Ice fishing isn't for everyone, and for most anglers, the promise of warmer weather means it's time to dig out the fishing rod and head for the water.
John Turner, owner of Turner's on State Street, is gearing up for another summer touring the fishing holes of Idaho. I visited the almost 70-year-old family-owned shop early on a weekday morning and found the owner behind the counter, as he is most days, coffee close at hand. Turner opens his shop at 7:30 a.m. every morning, and even at that early hour, he's is friendly and engaging. Sometimes he works a split shift, returning in the evening when more people are in the backroom bar than the tackle shop. As we chatted, a number of customers came in. He knew all of them by name, knew what kind of cigarettes or lotto tickets to set on the counter, and exchanged a few good-natured jokes with them. He even joked with me; he's the kind of person who seems to get along with everyone.
A wooden crate holds chirping crickets, unaware that they'll soon be live bait. The walls near the entrance are lined with every type of lure from basic jigging ones that look like little brightly colored minnows to incredibly fancy lures—some of which look like neon gummy-grubs—to a wobbler, which is designed to shimmy in the water, imitating an insect caught in the current.
I asked Turner if he planned to head to Stanley for the famous fly hatch in June, during which millions of flies take flight along the Salmon River. For those first few days of the hatch, Stanley becomes a major destination for fly fishers. He laughed and shook his head. For Turner, fishing is a chance to get away. He prefers the simple rod-and-reel method to fly-fishing because he's not interested in having to do "all that moving around."
"For me the goal of fishing is to unwind, so I don't like to go where a lot of other fishers are going to be," Turner said. It's understandable how tempting a quiet stream, a fishing rod and a few friends must be.
Although it's been several years since I've been fishing, I thought I knew a bit about salmon because of the recent news regarding the decline in population, so I asked Turner if we fish fans could expect to be eating fresh-caught salmon this year. His response surprised me. According to him, the "jack"—or young male salmon—population was very high last year, so we should expect a good run this year. When the conversation turned to secret spots, Turner laughed.
"There are no secret spots anymore. People say they have one, but chances are, plenty of other people fish there." Or perhaps he just didn't want to give away his favorite fishing hole. If you're just hoping to head out for the weekend, Turner suggests some of the more popular spots like Little Camas Reservoir, Arrowrock Reservoir or Cascade Lake. In Idaho, you can expect to catch trout, bass, croppy and perch. But if you're looking for catfish, a local angler named Carol suggested heading to Donnelly for a little night fishing. Just before the campground at Donnelly Lake is a bridge built specifically for fishing, and on summer evenings while casting for catfish, you can watch the bats fly overhead.
And if you don't have the time to drive out to one of Idaho's many reservoirs or rivers, fish in the city. According to Turner, the Department of Fish and Game stocks the Veteran's Park Pond, Riverside Pond and the Parkcenter Pond every couple of weeks in the summer.
I asked if any particular lure worked better in one area than another, and Turner's answer was both amusing and bemusing. As a tackle shop owner, he hears all the many recommendations from the various anglers who visit his store, and as far as preferred lures go, he offered this. "One person will come in and say, 'I was just up at such-and-such a place and this is the only thing those fish will bite on up there,' and a little while later another person will come in and say the same thing about a completely different lure. Two people could be fishing right beside each other and be catching the same fish on different lures." To Turner, it has more to do with the person fishing than the fish.
If you're new to fishing or haven't been for a while, mark your calendar for Idaho's free fishing day on June 7. You can fish anywhere in Idaho without a license for the entire day. It's a great opportunity to try the sport for the first time or pick up an old pastime. If you do discover your inner angler, get a permit. An adult license is good until December 31 and costs $25.75. Catch and size limits vary depending on the region, so be sure to pick up a copy of the 2008-2009 Idaho Fish and Game Rules.