State to pay Idaho anglers for predator trout

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — An angler's dream has become reality in northern Idaho: get paid to go fishing.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is offering a $10 bounty for each rainbow or lake trout from Lake Pend Oreille that measures more than 12 inches.

The abundant, predatory trout are eating the last remaining kokanee in the lake. Recently, kokanee, a small freshwater salmon, have diminished in northern Idaho, succumbing to the bigger fish.

"Kokanee are in trouble and we need every last angler to double their efforts to turn this thing around," Ned Horner, regional fisheries manager for Fish and Game, told the Bonner Daily Bee.

Until September, Idaho officials offered monthly prizes and lottery tickets to anglers who hooked trout in Lake Pend Oreille.

Since May, anglers have caught 2,300 rainbow trout and 6,500 lake trout there. More than 3,000 of those fish were hooked in fishing derbies sponsored by the Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club.

Jim Carothers, the club's treasurer, said he is thrilled that Fish and Game has upped the stakes.

"It has shown to be effective," he said Friday.

"The more we catch through the incentive program, the more we can nail down the predators."

But whether the payoffs can save the kokanee is up for debate.

Fish and Game's August estimate shows a steady drop in the kokanee population and a corresponding increase in predators.

"In 36 trawl hauls, only three mature kokanee were captured, a record low," Horner said.

The department estimates there are about 17,000 female spawning kokanee in the lake, compared to 36,000 lake trout longer than 20 inches, a size that means the fish could easily eat the smaller kokanee.

At last estimate, there were 27,000 rainbow trout measuring more than 16 inches.

To stem the imbalance, fish managers also have hired a commercial fishing crew to trap spawning lake trout with nets.

But recreational anglers are more effective in catching trout, Carothers said.

"We spent $30,000 to get 3,000," Carothers said.

"They are spending $250,000 to net through December and they only have 1,000 fish so far."