Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Sept. 21, 2021

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Idaho initiates catch-and-release angling records


If you’ve always wanted your name in Idaho’s state record book for fishing, even if it’s short lived, an Idaho Department of Fish and Game policy change will give you a shot.

The department has added a catch-and-release category to its record book. The new category will be based solely on length instead of certified weight. Because catch-and-release will have be a stand-alone category that is now empty, anglers eager to write their names in the record book have a unique opportunity.

“People should be excited to go out early this year and catch a state-record fish,” said Martin Koenig, the department’s sport fishing program coordinator.

Over the years, the department has received numerous requests to recognize catch-and-release records. That is particularly true of anglers who target massive rainbow trout that lurk beneath Dworshak Dam. Those fish, believed to be planted rainbows that pass from the reservoir through the dam’s turbines to the North Fork of the Clearwater River, can grow exceedingly fat.

At least three anglers have caught rainbows there that would have smashed the existing state record of 20 pounds, 2 ounces. A year ago, Larry Warren of Orofino caught a 32-inch rainbow there that weighed more than 28 pounds. In 2014, Tui Molega of Lapwai caught a 28.5-pound rainbow there. Aaron Marshall of Boise caught a rainbow from the same spot a few years earlier that he estimated weighed 25 pounds.

But because of a peculiarity in the fishing regulations, the big rainbows can’t be kept by most anglers, so they haven’t been eligible for the record book. Here’s why. The North Fork is home to steelhead, which are sea-run rainbow trout. According to regulations, anglers can only keep steelhead that have had their adipose fins removed, which marks them as being of hatchery origin. Steelhead with intact adipose fins are considered wild and protected by the Endangered Species Act. Anglers are required to release them. The big rainbows beneath the dams are not steelhead but they do have adipose fins. Since regulations define steelhead as any rainbow trout that is longer than 20 inches, they can’t be kept. So anglers can’t kill them and take them to a certified scale to be weighed, as required by record book rules.

Warren weighed his fish on a hand scale, photographed it for documentation and released it. But since the state didn’t have a catch-and-release category and his scale wasn’t certified, his name wasn’t entered into the record book. Because Molega is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, he was able to keep the fish and have it weighed on a certified scale. Since he was able to keep a fish that non-tribal anglers would have been required to release, the state ruled his fish did not qualify for the record book.

Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said since the catch-and-release category is based purely on length, it might not be a cure-all for the Dworshak rainbows that are more exceptional for their incredible girth. But he said a 32-incher, such as the one Warren caught, would be tough to be beat.

“That is still pretty long for just a rainbow but I suspect there will be longer ones, probably in some of the southern Idaho reservoirs where those fish grow so fast,” he said.

He believes anglers fishing the Clearwater region have a good shot at setting and keeping catch-and-release records. The region has the state’s best sturgeon fishery and every anadromous fish that enters the state does so in the Clearwater region.

“There is potentially a lot of records that will fall and stay in our region,” he said.

Anglers seeking record book entry for the catch-and-release category must adhere to the following rules:

  • The fish must be released alive.
  • Fish will be judged by the total length from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail, with the lobes of tail squeezed together. Sturgeon should be measured upside down along the belly from the snout to tip of the upper lobe of the tail fin.
  • To break a catch-and-release record, a fish must be at least one-half inch longer than the existing record, except for white sturgeon, which must be at least 2 inches longer.
  • Anglers must submit at least one photo of the fish directly next to a ruler/tape measure or an object of known verifiable length.
  • Entries must include at least one photo of the angler with the fish.
  • To reduce handling stress, salmon, steelhead and white sturgeon must be measured and photographed in the water.
  • Entries must include at least one witness to the measurement and the live release.
  • All applications must be submitted within 30 days of the catch date.

“The new program is a chance to recognize anglers who want to release a trophy fish and include species that can’t be legally harvested,” Koenig said. For example, before the catch-and-release category was adopted, sturgeon, which can’t be kept by anglers, were not recognized.

Koenig said because a fish that is a half-inch longer than another can break a state record, it’s recommended anglers interested in submitting an application carry a tape measure with them while fishing and take good, clear, close-up photos of the fish and tape measure while still handling the fish with care. Complete rules and more information about submitting a record-fish application are available at https://idfg.idaho.gov/fish/records.