Idaho Fish and Game has issued a fish salvage order below the Magic Reservoir after the current drought forced the canal company to halt irrigation months earlier than usual.
The Magic Dam was shut off Thursday because of low snowpack and low water carryover after a second year of extra dry weather in central Idaho.
The Big Wood Canal Company reported the reservoir at about 4% capacity last week. The dam normally is shut down in late September.
With the dam gates shut, the flows on the Richfield Canal and Big Wood River are “functionally de-watered," Fish and Game said. What little water flows through the Big Wood River becomes too shallow and warm to support trout.
“We’re in scramble mode when (the canal company) made the decision this week,” said Terry Thompson, of Fish and Game’s Magic Valley Regional office, on Friday.
Thompson said Fish and Game plans to electro fish sections of the canal on Monday to remove fish and restock them in the Snake River.
“Right now if they pass muster from the standpoint of fish health, we’ll be moving them down to the Bell Rapids in the Snake River by Hagerman,” he said.
Meanwhile, anyone with a valid fishing license can gather fish in specified sections of the river and canal by any method with no limit, “except by firearms, chemicals, explosives or electric current.” The salvage section includes the Big Wood River between the railroad trestle and the Idaho Highway 75 Bridge and the Richfield Canal system from the upstream part of the diversion from the Big Wood River to the Little Wood River.
“The goal is to get the fish in that situation out of there and take them home and put them in the freezer versus dying when the water is gone,” Thompson said.
The drought has particularly affected south-central Idaho this year, water officials said.
“The problem is that we went into this last winter with a very low reservoir,” Thompson said. “Then there was very little gain in water levels over the winter and spring.”
Fish and Game stocked the Richfield Canal with 1,000 rainbow trout in April.
"It's one of our more popular fisheries," said Mike Peterson, regional fisheries manager. "So, a lot of fish have already been removed."