Back from the Brink

A Sockeye Salmon Hatchey Gives Lonesome Larry Company

Story by Geraldine Mathias

Photos by Jim Mathias

My spouse Jim is an avid fisherman. Did I say avid? He’s a fanatic about fishing. When I told him I was driving down to the new Springfield Fish Hatchery for sockeye salmon to interview the manager and have a tour of the facility there, he was more than ready to accompany me. “I’ll be your photographer,” he announced.

Jim is a long-time member of the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which briefly owned the property. Because of that, and because he was occasionally invited to fish at Crystal Springs Pond when it was a trout farm, the area is well known to me. I drove past the place several times a few years ago while researching and photographing the area for an article I was writing about the nearby town of Springfield [“Springfield Spotlight,” IDAHO magazine, May 2013]. At that time, construction on the hatchery was only in its initial stages. I decided to wait until it was finished before investigating further.

The entire area just off Highway 39 near Springfield has plentiful springs, which have attracted settlers and water users for generations. The earliest recorded title for the land at the hatchery is 1909. It has undergone considerable changes in ownership and usage since then. At some point, the Ferguson family of Rexburg needed a place to raise and process trout for meals that were part of their weight-loss business. They purchased a large piece of land on Crystal Springs Road and established both raising runs and a large processing plant. Bish Beemer, a colorful local character, lived on the property and managed the trout farm.

When the Fergusons closed that part of their business, a portion of the property was sold to the Yanke family of northern Idaho, doing business as North Fork Energy, Inc. They retained it for investment purposes, and the processing plant was closed. After RonYanke died, the family decided to gift several low-performing properties. In 2005 the Yanke property was given outright to the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation. A family fishing pond was established there by the Idaho Fish and Game Department, although no fish were raised or hatched there at the time.

After a few years, the foundation sold the property to Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Snake River sockeye salmon had suffered many “insults” over the years, including early commercial fishing in the mid-1800s, habitat access, low water flows, and fish passage barriers. From 1910 to 1934, a small hydroelectric project blocked most or all returns to the upper Salmon River area. Many Idahoans remember “Lonesome Larry,” the single sockeye that returned to Redfish Lake in 1991.

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