10 options for free fishing

Try these spots. What do you have to lose?

rphillips@idahostatesman.comJune 11, 2014 

  • FREE FISHING DAY EVENTS, SATURDAY, JUNE 14

    Southwest Idaho

    • Boise: Parkcenter Pond (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

    • Cascade: Fischer Pond (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

    • Emmett: Ed's Pond (9 a.m. to Noon)

    • Horseshoe Bend: Mill Pond (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

    • Lowman: Ten Mile Ponds (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

    • McCall: Northwest Passage Park Pond (9 a.m. to Noon)

    • Mountain Home: Legacy Park Pond (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

    • Nampa: Lake Lowell (Gotts Point) (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

    • Wilson Springs Ponds (8 a.m. to Noon)

    • New Meadows: Kimberland Meadows Pond (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

    • Payette: Atwood Pond (8 a.m. to Noon)

    Magic Valley

    • Hagerman: Hagerman Fish Hatchery (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

    • Murtaugh: Rocky's Pond (8 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

    • Picabo: Gavers Lagoon at Hayspur Fish Hatchery (8 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

I understand that if you're reading this, chances are good you already have a fishing license.

If you don't and you're interested in fishing, Saturday is your day to go.

It's Idaho Fish and Game's annual Free Fishing Day, which means you don't need a license, and at many events, F&G and other sponsors will loan tackle and expertise to help you. For a full list of events hosted by F&G, go to fishandgame.idaho.gov.

If you're among the thousands of Idahoans who already know how to fish, use Free Fishing Day as a chance to branch out.

Hit one of those places that's been on your to-do list for years, or maybe a place you haven't considered.

I give you lots of places to every week in the fishing report, and you will see some of those below. But I thought it would be fun to expand a little this week and give you some other places to check out.

Even it's not free in a financial sense because you still have fuel and food costs, think of it as free in a sense that you have to the liberty to fish wherever you want, so head out Saturday and try something new.

Here are some places to consider:

LAKE WALCOTT

I fished here for the first time last month and was surprised by a couple of things.

First, how clear the lake was and how pretty Lake Walcott State Park is.

The second thing was none of my fishing buddies had ever fished there.

It's about 3 hours to get there, but nearly all of it is freeway driving. I went because I heard there were big bass, and also trophy-sized trout.

I can vouch for the bass, but they didn't come easy. Take into account it was my first trip there, and I was fly fishing.

I didn't catch any trout, but there were plenty of boats trolling for them in front of the dam.

I was pleasantly surprised how nice the camping was at the state park. It's a cool place to spend a weekend, and if you put in some effort or get a little lucky, you could get some nice bass and/or trout.

MCDEVITT POND

Okay, this is kind of a gimme. Like free fishing isn't enough? How about free use of rods, tackle and bait, and probably some free advice to go with them?

You can get all those from 8 a.m. to noon at McDevitt Pond in Meridian because Idaho Fish and Game's Free Fishing Trailer will be there.

The brightly painted trailer goes around to local ponds and loans fishing gear.

It's usually an extra party for Free Fishing Day, and this spot is where the trailer lands Saturday.

It's also centrally located at the corners of Eagle and McMillan Roads in Meridian, so it's easily accessible for nearly anyone in the Treasure Valley.

LITTLE SALMON RIVER

You and a few hundred of your closest fishing buddies, not to mention a fair number of folks from Nez Perce Tribe, make this an annual gathering to meet the returning chinook salmon.

The river was running high in late May and early June, which typically stalls the salmon in the lower canyon downstream of Whitebird.

As the river recedes after peak spring runoff, the fish resume their upstream migration and start streaming in waves through Whitebird, Riggins and the Little Salmon River.

The timing of the chinook run and Free Fishing Day is too perfect not to include the Little Salmon.

Seriously, though, expect a zoo, and make sure you pay attention to the special rules if you access the river from private lands. The rules are marked on signs, and there also are flyers available that explain what you can and can't do.

SNAKE RIVER

For whatever reason, the bass seem to be running larger than usual in the Snake River this year, and I've also seen numerous largemouth caught.

That's surprising and it's not. Surprising because it's unexpected, but what I've learned from the Snake is you never know what to expect.

I came to that conclusion when I saw a mayfly hatch near Marsing that would rival any on the Henrys Fork, and catfish gorging themselves like whale sharks.

This river has a rhythm all its own, and there are different reaches with their own character.

But it rarely fishes better than it does in the spring. The Snake rewards those who take the time to learn its secrets. My advice is to pick a few miles of water and figure out how to consistently catch fish there, then take what you've learned to other sections. You won't be disappointed.

SOUTH FORK OF THE BOISE RIVER

The old South Fork below Anderson Ranch Dam was awash in mud last fall, and we've been waiting to see the new South Fork emerge.

However, low flows in winter and spring meant the river has looked similar to right after the slides happened last fall.

But higher flows have arrived, and the river will be reshaping its channel.

Many anglers mourned the loss of the previous version, which is understandable because it was a reliable and predictable trout stream.

But now we get to see the river renewed, and it will be interesting to watch what evolves.

NORTHWEST PASSAGE POND

Never heard of it? Not surprising. This pond is at the north end of Payette Lake at McCall and was built in the fall of 2012.

Anglers got their first chance to fish it last year, and Idaho Fish and Game will host an event there Saturday.

It's stocked with rainbow trout, and there's a newly built pier where you can relax and drop a line.

This pond is pretty small - about fl of an acre - and it's in the Northwest Passage Campground in Ponderosa State Park.

It is located 8 miles up Warren Wagon Road. Take a right on Eastlake Road, then right into the campground and follow the signs.

The park will waive entry fee for people in this area for Free Fishing Day. Fish and Game and Parks and Rec staff will be there with fishing poles and bait from 9 a.m. until noon, and there also will be free hot dogs and drinks for anglers.

SILVER CREEK/GAVERS LAGOON

I stumbled onto this scene by accident years ago, and it's been a fond memory ever since. Silver Creek near Picabo is world famous for its spring creek fishing for rainbows and browns. It has consistent insect hatches, and the creek is teeming with trout, many of which are easily visible.

But there's a catch to catching them. These fish get pestered a lot and grow wise and wary, so catching them requires finesse.

Gavers Lagoon is adjacent to the Hayspur Hatchery off U.S. 20. It's a campground with a heavily stocked pond that attracts lots of kids and families on Free Fishing Day (or at any other time, for that matter).

It's not exactly opposite of Silver Creek, but let's say it attracts a different crowd. The juxtaposition between serious fly anglers pursuing trout in a world-class stream and squealing kids chucking worms and bobbers for them is both entertaining and heartwarming. Maybe you have to see it to understand, and maybe you should.

HAGERMAN

This area is full of trout because of the bounty of springs that create perfect temperatures for them. This is one of the top trout-producing areas in the world because of many private and public hatcheries that take advantage of that cool spring water.

There are lots of places to fish in the area, including the Hagerman Wildlife Management area, Billingsley Creek, Malad River, Snake River, and several lakes and ponds in the vicinity.

It's kind of a grab bag of fishing, and it's all fun. Kids and families love the Riley Ponds on the WMA because they're well stocked, easily accessible, and you can watch the raceways filled with hatchery fish.

Or you can explore around and find other cool fishing spots. My friends caught tilapia out of the Snake River near Hagerman. They don't belong there, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun catching them.

UPPER SALMON

This is a frequently overlooked trout fishery. It has a reputation of being mostly put-and-take rainbows, but downstream from Stanley you can find good cutthroat fishing in a canyon with lots of elbow room.

I'm not providing a lot more details, but let's say good sources have told me there's unexpectedly good fishing there this time of year, both by wading and floating.

Pick your river section carefully if you're floating because there are many rapids, and they aren't all visible from the road.

As a bonus, even when campgrounds are swamped around Stanley, you can usually find a spot to camp along the river.

C. BEN ROSS RESERVOIR

I heard rumors about this reservoir east of Cambridge for years before actually fishing there. It's a trophy bass lake in the middle of trout country. It's not quite in the mountains, but it's close enough you may not expect largemouths there.

But I was impressed by the bass fishing, and while I haven't fished it in years, F&G biologist Dale Allen said the bass are doing fine and the reservoir has plenty of water this year, so give it a try.

You can launch your boat on the west side, but other facilities are limited and there's lots of private land around the lake, so access is easiest by boat.

It's big enough for your typical motorized fishing boats, but small enough for float tubes, kayaks and other human-powered boats.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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