Monster sturgeons dropped into local river

Like hoisting an oversized stretcher, four strong men heaved the poles out of the giant bathtub sitting in a pickup bed, water poured from the stretcher sides, and huge fins thrashed.

They were carrying a monster, more than 7-feet long. The truck was backed up at the boat launch just below John’s Hole Bridge in Idaho Falls on a recent afternoon.

“This is where we need the weightlifters,” said Dan Anta, assistant manager at the Hagerman fish hatchery.

The men carried the creature down the boat ramp to the water.

“What is it?” asked a small boy, who was watching the proceedings.

“It’s a dinosaur,” teased James Brower, regional communications manager for Idaho Department of Fish and Game. He paused while the men released the behemoth into the water, then he told the truth: “It’s a sturgeon.”

“Can I touch him?” Conor Kennedy, 6, asked.

“Yes, but hurry,” said his father, Patrick Kennedy, a Fish and Game regional fisheries biologist who was standing in shin-deep water, steadying the fish. Mid-torso the fish was as thick as a watermelon. A giddy Conor stepped into the water and petted the fish’s head like it was a puppy.

After a few minutes the sturgeon slowly patrolled the water about the boat dock and then disappeared into the depths of the Snake River. The process was repeated again with a second 7-foot-long sturgeon. This fish circled about in the boat launch area for a minute, then vanished into the dark river water.

The two fish were 25 years old and were removed from the observation pond at Fish and Game’s Hagerman Hatchery northwest of Twin Falls.

“They lived their entire life in their show pond that showcases some big fish,” Kennedy said. “They had fairly high densities and they were looking to reduce their densities in their observation tank.”

On Tuesday, Fish and Game planted eight, 4-foot sturgeon below Gem Lake on the Snake River. At that age, the sturgeon were only a few years old. While 4-foot-long fish may sound big, for sturgeon they’re just youngsters. Kennedy said sturgeon don’t reach adulthood until about age 20 and can live in excess of 100 years old.

Sturgeon are the largest freshwater fish in North America. Before the era of dams on the Snake, Salmon and Columbia rivers, sturgeon grew to 1,500 pounds feasting on abundant runs of salmon, steelhead, lamprey and mussels. Dams now often isolate sturgeon populations and have reduced some of their food sources.

The fish’s long life and slow maturity is one reason why they are catch-and-release only — never removing them from the water — throughout the state. Barbless hooks with a sliding sinker are also required. For tips and rules on Idaho sturgeon fishing, go to idfg.idaho.gov/old-web/docs/fish/sturgeonFishingTips.pdf.

Fish and Game started planting white sturgeon in the Snake River at Idaho Falls in 2007. The river has been stocked the past few springs with about 200 little guys in the 2-foot range. The fish are stocked in five locations — the upper being at the Idaho Falls Dog Park and the lower being below Gem Lake.

Sturgeon tend to be bottom feeders. Brower said some anglers in Idaho Falls are targeting the sturgeon and have been catching them “on a regular basis.”

“Most of them are in the 2- to 3-foot range, they’re not huge, but that’s still a big fish,” Brower said.

Iconic Vista: Bear Lake scenic overlook center stays open longer as visits increase

Who in Cache Valley hasn’t stopped at least once at the Bear Lake scenic overlook on U.S. 89 in Logan Canyon? Whether you need a bathroom break or not, the high perch offered for gazing down upon the turquoise waters of Bear Lake is pretty hard to pass up.

The enticing vista even inspired one of America’s most celebrated poets, May Swenson, to put pen to paper for her poem “Above Bear Lake,” written on a visit back to her native Logan and published in a posthumous collection of her works titled “Nature: Poems Old and New.”

Swenson’s poem is presented on one of several interpretive signs at the overlook along with other geographical and historical information.

An annual report put out by the Bear Lake Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau indicates more and more people are stopping at the scenic overlook to have the experience Swenson described and locals know well. According to the report, 27,203 people either signed the guestbook or stopped into the visitor center there from June through August of 2019, compared to 20,994 in the previous year.

The numbers don’t include all of the travelers who pull into the scenic overlook — which, of course, would be many times more than those specifically seeking information or wanting to log their visits.

The rest area at the overlook was built and is maintained by the Utah Department of Transportation, the interpretive information was installed by the U.S. Forest Service, and the visitor center — open daily and weekends from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through the tourist season — is staffed by the visitors bureau with help from various grants.

Bureau Director Tami Leonhard said the center has traditionally been open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but because of increased activity late in the season, the center was kept open until mid-September in 2018 and through the entire month of September this year.

“What we see is a lot of international people coming at this time of year,” Leonhard said. “I saw a big boom last year in international travel, where people would fly into Salt Lake, rent an RV and then come through Logan Canyon to Bear Lake on the way to Yellowstone. We even have some tour buses that are still coming in October and ask if the overlook is open.”

Logan District Ranger Jennefer Parker is seeing a similar uptick in both in-season and post-season traffic at the U.S. Forest Service office in Logan and at popular Logan Canyon sites, though she has no figures on visitations.

“Anecdotally, what I’m hearing from my folks is that use is way up this year. For instance, the trail into White Pine Lake is getting way more people than what we’ve seen in the past,” Parker said. “The other thing I have noticed, which is not completely new but seems to be strengthening, is that when the summer season is over, we see a lot more folks that stop in here, retirees especially, that are traveling between Yellowstone and the national parks down south, or vice versa. It’s almost becoming a season (in itself).”

Echoing Leonhardt, Parker said most of the late visitors are specifically looking to hit the national parks when they’re not full of people, when schools are back in session and summer vacation is over.

For locals on day-trips to Bear Lake, a stop at the overlook sometimes includes a hike on the nearby Limber Pine Trail. The 1.3-mile loop is accessed just west of the overlook at milepost 492 and includes education stations along the way. The highlight of the hike is a 560-year-old limber pine tree with a 25-foot diameter.

Hunter’s day pack essentials

When I am hunting, and all I have to keep me warm, dry and happy are the items I carry in my day pack, I want the essentials I will or might need during the day. Since I will be carrying a 7-pound rifle and scope, I want my day pack to be pretty light weight. Ten pounds seems about right to me because carrying 16 pounds around the back country all day at elevations from 6,000 feet to possibly 10,000 feet requires good conditioning and some common sense.

I have determined what I carry in my day pack by trial and error over several years. Sometimes the best way to learn what you need in a day pack is to go hunting and experience the disappointment of not having something that you really would liked have liked to have.

Most of the friends I hunt with have their own list of items they carry in a day pack, but we all agree on some basic essentials. Here is a list of what you will find in most of our day packs.

Water: I carry two 16-ounce bottles, while some get a day pack with a bladder they can fill with water and sip from during the day.

First-aid kit: I carry a Boy Scout soft and foldable first-aid kit, but one can simply put three small, medium and large bandages, some Neosporin and anti-itch cream in a small sealable plastic bag.

Topographic map and compass: My map has various markings from prior scouting trips into the area.

Rain gear: Rain gear should be of a material that wicks water away. Sometimes a tarp can be set up to protect one until the rain or snow stops falling.

Headlamp and flashlight: The headlamp makes cleaning and gutting game in the dark a lot easier. A small, 300-lumen flashlight makes traveling back to camp as it is getting dark easier.

Food/snacks: When I am hunting, I like a pretty light breakfast, an Isagenix food bar for lunch and regular dinner after the day’s hunt.

Knife: In addition to a Swiss Army knife I carry in a pocket, I only have two knives in my day pack: a Browning skinner that is not quite 5 inches long and an extremely small Fremont Knives knife called The Five O’ Clock, for initial cleaning and gutting of game. I have several other Fremont Knives at camp for processing game.

Surgical gloves: Because my father was a physician, I have always used and favored surgical gloves to wear while cleaning, gutting an processing game, but rubber gloves will do the job also.

Game bags: I prefer game bags to garbage bag for packing out game because they don’t tear as easy and are reusable.

Survival blanket: One should always have a survival blanket in the day pack in case it is necessary to spend the night away from camp or while waiting for help if there is an accident.

Baby wipes: Baby wipes will get the mud off your hands before dinner, wipe any blood off of you after field dressing game, get the sweat of your face after a day of hunting, clean your knife off and can be used when you have to go to the bathroom.

Paracord: Paracord can be used to tie off the scent glands of game, lash poles together, set up a tarp for protection from the elements, tie off food bags and hang them 20 feet or so off the ground out of the reach of animals.

Fire starter and lighter: You did want to be able to start a fire if necessary didn’t you? Smart outdoorsman always have a lighter with them.

Hunting license: Put your hunting license and tags in a small plastic bag and seal it, so moisture can’t ruin it. You will be glad you did if a game warden stops by to check you out.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of day pack items, but it all comes in just under 10 pounds in my day pack. Hopefully it will get you thinking about what you think is essential for your own day pack.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.

City of Pocatello, USFS partner for erosion control work on Cusick Creek Trail

The city of Pocatello and United States Forest Service are joining forces to do a little work on one of the area’s popular trails.

The groups started performing erosion control efforts on Cusick Creek Trail on Wednesday. Staff will put in rolling dips and water bars to help prevent the trail from washing out. The maintenance will also help to improve water quality in Cusick Creek.

“Projects like this make our trails better for all users and crucially, they help improve the health of the City Creek area which the City acquired for watershed protection,” said Hannah Sanger, Science and Environment Division Administrator for the City of Pocatello.

During the work, hikers, mountain bikers and other recreators are asked to avoid the Cusick Creek Trail area. Signs alerting recreators to the closure will be placed at the trailheads for Gibson Jack, Cusick Creek, Death Valley, Lower City Creek and Upper City Creek trails.

The effort is scheduled to wrap up in two weeks but due to unforeseen circumstances, the work schedule may change.

Residents with questions about the closure can contact Sanger at 208-234-6518 or hsanger@pocatello or the USFS at 208-236-7500.

Catch fish without limits at Jensen Grove Park in Blackfoot

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has issued a salvage order for the pond at Jensen Grove Park in Blackfoot, Idaho, effective Oct. 11 to 31.

During the salvage order timeline at Jensen Grove Pond:

• Fish may be taken by any method except use of firearms, explosives, chemicals, electric current, or prohibited baits.

• All bag, possession, size, and number limits are suspended.

• A valid Idaho fishing license is still required.

The city of Blackfoot will divert remaining storage water from Jensen Grove Pond to support aquifer recharge efforts in the upper Snake River Plain over the next three weeks. To meet recharge needs, this practice has occurred annually at this water body. The fish at Jensen Grove pond will not survive when water levels become unsuitable. An order of salvage is therefore warranted to maximize public use of these fish.

For more information about this salvage order, contact the Idaho Fish and Game in Pocatello at 208-232-4703.

Stealthy in the dark: Idaho couple develops and manufactures bootlamps for hunters, hikers

The idea for Jim Manroe’s new company SneakyHunter started with a problem.

When getting himself into hunting position in the morning darkness of the backcountry his headlamp would often flash the game he was after and spook them away.

“If I heard a noise when I’m hiking in the dark before daylight, my immediate response with my ears and eyes is to turn that way,” Manroe said. “It’s a natural thing. Then I just lit up six eyeballs 40 yards away. Then I’m trying just as fast as I can to get my hand over my headlamp to douse the light. Headlamps are good for a lot of uses but they flood light everywhere you turn your head.”

Jim Manroe

Jim Manroe

So Manroe, who lives in Salmon, developed bootlamps. SneakyHunter bootlamps shine LED light at the foot level in three different colors: white, red and violet. White light for general use, red to not be seen by critters and violet to follow a blood trail. He also sells a model just for hikers with different colored LED lights. The bootlamps have been on the market for about two months, sold exclusively on the SneakyHunter website.

“It was about a year and a half process from the concept in my head to getting the manufactured product,” Manroe said.

The lamps are manufactured in Nampa.

“It’s kind of a clever idea,” said Ron Spomer, who has a YouTube channel called “Ron Spomer Outdoors.” “When you’re heading out into the woods to your deer stand and you don’t want the deer to see your light, if you have your headlamp on and you hear a noise you shine your light all over the woods. With this bootlamp, it shines right in front of your boot. … If you really want to be sneaky, push the button and it turns red. Everybody knows that deer don’t see red very well, if at all.”

Manroe said the entire process of making and selling the lamps has been challenging.

“For one thing it’s very expensive to be manufactured in the U.S., we get challenges there,” he said. “Our production costs are fairly high. That’s where we are at. We’re feeling the market out — if the product can sustain a higher price by being made in the U.S.”

A pair of SneakyHunter bootlamps cost $59.99 on his website.

Manroe said so far, response has been good.

“They perform great,” he said. “We’ve had some really good feedback from hunters already this year. So we’re pretty excited about that.”

SneakyHunter Bootlamps

Manroe and his wife, Annette, have been attending outdoor expos and working on getting their name out there. They’ve attracted the attention of the outdoor television program “Mass Pursuit,” with host Wilbur Ramos, who bought the bootlamps for his entire staff.

“We’re hoping that will get us out there,” Manroe said. “But the shows won’t air until late this winter or spring.”

The Manroes have lived in Salmon for more than 12 years. Prior to that they lived in Washington state near British Columbia, “literally a stone’s throw from the border. We skied and hiked and fished and spent a lot of time in the mountains of British Columbia because they were just right in our backyard.”

Manroe said before venturing into bootlamps, he worked as a truck driver and in the propane business. Annette Manroe worked for 27 years as a dental assistant.

The bootlamps attach to the boot with Velcro straps that wrap under the instep of the boot and with hooks that grab the boots laces. The hiker version offers white, red and green LED lights. The lamps run on three AAA batteries that last about 70 hours.

“The reason we added red and green for an option to the hiker’s model is because those colors are up to 50 percent less eye strain for long periods of time if you’re going on a long hike at night compared to a white light,” Manroe said.

He said bootlamps solve a few problems regular headlamps can create, such as lens glare on eyeglasses, blasting partners in the face when you look at them and depth perception issues.

“People with headlamps have a depth perception issue when they are walking,” he said. “They think they are stepping over a root or a rock, but yet their foot still nicks it. Their depth perception is a little off. This kind of eliminates that.”

Manroe said if you’re hiking in deep snow, you can mount the bootlamps above your knees.

“When people see it and get the concept, people just have to have it immediately,” he said. “They’ve had the same problems I’ve had at getting into hunting areas and flashing game.”

Manroe said he sees other applications for his bootlamps, such as caving, climbing and mountaineering. “We just need to get the word out there,” he said. “I know we would get some interest there.”

The bootlamps can be found at sneakyhunter.com.

Calling all archers: Please fill out your hunter reports if you’re done for the season

Idaho Fish and Game needs help from all big game hunters to fill out their hunter reports whether or not they harvested. With many archery seasons winding down, hunters who are done can fill out their reports online or by calling 877-268-9365. The phone option is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Have your hunting tag number ready when calling.

If you plan to keep hunting, good luck, but remember everyone who bought big game tags needs to report so wildlife managers can get accurate and vital information for managing big game herds.

It will only take a few minutes of your time to fill out your hunter report, and your information is key to maintaining hunter opportunity and managing Idaho’s big game populations.

The more accurate information Fish and Game has, the better job it can do setting seasons. If hunter information is lacking, biologists have to err on the side of caution, which typically means shorter and more restrictive hunting seasons.

If you don’t report in a timely manner, staff will mail postcard reminders and do follow up phone calls, which are labor-intensive and expensive. By reporting your results promptly, your license and tag dollars can be better spent for on-the-ground wildlife management activities.

If you’re curious why hunter reports are so important, here are more details.

Why should I submit my hunter report? Fish and Game strives to get the best data on hunter effort and harvest possible, and the best data is from you reporting directly to us where you hunted, whether you harvested, what animal you harvested, how long you hunted, etc.

If you don’t report, we may try to contact you, but that is time consuming and expensive. If you don’t report and we can’t contact you, we have to make an educated guess through statistical estimates, but we would rather hear first-hand from you to ensure accuracy.

Why does it matter? Hunter data isn’t the only information we use to set hunting seasons, but it’s a very important component. When Fish and Game biologists don’t have reliable information on harvest and hunter success, they need to manage game more conservatively, which can mean more restrictive hunting, such as shorter seasons or fewer tags. We prefer to allow generous hunting opportunity when it’s sustainable, but we have to know it’s sustainable through accurate data.

What if I plan to hunt late seasons? We know some deer and elk hunts extend into December. We’re not asking you to report before you’re done hunting, but the sooner after you’re done for the year, the better.

The rules say I have 10 days after my hunt ended, what if I miss that deadline? The rule is intended to ensure timely compliance with hunter report requirements so we have your information in time to use for developing next year’s hunting season, but your report is still needed even if your hunt ended more than 10 days ago.

Are you going to give away my favorite hunting spot? No. All we ask is what unit (or units) you hunted, and if you got an animal, in which unit you harvested it.

Fall trip to Yellowstone

During the last full month of September, My wife and I decided to get out of town and spend a couple of days in Yellowstone National Park. Annie had ordered a cabin for us online at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Early Sunday morning, we loaded up our grandson and Annie’s small lapdog and headed for Yellowstone. We stopped in Ashton to top off our fuel tank and purchase three small bottles of milk to drink with some blueberry muffins we took for breakfast.

The drive into the mountains and the trip through Island Park was beautiful as always. We drove through the area of Henry’s Fork and were able to see a little of Hebgen Lake from the highway.

As we pulled in to West Yellowstone, we decided we had more than enough fuel to drive on through the park to Mammoth. The drive to Madison Junction was really pretty, and we saw bison on the road and an elk herd in the meadows that the Madison River runs through. At Madison, we stopped for about 15 minutes to stretch our legs, take advantage of the restrooms and give the dog some water, as well as let him walk around a little bit.

From Madison, we turned left toward Gibbon Falls, the lower and upper Gibbon Meadows and Norris Geyser Basin. Norris was packed, and the line of cars trying to get into a parking spot was so long, it took us about 15 minutes to even reach the parking lot. It took another 10 minutes to find a parking spot. Norris Geyser Basin is really interesting, especially if you take the time to read the various descriptions on the information boards on the trails around the area. The spray from the geysers in the basin can damage the finish on the cars in the parking lot, so be sure to wash your car when you return home.

There was a lot of roadwork going on in the park, and we were delayed for about 45 minutes between Beaver Lake and the Sheep Eater Cliff on the road to Mammoth.

As we descended into Mammoth, we were surprised by the number of people and cars. Mammoth is also pretty well known for the elk herd that is always wandering around or lying on the lawns in Mammoth. There were park employees standing by the various concentrations of elk. It was the rut at the time we were there, and several of the bulls acted irritated with all the people walking around.

After checking into our room and having lunch at the Mammoth Grill, we headed on down to the Roosevelt Junction and drove through Lamar Valley where we have seen grizzlies on previous trips. This time, we saw pronghorn and bison, but no bears. The mountains that border the east end of the Lamar Valley were impressive and had already received snow at the 10,000-foot level.

We then turned around, drove back to Roosevelt, turned south and drove to Tower Falls before returning to Mammoth and our cabin for the night.

As soon as we entered the cabin, Annie saw a small animal sitting on top of our suitcase. She screamed that there was a mouse in the room with us, and our little dog, realizing that Annie was frightened of something, also became frightened. After my grandson and I got Annie and the dog calmed down, we realized it was a chipmunk and called the hotel to report there was a chipmunk in the room. While Annie was talking to the people at the front desk, the chipmunk ran across both beds again, and Annie screamed into the phone and the pandemonium started all over again. We were given another cabin and packed up to move, while Annie made sure the hotel staff wouldn’t hurt the chipmunk when they removed it from the cabin.

Early Monday morning, we left Mammoth and drove over the Dunraven Pass and down to Canyon, which is about centrally located in the park. From Canyon, we drove to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to see the Upper and Lower Falls and Artists Point. As we drove back from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, we saw a herd of deer. We then drove by Fishing Bridge, Lake and West Thumb, before turning northwest over the Continental Divide and into Old Faithful to see the geyser go off and have lunch. We weren’t impressed when Old Faithful erupted since we have seen it look more spectacular in previous trips, but lunch was really good.

We then stopped to see Fire Hole lake for a few minutes before driving on to the Madison Junction, and and on to West Yellowstone and out of the park.

It was a beautiful time to see Yellowstone. Winter will be coming, and much of the park will soon be inaccessible until June of next year. Snow has already been falling at many locations above 8,000 feet elevation.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.

Man burned at Yellowstone National Park after falling into hot water at Old Faithful

A man was severely burned after falling into thermal water near the cone of Old Faithful geyser late Sunday night.

Yellowstone National Park officials said in a news release that Cade Edmond Siemers, a 48-year-old U.S. citizen who lives in India, tripped into a hot spring while on an off-boardwalk stroll without a flashlight just before midnight. The release said Siemers suffered “severe burns to a significant portion of his body.”

Siemers, who was staying at the Old Faithful Inn, got himself back to his hotel room and called for help. Rangers and paramedics responded and “detected evidence of alcohol use,” the release said.

He was taken by ambulance to West Yellowstone Airport and flown to Idaho Falls, where he was admitted to the Burn Center at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

On Monday, rangers investigated the thermal area where the man was walking. They found the man’s shoe, hat and a beer can near the geyser. They also saw footprints going to and from the geyser and blood on the boardwalk, the release said.

Rangers are still assessing any damage to the geyser cone, and they’ll send the results of their investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecutorial review.

Visitors are required to stay on boardwalks near hydrothermal areas in Yellowstone. The ground in those areas is fragile and thin and there is scalding water below the surface.

The park release said the man’s burns are the first serious injury in a thermal area in two years. In June 2017, a man fell in a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin. In June 2016, a man died after slipping into a hot spring in Norris Geyser Basin. In August 2000, one person died and two were severely burned after falling into a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin.