Steelhead trout are one of three species of trout native to Idaho.
It was a taste-off, kokanee salmon against rainbow trout cooked several different ways. I wasn’t optimistic about the chances hatchery raised rainbow trout stood against salmon, but, judging by their size, these rainbows had been in Island Park Reservoir for several years so I was reasonably okay with the fairness issue.
Unsurprisingly, the salmon won by a wide margin. But everyone agreed that the trout were surprisingly good, both on the grill and baked in foil, making me anxious to catch more and try them in my smoker.
Trout are a premier fish in Idaho. Not only are they sought after as table fare, they also provide sport for tens of thousands of anglers and sustenance for a variety of wildlife including bears, eagles, osprey, kingfishers and mink.
Trout is a general name that covers three different genera within the salmon family: Salmo (Atlantic species), which includes the famous brown trout, Oncorhynchus (Pacific species), the genus for rainbow (and the anadromous steelhead which is a sea-run rainbow) and cutthroat trout, and Salvelinus, the genus for brook trout, bull trout and lake trout. There are also a few notable hybrids such as the famous and naturally producing cutbow (cutthroat x rainbow), the speckled trout or splake (brook x lake trout) and the tiger trout (brown x brook).
Within these three genera are a wide variety of subspecies such as golden trout and the giant Lahontan cutthroat. However, within Idaho, the Yellowstone cutthroat, the Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat (sometimes considered a separate subspecies and sometimes considered a variety of the Yellowstone cutthroat depending on the source), Bear Lake cutthroat, bull trout and the steelhead are native. Brown trout originate from Europe and Western Asia. Brook trout and associates are from the eastern US and Canada and rainbow trout (non-anadromous) are from the Pacific coastal states. All have been introduced into Idaho.
All trout have several features that make them trout. First, their shape is long and slender. Their fins have no sharp and bony rays like catfish or the sunfishes, and all have an adipose fin, a small fleshy fin without rays that aids in streamlining the fish in fast-moving water. They have fine scales and a total of eight fins.
For trout, water temperature is a major limiting factor. For instance, for brown trout, one of the most tolerant of warmer water, optimum water temperatures range from 53°F to 66°F. They can tolerate temperatures near 80°F for only short periods of time.
Another major limiting factor for trout in streams and rivers is silt. Silt is considered the number one pollutant in many trout waters. Silt is usually the result of bank destabilization (removal of vegetation that also shades and cools the water) and poorly maintained watersheds. Silt plugs gills and also covers reds (nests in gravel) and suffocates eggs.
Trout are relatively easy to raise in hatcheries. Idaho Department of Fish and Game raises and releases over 30 million fish each year across the state. Although 18 species are stocked, the vast majority are rainbow trout (and kokanee salmon) and are stocked in sizes ranging from fry and fingerlings to catchable-sized fish.
Rainbow trout also make up the bulk of the aquaculture (farm-raised) industry. Idaho’s fish farms supply 75 percent of over 50 million pounds of rainbow trout produced annually in the United States.
If I could choose, brook trout grilled over charcoal would be my first choice for table fare. Other trout are tasty though and like many meals, it is the memory of the catch that matters most.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho