Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Fishing Do's and Don'ts

*Chinook and sockeye salmon are endangered and protected by Federal law and cannot be taken.
*Fishing for Kokanee (land-locked) salmon is allowed on Stanley Lake. Kokanee salmon may not be taken from Redfish Lake and Fishhook Creek.
*All fishing is prohibited in Fishhook Creek to protect this critical salmon spawning area.


The NRA's major watersheds are the Main and East Fork of the Salmon River, the North and Middle Forks of the Boise River, the South Fork of the Payette River, and the Wood River. Where's the best place to fish? With more than 1,000 mountain lakes and hundreds of miles of cold streams, every fisherman will give you a different answer. In most streams, you'll find cutthroat, rainbow, brook and bull trout, grayling and whitefish. Whitefish are active winter feeders, thereby extending the fishing season.

Early Season
Some of the best early-season fishing is in the Salmon River drainage, with steelhead trout reaching Stanley around April 1st. These anadromous (ocean-going) fish arrive here after traveling 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Most steelhead weigh six to eight pounds.

The Wood River offers good fishing after the spring run-off. Five miles of the river south of the SNRA are designated as "catch and release" waters. Rainbow trout are planted every summer there by the Idaho Department of Fish Game.

Two species of anadromous salmon travel 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean each year to the upper Salmon River. Sockeye salmon, which spawn in Redfish Lake, are the only remaining sockeye population in Idaho. Spring and summer chinook salmon spawn in the Salmon River and its major tributaries.

Wilderness & Backcountry Fishing
Until white men came to this area, no high lakes and very few streams actually had fish in them. Today, rainbow, cutthroat and eastern brook trout can be found in many of our area's high lakes.

Redfish Lake is the ancestral home of the endangered sockeye salmon. Its gravely banks provide essential spawning habitat. Redfish was named for the red color of the thousands of sockeye salmon that once returned annually to spawn. Today, only a few sockeye are able to negotiate the Columbia River dams and other hazards to complete their trip home.

Stocking Redfish Lake with catchable trout is evaluated on an annual basis. This effort is designed to protect the vulnerable eggs and young sockeye, and to reduce competition for food.

Winter Fishing
Ice fishing is open on Stanley, Yellow Belly, Jimmy Smith and Herd Lakes, as well as on the Main Salmon River.

Fishing Licenses and Regulations
A valid Idaho Fishing License is required within the Sawtooth NRA. Forest Service offices do not sell state fishing licenses, but do have the IDFG Rules and Regulations Handbook and other information.

Check the regulations carefully each season—there are many summer-spawning stream closures. Pick up your free copy of the IDFGs "General Fishing Seasons and Rules" 1994-1995 handbook.

Many lakes on the valley floor are open year round for fishing. Please check the IDFG regulations handbook.

Stanley Lake
The Sawtooth NRA's northernmost large lake. Access is via a rough gravel road. Activities: motorboating, fishing and water-skiing. No water-skiing between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.

Little Redfish Lake
A small, less-visited lake, with access via Redfish Lake Road. Activities: float-tube fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Non-motorized watercraft only.

Redfish Lake
This highly-developed lake is the hub of summer water recreation in the Sawtooth NRA. It has a public boat launch and two public swimming areas, a dock (owned by the Redfish Lake Lodge) where boats can be rented or moored for the season and a swimming area close to the dock. Activities: motorboating, sailing and fishing.

Yellow Belly Lake
An undeveloped lake. Access is via a rough dirt road, accessible by hiking or using a high-clearance/4-wheel-drive vehicle. Activities: Fishing and non-motorized boating. Non-motorized watercraft only!

Pettit Lake
A small lake at the end of a rough, washboard gravel road. A sand ramp is available for watercraft launches. Activities: kayaking, canoeing and boating.

Perkins Lake
A small, undeveloped lake, ideal for a quiet water experience. There is walk-in access from Alturas Lake Road at the upper end of the lake. Activities: canoeing, kayaking and float-tube fishing. Non-motorized watercraft only.

Alturas Lake
The southernmost of the Sawtooth NRA's large lakes. Access is via a paved road, and there is a boat launch facility and a beach at the Inlet. Activities: sailing, sailboarding, motorboating, fishing and water-skiing. No water-skiing between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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