North Idaho Trout
"Big water, big trout" sums up North Idaho in the angler's mind. This is accurate but not the whole story. This well-watered end of Idaho boasts three of the largest natural lakes in the country--all of them with outstanding trout fishing--but some of the smaller lakes and most of its streams deserve attention, too.
Cutthroat Trout offer anglers, especially flyfishers, a highly entertaining native trout experience on almost every North Idaho water. The St. Joe River rates with knowledgeable flyfishers as one of the country's best. If you want 100 or more good cutthroat in a day, the upper end of the St. Joe can provide. So far, the St. Joe has avoided the reputation--and the crowds--that other rivers in the region have attracted. Special regulations have brought back cutthroat fishing, both in numbers and size, to qualities not seen here since pioneer times. The St. Joe above Prospector Creek is catch-and-release-only. The Clark Fork River, Coeur d'Alene River and its tributaries, Kootenai River above and below Bonners Ferry, Priest River and tributaries, and the St. Maries River above Santa all have cutthroat fisheries of some note.
Lake Trout, the famed "mackinaw", are confined to a few but huge waters of North Idaho. Lake Pend Oreille at 85,960 acres and more than 1,000 feet deep it continues to draw anglers intent on big trout, though a serious decline in kokanee--once almost the exclusive forage fish for lake trout here--has limited the size of the lakers in recent years. The up-side is that lakers from Pend Oreille make better table fare these days because they are eating other prey and are not so oily. Priest Lake at 23,360 acres has its share of lakers producing the state record lake trout, a 57 lb. 8 oz. behemoth, in surroundings considerably less commercially developed than on Pend Oreille. Despite their name, lake trout can also be taken in the Clark Fork River that runs into Pend Oreille.
Rainbow Trout of either wild or hatchery origin can be caught in almost every trout water of North Idaho. Avoiding rainbows would be harder than finding them, so just start wherever the water looks good to you. Of particular interest are the kamloops variety of rainbow found in Lake Pend Oreille. Kamloops, or Gerrard rainbow, grow rapidly when food is abundant and can achieve huge size.
Brook Trout do well in many of the smaller lakes and in mountain tributaries. Cocolalla Lake, Spirit Lake, and Hauser Lake are all easily accessible and known for brook trout. The Clark Fork River, Cocolalla Creek, Hoodoo Creek, the upper Moyie River and Priest River tributaries all have brookies.
Brown Trout can be found in a few North Idaho waters but are caught incidentally to fishing for other species. Hoodoo Creek, Cocolalla Creek and Cocolalla Lake hold some browns, as do Pend Oreille, Hauser, and Lower Twin Lakes. The larger streams including the Clark Fork River, Pend Oreille River and Spokane River have browns. This is not the part of the state that draws brown Trout specialists.
One of the last strongholds of bull trout is North Idaho. Remember there is no harvest on bull trout.
Efforts to encourage wild trout populations are being emphasized in North Idaho. There are many exceptions to the general, statewide trout limit. Also, the general rule for brook trout limits in Idaho says you can keep 10 in addition to the regular trout limit but a few North Idaho waters carry exceptions to the brook trout bonus. Read the rules on the water you want to fish before ever wetting a line. Special rules make things complicated for us as anglers but the effects in many North Idaho waters are being seen in more and bigger wild trout. For better fishing, we can all put up with a little more extra reading.
For more information about the north Idaho region, visit our North Idaho Information Page, or our
North Idaho Services & Accommodations Page.