ACEQUIA — Waiting for April 1, Dan Cress of Filer changed the oil in his boat and spent several hundred dollars on lures.
Rupert’s Dave Hill bought one lure to try on the opening day of Lake Walcott boating: a Kamlooper Spoon of bright orange-red and gold with black spots. Betsy and Chantry Rayl, newcomers to Burley, enlisted an experienced Lake Walcott angler as their fishing buddy. Ryan Smith of Carey, too excited to wait for his 6 a.m. alarm, got up at 5:15.
And on the big morning, they were all at Lake Walcott State Park’s new docks, putting boats into the water.
There’s something particularly enticing about April on Lake Walcott.
The attraction? Trout that average 3 pounds or more, put up a fight and make really fine eating.
“You’ll catch some 8-pounders,” Cress said, preparing to pull away from the dock shortly after sunrise. “They’re pretty close to eating a salmon, out here.”
Anglers can fish from the shore year-round at Lake Walcott State Park — which lies within the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge — but shoreline access isn’t plentiful. So the annual April 1 opening of the lake’s boating season is a red-letter day for fishing.
“We haven’t missed for a lot of years,” said Dan Osterhout of Declo, heading onto the lake with his wife, Marcia, and wondering whether the trout would be as active as usual for April 1. “With the colder water, I hope they’re ready to hit some trolling.”
The couple would head about five miles upstream, where buoys mark the boundary of refuge waters closed to boating. But first, Osterhout threw open his newly replenished tackle box, showing off a dazzling array of lures.
“See if you think I’ve got enough to find out what they’re catching on,” he said.
“What works one day isn’t guaranteed to work the next,” said angler Scott Soletti of Twin Falls, preparing a boat in the parking lot. Fishing here changes by the day and the hour. “It can really turn off and on like a light switch.”
He’d been spending money on new lures, too — including $16 for a Lucky Strike pointer lure in the “rainbow trout” pattern, bought specifically for Lake Walcott.
“Today’s the day they’re going to go on a rod,” Soletti said. “The one I just spent 16 bucks on I really hope catches a fish.”
Austin Hill of Rupert, preparing to help his grandpa launch a new jet boat, demurred at first then dropped a tip.
“Here’s a little secret I don’t tell very many people,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll put little red licorice on our lures.”
Osterhout and his wife cover their Lake Walcott lures in cod-liver oil. And he figures a buddy spilled their secret.
When Osterhout tried to replenish his supply at Burley’s Walgreens store several years ago, the cod-liver oil was cleaned off the shelf. He drove to the Walgreens in Twin Falls only to find that it, too, had run out. A clerk there had seen enough Mini-Cassia customers buying cod-liver oil to get curious, and Osterhout reluctantly admitted it was for fishing.
He still seems a little disgusted that his confidence was revealed. But that hasn’t erased his enthusiasm for fishing Lake Walcott.
“When it gets good,” he said, “we’ll fish four days a week, I imagine.”
His friends, he added, might say it’s more like six.
From Interstate 84, take Exit 211 at Heyburn. Drive northeast on Idaho 24, continuing 5.8 miles past Rupert; turn right (east) on 400 North, also called Minidoka Dam Road.
Lake Walcott State Park requires a daily $5 motor vehicle entry fee year-round — unless you have the $10 annual Idaho State Parks Passport available through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
You won’t pay any additional fee to launch a boat from the park’s docks. The 8-foot-wide, 60-foot-long poly docks — one on each side of the boat ramp — are wheelchair-accessible with gangplanks. They replaced the park’s deteriorated wooden docks a year ago, an $80,000 project.
When to fish it
Boating here is open April 1 to Sept. 30, you can fish from the shore year-round, and this winter’s ice fishing extended into March.
But Soletti figures this year’s best fishing on Lake Walcott will be late April and May, when the water is clearer than it was on opening day and the water is a little warmer — but not yet too warm, so trout are still active and the water isn’t “mossy.”
By late June, heavy aquatic growth sticks to lures and the fish won’t take them, said Bill Dutcher of Burley, the longtime Lake Walcott angler showing the Rayls the ropes on April 1.
With the Snake River swollen by plentiful snowmelt, Dave Hill expects this to be a particularly good year for fishing Lake Walcott. “High water brings the fish down from up above.”
Before the 2015 completion of a Minidoka Dam and spillway reconstruction project, water managers dropped the lake level by about half each winter, park ranger Travis Taylor said. Anglers worried that they wouldn’t have enough water to launch a boat on opening day.
But no more. On April 1 the lake was 95 percent full, Taylor said, checking the Bureau of Reclamation stats on his phone. “And it’s been right around there for the last year.”
The skinny on stocking
Lake Walcott offers bass fishing, too, but only rainbow trout are stocked, Taylor said. A federal hatchery in Hagerman plants them here once a year — usually a couple of weeks after irrigation ends in the fall, so they aren’t lost to canals.
In each of the past two autumns, Lake Walcott was stocked with 25,000 trout weighing a pound to 1.25 pounds. For at least three years before that — that’s as far back as Taylor remembers — it got 50,000 trout weighing about a third of a pound each year.
You might not catch a lot of trout here, but they’ll be reliably 3 to 5 pounds.
“There’ll be guys out here at the crack of dawn,” Taylor said, “but you don’t need to be.”
Caution: wave potential
Don’t get so engrossed in fishing that you forget to watch the weather. Thunderstorms pop up quickly on Lake Walcott, and winds here can produce dangerous waves.
Acequia angler Dan Lewis’ rule: If you’re in a small boat, head for sanctuary as soon as you see white tips.
“I’ve been where I’ve been scared to get back, hugging the shore,” said Lewis, who spent the morning of April 1 at one of the best spots for fishing from shore, the point beside the park’s Scout group camp. (Shore anglers also favor deep spots just above the dam.)
Lewis has watched fishing boats wait out a storm in a cove, and park employees and Minidoka County sheriff’s deputies have responded to boats in trouble.
Two links you’ll need
Before you go, of course, check Idaho’s fishing regulations: http://bit.ly/2p3PppC
And learn more about Lake Walcott State Park here: Parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/lake-walcott