Some people still fish to catch a tasty meal, but many anglers nowadays fish purely for the fun and relaxation that it provides.  Aside from the bass tournament types, most anglers don’t look at fishing as a way to make money, but biologists at the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG) have come up with a plan to help bolster native Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations while providing anglers the chance to make a few dollars.

Rainbow trout introduced into the South Fork of the Snake River have proven to be major threat to the survival and genetic integrity of our native Yellowstone cutthroat trout because they hybridize and compete with cutthroat.  The hybrid offspring are able to reproduce so that successive generations of pure cutthroat become fewer and fewer.  IDFG has worked on a variety of methods ranging from regulation modifications to electric barriers on spawning tributaries to help keep native cutthroat abundant. In 2010, with the aid of funding supplied by federal sources, Biologist Brett High and his crew were able to begin tagging rainbow trout with tiny coded wire tags, each tag having a different cash value ranging from $50 to $1,000.  The tags were embedded in the snout of rainbows caught and released back to the river and could only be detected if the fish head was taken to the regional IDFG office to be scanned.  According to High, “The strategy was to encourage anglers to harvest more of the rainbows they are already catching.”

Records indicate that the total value of potential incentive tags placed in fish since the beginning of the program has been nearly $400,000, but that number is deceptive, says High, “Annually, a large proportion of the population dies of natural causes, resulting in lower carryover from year to year. Since 2010 there have been 74 winners and the Department has paid $8350 of incentive money. This year the IDFG has picked up the responsibility for paying for incentives. It is difficult to estimate how many tagged fish are still swimming around in the river, but according to High, “There likely is at least $150,000 worth of incentives still out there!”

Because the overall goal of the South Fork Anger Incentive Program is to encourage harvest, it is important for anglers to remember that while Yellowstone cutthroat trout are strictly catch and release on the South Fork, all size and bag limits have been lifted for rainbows and hybrids.  Because the tags can only be detected by using a high powered scanner, fish must be taken to the IDFG office to be checked.  For anglers not able to make it into town, freezers are provided during the summer season at the Conant & Byington boat ramps.  Fish heads can be bagged and tagged and anglers will be notified if they have a winning fish.  Anglers who don’t care to eat trout, but want to help the needy can donate their cleaned fish at either the ramps or regional office.

The struggle to maintain the Yellowstone cutthroat trout is an ongoing war, but battles are being won daily.  Anglers wanting to know more about how they can be part of conservation efforts and at the same time possibly win a few dollars can call the regional office at 208-525-7290 or view a short video at:

Image courtesy Idaho Department Fish & Game

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