Kayak patrols: quietly protecting Idaho's trout

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The Idaho Fish and Game Department conservation officer (CO) appeared silently and unexpectedly to check anglers on a rugged section of the lower Salmon River. Later, just as quietly, he confronted fishermen in the Snake River's remote Hells Canyon.

The dozen fishermen checked were flabbergasted and petulant - especially the eight, including seven nonresidents, who were cited for varied violations.

One disgruntled angler summed it up for the CO: ''If you'd been in one of those jet boats, you wouldn't have caught us. That blankety-blank kayak isn't playing fair.''

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Since the kayak patrol began in the spring of 1980, many anglers unused to being checked on in remote wilderness rivers have decided to be more law-abiding. At least Stacy Gebbards, state fisheries chief, has noted a decrease in violations. An avid kayaker, Gebbards originated the program after noting the success of the US Forest Service in patrolling such rivers as the Salmon and the Middle Fork Salmon.

Kayak patrol members - their numbers are kept secret - undergo extensive training with at least 40 hours devoted to learning how to handle the highly maneuverable, silent craft. On patrol, each kayaker wears a wet suit, life preserver, and helmet, and can take enough gear and supplies to last upwards of five days.

Idaho, along with other Western states, has intensive wild-trout enhancement programs. With the emphasis on wild Cutthroat trout on some 1,000 miles of wilderness and semiwilderness streams, regulations have become more strict. Many of the streams have catch-and-release rules, and others have lowered possession limits. Until the kayak patrol came along, enforcement was almost nonexistent, particularly on smaller, rugged streams where powerboats can't be used at all.

Cost was a factor in the use of kayaks. Jet and other powerboats are more expensive to purchase and operate. The noisy motorboats alert violators. But a CO in a kayak can arrive without advertising his presence.

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