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No bull: The native fish some Idaho anglers overlook


In one of our last Inside Idaho editions, we took a look at Idaho’s official state fish: The cutthroat trout.

But there is another native trout swimming in Idaho’s rivers, lakes, and streams you can cast for (with some regulations).

Bull trout – are big, aggressive fish – making for an exciting fishing experience. The largest caught on record weighed a whopping 32 pounds and was caught in Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho in 1949, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They’re big, they’re hard fighting, and they’re one of Idaho’s most overlooked trophy fishing opportunities, but many anglers are still confused whether they can target bull trout for catch-and-release fishing,” Roger Phillips notes on the Idaho Fish and Game website.

A threatened species

Fish and Game biologist Greg Schoby with a large bull trout. Photo via IDFG.

Why do anglers overlook them? That’s because, in 1999, bull trout were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

According to the Idaho Conservation League, bull trout have been eliminated from 60% of their historic range.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 9,000 miles of Idaho’s rivers and streams as a “critical habitat” for bull trout.

“As a result of warming temperatures, coupled with changes in precipitation, many rivers and streams no longer provide the conditions that bull trout need to thrive,” the ICL website notes.

Bull trout require water that is 60 degrees or cooler – with 54 degrees being an ideal temperature.

Catch and release

While the bull trout are a threatened species, you can still cast for them. But, you cannot keep them for harvest.

“While they’re not as abundant as other types of trout, Idaho’s bull trout populations are generally in good shape and capable of supporting some great catch-and-release fishing opportunities,” Phillips notes.

Found primarily in the central and northern parts of the state, barbless lures or streamer flies are recommended.

Before fishing for bull trout, it’s important to know how to catch and release them back into their habitat alive.

“They (anglers) need to understand the ramifications of accidentally killing a bull trout while fishing,” the IDFG website notes. “You could not only be subject to a misdemeanor violation for illegal “take” under Idaho law but prosecution in federal court for violation of the Endangered Species Act.”

For detailed tips on how to successfully catch and release a bull trout, click here.

Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly is a reporter for BoiseDev. She's an Emmy-winning journalist, and a professor at the College of Western Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].

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