I marvel daily when I think back on milestones or markers in my life, and how long it has been since something began, ended or lasted. Take, for example, my tenure with writing this column for the Daily Inter Lake.
I wrote my introductory column in February of 2014, almost five years ago. Five years (and over 100 instances) of writing a column that is intended to educate, inform and hopefully, entertain readers in the Flathead Valley and thanks to the internet and the Daily Inter Lake’s web page, readers anywhere in the world have access.
Going into 2019, it is really hard to comprehend everything that has happened over the last five years, and certainly over the last decade or so since I began guiding full time, and even more difficult looking back to the 20-plus years since I arrived in the Flathead! A LOT has changed, so I thought I would take a look back and reminisce about the last 20 years.
First and foremost on my mind has been the change to the Flathead Lake fishery, driven primarily by the non-native lake trout, or mackinaw. In 2000, a comprehensive co-management plan between Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes began, fueled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services decision to list the Bull Trout as a “threatened” species.
Over the next 10 years, these three agencies implemented some very controversial strategies, many times at complete odds with each other, that included the “Mack Days” derby, and an increased lake trout limit that is now 100 fish per angler per day, and ended in 2010 with Fish and Game’s decision to manage the north end of Flathead Lake separately, and the tribes’ decision to implement gill netting and remove the lake trout slot limit on the south end. Flathead Lake is now a much, much different fishery.
Another milestone has been the increased interest in ice fishing in the valley, especially when compared to the rest of the state. A large factor in this has been driven by competitive ice fishing, and the tools and technology that competitive anglers use and their adaptation to every-day ice angling. The Perch Assault tournament started in 2006 with 62 teams participating and has averaged over 50 teams per event in its 14-year run.
As a species worth targeting, and preserving, changes to perch regulations now see several lakes in the valley designated as “trophy perch” waters, changes certainly fueled by this tournament, and others, helping to change anglers’ perception of the yellow perch. Josh Emmert’s current state record 2.39-pound JUMBO is a shining example of why “perch lives matter!”
Another non-native fish, the walleye, has caused some controversy in and near the valley as well, starting with the fight over the presence of walleye in the Noxon Reservoir/Lower Clark Fork River. Anglers really stepped up and fought for this popular fish and it was recently announced that Fish and Game, after almost 10 years of research, meetings and decision making, will no longer target the fish for eradication, instead choosing to acknowledge the fish is thriving and providing great opportunities for anglers and the local business community.
A breath of fresh air, common sense smells very sweet indeed.
Last, and certainly NOT least, is the success of the “South Fork Project”, a multi-year plan to rehabilitate fishing for native westslope cutthroat trout in lakes that drain to the South Fork of the Flathead River.
Over the last 50 years, these lakes’ genetics had become diluted and polluted, due to fish stocking, and this project ended in 2018 with all the targeted lakes now returned to their pre-stocking glory! These lakes have been forever changed and now offer a native trout fishery that is second to none.
Of course, these are just a couple of examples of changes to the fisheries as I have seen them change. What will we be talking about in 2024, or 2039? Only time will tell!
I’ll see you on the water.
Remembering fishing milestones over the years
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