Although Cutthroat Trout once dominated angler catch in the Panhandle's large lakes, they are no longer the primary species. Harvest of Westslope Cutthroat Trout in waters such as Priest Lake was upwards of 4,000 fish per year in the 1950's, but declined to hundreds of fish by the 1980's. Declining catch rates were the result of declining fishing effort and fish populations, changing fish communities, and impaired tributary spawning habitats.
Fishery managers concerned about the populations responded by restricting harvest opportunities to rebuild populations. Today, Westslope Cutthroat Trout represent one of the most abundant species in many spawning tributaries around Priest Lake, but little is understood about their abundance in the lake. Though Cutthroat anglers aren't as numerous as they used to be, those anglers who target them for catch and release say fishing is not too bad.
In an effort to better understand current and future abundance of Priest Lake Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) developed a monitoring strategy first implemented in 2014. We sampled Cutthroat Trout throughout Priest Lake in late spring using short gill nets designed to catch multiple sizes of fish. We targeted trout and reduced the catch of non-target species by using floating nets.
The gill nets weren't intended to provide an estimate of the total number of Cutthroat in the lake, but rather an index of their abundance. The index of abundance in this case, measured as fish per net, can then be used to compare the population from year to year as well as from lake to lake.
In our sampling effort we caught an average of two Westslope Cutthroat Trout per net with consistent catches throughout Priest Lake. While that information alone is of limited use, when collected over multiple years and or paired with results from similar surveys on other lakes will be quite valuable for understanding the abundance and health of this population. Westslope Cutthroat collected in this survey represented a range of sizes with fish from six to eighteen inches.
IDFG is continuing to study this population and will keep you informed about what we learn from the project and how the information gained will provide angling opportunity for the public.
To learn more about fisheries in the Panhandle Region of Idaho, go to the IDFG website, fishandgame.idaho.gov and look up the Panhandle Fisheries Newsletter. Regional Fishery Manager Jim Fredericks compiles the information annually to provide information on local fisheries projects and programs for anglers. Jim also sends the newsletter via email to those who wish to receive it. To be added, either call us at 769-1414 or email Jim email@example.com.