Tribal DVDs teach how to catch Flathead Lake trout
Bailey Weible, Joe O’Hara and Brady Weible of St. Ignatius try their luck during Spring Mack Days. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have produced a two-set DVD called “Catching Lake Trout on Flathead Lake,” full of tips designed to take some of the luck out of the equation for both beginners and experienced anglers alike.
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‘Catching Lake Trout in Flathead Lake’
The two-disc DVD set “Catching Lake Trout in Flathead Lake,” a Flathead Lake bathymetric map and a fact sheet for fish identification are available from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for free at the CSKT Natural Resources Department, 406 Sixth Ave. E in Polson, or by calling Cindy Benson at 883-2888, ext. 7294. The instructional videos can also be watched online at Welcome.
POLSON – Almost 800 anglers are registered for Spring Mack Days on Flathead Lake this year, and even though more than 12,000 lake trout were caught over the first four weekends of the fishing tournament, you can’t say they all contributed to the harvest.
Almost three-quarters of them were skunked.
There are many reasons for this, including the likelihood that some have yet to fish, and others have only tried their luck once or twice.
Still, of the 228 anglers who have turned in at least one fish, one fish was all for 34 of them.
Another 16 were at two after the tournament’s first 12 days. Thirteen more had harvested just three.
Indeed, in a tournament where the leader reeled in 753 lake trout in the first four weekends, more than half the anglers who had likewise turned in lake trout still trailed him by at least 744 fish.
Well, don’t despair. Help is here.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, who sponsor the bi-annual Mack Days competitions, have – with the help of some of Mack Days’ top anglers – produced a two-disc DVD called “Catching Lake Trout in Flathead Lake.”
Notice it’s not called “Fishing for Lake Trout in Flathead Lake.”
“It’s not just a fishing video,” says Germaine White, information and education specialist for the tribes’ Natural Resources Department. “It’s a catching video.”
“It happens every time,” says Mack Days coordinator Cindy Benson. The tournament can attract up to 1,000 people who register for it – anyone can register, for free, at any point before or during the competition – but only a fraction actually catch any lake trout.
“It takes four or five trips out on the water just to get it figured out,” Benson says. “It takes a while to get used to the areas, the depths, and where to look. We want them to come out and turn in fish. A lot who don’t catch anything right away leave.”
With the video, the tribes hope to lessen the lake trout learning curve for anglers. The free educational packet they’ve put together includes the DVDs – one is on jigging, the other on trolling and shore fishing – a bathymetric map of the lake and a factsheet to help with fish identification.
The whole purpose of it all – from the tournament itself to the instructional videos – is to help slowly reduce the population of the non-native lake trout in Flathead, and make more room for native species such as bull and westslope cutthroat trout.
While the DVDs are meant to help beginners and intermediates, Benson reports that experienced lake trout anglers who have watched them say they’ve picked up things they didn’t know.
And the free educational packet is for anyone interested in fishing Flathead for mackinaw, as lake trout are also known, at any time, not just those who register for the spring and fall competitions.
A year in the making, “Catching Lake Trout in Flathead Lake” uses several of the tournament’s most successful anglers to describe everything from the rods, reels, line, lures, flies and bait they prefer, to their jigging, trolling and shore-fishing techniques, to their favorite spots.
“It’s hard to get started if you don’t know,” Benson says, “especially in a lake this large and deep.”
Retired fisheries biologist Don Peters of Missoula talks about the combination jig-and-fly he and his wife Nicole – the only woman to finish in the top 10 overall in Mack Days – use. The fly, a white zonker, is tied about a foot above the baited lure they dance off the lake bottom.
“Where we’ve seen the fly work the best is when the fishing’s really poor – nobody’s catching fish, and it’s really tough,” Peters says. “They start biting on smaller things – that’s an old fisherman’s adage, ‘Go small when they’re not biting well.’ ”
The fly above the lure imitates a small whitefish, he explains, and would represent more of a light snack to a lake trout that might be between larger meals. The Peters stick a Gulp maggot on the fly, and cut bait on the lure below.
“The reason is for this fish, you’re fishing in 200 feet of water where there’s very little light,” Peters says. “Scent is an important part of that fish finding your bait.”
The Peters, Scott Bombard of Missoula, Mike Benson of Lonepine, Wes Shockley of Plains and Dick Zimmer of Pablo all have segments on Disc One, which concentrates on jigging.
Disc Two features Benson, Shockley, Mike Howe and Jens Grans discussing trolling, plus Randy Hovet and Frank Stasso talking about shore- and dock-fishing for lake trout.
You’ll hear every tip you can imagine, from using Johnsonville-brand sausage as bait, to investing in a GPS “rope-less” anchor, where an independently operating trolling motor communicates with a satellite to swivel whatever direction is needed to hold your boat over a hot spot.
“They’re not cheap,” says Peters, who uses one, “but we’ve had good luck with it even in some of the worst winds. It’s a better system with a lot less effort.”
“Teaching people to fish for lake trout is a long-term investment in the protection of native fish in Flathead Lake,” Tom McDonald, manager of CSKT’s Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation, says.
“Catching Lake Trout” and the accompanying materials are yours for the asking – see the information box with this story – and the videos can also be viewed online, at Welcome.
“We’re keen on bringing every tool in the toolbox to management of the fishery,” White says, and whether you want to give lake trout fishing a try for the first time, or already have and are mostly frustrated, the DVDs and map could help you turn your fishing into catching.
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