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Anglers lured to Flathead Lake in hopes of reeling in big fish, cash

Swimming somewhere out in Flathead Lake is a lake trout worth $10,000, just waiting to be caught by a skilled or very lucky angler. 

Matter of fact, upwards of $150,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to the best or luckiest anglers starting Friday, Sept. 21, during the annual Fall Mack Days tournament.

The event is hosted by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and sanctioned by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Fall Mack Days continue through the month of October and conclude on Sunday, Nov. 11.

Prior to the tournament’s start, more than 6,000-tagged lake trout have been released into the lake, each worth varying cash amounts. Numerous fish were released worth values of $100 to $500, five fish are worth $5,000 each, three fish are individually worth $5,000, and one “grand prize” fish is worth $10,000. 

Bonuses will be awarded to anglers depending on their total catch by the end of the event along with cash prizes for the largest and smallest lake trout caught. 

This fall marks the 16th anniversary of the Mack Days fishing derby used by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as a tool to suppress and diminish the number of non-native lake trout in Flathead Lake. The focus of the program is to help rebound the dwindling populations of native bull trout and westslope cutthroat fish in the lake. 

Lake trout were introduced in Flathead Lake in the early 20th century in an effort to attract tourists to the area and feed railroad employees. In the 1970s, as part of an effort to bolster the declining kokanee populations, state biologists introduced non-native Mysis shrimp into the lake. Their effort backfired and the lake trout population exploded.

An estimated 1.4 million lake trout inhabit Flathead Lake. Biologists have suggested that about 143,000 lake trout need to be harvested annually to actually start depleting the population. Anglers have pulled in more than 600,000 lake trout over the course of the Mack Days’ history.

In 2010, Nicole Peters recorded the largest fish caught in a Mack Days Event at 45-inches and 38.5-pounds, while John Gauci in 2014 recorded the smallest at 5.5 inches.

Although boat anglers may be trolling and jigging for that prize-winning trout this fall, shore anglers may have better success catching them. Lake trout spawn in the fall so they head in closer to steep rocky shorelines to lay their eggs.

According to the CSKT website, this year boaters won’t be able to compete in Mack Days unless their rigs have been inspected for zebra and quagga mussels, which are invasive species that attach themselves to rocks, docks and any other solid object including boat hulls. They’ve created enormous problems for recreationalists, fisheries and dam managers in eastern waters of the United States.

For more information, visit the Mack Days’ website at www.mackdays.com or call 406-883-2888 ex. 7294.

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