By Mike Willis
While some may debate whether Lake Pend Oreille (Pronounced Pond-ə-RAY) is the most beautiful lake in Idaho, there is no arguing that it is the largest!
Lake Pend Oreille is 43 miles long and 1,150 feet deep. The lake is so enormous that the U.S. Navy conducts underwater acoustic submarine research here.
Within the depths of these mysterious waters exists a phenomenon that has gotten global attention. In the 1940s, the notorious Gerrard rainbow trout from the Kootenai Lakes of British Columbia were transplanted here. These actions gave birth to one of the most spectacular fisheries in the world.
These freakishly large rainbow trout thrive in this environment and provide anglers with the fight of their life if they manage to hook into one. Lake Pend Oreille is the home of the world record for the Gerrard rainbow trout (non-genetically engineered class). In 1947 Wes Hamlet landed the 37 lb. rainbow.
If you are interested in pursuing this bucket-list-worthy fish, here are some things to know before you start planning your trip:
- The best times of year to fish for the Gerrard rainbow trout are during May, June, October, and November. During these times, the fish are near the surface and can be caught by trolling with trolling boards (aka planer boards).
- You can catch the fish outside of these dates by using downriggers. Depending on water temps, you will need to fish between 60 and 120 feet deep.
- The ideal water temperature ranges are 48-52 degrees.
- You are allowed to keep these fish, but local anglers who have seen this fishery decline will caution you not to take for granted what we have here. Seasoned fishermen from the area can tell stories of almost losing this amazing fishery due to over-fishing in previous years.
- The best days to fish are ones that have some decent chop on the water. These waves produce the action needed, through the planer boards, to entice the fish.
- A little overcast and a good moon phase go a long way. Full moons can make for a hard day of fishing.
- Tools of the trade include some Frisky Jenny bucktail streamer flies and trolling boards. The Houk family is well-known in this area for their notorious flies and trolling boards. This multi-generation family business has been built upon these Pend Oreille Gerrard rainbows.
- Anglers on Pend Oreille can commonly catch 20+ pound rainbows.
The fight of these fish and the show that they put on will redefine how you classify a good-fighting fish. If you are local to the area, start putting together the items needed to equip yourself for one of these fishing expeditions.
For those seeking a future vacation opportunity, seek out one of the local guides to help put you on the fish. While you can do this on your own, this is not your average DIY fishing trip. The equipment is somewhat specialized and not easily acquired as a rental. Once you catch one, you yourself will be hooked.