Thursday, April 18, 2024
37.0°F

Spring Mack Days gears up for March 14 opener

The 2024 Spring Mack Days Fishing Event sponsored by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is just around the corner. Lake trout anglers are gearing up to hit the waters of Flathead Lake for the 59-day event, which begins next Thursday, March 14, and continues through Saturday, May 11.

Up to $225,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded at the conclusion of the event, which is sanctioned by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have a special tribal fishing permit available for those plying the south half of Flathead Lake. Check with fishing license vendors for the permit.

Enter just one fish to qualify for the lottery drawings that begin at $2,000 and go to $100. Fish one day or fish every day. As your fish total goes up over 11 lake trout entries you begin to accumulate bonus dollars. The higher your total number of fish entries the higher the bonus amount. Categories for special prizes are Ladies, Youth 12 and Under and 13-17, Captains, 70 and Over, Largest Lake Trout, Smallest Lake Trout, Top Twenty Anglers, and more.

The $10,000 tagged lake trout is named “Leto” – meaning “the hidden one” – and he/she lurks somewhere in the depths of Flathead Lake. Who would not like to have this fish on the end of their line at the end of the day?

There will also be three $5,000 and six $1,000 tagged lakers. Those higher dollar lake trout are tagged before each event begins and the old ones are revalued to the lower values.

There are over 9,000 lake trout with values from $100 to $500. The adipose fin has been clipped on a tagged fish so the clipped fin fish are all scanned for tags when brought in. Just a caution though: not all lake trout with clipped fins have tags.

Anglers have reported at times fishing one spot and clipping fins when releasing fish in a spot to identify any they might catch a second time during the day. The adipose fin is a soft thick fleshy fin and is easy to clip for that purpose. Fisheries staff double tag some lake trout for retention information. When those fish come in and are identified as having two tags they get scanned on each side. Loss of a tag in double tagged lake trout is very rare.

There have been three $10,000 tagged lake trout turned in over the years. Terry Krogstad of Kalispell landed one during the 2021 fall event; Matt Guckenberg of Kalispell hooked one in the 2020 Spring Mack Days; and Felix Gauci of Stevensville brought one in during the 2014 fall event. Roger Schiff of Kalispell turned in the only $5,000 tagged winner in fall of 2013. Five $1,000 tagged lake trout have been turned in as winners.

We encourage participation in the event for anyone who loves to fish! All it takes is one lake trout entry to qualify for one of the many prizes. Enter up until the last day of the event.

The CSKT Fisheries Program’s management goal for Mack Days is to slowly reduce the smaller-sized lake trout population to increase the native bull trout and westslope cutthroat populations. The goal is not to completely eliminate the lake-trout population, but to find a better balance between a recreational fishery based largely on lake trout and to improve on and have a healthier native trout-bull trout and westslope cutthroat population. We can make a difference in these populations of native fish for future generations by working on this goal together.

The Blue Bay Fisheries Building is Mack Days headquarters. Fish can be entered at Blue Bay from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday to Sunday or one-half hour before dark, whichever comes first. We try to give everyone as much daylight fishing time as possible but we have to have a limit on the hours. Lake trout are to be turned in the same day as caught.

Other check-in locations, open Fridays-Sundays are: Big Arm State Boat Ramp: 5-5:30 p.m.; Salish Point Boat Ramp in Polson: 6-6:15 p.m.; Somers State Boat Ramp: 3:30-4:30 p.m.; and Wayfarers State Park Boat Ramp in Bigfork: 5-5:30 p.m.

All fish caught May 11 must be turned in at Blue Bay by 3 p.m., when awards will be announced.

Kolton Turner of Kalispell has won the Top Angler category for the past three spring events. His total last spring was 2,089; he turned in 1,582 in 2022 and 1,856 in 2021. Jason Mahlen of Kalispell still holds the best 18-day average during an event with 100-fish average in 2019. His total lake trout entries were 2,134. Jason has won Top Angler seven times.

Will one of them win this year or will someone new come along and make a move? The Top Twenty Anglers each receive a cash award.

Our oldest, most treasured angler is 93-year-old Leonard Lewis of Missoula. Leonard entered the Spring Mack Days but stated he is not sure he will make it onto the water. We are wishing him the best and hope to see him out on the lake with fish in the cooler.

The mackdays.com website is not running at this time. Send your entries with name, address, telephone number, and age if 70 or over to cindy.benson@cskt.org or call 406-270-3386. 

Be weather alert while on the water. Have PFDs on, use common sense and follow all Tribal, State, and Coast Guard Boating Regulations.