Nov. 01–A youth steelhead clinic held on the Snake River Saturday accomplished its goal by netting more than just fish.
The daylong angling trip sponsored by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game also set the proverbial hook on a new generation of steelheaders, which is the point of the program.
Several young participants got their first experience fighting the powerful sea-run trout and the opportunity to spend the day on the river making new friends and enjoying the scenery made even more brilliant by bright fall colors.
Sophia Boson of Lewiston caught her first steelhead, an A-run keeper, and also landed and released a beautiful 30-inch wild fish during the trip.
“It felt really awesome,” she said of the hatchery fish. “I was a little excited and I was a little afraid it was going to get off.”
She also noted something grizzled steelheaders know well, that wild fish pull and shake more vigorously than their hatchery peers.
“The wild one was really, really hard to bring up,” she said. “It fought a lot harder.”
Now the 11-year-old is working on her parents, Rick and Tena Boson, to add fishing gear and trips to their Christmas shopping list.
“She had a really good time,” said her mother.
Tena Boson said the family doesn’t fish and Sophia was introduced to the sport during an Idaho Department of Fish and Game-sponsored “Take Me Fishing” day at Winchester Lake. That was followed by a trip to Elk Creek Reservoir last summer, where she caught several fish. When she saw a notice about the youth steelhead clinic, she begged to sign up.
“She said, ‘I want to do steelhead, I want to do steelhead,’ ” Tena Boson said of her daughter.
Sophia signed up for the clinic, which included a two-hour classroom session last Thursday on the steelhead life cycle, their habitat needs and angling techniques. On Saturday, she and 15 other kids hit the water with several employees of the department, two from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and outfitter Butch Odegaard of River Quest Excursions. Boson was one of the lucky ones who caught fish.
“I felt like I succeeded in one of my goals in life, to catch a steelhead,” she said. “I think it’s really fun and other people should try it.”
That is just what Larry Barrett had in mind when the late Idaho Fish and Game fisheries biologist started the program several years ago.
“He loved fishing and that excitement and he wanted to share it with the kids and that is what this is all about,” said Scott Putnam, a fisheries biologist for the department at Lewiston.
Barrett was killed in a helicopter crash in 2010. His wife, Cindy Barrett, started a foundation in his name dedicated to teaching kids to fish. She has used money from the foundation to purchase child-sized life jackets and to pay for other aspects of the clinic.
Dillan Koopman, 11, of Juliaetta was another kid who experienced the thrill of catching a steelhead for the first time. He landed a nice A-run fish that fought “between medium and hard.”
He was otherwise left at a loss for words to describe the experience. But his dad, who was among a handful of parents to go on the trip, helped.
“He’s pretty stoked,” he said. “He’s speechless.”
Seeing kids excited about fishing is one of the reasons Odegaard agreed to participate. He regularly takes clients fishing but said introducing kids to the sport is a special honor.
“I’ll do it again just to see the look on the kids’ faces,” he said. “We’ve got to get the into the sport. We want them to grow up to be fishermen.”
Ethan Crawford, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist and his wife, Lauren Crawford, served as hosts for Boson and 8-year-old Leighton Skinner of Clarkston on his boat. They ended up catching eight fish, including one fall chinook. He said it’s crucial to get kids involved early.
“I see a problem with recruitment and getting kids involved in all of our outdoor sports and obviously license buyers help fund a lot of the programs both states operate, and that is a declining source of revenue if we don’t have recruitment,” he said. “I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that took me hunting and fishing a lot. Things are changing and a lot of kids don’t have that opportunity any more. It’s the least Lauren and I can do to take kids out in the boat for a day.”
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