What season is it — backpacking? Crappie fishing? Nope, it’s berry season

This week I was having a hard time trying to decide whether to write a Backpacking 101 article followed up by an article on Kolby’s and mine backpacking trip last week or Katy’s and my crappie fishing trip. But then while Kolby and I were backpacking we stumbled into a gold mine of berries.

This is the best berry season that I’ve ever seen. The huckleberries were thick. We had backpacked into the backcountry to fly fish but who can just walk by a loaded down huckleberry bush? A handful of huckleberries can spruce up the blandest bowl of morning oatmeal, can’t it? Or you can throw a small handful in your water bottle to make a real fruit flavored drink. A few huckleberries sprinkled on a peanut butter sandwich raises a peanut butter sandwich to an elite sandwich level.

What do we do now? I’d packed in way too much gear and about died on the pack in. But how do you just nonchalantly stroll by a bush heavily laden down with huckleberries? So, we gorged for a while and picked a couple of bottles full for our oatmeal the next morning and enough to take home to make some homemade ice cream and then it was back to fly fishing.

But then matters got more serious. Kolby stumbled onto some raspberries. Fishing was done for the moment. Finally, she got her fill and I was able to coax her on down the trail to fish the next hole.

So with the above said, we’ll talk about backpacking and crappie fishing in the next three articles but for today, it’s berry picking! Berry season is in full swing right now and you need to drop everything and scramble up to the mountains with a handful of empty buckets.

Every year after gobbling down the first handful I’m reminded of how much I love huckleberries.

They’re the best berry in the world with wild raspberries trailing right behind them. I know your first question will be, where do I find them? I found mine at about 4,500 to 5,000 feet elevation. As we were headed home, we found a bunch more up high near the passes but only a couple of their berries were ripe. 95% of them were green as a gourd and maybe only 1/16-inch big. So up at the higher elevations, they were a long way off from being ripe. If you go up this weekend, I’d advise you start at 5,000 feet.

If you’re not familiar with huckleberries they’re a small bush. I’ve never measured them but I’d say that they’re about 28 inches tall on the average. They grow a small purple berry that is maybe 1/4-inch in diameter and some will be smaller. I find most of mine on hillsides. I’ve never seen them down low in flat areas.

You’ll find them on the side hills of trails and roads but of course it’s easy access to the ones along roads so they’ll get picked fast by everyone. That’s the area they seem to like. We find our raspberries intermixed in the same type of terrain.

But we also find a lot of randomly placed raspberry bushes when we walk off a trail down to our fishing holes in the rock/boulder slides. It almost seems that they do best in the worst possible spots. But granted, we still find a high percentage of them along the trails interspersed with the huckleberries.

If you want to go out this week you should find them anywhere from Smith’s Ferry on north. Once in a while I hear people say that they picked 2-4 gallons of huckleberries the past weekend. I don’t know.

I’ve never picked that many in one setting. Maybe they’re talking about how many their whole church family picked. Or maybe I’m just an amateur berry picker. But regardless, instead of taking 5-gallon buckets I’d suggest taking a large mouth water bottle to put them in while picking and then as you go you can transfer them to a bigger bucket at the truck.

I remember one year Katy and I hit our spot at Smith’s Ferry. When we pulled up and parked I killed the truck and we had a thermos of coffee. We poured a cup before we got out to pick. We were setting in the truck shooting the bull and Katy says whoa! I’m not getting out. It sounded like a light hail storm due to all of the mosquitoes hitting the sides of the truck. Carry mosquito protection because on some years they can be horrendous.

So if you don’t have anything to do this weekend, grab the wife and kids, pack a picnic and go up picking berries. But you and the wife ought to be sure to carry a pistol. You might just be picking in a popular bear eating area.

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. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Hunters must buy 2021 big game controlled hunt tags by Aug. 1

If you are a hunter who was successful in the 2021 controlled hunt drawing, don’t forget to purchase your controlled hunt tag by Aug. 1.

Successful applicants must purchase their controlled hunt tags by 11:59 p.m. (Mountain Time) on Aug. 1 or their tags will be forfeited. All unclaimed tags, along with controlled hunt tags no one applied for, will be available in a second drawing, with the application period running from from Aug. 5 through Aug. 15. Successful applicants for the second drawing will be notified by Aug. 25.

After the second drawing, any leftover tags will be sold first-come, first-served beginning Aug. 25 at 10 a.m. Mountain Time.

Hunters who did not draw a controlled hunt tag (as well as those who did) still have the opportunity to get a prime deer, elk, pronghorn or moose hunt through the Super Hunt program, which is separate from and different than other controlled hunts. Winners can participate in any open hunt in the state for deer, elk, pronghorn or moose, including general hunts and controlled hunts, in addition to any general season or controlled hunt tags they also hold. All other rules of individual hunts apply.

Super Hunt entries are $6 each, or $20 each for the Super Hunt combo, and people can apply as many times as they like.

The Super Hunt entry period goes through August 10. Tags for two elk, two deer, two pronghorn, one moose, and one Super Hunt Combo will be drawn. Winners will be notified by August 15. Hunters may enter the drawings at license vendors, Fish and Game offices, online through Fish and Game’s licensing system, or by calling 1-800-554-8685.

For more information, including frequently asked questions and photos and stories of previous winners, visit the Super Hunt webpage.

How to turn every trip into an outdoor adventure

We’re in the peak of vacation season. But what if the vacation schedule is some boring urbanite list of drudgeries? Or what if you’re traveling on a business trip? Attending a seminar in another town or state?

This article will apply to all of the above scenarios.

I remember one time my daughter, grandson and I flew down to see mom for a week. I had one striper fishing trip lined up with my brother, but other than that, we were just going to mess around and see the family.

My daughter is super creative and lined up two to three fun activities. I was raised around there and didn’t even know about these possibilities. My point is that what I learned from her is don’t trust the locals to know about all of the local attractions. Granted, I love visiting locales and the locals showing cool stuff I would of never discovered but sometimes they take for granted their surroundings.

It’s easy now to explore beforehand your destination due to the advent of the internet. Another idea, when the kids were small and we were visiting an area, we’d buy a book about rocks that could be found locally and try to find some of each.

If (which is usually the case) you only have a couple of free half-days, hire a fishing guide. He’ll have the boat, fishing gear, know where to go etc. Otherwise, you could stumble around for a month figuring out the system.

Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to hire a guide anyway. Used to be, I’d fly home for Christmas and hire a striper guide for a day. Then my brother would come home the next day with his boat and we’d know where to go and what they were hitting.

Usually on any trip, visiting in-laws, business trip, going somewhere for a wedding or maybe a family vacation you’ll have one to two free afternoons. Instead of wasting precious vacation time setting around doodling why not get outdoors? It may be exploring, hiking, fishing, visiting a local gun range or outdoor shop.

All of the above is fresh on my mind. I’m over in South Dakota as I type this article doing a consulting deal. I fly home this Friday. But Saturday I didn’t have to work. I had a ton of articles to get in. I have a nine-part airgun series for RonSpomerOutdoors.com, a self-defense in the outdoors article for gunpowdermagazine.com, something like six to eight product reviews for Ammoland Shooting Sports News and this article. No way that I was going to be able to get them all written until I get home and can write solid for a week but some (like this article) are due right now.

So, Friday night I typed until nearly midnight and when I woke up Saturday I started pounding the keyboard again. But with the thoughts above in my mind I told a buddy that we ought to go fishing for a couple of hours Saturday at about 7:30. So I worked on getting all of the articles whipped out that I could and then grabbed my buddy and his wife and off we went.

South Dakota is world-renowned for walleyes. But mainly in the spring. Summer is tough. Last weekend Katy was here and we jumped in with a guy with a boat Sunday after church but like I said above, walleye fishing is slow right now. But as the saying goes, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”

Well, Jeff, Kate and I went to a local lake 15 miles from where I was working. Sundown it cools off a little and the walleyes get active. We were bank fishing so it’d be tough but still, refer to the above saying.

I hung one small walleye and lost him. Kate is from Russia and I don’t think that she has ever fished.

She hung one small walleye but he got off before I could get over to where she was. Then in a bit she hung a hog.

I coached her on holding her rod tip up etc. He was taking a little line and Jeff reached over to tighten her drag. I quickly said nooooo, but it was too late. The hog snapped her line in a hot second.

A little later I saw where a big fish boiled out about 20-30 feet. I flipped out a jig with a Mister Twister tail. Nada. I cast again. Nada. He boiled again right below the surface feeding on something. The fourth cast he engulfed the jig.

I had a medium weight set-up with 8-pound test so I had my drag set semi slack. I was afraid he was going to snap off so I loosened it a little more. This was going to be a huge walleye! Probably pushing 10 pounds! I fought him for a good while. I’d lift the rod tip slowly and reel back down. Then he’d take another run and peel off line. I played him slow for 10 to 15 minutes then started getting more serious.

After 20 minutes I thought I’d better tighten my drag a little or this fight would go on all night but the deal that had just happened with Kate scared me so I didn’t dare touch it. Finally, after 25 minutes I started gently increasing the drag just a hair.

I still could not make any headway so to speak but he was a little closer to shore. Now the next big problem. We didn’t have a dip net and he was a big fish. The fight was now pushing 30 minutes and I was getting him almost close enough to net … if you had a long net … but then he’d charge and go out deeper.

Jeff took off his shoes and socks to wade out and wrestle him in. I cautioned him not to touch the line and to put his socks on his hands so he could grip the fish and to grasp him behind the head and flip him up in the rocks.

I asked are you ready? Jeff said yes. I cruised him in and Jeff did a great job grabbing him and getting him in. He redeemed himself after snapping off Kate’s big one. Don’t worry. We didn’t rag on him too bad.

Turns up my big walleye was big a fat channel cat. It had a huge belly so I figured it was spawning three to four months late or had just eaten an 11-inch crappie. Turns up it was packed with seaweeds. Have you ever heard of catfish eating seaweeds?

Well, by now it was well after dark. We went back to the apartment complex where Jeff lives, cleaned the big cat and had a fish fry and got to bed at 1:45 a.m. That’s a whole lot better than setting around watching the boob tube, isn’t it?

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. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Can you fish off the bank?

Are you severely handicapped as a fisherman if you don’t have a boat? Should you just have a garage sale, sell all of your fishing gear and burn what doesn’t sell? Give up on fishing, buy a set of golf clubs and become a regular suburbanite?

Back away from the cliff and let’s try to talk you through this one. In some cases, fishing off the bank is actually more successful, so don’t feel like a second-class citizen if you don’t have a boat. In fact, just last weekend I was reminded of how successful you can be off of the bank.

For July Fourth, Katy and I were over in South Dakota. I just caught a decent walleye off the bank and we had him for dinner. In fact, the biggest walleye that I’ve ever caught was off of the bank.

Now no doubt, overall it’s best to have a boat but it doesn’t cripple you if you don’t have one.

Let me give a few examples. One time we were crappie fishing over at Lake Owyhee. After a few hours I went down the bank fishing and caught quite a few bass. In a while a tournament bass fisherman came by and we got talking. It sounded like if I had of been entered in the tournament I could of won it.

Years ago, Katy and I were northern pike fishing over at a wildlife refuge in Nebraska. We caught a 16-, two 8-, three 6- and three 4-pounders. All of these were off the bank and wading.

And if you’re a bow fisherman, you should know I’ve shot truckloads of carp and gar wading. Sure, it’s nice to have a flat-bottomed boat and lights for night fishing but at times you can get tons of shots wading. One time at Lake Lowell they were on the bank side of the willows spawning. There were so many logs washed in that I couldn’t get in to them with my little Jon boat. You had to wade. The only gear you need is a pair of cut-offs, tennis shoes and your bow.

And what about fly fishing? Sure, it’s nice to float the river behind the dam at Anderson Ranch or on the Rio Grande where most of the banks are brush covered but I’ve only floated rivers a few times — 99.9 percent of my fly fishing is on foot.

Not that high mountain lakes are usually that deep but they usually have silt bottoms. So you may not be in two feet of water but you’re sunk down one to one and a half feet into the silt. Float tubes do help on high mountain lakes so you can get out to where the water is a little deeper.

Also, where Katy and I used to northern fish a lot you had to wade out past the cattails to be able to fish. It was deep enough so the water was about to come over the top of your waders. And then of course with the muddy bottom you were trying to stand on your tiptoes. So like I say, sometimes no doubt a boat is beneficial.

Sometimes if you’re able to fish it, I think in shallow waters being on foot is best. Banging around in a boat can spook fish. I’ve for sure seen this with northerns. They just drop down and disappear into the weeds.

So, do boats help? Are they necessary? Yes, but if you can’t afford one, don’t give up on fishing. Sure, I own a little jon boat and am going to buy another big boat next spring, but without a boat, you can still catch fish. One time I pulled up to the boat ramp and there was a lady by herself setting in a lawn chair in one and a half feet of water. I thought, “Poor girl. I ought to give her a few fish.” I asked her if she was having any luck. She grinned and pulled up a stringer that I bet had 50 to 75 crappie on it. Gee! I about asked her for some fish. She’d caught them fishing at the boat ramp while I was out all day chasing them around.

As we’re getting into the middle of summer, get out and fish. Along the bank, you’ll probably do best early morning and late evening. The catfish seem to move in and feed in the shallows at sundown. Have  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. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Getting outdoors on a budget

OK, it’s pretty simple. You only have X amount of dollars you can blow. The more you scrimp, the more outdoor adventures you can partake in. Right? So, this week let’s go a little deeper than we did last week. I could sum up this whole article in two words: Go cheap. But don’t be over-the-top cheap or it’s no fun. As Katy would say, “You don’t want to be tight to a fright.”

So how do you do that? Tent camp. One time I took the girls to the coast. We’d camp one or two nights and then get a motel so we could all clean up. That was a great trip. When camping on a beach you don’t really even need sleeping pads, the sand is soft. But, what if the girls balk? Maybe you have to break down and buy a camper. Everyone’s situation is a little different.

According to where you’re going, but as a general rule, it’s going to be a lot cheaper to buy your groceries at home. And usually, you’ll be in spots where there’s nothing available anyway. For sure you always want to take enough clothes and gear. They will always cost you more on the road.

COOKING AHEAD

Sometimes it’s smart to cook at least two meals ahead of time. For instance, when elk hunting. On a hard week of elk hunting at least a couple of nights you’re not going to get back to camp until way after dark. You’ll be so ragged out that you don’t even have enough energy to cook.

For the above scenario I’ll make a pot of stew and freeze it and a pot of chili and freeze it. Frozen it will serve the dual purpose of acting as ice in your cooler. Drag into camp, throw it in a pan over the fire, heat and eat and go to bed. My buddy Shawn pre-makes burritos, which heat up nicely. Or you can take cans of chili.

One time years ago, I took a buddy to one of my secret fishing holes. I cooked dinner and he whipped out paper plates and plastic silverware. I always used a camp set. He said I came to fish, not waste time washing dishes three times per day. There’s some truth to his reasoning.

CAMP BOXES

Some day I’ll write a whole article on this subject: Camp boxes. Every since high school I’ve had a camp box. I always use a wood box but some people use a big plastic container. You have to have a camp box or invariably you’ll forget to pack something every trip. A can opener, a skillet or something.

To stock up a camp box can be inexpensive. Go to Goodwill and buy six plastic plates, stackable glasses and coffee cups. Same with silverware, spatulas, pans, skillets and a coffee pot. And don’t forget to stock your box up with spices. Motel coffee packs work great for making coffee and are compact.

Some things you don’t want to buy used. For instance, lanterns and stoves. They’re key items and if they don’t work, they can spoil a trip. I like the old-school lanterns but I’ve got to admit, battery-operated ones are sweet for using in your tent. Who hasn’t knocked over a lantern in a tent and the hot lantern burned a hole in the tent?

ONE WORD OF WARNING!

Be careful if you run a lantern, stove or tent heater in your tent. They can burn up all of the oxygen and kill you.

Always take two spares — tires, that is. Once while moose hunting over by Yellowstone I woke up three mornings in a row with flats. First off, it’s a pain running to town to get it fixed and secondly, it’s probably going to be higher than at home. Go to the junkyard to get one or two extras.

Splurge a night or two and eat something nice. And really, it doesn’t have to cost much. In fact, for $2 to $3 you can make some awesome brownies or dump cake in a Dutch Oven. And for one night it’s sweet to cook steaks.

One big money waster for most families is when they make a pit stop at the 7-Eleven to fill up on gas on the way out of town. Suddenly everyone remembers that they have forgotten their sunglasses, needs a soft drink and a piece of candy. Buy all of those items at a real store before you leave.

Well, there’s a few more ways to stretch out the budget so you camp more often. This will allow you to go more often but if well planned it will be just as enjoyable as blowing a fortune like you normally do. Plus, you can now go three times as much.

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. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Family fun outdoors

Today I want to talk about using the outdoors as your family recreational fun. Everyone is on a budget, granted some people may have a bigger budget than you but still, everyone has a budget. So with that said, why save all year and go on a trip to Mexico or Hawaii? Why not hit the outdoors right here in little ol’ Idaho or at least some of our neighboring states?

It’s for sure a lot cheaper than buying plane tickets, motels, eating out three times per day and paying exorbitant prices for entertainment in some glitzy big city. Think of some of the options:

1. Family camping trip.

2. Family fishing trip.

3. Visit some cool spots like Craters of the Moon, Yellowstone or hit the coast.

4. Hit some of the dude ranches. In two weeks Katy and I are going to visit The Silvies Ranch over in Seneca, Oregon. At most dude ranches you can ride horses, fish, hike or just use for a base camp.

5. Float/raft some of our rivers.

6. Camp and go on four-wheeling trips. If you can’t afford four-wheelers for the whole family you can rent some which may be cheaper if you only use them 1-2 times per year.

If you are the dad and mom of a growing family I understand, money is tight but when the kids are small is when you want to be making memories. Here’s some ways to get by on a shoestring budget.

I remember once me and the girls headed over to the coast. We’d camp out one night and then the next we’d get a motel so everyone could clean up. We went down the coast camping on the beach and the next night staying in some little motel. One night we camped in the Redwoods in a cool campground. Your three biggest expenses will be food, gas and lodging. Cooking over a campfire drops the food bill and camping is free.

Another time we did the same when we hit Yellowstone. We had a great time. We camped out while driving over and during our stay. Same on a trip to the Black Hills when we hit Mount Rushmore. Katy’s family went there every summer when she was a kid so she already knew all of the hot spots. Bear Country USA, the Reptile Gardens, of course Mount Rushmore has some natural hot springs with a huge swimming pool and we camped at the Flintstones Bedrock City.

If you don’t know the area, Google it to discover the local attractions that your family would be interested in. If you visit a unique spot splurge a night or two and eat some of the local food. Especially if you go fishing in South Louisiana. You have to try the Cajun food.

Then of course you may want to eventually buy a boat so the family can fish and ski. I’d advise not to buy a bass boat. They’re only comfortable for two people. Get a V bottomed 17-18 foot boat that can comfortably hold the whole family.So, as we start to wrap up, I’d encourage you to make this summer special. There’s something special about being in the outdoors with people that you love. We live in Idaho. People all over America would die to be able to partake in what we have right here at our fingertips.

I understand if you’ve got a young family and are trying to hustle and make a living. I get up at 5 a.m. and usually work until 9 p.m. But life is short. Sure, as a parent you have to support your family but I was recently reminded of how short life is. I just flew back late last night from burying mom.

Us kids were cleaning the house after the funeral. There were a few items that I cherished but the thing that took hours and hours to go through were her boxes of pictures. If I died right now and you went through my earthly possessions unfortunately you’d say hmm, looks like he was pretty self-centered. All of his pictures were hunting and fishing pics.

Mom’s pics? Scads of pics of her kids and grandkids. I already knew by the way that she lived her life but after sorting through her belongings it was crystal clear what was important to mom. God and her family. As I thought over my childhood, I literally couldn’t think of one selfish thing that mom ever did. She went all out for us kids. I need to reprioritize.

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.He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Fishing Idaho’s mountain lakes: tackle, tactics and tips for anglers

Mountain lakes require some challenging logistics when you consider the travel and hiking required to access them, and when you arrive, there’s the challenge of catching fish, right?

Fortunately, hardest part of fishing a mountain lake is usually getting to it. The fishing tends to be pretty simple, so don’t overthink it. Remember these fish have a very short growing season, so they tend to be pretty aggressive and active feeders. The fishing pressure at mountain lakes also tends to be light, so the fish aren’t real cagey, and basic trout fishing tackle and tactics are usually all you need to catch them.

But one thing to consider is the best way to get within casting distance of the fish, which depending on the lake, can be a little tricky, and you may get wet. A pair of lightweight quick-drying shorts or pants and some sport sandals can be handy so you can wade the shoreline and get in better position to make a cast.

Bring a hat and polarized sunglasses to help you spot cruising trout and protect your eyes from fishing lures and intense alpine sunlight. Trout in mountain lakes tend to be cruisers looking for a meal, so spotting where trout are holding or cruising can increase your chances of catching them and keep you from wasting time on vacant water. Also remember that trout aren’t equally distributed throughout a lake, but concentrated in certain areas.

Whether you’re a fly angler or use conventional tackle, you don’t need a bunch of specialized tackle, flies, lures or bait for mountain lakes. You have to pack your gear in, so keep it simple, portable and preferably lightweight.

Basic fly fishing setup

Choose a fly rod between 8.5 to 10-feet long with three- to five-weight line, preferably a rod that breaks down to four pieces for easy travel. Longer rods are usually better because they can make longer casts to reach fish and are better for roll-casting when up you’re stuck against brushy shorelines.

Spool your reel with a floating fly line and rig it with a 9- to 12-foot monofilament knotless tapered leader with a 4X or 5X tippet. Trout don’t tend to be line shy, so you can probably get away with a heavier tippet, but the water tends to be clear, so adjust accordingly.

Your kit should include forceps, fly floatant, extra tippet spools, line clippers, and a basic box of flies. Alpine lakes can be great places to catch trout on basic, traditional dry flies such as parachute Adams, black ants, beetles, hoppers or other small attractor flies. Don’t feel like you have to perfectly match a certain hatch. Flies that mimic basic insect shapes and are similar in size to naturals will usually catch fish.

If the trout aren’t taking dry flies try suspending a small bead-head nymph 2 to 3 feet below the surface from a strike indicator, or strip it slowly on a long leader. Common nymphs like the pheasant tail, hare’s ear, prince nymph, zebra midge etc. in sizes 12 to 16 are good choices. Small streamers like woolly buggers in black, brown and olive can also be productive.

Basic spin fishing setup

A spinning rod/reel combo from 5 to 7-feet long with a light or ultra-light action is a good choice. Rods should break down to two to four sections for easy travel so they can be strapped to a backpack. Spool the reel with 4-pound test monofilament line to cover most situations. Using lures is a good way to keep things simple without the need to carry bait. A few casting spoons and spinners in the 1/16 – 1/8 ounce size are a great option. You can also cast flies with a spinning rod by using casting bubble or float and use the same flies mentioned above.

If you prefer to fish bait, bring some barrel swivels, some size 6 to 10 baitholder hooks and a few sliding egg sinkers or split-shot to get your offering on the bottom, or suspend it 2 to 3 feet beneath a bobber. Traditional trout baits work well, such as worms, salmon eggs, etc. But if it’s summer and there are grasshoppers around, they can be great trout bait fished live or dead. A live grasshopper fluttering on the surface can be almost irresistible to a mountain lake trout.

While patience is often a virtue for anglers, don’t wait too long for a fish to bite in a mountain lake. Keep moving around until you start catching fish and concentrate on that area.

Where are the fish?

Trout in alpine lakes are usually on the lookout for food, so finding fish is much easier with a basic understanding of where trout typically hunt for food. Most of the food in alpine lakes are insects living in the lake, or terrestrial insects that blow onto the water from surrounding trees. Insects often hatch in shallow areas of a lake that are usually 2 to 10-feet deep where the sun can reach the bottom.

Look for trout cruising the shorelines along tree-lined banks where they might find ants, beetles or grasshoppers blown in by the wind. Trout will often cruise the same routes looking for food, so if you see a trout swim by, there’s a good change it will come by again later. Trout like to cruise areas with some kind of structure or a change in the shape of the lake. Look for points, underwater islands or humps, and sudden changes in depth from shallow to deep.

Places were a stream enters or leaves the lake are also favorite spots for trout, especially early and late in the season. Trout are constantly cruising around the lake, so keep moving to try new spots around the shoreline if you aren’t having any luck.

When you first arrive, it’s often advantageous to find a high point where the sun is at your back and actively look for fish before you start fishing. You may be surprised how easy they are to spot from a good vantage point.

Floating mountain lakes

Floating obviously has its advantages, but you have to get your craft to the lake. Fortunately, there are lightweight float tubes that are relatively easy to pack, but remember you will need a pair of fins to propel yourself and likely waders because mountain lakes are cold by nature. You probably don’t want to be in a float tube with your bare legs dangling in the water for hours at a time. That’s a good recipe for hypothermia.

Another option is a “pack raft” which is very lightweight craft that compacts small for easy transport. These specialized craft can be paddled around, or you can just paddle out and drift and fish. Pack rafts tend to be expensive, so prepare for some sticker shock, but they were designed specifically for mountain lake fishing, and if it’s something you plan to do a lot of, they can be a good investment.

A small, inexpensive blow-up raft is another option. Be careful in direct sunlight, especially on hot days, because as the day warms the air can expand and burst a seam in the raft. That applies to all inflatables, but more so to inexpensive ones.

Other things to consider

Mountain lakes are incredible places, but they can also be unforgiving, and weather can be extremely unpredictable. Rainstorms can hit unexpectedly, and even snowstorms during summer. Always pack some warm clothes and possibly lightweight rain gear, or some kind of rain shelter (such as a lightweight tarp or poncho), even if it appears to be a warm, sunny day.

Bringing a multi-tool pocket knife is very handy on the trail and should be part of your kit. These pocket knives are great when fishing to remove hooks and cut line, as well as preparing snacks or clean a fish for dinner. If you plan to keep fish, a stringer can be handy to store your catch. If you plan to hike out with fish, bring a stout plastic bag to store your fish inside and try to keep them cool while transporting and have a cooler waiting at your vehicle.

Yellowstone unveils electric, automated shuttles for summer testing

In 149 years, Yellowstone National Park has moved from horse-based transportation for visitors to the first testing of an electric shuttle capable of operating without a driver.

On Wednesday, the park launched a $360,000 public experiment into what could be the next generation of park transportation when it unveiled two eight-passenger, window-walled cubes nicknamed TEDDY (The Electric Driverless Demonstration at Yellowstone).

“This type of technology can really help us achieve some of our major sustainability goals that we’ve set here in the park,” said Cam Sholly, park superintendent, as the vehicles were unveiled to the media on Tuesday.

Such technology could be tested at any location, but Canyon Village provides a remote setting at an elevation of 7,900 feet where snow can fall any month of the year. Through Aug. 31, the vehicles will navigate the maze of Canyon Village’s parking lot to provide riders a free and quick lift to nearby lodging and campsites to demonstrate the shuttles’ capability at avoiding errant pedestrians, distracted drivers and unpredictable wildlife.

Cubed

The vehicles are cute, resembling a life-sized child’s toy. On the sides they are artfully decorated — one with the photo of a regal bull bison and the other with a wide-angle view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Springing over the tire on one is an outline of a fox.

“They are distinctly different,” said Charlie Gould, a transportation fellow with Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute. “The attraction to the public is strong.”

Named Olli by their manufacturer — Knoxville, Tennessee-based Local Motors — the vehicles were 3D printed. Inside each cube is $300,000 worth of high-end technology installed by Beep Inc. Twelve cameras mounted on each shuttle provide a 360-degree view of surroundings. Three 12-volt batteries and one large 400-volt lithium battery power operations for 40 miles, about 1.5 hours, before recharging is needed.

Thanks to GPS, laser measurements using LiDAR and radio signals from an antenna, the vehicles have accuracy up to 1 centimeter, Gould explained. Known as Real-Time Kinematic positioning, a fixed antenna interacts with the shuttle and satellite positioning information to achieve accuracy.

The nearly 7-foot wide, 13-foot long vehicles can carry 1,350 pounds. Similar vehicles have been deployed in Maryland, Italy and Berlin.

During their short ride, visitors can view a five-minute video that explains the testing program while also touching on Yellowstone’s history and the importance of giving wildlife room to roam.

“Obviously we’re not moving a lot of people,” Sholly said, but the shuttles are testing the technology to see if it works.

Future tests could expand the routes depending on what is learned this year, he added.

Partners

The test deployment is being conducted in partnership with the Department of Transportation Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

“We’re just trying to understand the technology we have today,” said Joshua Cregger of Volpe, providing technical assistance to the National Park Service after releasing a 2018 study on automated transit.

Yellowstone may be the first national park, but Wright Brothers National Memorial had the honors of launching the first Park Service study of the Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation (CASSI) on April 20.

Still, Yellowstone will likely provide a more difficult and unusual testing ground for the vehicles. When the crews from Florida-based Beep Inc. arrived eight weeks ago, they encountered three-foot deep roadside snowbanks and winter-like cold.

Future

Deployment of automated electric vehicles in Yellowstone and other national parks is uncertain at this point. Right now, the partners are simply seeking more information, which will include passenger surveys.

In the same vein, the park has initiated a separate study analyzing the best ways to enjoyably move visitors through the park while also protecting the park’s unique and fragile environment. Through 2022, the transit feasibility study will focus on four of Yellowstone’s most congested areas: Old Faithful, the Upper Geyser Basin, Norris Basin and Canyon Village. The study will inform whether piloting a local transit service in Yellowstone is feasible, the Park Service said.

A 2018 survey of park visitors revealed that 80 to 90 percent of tourists in Yellowstone approve of shuttle services as long as they aren’t the ones riding them, Sholly said. Shuttles could be combined with other traffic-reducing measures, such as timed entry, to address a continually increasing number of visitors. During peak summer visitation the park’s main roads and parking areas are over capacity by about 29 percent, the Park Service said.

“Vehicular demand for roads and parking in Yellowstone is expected to exceed capacity between 2021 and 2023,” according to a 2016 study, despite the fact that the park has about 16,680 parking spots in 254 lots and pullouts. Sholly said he’s not a fan of adding more parking to address the situation.

Sholly is already predicting Yellowstone will soon top 5 million visitors in a year. The current peak year was 2016 with 4.2 million visitors. This year, he said the park could see 4.7 million tourists, accelerating the urgency for finding transportation solutions.

“We need to have reasonable actions that are well thought out,” Sholly emphasized.

Big

Because of its large size, Yellowstone presents unique transportation challenges, but the issue of traffic congestion isn’t isolated to Yellowstone. Nationwide, between 2009 and 2018, annual park visits grew from 283 million to 318 million annually, an increase of 11%, according to the National Park Service. In response to the increased visitation, parks are experimenting with alternative bus fuels, electric buses and bike share opportunities.

The shuttle testing is part of Yellowstone’s Visitor Use Management Program, which focuses on understanding and responding to increased visitation in the following areas: impacts on resource conditions; impacts on staffing, operations and infrastructure; impacts on the visitor experience; and impacts on gateway communities and partners.

Drivers

Although capable of operating on their own, the TEDDY shuttles will be staffed with a driver to make adjustments to unusual occurrences like a vehicle sticking out of a parking space as well as to ensure users feel comfortable with the automated technology.

Bob Ryner, a retired principal, signed on to be one of the six drivers who will be working in the park this summer.

“This is the reason I joined Beep, to be here,” he said.

He’s looking forward to interacting with the wide variety of visitors Yellowstone attracts, as well as the park’s world-renowned wildlife. He’s also willing to override the automated route for unique and unusual scenarios.

“If I see a bear with a deer leg in its mouth, I’m going to stop and look,” he said.

Idaho park fees rise for out-of-staters, but most state campgrounds already booked

Idaho started doubling camping fees for out-of-staters at its five most popular state parks on Thursday, as required by a new law passed by the Legislature this year, but it will be at least a year before we see if it helps Idahoans get spots in the popular parks — because all five booked up immediately for the whole summer as soon as reservations opened back in December.

“It’s kind of a scramble when the nine-month book-ahead window opens,” said state parks spokesman Craig Quintana. “It books up within the hour.”

Existing reservations are grandfathered in under the law, HB 93, and their fees won’t rise.

“The sad fact is if we could magically snap our fingers and double our inventory, we would still sell out,” Quintana said. “We need more camping, pretty much across our system.”

State lawmakers this year did approve funding for a new 50-space campground at the Billingsley Creek unit of Thousand Springs State Park in the Magic Valley near Hagerman. That’s just gone out to bid; those campsites won’t be done until next year’s camping season. Also in the works is a new 50-space campground at Eagle Island State Park in the Treasure Valley, but it’s several years out.

Freshman state Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, proposed HB 93 this year, citing his personal pet peeve that he could never get a spot for his camper at popular Farragut State Park, just 30 miles from his home, unless there was a cancellation, because that park is so popular with out-of-staters, including those traveling over from nearby Washington.

Idaho state Parks Director Susan Buxton welcomed the move, and the bill passed both houses and was signed into law March 19, taking effect immediately. However, that was too late to affect this year’s camping season, since all the most popular state park campgrounds already are booked for the summer.

“The changes will keep Idaho competitive with surrounding states, which have similar surcharges for out-of-state guests,” Buxton said in a news release. “Even with these increases, our parks are a good value given the exceptional recreational opportunities.”

At popular Ponderosa State Park, on the shores of Payette Lake in McCall, a basic campsite costs $24 per night and one with full hookups costs $32. Next year, out-of-staters will pay double; if fees remain the same next year, they’d pay $48 and $64 for the same sites.

Those same fee increases will apply at four other busy state park campgrounds: Farragut, Priest Lake and Round Lake in North Idaho; and Henry’s Lake in eastern Idaho.

HB 93 also required Idaho’s state parks to double daily park entry fees for out-of-staters at five busy state parks. The state parks department chose Bear Lake State Park in southeastern Idaho; Hells Gate State Park in north-central Idaho; and Farragut, Priest Lake and Round Lake state parks in North Idaho. Daily entry fees there for residents are $7; as of this week, out-of-staters will pay $14.

Idaho’s state parks saw huge, record use last year, despite opening for camping two months late due to the coronavirus pandemic; visitation exceeded the previous year’s mark by 1.2 million. North Idaho’s parks were especially popular with Washington residents when that state’s parks were closed during the pandemic, but Idaho’s were open.

Under terms of the federal Land & Water Conservation Fund grants that paid to acquire and develop most of Idaho’s state parks, the state can’t restrict out-of-state use or have an “Idahoans-first system,” Quintana said. But it can charge up to double in fees for non-Idaho residents.

“We think we’re still a pretty good value when you look at the destinations you get to come to,” Quintana said. “So we’re unsure whether this will have the effect that some of the lawmakers were looking for, and only time will tell.”

Idaho residents also can buy a $10 Idaho State Parks “Passport” that covers daily entry fees, but not camping fees, at all Idaho state parks for a year. The passports are vehicle stickers sold through the Department of Motor Vehicles when Idahoans renew their vehicle registrations.

There’s more information on Idaho’s state parks at the state parks website: parksandrecreation.idaho.gov.

National Forest has big summer plans for some recreation areas

Major improvements to campgrounds, trailheads, habitat and access roads are all on the docket this summer in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Four particular construction projects start in the coming weeks and are aimed at improving recreational opportunities in the northern portions of eastern Idaho.

“The benefits of recreation are astounding,” said Kaye Orme, Caribou-Targhee National Forest recreation manager. “Not only does it have health values, but studies show communities are seeing extensive economic benefits associated with recreation as well.”

Orme said the National Forest is asking visitors to “please be patient with workers as delays and access limitations may occur during construction.”

Four larger projects include one in the Cave Falls area, one at the Trail Creek Trailhead (near Dubois), a habitat improvement project in Island Park/Ashton and access road rerouting at Packsaddle Lake.

The Cave Falls project will begin July 7 and is part of a multi-year project. The campground will be closed this summer and involve hauling in and graveling the Cave Falls Road. The campground will see major renovations.

The Trail Creek Trailhead is currently closed while the access road dries out. It is anticipated to open next week. The Forest Service enlarged the site and laid down gravel for better horse trailer access and parking. New signs were installed.

“Crews are fixing water drainage issues this week with new culvert installations and hope to have everything up and running once the road dries out,” Caribou-Targhee said.

The Caribou-Targhee plans several projects to restore habitat on about 28,000 acres in the Ashton-Island Park area this summer. Plans include restoring areas for wildlife use by planting trees, rehabilitating old roadbeds to look more natural, installing natural rock barriers, and replacing or bolstering gates. The new areas will be open for non-motorized use. For more details, go online to tinyurl.com/5fb6tpbj.

The roads to the popular Packsaddle Lake west of Tetonia will get a makeover this summer. Portions of the roads and trail will be moved as well as the parking area.

“The rerouted roads and trails will meet recreation standards by reducing the steep grade and eliminating spring rain erosion and resource issues,” Caribou-Targhee said.

Find more details on these and other projects at fs.usda.gov/ctnf.