Mack Days is back on Flathead Lake

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Lake County Leader | March 19, 2020 10:01 AM

As the temperatures get warmer and the days longer, it is once again time for spring Mack Days on Flathead Lake.

In it’s 36th event, occurring in both summer and fall every year, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are proud to host another important conservation event. This year’s Mack Days kicks off March 20 and will run through May 17.

Despite many events across Lake County being cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions, the Mack Days event is still set to move forward. Mack Days Manager Cindy Bras-Benson said they are altering their approach to collecting the fish entries in order to keep social interaction to a minimum. She is planning to have people individually come up to the door to submit entries and they will hand write each entry ticket.

“We’ll be managing the entry process differently to make it safer for everyone,” Mack Days manager Cindy Bras-Benson said.

Mack Days is designed to improve the ecosystem of the Flathead Lake by removing non-native trout and is a much needed conservation force.

Native trout are vitally important to the Flathead Lake’s ecosystem because they are self-sustainable. But even more so they are of significant importance to the history and tradition of the Salish and Kootenai tribes, as well as the history of Montana.

“It’s a huge conservation effort and it’s commendable that the tribes step up and try to do this so that future generations of Montanans will still have these wild, native fish in the lakes,” Bras-Benson said.

Years ago when mysis shrimp were introduced to the waters above the lake, it spearheaded a rapid increase in the lake trout population. As that population increased, the native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout dramatically decreased. In fall of 2002 the tribes started Mack Days as an attempt to decrease the lake trout population. The event was successful, and they have been hosting it every spring and fall since.

“The native fish, their population has declined so far down that they’re close to not even being there anymore. So we want to increase our numbers (of native fish),” Bras-Benson said.

As the temperatures have been milder this winter, Bras-Benson is hopeful many people will be ready to venture out on the lake. She said they need an increasing amount of people to participate in order to prove that the event is worthwhile.

“We need as many people out there as we can get to make this successful … So we’re sure going to be encouraging as many people as we can to come out and join in,” Bras-Benson said.

This year’s spring Mack Days includes up to $225,000 in cash and prizes available, and the largest payout potential for a tagged fish is $10,000. Tagged lake trout have a clipped adipose fin and are scanned for a tag when they come in at Blue Bay.

There are no entry fees and people will be allowed to register and turn in fish even on the final day of the event. Bras-Benson said the prize money originates from a fund the tribe gets for mitigation of the raising and lowering of lake waters.

“It has to be used for fish restoration because the mitigation money is for fish and wildlife issues,” Bras-Benson said.

Most of the protocols for this spring’s event remain the same as previous years and a full list of rules and regulations can be found on mackdays.com. The site includes fishing information, fish identification, weather, maps, entry forms and much more regarding fishing on Flathead Lake.

The organizers of the event are however very concerned about aquatic invasive species issues, therefore Mack Days will require all boats to be inspected in 2020 before launching at any site on Flathead Lake. Their website says this is for the protection of the lake and everyone who cares about it.

Bras-Benson is anticipating another great turnout for the event and remains hopeful for restoring the native ecosystem of the Flathead Lake.

“We’re doing it to save those fish and hopefully see them in this lake in years to come…,” she said. “These species of all kinds decline, it’s happening all over in all different areas, we all need to step up and try to make a difference.”

Reporter Whitney England may be reached at 758-4419 or wengland@dailyinterlake.com