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Mack Days fishing tournament begins

POLSON — Lake trout were illegally introduced to Flathead Lake in the 1920s. While it remains unclear as to who put them into the lake, it is clear they were brought from the Great Lakes region via the trans continental railroad. 

“It’s called ‘bucket biology,’” said Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Natural Resource Department Manager Rich Janssen. “People will transplant fish from one body of water into another without knowing the ramifications on the water system ecology.”

In Flathead Lake’s case, those ramifications have been the near-extinction of native species of cutthroat trout and bull trout. Both are on the endangered species list, and according to CSKT Information and Education Officer Germaine White, “They’re hanging on by a fin. We’re trying to keep them from blinking out of existence.”

“(Cutthroat and bull trout) are astonishingly amazing. These fish have been here for tens of thousands of years. They’re native here. This is the environment they’ve adapted in and we hope that they remain here. This is an extraordinarily unique landscape,” White said.

CSKT Wildlife Division Manager Tom McDonald said Flathead Lake’s bull trout population is estimated to be at 3,000 adult fish, while the lake trout population is hovering around half a million. 

“The abundance of lake trout is just too much for the ecosystem. We’ve been able to stabilize the lake trout population, and at this point in time we haven’t lost bull trout in Flathead Lake, but they’re not expanding,” McDonald said. 

In fall of 2002, a new adaptive management idea was to enlist the help of anglers in controlling the lake trout population with Mack Days.

A fishing derby held every spring and fall, Mack Days has become a community staple with a 100 fish per day limit and up to $125,000 in cash and prizes. The idea is to involve anglers in the conservation process by increasing the take limit to 100 lake trout per day. Last fall’s top 10 anglers caught more than 8,000 fish and won a total of $4,500 during the 25-day event. This spring, they harvested more than 60,000 fish.

Contests range from largest lake trout, smallest lake trout, most lake trout, and many more. 

As a result of lake trout introduction and overpopulation, Kokanee salmon have disappeared from Flathead Lake and Mysis shrimp populations have exploded by eating zooplankton in the upper waters of the lake. Mysis shrimp serve as a food source for the lake trout that live in deep water.

Unwanted fish caught during Mack Days may be processed for free at the Blue Bay campground during the weekends. These fish will be given to local food banks. A myriad of information regarding how to fish for, catch and cook lake trout can be found at www.mackdays.com. 

According to local Flathead Lake fishing expert Dick Zimmer, also known as “The Macman,” fall fishing will probably be very similar to what it has been all of August. Zimmer said if anglers are jigging, they should stay at around 300 to 350 feet and use a 1-ounce all glow rattle disaster rig or a glow grub of either the 1.25-ounce or the 2-ounce variety. These should be baited with cut bait and liberally scented. 

“At that depth there’s no light, so scent is a big factor,” Zimmer said. “A liberal spray of shrimp oil directly into the bait bag will be a plus. “Because scent is so important, changing bait often is also important,” he added.

Zimmer said those using a trolling system should move a bit closer to shore as the water is beginning to cool. Use a leaded or steel line and a variety of spoons, hoochies and squid. “If guys want a part of the big fish, T-50 black fish will work well,” he said. 

Zimmer is currently fishing for bait and buying bait fish brought into his tackle shop. He pays 50 cents per pound for everything over 8 inches and 17 cents per fish for everything under 8 inches.

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