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One of eastern Idaho’s favorite trout fisheries got its annual health checkup and came out feeling like a champ.For the 25th year, Idaho Fish and Game conducted its May population estimates on the Box Canyon reach of the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. The numbers were crunched and released last week showing an estimated 4,209 rainbow trout per mile, among the top five highest abundances since 1994. The average for the past 24 surveys is 3,103 fish per mile.“The rainbow population is healthy and doing well,” said fisheries biologist John Heckel. “We can attribute a lot of that to our over-winter flows out of Island Park Dam.”Fish and Game had three boats conducting electro fishing from the Henrys Fork’s confluence with the Buffalo River downstream about 2.5 miles. A fourth boat would chase back and forth between the other three boats to lend a hand in the processing.“This year we did length and weights on all sport fish,” Heckel said. “Not only rainbow trout but white fish population estimates. We have five standardized stopping locations. When the river is higher, which it usually is in May, there’s usually only a few spots where you can stop in the canyon and work up those fish.”After taking measurements, the fish were released back into the river. Heckel said brook trout abundance is “pretty darn low” in Box Canyon so they left them off the list.During the past 25 years, the fish per mile has fallen below the average 16 times during the May count. Only nine times, include this year, has the count topped the average of 3,103. The average length of rainbows this year was 13 inches with fish up to 21 inches sampled.“We observed the highest frequency of rainbow trout between 12 and 14 inches, which are predominately age-2 fish,” Heckel said. “At this level of abundance, anglers should expect some fantastic fishing in the Box Canyon reach of the Henrys Fork this year. Catch rates should also be very high if anglers can correctly match the hatch.”Heckel said the Box Canyon population health is dependent on a minimum winter water flow out of Island Park Reservoir.“We’ve had a few really good years preceding this year where flows out of Island Park Dam in the winter were around 300 CFS during the critical period which is December through February,” he said. “That really helps those juveniles have adequate habitat.”Heckel said Fish and Game will recommend an ideal water flow for the fish, “but ultimately the decision is up to the dam operations. They have to plan ahead to fill the reservoir for the following irrigation season. It can be tough.”The Box Canyon reach fishing regulations from the Island Park Dam to the Harriman State Park boundaries is artificial flies and lures and catch-and-release only. Barbless hooks are required.“It’s a popular reach because the trout abundance is high and it gets some great hatches,” Heckel said. “It gets stoneflies, mayflies, caddisflies – all of the big hatches that anglers kind of flock to on the Henrys Fork. It’s a pretty cool area. You just feel like you’re on some river out in the middle of the woods. ... there’s a lot of deep slots where the fish will school up, you can find these slots and just anchor up and really hammer on the fish and catch a few.”
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