POCATELLO — Watershed Guardians’ eighth annual BeaverCount training will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Mink Creek Nordic Center off the Scout Mountain Road. The BeaverCount will be held Feb. 2, meeting at the same location.
BeaverCount is a free, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing event where participants trek into our watershed to assess the current state of the beaver populations.
On Jan. 26, volunteers will meet at the Mink Creek Nordic Center and learn about wilderness first response, physical assessment and warm-ups, navigation and beaver habitat. From the Nordic Center, you will snowshoe on approximately one mile of easy-to-moderate trail and see the benefits of having beaver in our watersheds. Some useful snowshoe techniques you’ll learn include side-hilling, toe kick and water crossing. When you return, you can share your stories with us and enjoy hot soup and snacks to warm up and select their zones for the upcoming count. You’ll need sturdy boots, warm-layered clothing, day pack, water bottles, gloves, sunglasses and a hat. Teams are encouraged to register.
Then, the following weekend, those trained to spot beaver activity, winter preparedness, wildlife conservation and any number of other skills related to snowshoeing, will hike or ski into streams that are part of our watershed. This year’s locations will include Mink and Toponce basins.
Opportunities exists for those of all ages. If you were trained previously but have not trained in the last five years, you’re encouraged to re-attend the training.
Watershed Guardians is a nonprofit organization whose mission is, “To maintain, restore and protect the Portneuf Watershed, one beaver at a time.”
To register, visit www.watershedguardians.org/beavercount-viii or www.facebook.com/watershed guardians or call Mike at 208-232-0825.
Idaho Fish and Game staff will hold a series of open houses around the state to talk to hunters about their preferences for rules and seasons for the upcoming big game hunts.The department will also provide a list of proposed rule changes for the 2019-…
Discussing the best big game rifle could cause a civil war. This is a topic more serious than politics. There’s be a better chance of seeing Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump holding hands walking down Main Street drinking a latte than for an ardent 30-06 lover to set down and have a civil talk with a .270 fanatic.
Why is this such a touchy subject, the non-hunter may ask? I’ll tell you why: Not only are there arguments as to which is the best rifle manufacturer, but also as to what type of actions. Bolt-actions, lever-actions, pumps or semi-automatics. And for sure the most vehement arguments will be about the best caliber.
A lot of your choices will be strictly sentimental. Your dad or uncle used this rifle and you bought a rifle just like theirs and killed your first deer with it. It would almost be sacrilegious to change your beliefs.
So everyone will have their own rationale as to the best caliber. It may be for sentimental reasons as stated above. It may be because you saw John Wayne use such and such rifle or you may scientifically decide that this rifle has the fastest feet per second, knock-down power or whatever. And even among the scientific thinkers, they can err. Do you really think it matters if a bullet is zipping along at 2,800 feet per second as compared with brand X that only flies along at 2,700 feet per second?
And then a lot of it can be because of marketing. Here’s what I mean by that. How come the rifle that last year was advertised as the absolute best rifle ever designed is suddenly outdated? In one year! Because they have to advertise and breed contempt or you’ll buy one rifle and keep it for the rest of your life, pass it on to your kids and then it will be passed along to your grandkids. That’s not good for business.
I had to ditch my old Remington 742 I bought when I was 12 years old with my paper route earnings. Everyone knows bolt-actions are more accurate, so I bought a new Remington 700 .338 Win Mag — and missed the first bull I saw. Hold on — wait a minute. I thought they were the ultimate. I’d shot turkeys in the head at 60 yards with my old 742 and made dozens of head shots on deer with it. I’d been hoodwinked.
I say all of the above to show that people make up their minds as to which rifle/caliber is the best based on a lot of sub-standard reasoning and emotions. Or it may just be preferences. It’s like saying what is the best wife? Black haired? Blonde? Red haired? Pink, blue or orange haired? It’s a preference, not a right or wrong.
So with all of the above said, if you’re new to Idaho and trying to decide which rifle to buy, I’ll try to help you out. Forever, I used my old Remington 742 semi-automatic 30-06. It worked fine. For close shots, it was plenty accurate, but most people would agree that a bolt-action rifle is the most accurate and dependable. So I’d tell you to get a bolt-action rifle.
Years ago, to get a 1- to 1 ½-inch group, you had to get a custom rifle and reload. Now, there are a few factory rifles that are capable of getting 1 ½-inch groups with factory ammo. I’ve tested a couple of Mossbergs and been able to do this with them. So you don’t have to buy a super expensive custom-made rifle anymore to get good groups. (To tighten down your groups, you probably will need a trigger job.)
Now what about calibers? If you can only afford one rifle, I’d say get a 30-06. You can kill anything in America with it, but the .300 Winchester Magnum is better. They’ll be a little bit of an over kill on antelope and small deer, but still you’ll have a rifle that you can hunt everything in North America with. Then you have all of the other popular rounds, .308s, .270s, .243s, etc. Too many to list. Then, of course, right now everyone is in love with the 6.5 Creedmoor. But if you’re new to Idaho, I’d say get a 30-06 or more likely a .300 Winchester Magnum. I have a .338 Win. Mag. but wish I had of gotten a .300.
Almost as big of a factor as which caliber you choose is which ammo you use. I test a lot of ammo and am constantly amazed at how accuracy varies from ammo to ammo in my rifle. Just as important is how it performs when it hits an animal.
For years, I used the old Remington Core-Lokt ammo. As a kid, it only cost $10/box, so I couldn’t see paying $40 to $50 per box for the higher priced stuff. But it’d perform great on 10 to 15 deer in a row and then suddenly it wouldn’t. I remember one year I had to shoot a deer three times to drop it and an antelope twice all in the same year. That got me checking out better performing ammo.
Well, we are way out of room and have barely gotten started. Hopefully this short article will get you started. Or you maybe want to play it safe and just buy one of every caliber!
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.
Something catastrophically wrong happened in 2018 to monarch butterflies.
Idaho wildlife biologist Ross Winton spent years working with monarch butterflies. With the help of volunteers, he would carefully put a tiny tag the size of a paper hole punch on about 30 to 50 of the iconic insects each summer in the Magic Valley. Then during the summer of 2018 he could only find two to tag.
“I saw two monarchs all season,” Winton said of 2018. “Most of the folks I’ve talked to in the Boise area were seeing very similar results. … It was a little disconcerting to be seeing that kind of a decline in one year.”
On Thursday, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation issued a report finding that the population of monarch butterflies overwintering in California had fallen to the lowest level ever recorded.
The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count found only 28,429 butterflies, an 86 percent fall from the previous year and a 99.4 percent decline from numbers counted in the 1980s. Overwintering butterflies in central and Southern California numbered about 4.5 million in the 1980s. The monarch population in the eastern United States, which migrates to Mexico, has declined by more than 80 percent in the last 20 years, but has not suffered the same fall in numbers this year, the Xerces Society says.
“To picture what this means for monarchs, imagine that the population of Los Angeles had shrunk to that of the town of Monterey,” said Emma Pelton, a monarch conservation expert with the Xerces Society. (Monterey, Calif., has about 29,000 residents, while Los Angeles has about 4 million.)
Monarch butterfly experts say much of the blame for the species’ demise can be aimed at habitat destruction, particularly in overwintering areas of California. Each year, the butterflies head south to winter mostly in either California or central Mexico. While most end up in Mexico, particularly those who spend their summers east of the Rocky Mountains, many also overwinter in habitat near Santa Cruz, Calif.
“Our best guess is that most of our Idaho monarchs are going to central and Southern California,” Winton said. “The connections we’ve had that we’ve documented for sure most of them have been from central California. … They like to winter in a lot of the tall trees along the coast of California.”
But what’s happening in California as far as monarchs are concerned is alarming.
“A lot of the concern is focusing in on California,” said Beth Waterbury, retired wildlife biologist for Idaho Fish and Game in Salmon. Waterbury helped head up a monarch study in Idaho, collecting, tagging and documenting the species especially in eastern Idaho.
“Either loss of habitat or degradation of habitat on those overwinter sites (is key),” she said. “When those butterflies start dispersing in early spring they’re looking for milkweed and nectar resources not too distant from those overwinter sites. The focus right now is looking at availability of habitat in the California central valley or in the coastal foothills or the Sierra foothills and that apparently is lacking. That is looking to be the real break in the migratory chain this past year.”
“In California and Mexico a lot of habitat has been lost where they tend to overwinter,” he said. “A lot of those big trees are either getting too old and not getting replaced and blowing over or they are getting removed, with city expansions, things like that. It really comes down to habitat.”
Waterbury said other contributing factors include wildfires, pesticides and hot weather. “Monarchs don’t do well or reproduce when it gets up to 90 degrees or hotter,” she said.
With the population vanishing, the Xerces Society has issued a call to arms in hopes of saving the species.
“It’s easy to give up when faced with news like this,” Pelton said. “But doing nothing is not an option.”
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is calling on Californians to plant early blooming flowers and milkweed to fuel migrating monarchs on their paths to other states.
Waterbury said that while most of the action items target California, one involves Idaho. Mainly it involves protecting and restoring monarch-friendly habitat.
“Having done some outreach here in the Salmon area to local ranchers, I taught a course at a cattlemen’s night school in January and gave a presentation on monarchs and honestly the ranchers were kind of dumbfounded,” Waterbury said. “They had no idea that monarchs need (milkweed) to reproduce. Once they knew that they said ‘I can leave some milkweed at the corners of my pivot’ or ‘I don’t need to burn that ditch that time of year.’ They made a few provisions to allow monarch habitat.”
Waterbury said one thing working against the cause is a name.
“This is my name for milkweed, it should be called ‘monarch manna’ because it is so important,” she said. “There are these public attitudes because of the name having the name weed in it. So many people do not know that it is the only plant that monarchs will lay their eggs on.”
Some might wonder what all the fuss is over an insect?
“We want to conserve all of our biodiversity just on its own sake,” Waterbury said. “There is a role that monarchs play that is very important to humans and that is as a pollinator and if we don’t have pollinators on our landscape to pollinate our crops, to pollinate native plants, we’re going to lose about three-quarters of the plant species on this planet and a lot of our food resources.
“Monarchs are kind of a canary in a coal mine for a lot of other insect species, especially bees which are some of our primary pollinators.”
POCATELLO – The Portneuf Greenway Foundation is pleased to announce that it will be submitting a grant application to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) Recreational Trails Program to construct three new Greenway Trails Segments to provide a nearly continuous, off-street route from Fort Hall Mine Road to Pocatello Creek Road.
Work proposed in the grant application includes grading, graveling and paving new trails from Fort Hall Mine Road to the Kirkham/AMI Trailhead on South 2nd; from Terry Street on the ISU Campus to the north entrance of the Portnuef Medical Center on Hospital Way and from the Monte Vista Overpass to Pocatello Creek Road.
“We are very pleased with the positive working relationship we have with the City of Pocatello and the property owners who are allowing this project to move forward.” commented Dan Harelson of the Greenway’s Board of Directors. “The Greenway and the City each bring something to the table with this application and the whole community benefits as a result”.
Rory Erchul, President of the Board of Directors added, “We’ve seen a lot of progress and trail build in the last five years. Our current board, both the City of Chubbuck and Pocatello, as well as the general public at large, are very much behind our efforts and driving our projects.
The Greenway Foundation has proven we can plan, raise money and execute on the overall mission of the Greenway, with only volunteers, and we’re proud of that.”
The mission of the Portneuf Greenway Foundation is to create a network of bicycle and pedestrian trails throughout the greater Pocatello area to enhance the quality of life for residents of the area by establishing and improving the Portneuf Greenway as a community resource.
The foundation is a 503c organization established in 1992 and is governed by a volunteer board of directors and receives no direct funding from the City of Pocatello for public facilities. Development of the Portneuf Greenway is guided by the Portneuf Greenway Master Plan and a supporting Capital Investment Plan.
Though the Greenway Foundation focused on establishing trails along the Portneuf River initially, the broader vision is to connect a comprehensive trail system throughout the Pocatello and Chubbuck communities.
ASHTON — On a frozen Saturday, hoar frost clings to aspen trees, snow settles on the sagebrush, and dogs howl. Twenty-five sled dogs to be exact — singing, howling and running in dizzying circles.
“They each have their own personality,” Linda Janssen said. “You get to where you can tell their voices when they do a group singalong. You can tell who’s harmony, alto, we even have some sopranos.”
But Janssen doesn’t own these dogs for their musical abilities. They’re here to run.
On the high desert northwest of Ashton with views of the Tetons to the east, Henry’s Fork to the south and the Lost River Range to the west, Silver Sage Mushing offers dog sled tours to visitors from around the world. Janssen’s camp sits on 160 acres of pristine land in the same town that hosts America’s oldest dog sled race, the American Dog Derby started in 1917, 56 years before the first Iditarod. This year’s event runs from Feb. 14 to 16.
It’s also a perfect place to train.
The camp has several groomed loops that are 4 and 6 miles. Leaving from Janssen’s camp, the dogs bound and howl until they hit their pace. The sled’s runners sing a constant shhhh against the snow and the dogs become focused. Mushers tend to stay quiet when running dogs.
“If you talk all of the time they’ll just tune you out,” said Matt Reymann, a musher that runs tours with Janssen.
These 45- to 60-pound dogs are powerful. Reymann has seen racers pulled to the ground and dragged by dogs when trying to hook them to the sled lines. A 4-mile run for a team of 10 dogs, mostly Alaskan huskies — and a few Siberian huskies, with nearly 400 pounds on a sled is a warm-up.
They live to run and run for a living.
Janssen, 70, uses the proceeds from tours to pay for their enormous diet — each dog gets a pound of raw beef along with kibble every day.
The dogs are skinny but so are most athletes. When people comment about their weight Reymann relays what he says is the best response he’s heard: “You ever go to a marathon? You don’t see many fat marathon runners. These are athletes. They run 20, 30 miles every day.”
The mushers are responsible for the dogs’ care and Reymann says their safety is always on their mind.
“When you get back from a run, the dogs get watered and fed before you,” Reymann says. “Even if you’re hungry and tired, you still take care of the dogs first.”
But the sport of sled-dog racing is not without its critics, many of whom feel the dogs are mistreated. Reymann and Janssen do their best to fight that perception.
“I’m pretty careful that people get to meet the dogs in their kennel situation,” Janssen said. “Some people think that if you have 25 dogs, you should have 25 dogs in your house. These are not those kinds of dogs.”
Dawson-A, a Siberian husky, was a rescue that lived in an apartment and destroyed it before being adopted.
“They get bored, they eat furniture … people don’t realize these dogs are not cute little pets. They’re working dogs,” Janssen said.
Janssen and David “Rosie” Harman started Silver Sage Mushing in 2006 with rescued sled dogs. Rosie, a staple of the Ashton racing community, died in 2017, but Janssen still runs rescued dogs.
In 2012, Janssen had the chance to breed Lance Mackey’s Queeny and Doug Swingley’s Sultan — both Mackey and Swingley are four-time Iditarod race winners. The result was Sabra and the Blondies, as they’re affectionately named. The litter led to seven pups. Four have become lead dogs, which Janssen says is rare.
Having the extra lead dogs has helped. Silver Sage Mushing is seeing more clients and the extra paws are needed.
“We had so much tourist activity last year,” Reymann said “but we only had two teams. We were turning people away because we didn’t have enough dog power to do two, three, four tours a day.”
Using dogs for work and survival is nothing new.
Researchers have found evidence of indigenous groups using dogs 4,000 years ago for transportation. In the 1700s, Russian mushers began forming teams in the modern sense we see today — straight lines of dogs with leaders, swing dogs, team dogs and wheel dogs.
Leaders aren’t necessarily the fastest dogs but they have the illusion of being the fastest dogs and can handle the pressure of a pack of dogs on their tail according to Reymann.
“They can think fast,” said Reymann. “When they come to a turn they have to be sharp enough and confident enough that if I tell them we’re turning right they know it, they’ll pick it and go.”
Next are the swing dogs or point dogs — these are seasoned dogs that often were leaders in their youth but are now a little older. These dogs help teach younger, lead dogs how to lead and can help with picking lines, where the musher wants the sled to go, if the leaders miss.
The number of team dogs can vary between two to six. Team dogs keep the sled moving and bear the brunt of the workload.
In the back are the wheel dogs — think low gear. They may not be the brightest or the most obedient but they’re strong.
This hierarchy allows mushers to put dogs where they can perform best.
Janssen says that despite the work it’s all worth it.
“I do it for the love of the sport, of the dogs,” Janssen said.“Even as old as I am, you never get over the rush of getting over the runners. It’s a rush.”
Contrary to what some people think, all firearm owners are not of the same mind when it comes to shooting and hunting. Many firearm owners don’t hunt and the reasons they don’t are almost as varied as the people who own and shoot firearms, and do hunt. Some have firearms for self defense because of a perceived rise in violent crime including assault and the increased awareness of home burglaries. That also seems to be the reason that firearm ownership is increasing in Europe and the United Kingdom.
Some people really enjoy target shooting and socializing with other target shooters at the shooting range, while some people enjoy collecting firearms, but rarely shoot those firearms.
Texas A&M University where I taught for 25 years has one of the most impressive gun collections in the United States. The collection includes MatchIocks, Flintlocks, Percussion rifles and pistols as well as more modern firearms that use smokeless powder ammunition. One of my favorite rifles in that collection is an old, black-powder, four-bore elephant gun. I’m just amazed anyone would carry a rifle that big and heavy across Africa hunting the “Big Five,” for which Africa is famous. I suspect that because that rifle had to be reloaded with powder, patch and ball as well as putting powder in the pan, between shots, the hunter got trounced by one of the Big Five as often as the first shot ended the hunt.
Those of us that hunt in North America are also a varied group in what we like to hunt, the calibers we use and our particular hunting ethics. I think most of us agree on a basic list of ethical hunting practices, but some of us are trophy hunters and won’t shoot unless the game fits our requirements of antler points, general size and whatever else we think is important.
We also don’t all use the same caliber of rifle or the same type of bullet for deer, elk, moose, pronghorn and other game. For example, I hunt coyotes with a 55- to 63-grain bullet in .223/5.56 caliber, deer with a .30-30 Winchester lever action, .30-06, or a .300 Weatherby Magnum in bolt action depending on terrain, tree and brush cover, and distance at which I might have to shoot. I usually load the .30-30 with Hornady 160-grain LEVERevelution ammunition, and 180-grain bullets in both the .30-06 Springfield and the .300 Weatherby.
When choosing ammunition for the .30-06, I generally use Remington Core-Lokt ammunition. I load my own 180-grain bullets in front of 80 grains of Reloader 22, for my .300 Weatherby or I use Weatherby’s 180-grain Spire Point bullets.
I am a little old school, and don’t trust polymer tips on bullets to not start deforming from the heat generated by the magnum calibers with muzzle velocities over 3000 feet per second. However, there are many hunters who will gladly sing the praises of polymer tip bullets such as the “Ballistic Tip” bullets in the Weatherby line of ammunition and Hornady’s polymer tips.
We don’t all agree on the best caliber and bullet weight for the game we hunt either. Jose Sarber, a game warden out of Saint Petersburg, Alaska, never used anything bigger that a .30-6 on Alaska brown bear. His favorite bear load was the now obsolete 172 grain Western Tool and Copper Company open-point bullet with enough powder behind it to move it along at 2,750 to 2,800 feet per second. Jack O’ Conner, a well known hunting writer also liked the .30- 06 for the Alaskan Brownies, but opted for 180- and 220-grain bullets for the big bears.
Today many hunters have decided that the .270 Winchester and the .30-06 just aren’t up to really large North American game, even though they were most hunter’s favorite big-game calibers until the late 1950s when the big-bore magnum rooting section started trying to convince us that the 30-caliber magnums and up were the only calibers a real man or woman would use on anything over 700 pounds.
Some of us talk back to the magnum crowd, reminding them that it doesn’t matter how big a cannon one uses, if you can’t place the shot in the vitals, the big stuff won’t go down. If you can place the shot in the vitals, .270s and .30-06s do a really good job at the distance they were designed for. I didn’t purchase a .300 Weatherby as much for the particular type of game I hunt, as for the distance I think I will have to shoot whatever I am hunting.
I and one other of the guys I hunt with carry single-action pistols in .45 Colt and .357 mag. The rest carry their rifle and no side arm.
I am an ambush hunter. I like to get up early and get settled in a spot overlooking a game trail where I have seen game while scouting the area before the season opens. Most of the others in our group can’t sit anywhere more than five minutes and like to move quietly through the area using the tree line or any cover they can find. I probably cover close to the same amount ground they do by starting out early to reach the spot where I want to be, but once I’m there I don’t move very much. I’ve even had hunters who are moving around, spook game right into my area.
So we have our differences, but we all enjoy hunting, shooting and gun collecting on our own terms.
Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seventh-grade teacher Diane Anderson started a skiing and snowboarding club at Franklin Middle School in 2009, at the urging of a former principal who wanted to reward students for good behavior, grades and attendance.
“I’m looking for something to do for our good kids because we spend so much time on our (challenging) kids,” former Principal Howard Peck, who died in 2010, told Anderson. “What do you think about doing something with skiing?”
Apparently, there are a lot of good kids at the Pocatello middle school, and Peck chose the right activity to appeal to his student body.
When the Franklin Snow Club made its first field trip of the year to go night skiing and snowboarding at Pebble Creek Ski Area in Inkom on Jan. 11, it took four buses to transport the roughly 140 children.
Anderson said the club, which started with 30 to 40 members, now boasts 225 participants. The club makes four Friday night field trips throughout the season and one trip for all-day skiing and snowboarding during a school records day, when classes aren’t in session.
“It gives kids a safe thing to do on Friday nights, gets them away from electronics and forces them to communicate with friends,” Anderson said. “I think that’s huge in our generation of kids coming through right now.”
Dana Crist, winter sports school programs director at Pebble Creek, said William Thomas Middle School in American Falls and Firth Middle School also have long-established ski clubs, and Highland High School has a new ski club. In addition to the clubs, Pebble Creek hosts local schools that take field trips during school days after Christmas break.
“We have schools basically five days a week from then into mid-March,” Crist said, adding that all Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 middle schools participate in field trips at Pebble Creek.
Pebble Creek offers students a discounted rate for lift tickets and rentals. Lessons are also offered for Franklin Snow Club members.
Ann Swanson said her son Kevin joined the Franklin club after some of his friends signed up. This is his first season of skiing, and Swanson, who isn’t an avid skier, said the lessons have been invaluable.
“It’s given him the opportunity to get on that hill with some lessons without me having to drive him up and show him how to do it myself,” Swanson said. “I’m grateful for the program because it’s an easy way to get kids to experience skiing for the first time without a lot of extra hurt on the parents.”
Classmates Eo’in O’Doherty and Jacob Shroll are both accomplished at winter sports and have season passes to Pebble Creek. But they also look forward to the camaraderie of participating in the club — even though only the beginner lift runs at night.
“It’s pretty hyped up at our school. We talk about it a lot, and the teachers encourage us to do it,” O’Doherty said. “It’s pushed a lot of kids to come out here and ski.”
Shroll appreciates the ride, providing him bonus skiing time, and he’s seen friends improve significantly after they complete lessons.
“I’ve met a lot more who ski doing the ski club,” Shroll said.
Other Franklin teachers have helped Anderson as chaperones. She’s required to have one teacher per bus. Anderson believes the students benefit from the opportunity to participate in an activity away from school and independent of their parents.
She says many students discover a love for a lifetime sport through the club. Most importantly, she said the club motivates students to come to class, study a bit harder and maintain a positive attitude. Franklin excludes students from club events if they misbehave, skip classes or don’t achieve passing grades.
“I think it does kind of get them to toe the line a little bit,” Anderson said.
Franklin club members pay a fee at the start of the program covering transportation, the cost of a club T-shirt and skiing or snowboarding expenses. Anderson said the club uses any extra funds to buy hot chocolate or other treats for the group during ski trips, or to cover expenses for students who couldn’t otherwise afford to participate.
POCATELLO — For the last 20 years, Idaho State University fish ecologists Ernest Keeley and Janet Loxterman in the Department of Biological Sciences have studied cutthroat trout populations in waters from Alaska to New Mexico. Among their other research endeavors, they have identified some of the last remaining native, genetically pure populations of cutthroat trout in the areas around Pocatello, including distinct subspecies variations, in some unlikely places.
“I think it is important to try to maintain those unique populations that have been here for thousands and thousands of years and are part of Idaho’s heritage,” Keeley said. “We want to make sure we protect some of that original biodiversity.”
Recently, Keeley found a genetically pure population of cutthroat trout right under his nose, in a tributary of the Portneuf River that dumps into that stream within the city limits of one of the largest cities in Idaho, Pocatello. That tributary, City Creek, also features one of the most popular trails in the area and where it dumps into the Portneuf, the river is severely degraded.
“One really interesting thing we discovered about a year ago is that there are still cutthroat trout in City Creek,” Keeley said. “It’s a tiny little stream and a lot of small streams like it, such as Johnny Creek (also in Pocatello) have lost their fish populations.”
Keeley was tipped off by an Idaho Department of Environmental Quality survey from 2012 that indicated there were a few cutthroat in the stream. The ISU biologist then sampled the stream and found cutthroat, both mature and young-of-the-year cutthroat, indicating they are successfully breeding in the small stream.
Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the only native trout species in the upper Snake River above Shoshone Falls. Non-native species like rainbow, brown and brook trout have been introduced in many streams and in many instances have taken over. There have been up to 14 major subspecies of cutthroat trout identified, two that have gone extinct, and Idaho has three of them, the Yellowstone, Westslope and Bonneville.
These major subspecies, such as Yellowstone cutthroat found in the Snake River and Portneuf, however, have native populations that are genetically distinct from each other that are separated by physical boundaries. Although all the native trout in the upper Snake River drainage in Idaho are classified as Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, there are distinct, genetically pure subspecies variations that are about 2 percent different genetically from each other. If these subspecies variations interbreed with other cutthroat or rainbows, they lose their genetic uniqueness and Keeley thinks these subspecies should be protected.
“The Portneuf River that runs through Pocatello, at one time, just 100 years ago, had abundant cutthroat trout in it, but now we only find them in remnant areas in the very upper part of above Lava and in some of the small tributaries,” Keeley said. “Their range has shrunk, but there are still healthy populations in some areas.”
What may have saved the native trout population in City Creek is a cement culvert on the lower creek that blocks the passage of non-native brown and rainbow trout that might have migrated out of the river further upstream into the tributary. Such man-made barriers on streams can have opposite effects on native cutthroat. In City Creek and in Gibson Jack Creek, above where these structures are located, cutthroat trout have been protected from non-native trout, preventing interbreeding or hybridization and predation. But, in other instances, river and tributary barriers inhibit movement between the main river and spawning tributaries, which isolates the population and prevents individual fish from getting any bigger than 10 to 12 inches.
When fish have access to larger rivers they are able to get bigger and produce more offspring. So it can become a “catch-22” for fisheries managers, deciding whether to leave barriers in place to protect populations, or modifying barriers to allow fish to access more productive and extensive habitat.
For example, on the upper Portneuf River, where there aren’t many non-native trout, a diversion on Pebble Creek was modified so that it now allows Yellowstone cutthroat from the upper Portneuf River to spawn and rear young in the creek, which has been a boon to that population.
“There are a lot of efforts that provide recreational opportunities for fishing, but we are really interested in protecting native trout biodiversity,” Keeley said. “That is what we are trying to identify. Where those remaining populations are, and what threats might exist for them. In those areas, remaining populations should be protected because they represent the last of the native fish biodiversity.”
“We found some of the cutthroat trout in the upper Snake and the adjoining Bonneville Basin seem to be of an entirely different evolutionary lineage than what we originally thought,” Keeley said. “They certainly should be managed separately. If you are reestablishing new populations where the trout have gone extinct, you should make sure you are using a neighboring population that is from the same group.”
Keeley’s goal is to provide students and our community with information and a better understanding of our local fauna, so that it can be appreciated and protected for future generations to enjoy.
“We are fortunate to live in an area that still has wide-open spaces, but we need to understand what other species we share it with and what they need to survive,” he said.
Why would anyone want to go ice fishing? It can be bitter cold — and windy. I’ll tell you why: Because if they’re biting it can be fun, and you can have fresh fish in the winter! Plus, don’t you ever get cabin fever and just have to get outdoors and do something?
Ice fishing is a huge sport in Minnesota, Michigan and some of those states. They drive their trucks with their campers out on the lakes and the whole bit. Sorry, hate to be a little wimp, but I’d be scared of dropping through on this one.
Speaking of dropping through — that scares me, too. The ice creaks while out ice fishing and makes weird harmonic sounds as it cracks and shifts. Wonnnnkkkkkk as it cracks and runs between you and your buddies. To deal with this danger, many people tell you to carry a long rope to throw to someone if they fall in and a sled to disperse your weight so you can get to them.
One time I was ice fishing with Mike Helzer in Nebraska, and it was warming up and had melted the snow on top of the ice. If we caught a fish and three of us ran to the hole, the ice sheet would start dipping down. But enough on this or you’ll never go ice fishing.
The gear is really pretty simple. You’ll need an ice auger to drill holes so you can fish. The more holes you drill the better or you’re stuck in one spot. You don’t just fish in one spot in the summer, do you? No, you move around. The problem with ice fishing is that to move around, you have to drill a hole every time. For this reason, many people prefer a gas-powered auger.
You can have as many holes as you want, but they can’t be over 10-inches in diameter to prevent people from falling in if snow drifts over the hole. And ice fishing, you can use up to five rods and each rod can have five hooks on it.
You’ll also want an ice ladle. As ice starts to form in your hole you’ll want to scoop it out. You’ll also want a ladle to scoop out the slush you made when drilling the hole.
Ice fishing rods are shorter than your normal rods so you can maneuver fishing in the hole. They make short ones that look like a miniature crappie fishing rig, only about a third as long. A cheaper option that most people use is tip-ups. They’re a small rod with a spool for a reel.
In the winter, fish will be more lethargic so you can handle them on the smaller ice fishing rods. Because they are lethargic, you’ll want to move your jigs a little slower.
A lot of people put a meal worm on a small ice fishing jig. Some drop larger jigs and pick them up and drop them slowly down the water column. You can also use regular worms on a hook or jig. Perch like cut bait, so cut a piece of skin off of a fish.
I catch my perch about a foot off the bottom. Try trout a little higher up. But you’ll want to fish up and down the water column to find out where they’re feeding and then fish there. Try for perch in about 20 to 25-feet of water.
You don’t need to worry about a stringer and keeping them alive. Just throw them in the snow on the ice. Five-gallon buckets work great to carry them in.
Needless to say, it can get cold, so wear plenty of layers. Wear heavy boots and some good Browning Wool Socks. Hand warmers are nice. Take a chair or bucket to set on so you’re comfortable.
I don’t have an ice hut, but there are some nice portable ones on the market. Back East, you see pics of ones that people make that look like big outhouses. They’ll even have floors and holes in the floor to fish through. They’ll have heaters and the whole bit. I carry a tent heater, or you can build a fire.
It works well to throw all of your gear into a sled and drag it out to where you’re going to fish. 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.