POLSON – Two friends fishing from the same boat during Fall Mack Days on Saturday caught tagged fish, meaning each had won some cash.
When they turned them in, Phil Meredith, who is in sixth place at the halfway point of the tournament, learned he had won $100.
Roger Schiff’s was worth a bit more.
Schiff, of Whitefish, became the first angler ever to catch a $5,000 lake trout during Mack Days.
The tourneys begin each spring and fall with one fish tagged for a worth of $10,000, and five worth $5,000, but the odds of landing one of the high-dollar mackinaw are long. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes estimate the lake trout population in Flathead Lake – which they want to reduce to help native species survive – at 1.35 million.
Ten more lake trout are tagged for $1,000 values, and 4,000 are tagged for prizes between $100 and $500.
“He couldn’t believe it,” said Cindy Benson, who helps run Mack Days for the tribes. “He was stunned. Sometimes people think we’re faking it” because no one has ever caught one of the big-money fish, “so we’re really happy one finally came in.”
It was the first weekend Schiff, who has entered previous Mack Days events, had fished in the tournament this fall.
His $5,000 lake trout, caught near Bird Island, was one of 17 he landed Saturday.
Mike Benson of Lonepine continues to lead the tournament.
He’s caught 585 lake trout, and leads Roger Dilts of Polson in the totals by 46 fish.
Eventually, the championship and top 10 will be determined by anglers’ 15 best days on the water out of a possible 25. The rule allows participants to take days off during the tournament, which started Oct. 4 and goes through Nov. 17, and still compete for the title.
Scott Bombard of Missoula is in third place at 503, followed by Tim Mooney of Missoula (455), Terry Krogstad of Kalispell (442), Meredith (414), Steven Benson of Four Lakes, Wash. (405), Danny Smith of Hot Springs (334), Max Martz of Corvallis (321) and Larry Ashwell of Missoula (251).
Jeanee Mooney of Missoula is first in the women’s division at 158, followed by Deana Knipe of Polson at 92.
The day after Schiff, who Cindy Benson said is a deputy with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department, caught his $5,000 lake trout, high winds cut into this fall’s harvest.
Benson said many anglers opted not to fish at all Sunday because of the winds forecast, and most others got off the water before it got bad. One angler who didn’t return in time spent the night on Bird Island waiting out the storm, which uprooted or snapped off trees as old as 300 years along Flathead’s east shore.
After registering catches of 784 on Friday and 595 on Saturday, Sunday’s total dipped to 263.
Total harvest this fall is at 8,449, still almost 2,000 lake trout ahead of last year’s total at this point, but 753 shy of the 2011 numbers.
Anglers can register for Mack Days at any point during its run, at mackdays.com. Tournament officials like to point out it only takes one fish to win.
They’re referring to the fact that each fish turned in gets an angler’s named entered in a lottery-style drawing for thousands of dollars in cash awards when the event wraps up on Nov. 17.
But as Roger Schiff figured out, a single lake trout can also become a $5,000 surprise.
The other four $5,000 fish, and one worth $10,000, are still in the lake.