Anglers hook year-round fishing at American Falls
| December 6, 2010 8:00 PM
AMERICAN FALLS - At City Hall, Mayor Amy Wynn has fishing gear intermingled with her office supplies, and her former e-mail user name was Flyfishingmayor.
Wynn is quick to point out that the local business community will reap the rewards of forthcoming Idaho Department of Fish and Game regulation changes allowing year-round angling in the Snake River below American Falls Reservoir.
But the mayor also admits she's as excited as anyone in town about the chance to hook trophy fish so close to home any month of the year.
Fishing in the newly opened months will be catch-and-release only and restricted to artificial lures. The changes will take effect near the end of next year's general fishing season.
"You can lose yourself there. It's just beautiful," Wynn said. "It's definitely a place to get recentered."
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game Commission approved the regulation change, requested by Wynn and City Council leaders, at its Nov. 18 meeting in Jerome. Previous regulations allowed anglers to fish the stretch and harvest fish from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Oct. 31. Based on the suggestions of city officials, the commission opted to close the season to harvesting early, on Oct. 15, when the winter regulations will take effect. Wynn explained fish below the dam are most vulnerable when water levels drop in the fall.
"That's when the water drops. Once that water drops to about 500 cfs, you can just fish the heck out of that area," Wynn said. "We just felt like we wanted to protect the fishery."
Wynn said City Council President Marc Beitia, who often teaches fly-tying classes at Portneuf River Outfitters in Pocatello, spearheaded the effort to change the rules. The process of discussing the changes with Fish and Game officials took about a year, Wynn said.
"We didn't want to propose anything that would endanger the integrity of the fishing down there. It's a very important resource to our community and one we take a lot of pride in," Wynn said. "Hopefully it will bring some anglers there from Pocatello. This is a fantastic fishery. You should see some of the fish that came out of there this year."
During the general fishing season, regulations allow anglers to keep two bass and six trout, with only two over 16 inches. Also, only two of the trout can be cutthroat, and they cannot be under 16 inches.
Wynn hopes local businesses will offer specials to winter anglers who fish the stretch. She considers the regulation changes to be a component of a larger plan to expand on what American Falls has to offer. She noted the city's Youth City Council and high school service clubs are working together on birding projects along the river, including birding paths and watching stations. She added that the city will help a Boy Scout working on an Eagle project print birding brochures for the area.
Christine Mauch, who serves on the board of directors for the American Falls Chamber of Commerce, owns C & J Power Equipment in downtown American Falls with her husband. She believes the extended fishing season will drive traffic to town and be good for business.
"It's nice for us when people drive by our business and see a product hanging in the window. Some people stop in and inquire about pricing," Mauch said.
Mark Gamblin, regional supervisor for Fish and Game's southeast region, said the department has known for many years that opening that stretch to winter catch-and-release fishing would be sustainable.
He said fish in that stretch come from the hatchery fish stocked in the reservoir that manage to pass through the dam. He said there's very little, if any, natural spawning activity that takes place below the dam.
"We can easily manage a high-quality, sustainable fishery with catchand-release fishing in the winter and still have the same harvest opportunities we've always provided," Gamblin said.
Fishing below the dam has historically been so coveted that anglers have camped out there in advance of the Memorial Day weekend opening in order to try their luck in the opening moments of the general fishing season. Fond as anglers are of tradition, Gamblin is certain they'll prefer to have the additional opportunities to catch fish there. He also noted they'll still look forward to the opener for the chance to harvest fish.
"This is going to be a big addition for anglers in the southeast region," Gamblin said. "For anyone that wants an opportunity to catch real, quality rainbow trout especially, this will be one of the more accessible and better sections of water we have in the region."