The Trout Ponds Project was initiated in 1995 as part of the Northwest Power Planning Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, with the objective of using resident fish substitution actions to provide Nez Perce Tribal members with resident fisheries to mitigate in part for lost anadromous fisheries caused by the construction of Dworshak Dam on the North Fork Clearwater River. There are currently three put-and-take pond fisheries managed by the Project, all within the Nez Perce Reservation. One is located at Mud Springs Pond in the Lapwai Creek drainage near the town of Winchester, another at Talmaks Pond in the Lawyer Creek drainage near the town of Craigmont, and the third at Tunnel Pond in the Clearwater River canyon near Orofino. These ponds provide Tribal members with subsistence and recreational harvest opportunities for hatchery-raised rainbow trout, as well as providing benefits to wildlife. In addition, Tunnel Pond is open to the general public on a user-fee basis, providing communities with an easy access family fishery that also allows disabled veterans, retirement center residents, school students, and other groups with outdoor recreational and educational opportunities.
The two reservoir ponds at Mud Springs and Talmaks, constructed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1964, were renovated by the project in 1996-99 to reinforce the dam structures damaged by floods in 1996 and deepen the ponds to increase trout habitat. Tunnel Pond was designed and constructed by the project in 1999-2000 through excavation of alluvial sand and rock, creating a pond fishery while preserving and enhancing adjacent wetlands areas. Anglers and other users of the pond sites often express their enjoyment of viewing wildlife ranging from bald eagles, ospreys, great blue herons, kingfishers, Canadian geese, wood ducks and other waterfowl, to bears and cougars, beaver, otter, deer, and elk.
The Trout Ponds Project operates in an Operations and Maintenance phase with tasks including stocking fish, monitoring harvest, fish populations, and pond water quality, and maintenance work at the three pond sites, as well as coordinating contract work with and providing reports to the funding agency Bonneville Power Administration. Other project activities include providing community outreach and education to schools and other community groups. Major events on the project schedule include an annual Free-fishing Day event held on opening day at Tunnel Pond on the weekend nearest the beginning of April. A “Kid’s Fishing Day” event is held in May, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery, to promote appreciation of fishing and outdoor activities for youth. The Project provides quality fisheries for an annual church camp held at Talmaks the week of July 4, and a cultural camp held the first week of August at Mud Springs.