Friday, August 17, 2007

Silver Creek rule changes raise concerns

State?s plan to standardize regulations will harm unique fishery, local anglers say

Express Staff Writer

Floating down Silver Creek by float tube, a fly fisherman fishes for one of the fabled creek?s renowned trout during a recent celebration that The Nature Conservancy held at its Silver Creek Preserve. Proposed rule changes that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is considering for the 2008-2009 fishing season have many local anglers concerned about the future of the beloved fishery. Photo by David N. Seelig

Proposed rule changes for fishing on Idaho's fabled Silver Creek are causing grave concern among local fly-fishing enthusiasts who consider the renowned waters among the most challenging fishing destinations anywhere.

The changes, which are included in a long list of draft modifications to Idaho's statewide fishing regulations, are being proposed for the 2008-2009 fishing seasons. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will consider the host of changes at its quarterly meeting in Sandpoint in November.

Specific to Silver Creek, the draft changes would standardize the creel limit throughout the entire creek system. While all rainbow trout would be placed under catch-and-release rules across the entire creek system, a daily bag limit of up to six brown trout of any size would be allowed anywhere in the system.

In its draft list of regulation changes, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's stated rationale for the change to bag limits is rule simplification. Under existing rules, the Silver Creek drainage is split into six different segments with varying exceptions and daily bag limits. The change would protect rainbow trout throughout the drainage, but still allow harvest opportunity on brown trout, the agency states.

Remaining the same under the proposed changes would be the fly-fishing-only restriction on The Nature Conservancy's 880-acre Silver Creek Preserve.

Another proposed change for the 2008-2009 seasons would eliminate existing boat restrictions on Silver Creek, except that the "no motors" exception would remain in place. Again, Fish and Game's stated rationale for the change is rule simplification. In its draft list of regulation changes, the agency states that many anglers are confused about why they cannot use single-occupancy pontoon boats. Fish and Game goes on to say that lack of access will restrict the use of larger types of watercraft.

Picabo resident and author John Huber, whose writing credits include the "Flyfisher's Guide to Oregon," said the Silver Creek rule changes could radically transform what he believes is one of the most unique fisheries in the United States, if not the world. He said standardizing fisheries regulations may be appropriate elsewhere, but not so on such a renowned and special fishery as Silver Creek. On other fisheries where the intent has been to standardize fishing regulations—the Crooked River in Central Oregon is one such example—streams and rivers that were known for their quality trophy trout in time became inhabited mostly by small fish in the six-inch range, he said.

"It's too unique a place," he said of Silver Creek. "They (the Fish and Game) should be going the exact opposite route."

Huber is also upset by Fish and Game's plan to target harvesting opportunities on Silver Creek's famed brown trout. Along with Fish and Game, legendary outdoorsman Jack Hemingway, the elder son of author Ernest Hemingway, was instrumental in the introduction of those fish of European descent into the Silver Creek and Little Wood River drainages in the 1970s.

"The brown trout in Silver Creek is a legacy of the Hemingway family," Huber said. "This is a legacy you can touch."

The proposed rule changes that would eliminate existing boat restrictions on Silver Creek are also a concern for David James, another Wood River Valley fly-fishing enthusiast. Silver Creek's crystal-clear, slow-moving, spring-fed waters don't leave much of a margin of error, James said.

"When you're down on the creek, you need it to be tranquil," he said.

Allowing boats of all kinds would harm that tranquility, which makes it possible for skilled anglers to sneak within casting distance of Silver Creek's wily trout, James said.

"You put boats on top of them and it will change things for the worse," he said. "You might as well sit on the bank for 45 minutes until the fish come back."

James said the rule changes could even impact the local Wood River Valley economy by convincing out-of-state anglers not to travel to the area to fish Silver Creek. Possibly harmed by a loss of fishing-specific tourism would be local hotels, outfitters, restaurants and many other tourism-based businesses, he said.

"A lot of people come out specifically to fish Silver Creek," James said.

David Parrish, supervisor of Fish and Game's Magic Valley Region, said the draft rule changes are meant to get people talking about Silver Creek and how it should be managed. He said they are also based on comments the agency has received from the public.

He said some anglers have asked the agency to consider ways to better protect rainbow trout in Silver Creek.

"One of the ways to reduce the impact on rainbow is to reduce brown trout," Parrish said.

Realistically speaking, he said, brown trout numbers wouldn't likely be changed much at all if the proposed changes are approved since fishing for the wily species of trout isn't easy.

"You have to know what you're doing," Parrish said. "You have to target them."

The Magic Valley regional office will accept public comments on the proposed rule changes through late September, when Parrish said he has to send a final list of proposed changes to Fish and Game's Boise office. The Fish and Game Commission will vote on the statewide rule changes during its Sandpoint meeting, scheduled for Nov. 14-16.

Comments can be submitted by phone to the Fish and Game Jerome office at (208) 324-4359 by asking for Parrish or Doug Megargle, Magic Valley regional fisheries manager. They can also be mailed to Dave Parrish, 319 South 417 East, Jerome, ID 83338.

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