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CRYSTAL LAKE / NIAGRA SPRINGS

Google Earth: N 4239'38", W 11438'51"

Date of Dive: 28-APRIL-2007
Weather: clear and HOT
Divers: Dave, Kathy and Malinda Washburn
Surface Support: none
Maximum depth: 10 Feet
Water temperature: 62
Duration of Dive: 2:02:00

Deciding whether to go wasn't easy. We talked to several people who told us the lake wasn't all that deep; apparently, that's mainly due to silt runoff from the fish hatchery next to it. But we didn't have any better ideas, so we decided to go check it out anyway. The drive was easy: go east on I-84 until you get to Exit 157 to Wendell. Turn right at the end of the ramp and keep going. That's it. There's a short stretch of unpaved road where it drops down into the canyon, but except for right when you get to the lake it's all paved. You pass through Niagra Springs Park to get there. The fee booth for Niagra Springs Park is self-pay, but there was a nice ranger lady there who helped us figure out where to go and what to do. We paid the $4 fee and headed on through the Niagra Springs area to Crystal Springs. Down in the canyon it's a beautiful drive; waterfalls of every shape and size on the left, the Snake River with white pelicans sitting on many of its huge boulders on the right.

We got to the lake and saw right away we were going to have a problem, because there were people fishing everywhere. The lake has about half a dozen little docks sticking out from the parking area, and they were all crowded with people. But we managed to locate a secluded little ingress where a dock has apparently been pulled out, and claimed it as our own.

As we started to get our gear together, a little girl on a bicycle crashed in the dirt right behind our minivan. I went to find her dad, and by the time I got back she was doing all right and she and two new friends were fascinated to watch what we were doing. We explained our gear to them, and they were really excited to watch us get into the water. They all wanted to know how old they have to be to get certified. It was quite enjoyable.

We made our way down to the water, and each of us sank in mud up to our calves when we stepped in. That wasn't so bad, but our booties filled with mud and little bits of gravel. While we were swimming it wasn't a problem, but when we got out, it was a nuisance. At any rate, we got our fins on and snorkeled out a ways toward the center of the lake. As far as we could see, it didn't show any signs of getting deeper than about 4 feet, so the first low spot we found, we went ahead and descended. I spent most of the day about a foot off the bottom, and my average depth was around 5 feet. At times we were kicking up algae and stuff with our fins while our tanks were sticking up out of the water. Most of the time we probably could have snorkeled, but it was nice not having to worry about swamping my snorkel. And when we hit the somewhat deeper spots, we just dropped down with the contour of the bottom.

The place smells heavily of algae, which probably isn't surprising. The most amazing thing for us was the clarity of the water. We could see probably about 30 feet most of the time. The algae has grown all over the underwater plants and other objects so that it looks like a totally alien world. There are places all over the pond where somebody has tried to dredge it out, but those are sporadic at best and really don't seem to have accomplished anything. The most interesting thing about them is, they tend to be full of tiny shells. In any case, we had been in the water about 30 minutes when we started seeing the fish.

The trout are huge. We have a picture of Kathy trying to catch one, which she tried to do because it swam right at her. There were countless schools of smaller trout, fingerling size; the ranger we talked to said they had just planted some fish in that pond, and I suspect those little guys were the plants. Then we came across some enormous blue fish that we couldn't identify. After discussion with the ddofid folks, opinions differ as to whether they're common carp or smallmouth buffalo suckers. Either way, they're gigantic and fascinating. We spotted what may have been one elusive bass hiding in the weeds; the picture we have of it doesn't really show enough of it for positive ID.

We covered pretty much the whole pond, which isn't surprising considering a) it's not very big, and b) we were in the water for 2 hours. We found the deepest spot at the west end, near the outflow where it empties into the Snake River; we also found some angry fishermen at that same place. We had surfaced to get our bearings and this guy was yammering at us about the fish. So we headed back in the general direction whence we had come, but made a little bit of a wrong turn and came too close to a dock where a kid was fishing. I came up and found his line across my face. I tried to back away and go around it, and thought I had succeeded until I felt a sort of "twang" on the back of my head. Turns out his 3-hook lure had caught on the fabric of my mask's Q-strap, and the fabric is stronger than his line was. I popped up and saw him running off to his dad to fuss about his lost hook; his dad turned out to be the same guy who had been yammering at us (thank you, Mr. Murphy and your famous Law). I never did see what came of all that, because I went back down and stayed here. I do still have the lure...

From there we turned to head over to the other side of the pond, roughly the north side, and encountered lots more fish. Because this pond is spring-fed, there are bubbles coming up from the bottom all the time. Sometimes they knock pieces of algae loose, so you have floating islands of algae, columns of it that extend from bottom to surface, every design and configuration you can imagine. It's quite beautiful. We found more of those blue fish and got some decent pictures. Along the way I picked up a plastic grocery bag and Malinda picked up a soda can. By a small log on the north side, we found a shoe. It was a full size, apparently in good condition, and when we saw it, we all thought "Oh, great. We'll find a foot in it and this will turn into an episode of CSI." But it was just the shoe, and we're not asking how it got there. Malinda picked it up to bring it back with us, but dropped it along the way. Oh well.

I also found an empty fish. There's a picture of it; I thought it was another piece of trash, but I picked it up and it was a fish skin with what was left of the head still attached. It makes me wonder whether another fish or a fisherman made off with the rest of him.

From the shoe, I took a compass bearing back toward our point of entry and we navigated right to it. Because of that soft mud at the edge, the girls had some trouble getting out, but with a little teamwork we got the job done. We got out, took our gear off, and grilled some hamburgers. We had considered doing a second dive, but concluded we had seen just about everything. Plus, it was after 5 PM, so we opted just to go home.

All in all, this dive was worth the drive over there and the effort to find an entry/exit spot. The visibility alone is worth it if you're used to diving places like Bob Rice, and the fish are a great bonus. The fishermen are a nuisance, but I'm sure they think the same about us. We probably won't go back there, but we don't regret going this time. Any Idaho diver should check this place out at least once, you'll love it.

You can check out our pictures from this dive HERE

Submitted by Dave Washburn


Date of Dive: 18-Mar-2004
Maximum Water Depth: 10 feet
Average Water Temp: 59
Above Water Temp: 72
Visibility: 40-50 feet

Lots of fish swimming around me. Took a roll and a half of film on this dive. Fishermen are also catching these fish. Not very deep water. This is well worth the price of gas and park fee to dive this site. The day fee is now $4 per vehicle.

Submitted by Harvey


Date of Dive: 14-Jun-2003
Maximum Water Depth: 15 feet
Average Water Temp: 62
Above Water Temp: 90
Visibility: 30 feet
Dive Access: Park by the lake - walk across road for shore access

Nice day trip to the Wendell area. Near park - works well for a BBQ. Admission at the gate is $3.00. Lots of seaweed and snails. Watch out for the trout - and angry fishermen! Reputed to be a GREAT night dive.

Bring along a carpet to dress on (dusty). Put-in points are shore, and 1 pier (5' deep) both off the main road. Lots of vegetation and plants throughout. An attempt to dredge in the center created some interesting holes.

Submitted by Chris


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