There has long been a debate among sportsmen when it comes to Payette Lake in McCall: maintain a lake trout fishery at the expense of kokanee catch rates, or eradicate the lakers, which prey upon stocked salmon (and just about everything else).
I understand both points of view, but I’ll officially cast my vote in favor of the Mackinaws.
As you’ll read in this week’s fishing report, one local angler recently pulled a new state record from the depths of Payette Lake. And while I enjoy eating kokanee as much as the next guy, there aren’t too many places — in Idaho or otherwise — where 40-inch monsters are possible. In my book, that’s a fishery worth keeping.
Payette Lake (Mackinaw Trout)
It has been a great summer for catching Mackinaws at Payette Lake — just ask Boise angler Dylan Smith.
This is the first year Smith has fished for lake trout at Payette, but he says he has already landed more than two dozen, including several fish over three feet long. The kingpin was a 41.5-inch beast that broke the state catch-and-release record and likely weighed over 30 pounds.
“We’ve been catching a lot of fish up there,” Smith said. “We’ve had several in the 38-inch range, but they were pretty skinny. When I set the hook on that fish, it didn’t budge at all. We started realizing pretty quickly that this wasn’t a normal fish.”
Smith caught the record fish jigging and watched the action unfold on his depth finder. When he landed the big Mack, he found a smaller lake trout in its jaws.
“We had caught about an 18-incher before that, and it swam off pretty slow,” Smith said. “We’re thinking the big one came up and ate it, and then went after our lures.”
The two primary methods for catching Mackinaw trout are jigging and deep trolling. Both require a quality fish finder — lake trout are known to hold in deep water, especially near drop-offs and ledges. Sometimes, dropping a big spoon or jig right on top of their nose is the only way to trigger a strike.
Flashy spoons or tube jigs in white, silver or rainbow trout pattern are popular Mackinaw tackle. Adding a chunk of sucker, pikeminnow or other cut bait often entices more bites.
Getting there: Take Highway 55 north to McCall. Payette Lake is right in the middle of town.
Owyhee River (Trout)
With September upon us, brown trout fishing on the Owyhee is a can’t-miss opportunity. The big fish will be getting ready to spawn soon which, combined with lower flows and mild weather, makes for awesome fishing conditions. From what I’m hearing, nymph fishing with midges is best early in the day, with PMD hatches picking up in the afternoons. Terrestrials like hoppers and ants usually fool a few fish, and stripping minnow or mouse patterns at dusk can produce a big brown. Remember to grab an Oregon license, and to practice catch-and-release on all brown trout. It’s the law.
Getting there: Head west to Oregon through Parma and fish downstream of Owyhee Reservoir.
Swan Falls Reservoir (Bass)
Early fall can be a magical time for smallmouth bass fishing on the Snake River system. At Swan Falls, the September scenery is amazing and the fishing usually matches, with plentiful bass in the 10- to 16-inch range and a few oversized monsters lurking. Crankbaits, jigs and soft plastics imitating crayfish are the ticket. If you want some visual excitement, throw top-water plugs on spinning tackle or poppers on a fly rod. On a recent evening trip, my companion and I boated about 20 bass and one massive crappie. I’ve also bumped into perch, pumpkinseed, trout, carp, catfish and pikeminnow at Swan Falls.
Getting there: Head south through Kuna and follow Swan Falls Road for 22 miles. The reservoir is located above the dam, and there’s also plentiful access to the Snake River below the dam.