Idaho is a state filled with great trout fishing, with numerous rivers, streams and lakes making up a statewide coldwater fishery that is nothing short of legendary.
That reputation is headlined in the minds of many by the famous PhD rainbows that swim in the hallowed waters of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River.
Considered one of the best trout streams in the West in years gone by, the river's reputation has slid a bit in recent times, but still remains solid.
But it's not a big Henry's Fork rainbow from the Railroad Ranch section of the stream that is making the most recent trout fishing headlines in the mountainous state. Instead, it’s a big Westslope cutthroat trout catch-and-release state record that is making news during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
That most recent C-and-R record comes after a Coeur d’Alene fly fisherman—with a history of landing record catches—netted a new benchmark Westslope cuttie according to the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
According to a news release from IDFG natural resource program coordinator Martin Koenig, the record catch came on Friday, June 19, 2020, when Tom Weadick took his fly rod to the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River.
"Hoping to catch a large trout, Tom came prepared with a tape measure and camera and captured the moment to document the catch," noted Koenig.
According to the news release, Weadick’s 21-inch long fish surpasses the state's previous Westslope cutthroat catch-and-release record from 2016, when Dwaine Hasenoehrl landed and released a 19.5-inch specimen.
Incidentally, if the name Weadick seems familiar to Gem State anglers already, it probably should be. Koenig’s news release indicates that the fly angler previously held the catch-and-release record for bull trout in the state, the native char species that is less common but often found in the same waters as Idaho's cutties.
According to the Idaho Fish and Game, there are three subspecies of cutthroat in the state, the Westslope, the Booneville, and the Yellowstone. There's also the introduced Lahontan subspecies in some state waters.
The agency notes that Westslope cutthroat trout are native in tributaries of the Columbia River Basin. That includes streams and rivers from central and northern Idaho northward into British Columbia, waters that can produce some memorable fishing in various streams for the beautiful trout species.
Distributed widely in the Salmon, Clearwater, Coeur d'Alene and Clark Fork river systems of Idaho, as well as many alpine lakes where the species has been introduced across the state, the result is some superior fishing for cutthroats, many of them sizable.
While the Gem State lists no certified weight record for Westslope cutthroat trout, cutties can grow to be sizable across the American West.
As proof of that statement, the Idaho certified weight record for a Bonneville cutthroat is listed at 18.94 pounds. And the International Game Fish Association lists a conventional tackle world record from Nevada's Pyramid Lake at 24 pounds even and a fly-fishing world record from the same water body at 19 pounds even.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has made angling more challenging this spring and early summer, Weadick's catch proves that the state's trout aren't practicing much social distancing for those who are able to get out and enjoy. In fact, there have been a total of four catch-and-release trout records established since the coronavirus outbreak began!
In addition to Weadick’s record Westslope cutthroat, Idaho has seen a new catch-and-release record rainbow trout caught in recent weeks. That fish came when Brett Jones, of Rock Springs, Wyo., landed a 31.25-inch rainbow while fishing on American Falls Reservoir on May 25, 2020. The new catch-and-release rainbow was enough to break the previous record of 30.5 inches, caught by David Raisch in 2018.
Koenig notes in a news release about the catch that American Falls Reservoir is a must-visit place for those hoping to catch a trophy-sized rainbow. According to the release, the reservoir has produced a 41-inch long rainbow/cutthroat hybrid that weighed 34 pounds when Mark Adams caught it in 2011. The state's 20-pound rainbow trout record, caught by Michelle Larsen-Williams on July 29, 2009, happened when the angler pulled the giant fish from the nearby Snake River.
The coronavirus outbreak notwithstanding, another recent record coldwater catch came last month on May 9 when Ahsahka resident Mark Randolph landed Idaho's new catch-and-release state record tiger trout, a Deer Creek Reservoir specimen measuring 21 inches in length.
That was more than enough to surpass the previous record of 17 inches for a species that is a sterile hybrid from the crossing of brook trout and a brown trout. Stocked into Deer Creek back in 2014, the species is an aggressive predator that can provide some memorable fishing and help reduce populations of abundant baitfish—think shiners—when they are stocked in a few select waters across the Gem State.
Finally, not to be outdone in the recent COVID-19 coldwater record catches across Idaho is a huge bull trout caught by Sawyer Livesey of Post Falls. According to Koenig in another news release, the big bull trout—which is Idaho's only native char species—came from the Kootenai River near Bonner's Ferry back on April 8 a few weeks after the pandemic began. Measuring 30.5 inches, it was enough to beat Aaron Fox’s Lake Pend Oreille record of 29 inches set in the summer of 2019.
Incidentally, Idaho's bull trout are often highly migratory fish, swimming long distances between winter habitat and spawning streams where they breed in the autumn months. In fact, one bull trout tagged by Idaho fisheries biologists in 2018 has been documented over the months since then as traveling as much as 200 miles annually.
According to Koenig, Idaho's catch-and-release state record program hopes to recognize Gem State anglers who have caught great fish in state waters but have chosen not to harvest the fish.
For those interested in catch-and-release fishing of Idaho species, the state’s Fish and Game department suggests the following tips to help increase survival chances after the fish is caught and allowed to swim away:
- Use the proper size tackle to land the fish quickly, which can help minimize stress.
- Do not touch or hold fish by the gills, gill covers, or the eyes.
- Leave the fish in the water while removing the hook.
- Use barbless hooks to ease hook removal and minimize damage to the fish.
- When taking a photo, have the camera ready and the shot framed before removing the fish from the water.
- Hold the fish out of the water only as long as it takes to take a picture.
If you catch a fish that you think might be an Idaho state record, either as a catch-and-release specimen or one that could tip the scales to a new benchmark level in the certified weight categories that the Gem State maintains, there are several steps to move through in the process.
To find out what those steps are, please visit the Idaho Fish and Game website at the state record fish program’s tab.