Too many fish, not enough time
During the fall there are too many options and not enough time. With the fish working on building a nutritional surplus for winter, they become exceptionally active. The smallmouth bass are responsive to almost anything you throw at them, and the lake trout (mackinaw) have begun their pre-spawn feed. Notice that the Mack Day Tournament begins Sept 21.
Perch are especially active in the main Flathead Lake, beyond the narrows, as well as the east side of Polson. Kokanee have begun to spawn so, for the most part, are off the table except in the lakes and streams where snagging is legal.
The excellent lake white fishing season has come to a close or at least is greatly diminished. Whitefish will again become active in the river above the lake in mid-October, and depending on water temperatures, around the Armed Forces Memorial Bridge at Polson. If you’d like to see an abundance of these large fish, take a walk on the bridge after dark towards the end of September or the first part of October. Hundreds of them gather on the shade line from the street lights.
At this time, Sept. 12, there is an abundance of large bass being caught in the Ninepipe and Pablo Reservoirs. Pablo Reservoir is also giving up quite a few midsize pike (three to four pounders). Many of us have been attempting to get the bureaucrats at the Bison Range to open these reservoirs early as soon as ice conditions are safe but so far no success.
As water temperatures drop to around 50 degrees most of the warm-water species will become sluggish and difficult to catch.
East Bay, Turtle Lake, Crow Reservoir, and Kicking Horse Reservoir are among the first local bodies of water to freeze up. East Bay and Turtle Lake are primarily perch fisheries although East Bay produces some lake trout and Turtle Lake has some bass. Kicking Horse’s perch are generally small so the main draw here is a multitude of trout species (rainbow, browns, brookies and cutthroat) as well as largemouth bass and a new thriving pike population.
Crow Reservoir, since it has been drawn so low, has become a fishery dominated by mostly brown trout and some rainbows.
Late in the ice fishing season, last year, the ice thickened enough to fish on the Big Arm area. Not only was there an abundance of multi-sized perch with some real jumbos, the magic depth being about 37 feet, but out at 50 to 60 feet fishermen were catching some ‘lunker’ lake trout using a whole fish setup. I personally landed on 16-pounder and another 19 ½ pounder.
The water between Melita Island and the south shore will have safe ice sooner than the rest of the bay because it is protected from both the north and the south winds. Here your catch will be almost entirely lake trout, although, if you use small flies with maggots, you can pick up some whitefish.
The Mack Days contest that is about to begin usually finds fishermen having the best success fishing deep water, 120 to 200 feet, initially. As the “lakers” move to their spawning areas from mid-October on they are more readily caught shallow, 20 to 80 feet, with trolling as opposed to jigging, earlier being the best approach. Because the contest is based more on numbers of fish than size, several fishermen continue to jig deep, targeting immature fish and doing well.
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