and pets getting eaten alive. The Mormon crickets have hit your town! Sleep well.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

Chasing Chinook: Outdoor journalist lives in the back of a truck while following Idaho’s migrating fish

Kris Millgate has been traveling like crazy lately. Her schedule is relentless, similar to the migrating fish she is following.

There’s little time for showers — maybe every 10 days — just stop for gas and get going. She sleeps by herself in the back of a loaned truck and camper. The outdoor multimedia journalist has been hunting down pertinent people and places along the route of one of the longest fish migration paths in the world, and puts a camera and microphone in their faces, gathering a story to retell. Her project is called “Ocean to Idaho.”

“I’m following salmon,” Millgate said. “I’ve been researching it for months and months and months. I feel like I’ve been living, breathing everything fish. This time of year, you have 15 hours of light. So, you’re working 15 hours, and I go back to my camper and input everything so I’m up all night. It’s kind of like a crazy crunch, but I love every minute of it. I’m not even tired like I think I should be.”

Millgate is inviting people along for the journey via social media posts. You can find them at tightlinemedia.com/oceantoidaho.

The idea for the project came from a broken leg. While couched up for four months she hatched the plan to follow migrating Idaho salmon from the mouth of the Columbia River to their spawning waters in the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River, 850 miles away.

“During that time on the couch I had a lot of time to think about my work and my life, everything I wanted to do and what I hadn’t done yet,” she said. “I knew the end of the salmon route at the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River. I’ve shot that. I was intrigued by the idea of what on earth was it like for salmon to swim from the ocean all the way to Idaho.”

She made her plans, then a pandemic hit and she had to rethink everything.

“That’s adding an extra layer of challenge that I didn’t even see coming,” she said.

Dams were closed, people were staying home, she originally planned on flying places and staying in hotels. As sponsors Northwest Toyota Dealers offered up a Tundra pickup and Four Wheel Campers fitted it with a camper. She would ditch any helpers and go solo.

“When I do interviews, I have masks, I have wipes, I do not touch the microphone to the people,” she said. “They handle it and I sanitize it afterward. There’s all these extra layers that have to go on during a pandemic. It makes the job more challenging. It’s hard enough to travel across the Pacific Northwest and then to add extra layers of pandemic pressure makes it a little bit interesting.”

Her end game is to produce a documentary film to come out next spring and several stories for local media outlets, including the Post Register. She is focusing on Chinook salmon because “no one really remembers being able to fish for sockeye, they remember fishing for Chinook. So, I’m following Chinook salmon.” Specifically, Chinook from the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River. They use the Columbia, the Snake, the Salmon and the Yankee Fork and return by mid-August.

Along her journey she shoots photographs, video, an underwater camera, a drone for overhead, and her phone. “Sometimes two at a time, but if I’m doing my drone, it’s just the drone and same with underwater.”

Already, she’s learned a few interesting tidbits.

“I’ve talked with a tribal fisher and her son off of their scaffold,” she said. “They caught their first sockeye of the season. It was for dinner. It was magnificent. They were mostly catching shad. … Watching them off that scaffold is amazing. … They’ll be there every night for hours on end. They just shove that dip net down into that fast water. If I ever did that it would fling me right into the current. It’s so fast.”

Another thing Millgate has learned during her venture is about fish rest stops.

“I went to a spot where Chinook salmon from the Yankee Fork of Idaho stop as a rest area,” she said about an area downstream from Portland, Oregon. “It’s an amazing chunk of backwater that used to be like a pasture for cows. It’s been restored and fish come in there. What they’ve discovered is that everyone thinks that salmon head straight to the ocean and they don’t stray. Or they head straight back to Idaho and they don’t stray. But they do. They stray into estuaries. They’ll hold in these safe backwaters. It’s just like a rest stop. Then they’ll get back on the route. They take these little detours to get a break.”

Besides closely following the fish, Millgate is interviewing other stakeholders along the way. The commercial fishermen, sport fishers, tribe fishers, the Corps of Engineers, dam operators, scientists, hatcheries operators, historians and more.

One big issue that comes up is the impact of dams on the fish.

“There are so many dynamics to this,” she said. “Of course, what comes up is the dams, should they stay or should they go? The answer to that is it depends on who you’re asking.”

Millgate said her journey ends in August when the salmon arrive at the Yankee Fork.

“It’s a very packed and tight schedule,” she said. “I have to stay on schedule or I miss something. I’m in country I’ve never seen. The farther you put me from Idaho, the less I know about the landscape and the people. I’m going to put in thousands of miles to follow a fish for 850.”

What to get your outdoorsman for Father’s Day

As an outdoor writer, I test hundreds of outdoor items a year. I’m going to list out some items that have caught my eye for some good Father’s Day gifts. Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to light up his eyes. We use everything from a $1.49 package of crappie jigs on up to a $75,000 boat. So whether you’re a kid on a 50-ce-per-week allowance or the Queen of Sheba, you can make his day if you choose wisely.

First off, investigate. With a little work you can figure out what he wants or needs. Just because he is a fisherman doesn’t mean he wants a bag full of red and white bobbers. If he only fly fishes, then you might as well give him a bag of rocks as a bag of bobbers. Get my drift? Let’s get started.

CLOTHING

  • 5.11 makes some cool tactical pants that are great for hunting, fishing and hiking. They also offer great shorts.
  • Heybo makes some sporty fishing shirts.
  • Irish Setter offers great hiking boots. Right now I’m testing their Canyons hiking boots.
  • Hiking socks. These are like a gift from heaven for your feet.
  • Base layers. I use XGO First Aid/Survival.
  • Aquimira offers a lot of filtered water bottles and straws.
  • Adventure Medical Kits offers a plethora of first-aid kits and accessories.
  • Fire starting gear. Waterproof matches and a pack of cheap Bic lighters work great.

BACKPACKS

Outdoorsmen use daypacks, backpacking packs and packs to pack out game. Make sure you buy the size he wants and with the desired features.

KNIVES

(This could be a whole list by itself since we use so many different knives.

• Knives of Alaska Pronghorn, Elk Hunter, Cub Bear or Legacy.

• Spyderco folding knives, Native Chief, Endura, Endela.

• Stones, Smith’s Consumer Products makes the best. Fine Diamond stones, Trihone stone etc. They also offer a lot of folding knives and a boning knife.

FISHING GEAR

(You can buy a lot of small inexpensive items here.)

  • Lures, flies, weights, fishing line, jig heads, plastics, Pautzke Crappie Fireballs, Field & Stream fishing rods
  • Dip net
  • Fly vest
  • Polarized sunglasses

CAMPING

  • Tents — I’ve got a few Alps Mountaineering tents.
  • Lodge Dutch oven.
  • Camp Chef backpacking stove.
  • Grizzly makes some great coolers. They’re durable, bear rated and hold a lot of food.
  • Cook set. If you’re on a tight budget, go to Goodwill and put together a cooking set. Pots, pans, plates, silverware, glasses, etc. — and put it all in a large Tupperware container.
  • MyTopoMaps makes the best maps on the market.
  • For fun around camp get him a Daisy P51 slingshot or a throwing knife or hatchet.
  • SneakyHunter BootLamps for hikers. These are like headlamps for your feet.

HUNTING

  • Get him a Umarex air rifle. He’d have a blast plinking Ruger 10/22. I love these little rifles. They are the most popular .22 on the market.
  • Brick of Federal or some CCI .22 ammo.
  • Riton Optics scopes and binoculars.
  • SwabIts makes some cool gun-cleaning swabs.
  • NRA magazine subscription.
  • SneakyHunter BootLamps. They have three light options, one of which is a blood-tracking light.
  • Targets. He’d love the Birchwood Casey ShootNC targets.

SIMPLE GIFTS

Tell him you don’t have much but you’ll go fishing/hiking/camping/hunting with him. I love it when my wife or daughters go with me. That means more to me than any gift in the world. That way I’m doing what I love and with the people I love the most.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

Minnetonka Cave to open Saturday with COVID-19 restrictions

One of Idaho’s largest caves, Minnetonka Cave near Bear Lake, is opening back up for visitors starting Saturday.

The Caribou-Targhee National Forest conducts tours through the cave and will open up again under Idaho’s stage 4 reopening plan.

“The safety and health of employees, visitors, partners, volunteers, and resources remain our top priority,” said Mike Duncan, Montpelier District ranger in a news release. “We have been making operational changes in response to the changing environment.”

Visitors to the cave will be required to wear face masks or face coverings during the cave tour. Children younger than 2 will not be allowed into the cave. Tours will be limited to nine visitors and one guide.

Tours will be booked on a first-come-first-served basis starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 5:30 p.m. For information, call the Montpelier Ranger District at 435-491-0618.

The Minnetonka Cave is located in St. Charles Canyon northwest of Bear Lake. It is one of the largest limestone caves in Idaho. The cave attracts nearly 50,000 visitors each summer.

Fish stocking continues statewide, and here are some highlights for June

Idaho Fish and Game has continued stocking fish during COVID-19, and despite this being an abnormal year, most of Idaho’s angling opportunities remain unchanged. Here’s a sampling of some places that will get generous trout stockings during June.

To see more about what waters have been stocked, go our the Fish Stocking webpage at https://idfg.idaho.gov/fish/stocking.

Magic Valley Region

Little Wood Reservoir — 6,000 rainbow trout. This reservoir provides great trout fishing and a retreat from the heat in an upland desert setting.

Camas Kids Pond — 1,500 rainbow trout. This is a small, scenic pond near Fairfield. The Centennial Marsh and Camas Prairie Wildlife Management Area are nearby and provide great bird watching opportunities.

Penny Lake — 1,000 rainbow trout. Great rustic fishing on a small pond! Penny Lake also offers hiking and biking opportunities.

Southeast Region

Bannock Reservoir — 1,000 rainbow trout. Located within the Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello, this community park offers good trout fishing. Multiple docks provide fishing access around the 5-acre pond.

Montpelier Reservoir — 1,000 tiger trout. This reservoir offers angling opportunity for a variety of fish species in a peaceful rural setting.

Upper Snake Region

Camas Creek — 750 rainbow trout. This was a new stocking location beginning in 2019. Come experience what it has to offer.

Henry’s Fork — 10,000 rainbow trout. World famous for trout fishing! The river is suitable for wade fishing, bank fishing and fishing from a boat.

Birch Creek — 3,400 rainbow trout. A productive spring creek in a high desert basin, this small stream is ideal for kids and less experienced anglers. rainbow trout are stocked heavily around access areas and wild brook trout are fairly common.

Salmon Region

Salmon River — Sections 5 to 8 will be stocked with a total of 8,800 rainbow trout.

Stanley Lake — 4,200 rainbow trout. This is a popular spot known for its breathtaking view of the Sawtooth Mountains. It offers great fishing and places for kids to explore nature.

Alturas Lake — 3,480 rainbow trout.

Yellowstone opens with classic beauty and small crowds

The bison were out in full regalia, sightings of grizzly bears brought traffic to a halt, and Old Faithful continued to erupt on schedule as Yellowstone’s Montana entrances opened welcoming Idahoans. Concerns of coronavirus were put aside for a moment as family enjoyed one of America’s premier natural attractions. Traveling in the park was enjoyable with light traffic, clear roads and only the occasional “bear jams” with visitors gawking at wildlife while parked in the middle of the road.

Now is the time to visit the park. The animals have not been bothered by thousand of cars, loads of buses and tourists and are less wary. You have the trails to yourself and the thermal wonders are as spectacular as ever, minus the normal throngs of people. Plus, cutthroat trout fishing is good.

The June 1 opening of the West Yellowstone gate provides Idahoans excellent access to the park. The best way to keep informed on park facilities from lodge openings to construction closures is by going to nps.gov/yell. Updates are posted on nps.gov/coronavirus.

Yellowstone’s classic places to visit

Lamar Valley in the northeast corner of the park is a vibrant green with bison dotting the landscape. Called the Serengeti of North America, it is where wolves, elk, bison and antelope live out a real-life drama unchanged by time. The chance of seeing a wolf draws visitors from around the world here. Driving down the highway, I spotted dozen photographers at Slough Creek. Big camera lenses and spotting scopes marked the spot to get a long distance look at a wolf den and possibly mom with the pups. Bent over 60 power optics, visitors were watching and photographing wolves nearly a mile away.

Farther on, I saw two different grizzlies on the mountain sides near Pebble Creek. Both bears were over a quarter mile away but drew a flock of photographers snapping pictures through long lenses. They ignored a striking pronghorn antelope not 50 yards up the road that was grazing unconcerned.

Mammoth Hot Springs

In early morning light, the travertine-formed terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs glowed. A short walk up the boardwalk, the world of geyser basin formations called. The elegant flowing beauty of golds, yellows, white and copper colors found in the formations are best described in photographic brilliance not words. These flowing hot springs have a singular beauty.

In town, elk graze on the lawn and around the park residences. I photographed a month-old calf out of my truck window!

The main challenge here is that little except a grill offering take out food is open for dining. Campgrounds and the hotel are closed. Some opening are planned in the near future so call ahead or check the website for information.

Hayden Valley

Bison are currently the main attraction in Hayden Valley. Parked in one of the pull outs, I had a herd of over 100 scattered around my vehicle on both sides of the road. They were so comfortable they slept next to road while their young calves snoozed or romped. Once the traffic increases, they will move away from the roadways.

At LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River, I spotted three male Harlequin ducks diving in the rapids for insects. Not much bigger than a pigeon, they bob and dived in the rapids with great agility. Their plumage is a unique pattern of bold white and black crescents with spots and puffs of cinnamon. They breed along the Yellowstone River after flying in from the pacific coast. Truly a splendid bird.

Old Faithful Geyser

The only semi-crowed place I encountered was Old Faithful. Even during a pandemic, it can draw a crowd. Erupting with its usually precision, everyone knew when to grab a seat to watch it go off. Jetting water into a blue sky it was spectacular. Most visitors adhere to 6-foot distancing requests even at the seating area.

Take a walk through the basin surrounding Old Faithful. Enjoy the series of small geyser spouting regularly and swirling river pools. Unfortunately the historic inn, where a hot cup of coffee or tea was always welcome, is closed.

Weekend tripping

Pack the car, gather up what you need and go to Yellowstone before the crowds arrive. You can get hotels and camping spots outside the park in West Yellowstone or Gardiner, Montana. NPS is doing a good job of keeping the park bathrooms open and facilities sanitized. They are letting the public do their own social distancing and from what I saw it is working fairly well. Enjoy this rare opportunity. Remember how lucky we are to be close to the park.

Harry Morse is currently a freelance writer living in Pocatello. His articles have appeared in national hunting and fishing magazines. The majority of his career he worked for Washington, Idaho and California Departments of Fish and Wildlife as an information officer. He has travel broadly an enjoys photography, fishing and hunting.

Fish tacos are hard to beat

I’ve got to clarify one item. A lot of people think/expect an outdoor writer to write about a different topic every time and for my magazines I do but for my newspapers I don’t. Let me explain.

Right now bear season, whistle pig hunting and crappie fishing are all in full bloom. And crappie fishing is leading the pack. They are still spawning and fishing is still unbelievable. Why would I veer off on some other tangent when crappie fishing is as good as it can get?

And there are so many angles to a topic if you love it. On crappie for instance: Pre-spawn crappie fishing, post-spawn crappie fishing, different methods to fish for them, then of course different ways to cook them. So, in a nutshell what I’m saying is that I could write for six weeks just on crappie fishing.

The outdoors runs on seasons. You may wake up Aug. 4 and want to go morel mushroom picking but sorry, it’s out of season then. You’ll have to wait until next spring. So that’s what I love about writing for the Journal. Doing a weekly article allows me to write about pertinent topics as they are happening — real time. Make sense?

So, if you’ve read my crappie fishing articles and been going fishing, then most likely you have the question, “What do I do with all of these fish now”?

I love crappie fried plain, dusted with cornmeal. But I also love them battered in pancake batter. Or blackened with Paul Prudhomme’s blackened Redfish spices. Or using Roe’s (a Cajun girl I know) trout meuniére recipe.

But — for a light lunch on a hot day, fish tacos are hard to beat. 

So with that said, I’m going to tell you how I like to make my fish tacos but realize, there is nothing sacred about my recipe. Tweak it to fit the taste of your family.

To begin, cook your fish. I like to roll my fillets in cornmeal and season with Tony Chachere’s seasoning and fry to a golden brown.

Then heat some corn tortillas in a skillet. I put in a little grease and heat them up.

Next, lay out the tortillas on your plate or a cookie sheet. Lay a fillet on each tortilla and put on a little bit of salad.

Splash on some salsa and sprinkle on cheese. Instead of salsa we also like some of the spicy or vinaigrette types of dressings — or last week I used some Sweet Baby Ray’s Dipping Sauce. That was excellent, too.

Lately, I’ve also chopped up some onion slips and sprinkled on, too, which are good. You can also add fresh chopped tomatoes and especially slices of avocados.

Fold the tortilla over and indulge.

Try a fish taco and you might just find it hard to go back to eating fish fillets by themselves.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

Free Fishing Day is June 13, and here’s what you need to know for a fun day of fishing

Free Fishing Day is June 13, and anyone can enjoy a day of fishing without a fishing license, but all other rules still apply.

Free Fishing Day is an Idaho tradition that usually includes Fish and Game employees and volunteers bringing fishing gear to various fishing spots and loaning rods, reels and tackle and helping people learn to fish. While that’s not an option because of COVID-19, it’s still a great opportunity for novice anglers to experience some of the wonderful fishing opportunities Idaho has to offer. Be sure to practice appropriate social distancing and be safe when you’re enjoying your time outdoors.

If you’re new to fishing, or new to fishing in Idaho, the state has thousands of places to fish, and you can catch a variety of species ranging from palm-sized bluegill to 9-foot sturgeon.

Fish and Game also stocks about 30 million fish annually for anglers, which includes millions of trout that are immediately available to catch, as well as millions of young salmon and steelhead destined for the ocean that will later return as adults.

“In the month leading up to Free Fishing Day, Fish and Game hatcheries stock over 400,000 catchable rainbow trout in waters throughout the state,” Fish and Game Hatchery Manager Bryan Grant said.

Catchable-sized trout ranging from about 10 to 13 inches are stocked statewide and in many easily accessible fishing spots, including community ponds, local reservoirs and nearby lakes. Those are all convenient places to go for Free Fishing Day that are close to home and provide a good chance to catch fish.

If you don’t have fishing gear, it’s fairly inexpensive to get started. You can get a basic rod/reel combo for about $25, and the only tackle you need at first is a few hooks, weights, bobbers and bait, which will costly only a few bucks more. It’s tough to beat live worms for bait because nearly all fish will eat them, but if you don’t want to deal with squirming live worms, there are many other bait options, and lures, flies and other tackle give you even more options.

If you’re unsure how to rig a rod for fishing, Fish and Game provides simple instructions on its Learn to Fish webpage. For information about bag limits and other rules, see the 2019-21 Idaho Fishing Seasons and Rules booklet, which is available in a printed booklet at Fish and Game offices and many license vendors and sporting goods stores.

Fishing is a fun family activity, and easy for kids to learn. Remember when taking young kids out to make sure they wear lifejackets and bring lots of snacks, a hat and sunscreen. Be patient with kids and enjoy your time outdoors with them, even if the kids decide they’d rather explore nature or do something other than fishing.

If you’re wondering where to fish, here are some suggestions, but this is a tiny sample of what’s available for anglers. You can learn about many more places to fish, as well information on when they were last stocked, by to going to Fish and Game’s Fishing Planner, which also shows exact location of each of the waters listed below.

Upper Snake Region

Ryder Park Ponds

Managed by the Idaho Falls Parks and Recreation Department, Ryder Park offers two ponds to double your fishing fun. Becker and Riverside ponds are located within 50 yards of each other and are stocked regularly with an abundance of rainbow trout and occasionally catfish. Ospreys take full advantage of the fishing bounty at Ryder Park and can be seen regularly as they skim the ponds to grapple a fish dinner in their talons.

Though close in proximity, the two ponds offer very different experiences. Becker pond is well manicured and surrounded by a walking path that leads to several picnic shelters and an ADA accessible dock, while Riverside pond offers a more undeveloped setting, but is often less crowded and offers anglers more elbow room. Small spinners are a good option when temperatures are cool, but worms seem to work well in both ponds during the warmer months.

Trail Creek Pond

Nestled at the base of Teton mountain range, this often overlooked pond is the perfect stop for families headed on vacation to Jackson Hole or the nearby Grand Teton National Park. Restroom facilities, picnic tables and beautiful mountain scenery make Trail Creek an opportune place to stretch your legs and catch a few rainbow trout before continuing on your journey, or when camping nearby. Stocking began in early May, just in time for that summer vacation.

Due to its high elevation and cooler water temperatures, this pond fishes well all through the summer heat when other lower elevation ponds start to warm up and fishing tends to slow. Kids are not likely to get bored here as catch rates are usually high and the fish tend to bite on bait or lures equally. Several open areas make this a good place for beginners to learn how to cast a fly or throw a spinner without too much risk of hanging up in the brush.

Rexburg City Ponds

Young anglers can catch perch, catfish and rainbow trout at this urban fishery located within the Rexburg Nature Park. A fun network of trails and bridges make this a great place for families with young children to enjoy a fishing adventure without straying too far from paved trails and picnic shelters. A simple bobber and worm are a great setup for the abundant perch in these ponds, and by replacing the bobber with a sinker you can easily transition to catching catfish.

Anglers looking for trout will have better luck fishing in the early morning or late night hours when temperatures are cooler. Don’t forget to have a few quarters in your pocket to drop into one of the vending stations that dispense food for the ducks and geese that call this park home. No fishing trip to the Rexburg City Ponds is complete without being surrounded by a flurry of feathers!

Salmon Region

Southeast Region

Bannock Reservoir

This urban fishing spot is part of the Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello. It is about 6.5 acres and down to 35-feet deep and regularly stocked with catchable rainbow trout. The trout limit is two, and all other species are managed under general rules.

The Portneuf Wellness Complex is a large 80-acre, manicured, multi-use complex designed to serve team and individuals sports and activities. The complex has 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 rocky 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 rainbow trout are regularly stocked, just remember the two-trout bag 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 plants and trees, and springtime wildflowers connected by looping trails that lead visitors to the Portneuf River, the ponds, and to other parts of the site. Paved trails maintained by the Portneuf Greenway Foundation border the Edson Fichter Nature Area and are a great way to get some extra exercise or nature watch after an afternoon of fishing. Visitors enjoy seeing wildlife such as cliff swallows, osprey, mule deer, foxes, waterfowl, and even an occasional bald eagle.

Upper Kelly Park Pond

This 1-acre pond is small in size but packs a large amount of fun for kids when the trout are biting, which is most of the time. Located within Arthur Kelly Park in Soda Springs, this community fishery is an easy quarter-mile hike from the paved parking lot. Don’t be “lured” to the lower pond by the parking area for fishing because it isn’t stocked, but is still a great place for kids to catch a frog or two.

The easy trail hike ends at a picturesque little pond — perfect for kids to dunk a worm and have a picnic lunch. The upper pond is stocked regularly by Fish and Game and the bag limit is six trout per day. Besides a fishing pond, the park boasts a pavilion, restrooms and concession stand, two softball fields, two tennis courts, a playground, picnic tables, several miles of walking trails and a disc golf course.

Jensen Grove Pond

This 55-acre pond is located within Jensen Grove Park along the Blackfoot Greenbelt in the heart of Blackfoot. Bring your boat or fish from the bank — either way you can catch one of the thousands of rainbow trout stocked in this fishery every year. The trout limit is six per day. This large fishery is surrounded by extensive paved trails perfect for walking and biking, and many areas of this park and fishery are ADA-accessible. This is a seasonal fishery relying on irrigation water, usually from April through October.

Park amenities are numerous, including a skate park, playground, picnic areas, and restrooms. People use the large pond for everything from fishing to boating to jet skiing.

Crappie fishing 101: Springtime is crappie fishing time

I was about to panic.

I love the spring in Idaho. If you’re an outdoorsman how can you not love it?

Bear hunting, turkey hunting, mushroom hunting, whistle pig hunting and crappie fishing is in full swing.

And I was stuck over in South Dakota for six and a half weeks — and then came down with COVID-19.

I’m probably exaggerating a little but it was cold and somewhat snowy up until I flew back home. I got to Idaho and everything was green. I felt like I’d lost one and a half months of my life. One day it was still somewhat winter and then suddenly I woke up in Idaho and we were on the tail end of spring. If I missed crappie fishing, I’d die! Katy and I had gone crappie fishing before I’d left but it had been about two weeks too early so we’d only caught a few.

So, I was afraid the crappie had already spawned and moved out but I had to run try ‘em. My daughter Kolby had just healed up from COVID-19 so she said she wanted to go with me. I had a few hours of writing to take care of and since it was Memorial Day I told her we’d leave at noon and hopefully the crowds would have thinned out a little by then and we’d fish until dark. Turned out to be a good call.

Due to minor complications we didn’t arrive at the lake until 3:30 p.m. Things started off a little slow. We were catching enough to be happy and at this rate would end up with a decent mess of fish but we had to get things sped up so we jumped and tried one of my old reliable hot spots.

We pulled up to my hot spot but no bueno. I always slaughtered the crappie there but something had happened. OK, back west I had a few spots, we’ll go hit them.

I have a little jon boat with a trolling motor so we don’t move too fast so we were fishing as we moved to our new location. There is a flat spot that I never fish because it’s no good but for some reason we hit it. We got a decent one. In all my articles I tell everyone if they catch one to stop and jig because crappie are schooling fish. Where you get one there’s more. So, I decided to follow my own advice even though it looked like a dead spot.

We caught a couple more. Then it got hot. I don’t know if we had found a spot packed with crappie or they had moved in as the sun went down but it was crazy. The last hour we literally had a hit every cast.

Usually when we start fishing, I’ll put a different colored jig on every now and then and we’ll go with whichever color they’re hitting best. The last few years we’ve been doing good on black/white or red/white tube jigs so that’s what I put on Kolby’s line. I decided to put on a Lake Fork Trophy Lures 2 1/4-inch Sickle Tail Baby Shad. After 45 minutes, I’d caught six and Koko had only caught one or two. I told her we were switching hers to a Lake fork jig. Right away she started smoking them too.

Also, usually I’ll put a couple of split shots six inches above the jig. When I changed Koko’s jig, I removed her split shots. Lake Fork makes the best plastics. They have slots cut in the tail so any movement causes the jig to quiver realistically.

Here’s what was working for us. They were spawning so we’d cast right up close to the shoreline. We’d lift our rod tip and then reel in slowly as we let it back down. You don’t want to reel too fast.

Crappie are called “papermouths” for a reason. They have really soft mouths that can easily rip out so be gentle when working them. Don’t set the hook. Just lift your rod tip and reel steadily to keep pressure on.

The bigger (heavier) they are, the more likely they’ll rip off when hauling them into the boat. So I net all of mine. I haven’t documented it but I bet you’ll lose 15 to 20% if you try to lift them in so that’s why I use a net.

Kolby and I both wondered, did the fishing get hot because the sun was going down or had we just missed this little crappie stronghold when we went by the first time? I don’t know but I think we’re going back again near dusk and try to do a repeat.

If you haven’t been out crappie fishing this spring, then you better get out fast and get in on the fun!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.