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Kalispell man catches Mack Days $10,000 fish

Hagadone News Network | June 23, 2020 1:00 AM

For the just the second time in tournament history, the famous $10,000 tagged lake trout has been caught during the annual Mack Days event on Flathead Lake.

Kalispell’s Matt Guckenberg Sr. brought the valuable fish to net in the Yellow Bay area. It was one of 1,492 macks anglers caught Friday.

The 16-inch fish was tagged and put back in the lake March 18, according to tournament official Cindy Bras-Benson.

Guckenberg Sr. fishes with his son, Matt Guckenberg Jr. They weren’t sure the magic fish was even a tagged one, but they made sure to keep it.

“You can tell when the adipose fin is clipped, but it wasn’t clear with this one, so we took a chance and it’s worth the chance,” Guckenberg Sr. said.

He said he received a phone call from tournament official Cindy Bras-Benson later Friday night it was the $10K keeper.

“It was a pretty normal day fishing, better in the morning,” Guckenberg said. “He didn’t go too far from where he was tagged.”

The fish was tagged in Skidoo Bay and Guckenberg Sr. caught it on the west side of Bird Island.

Guckenberg said fishing with his son is what makes the event special for them.

“He’s been fishing with me since he was 7 and he’ll be 15 soon, so we both enjoy being on the water,” Guckenberg Sr. said.

The junior Guckenberg leads the 13- to 17-year-old group with 384 macks.

Guckenberg Sr. caught a $200 tagged fish last week. He currently is eighth in the standings with 583 fish. He also caught a pair of $200 fish on opening weekend in March.

“We’ll use the money on family recreation and things for the boat. The boat always needs something,” he said.

The last angler to catch the $10,000 trout was Felix Gauci of Stevensville. He caught a 10-inch lake trout during the 2014 Fall Mack Days event.

Mack Days, which began in 2002, is held in the spring and fall as part of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribe’s effort to reduce the lake trout population in Flathead Lake, which has wiped out the huge water body’s kokanee salmon fishery and severely reduced its cutthroat and bull trout.

There are still three $5,000 tagged fish and five with $1,000 tags. There are more than 6,000 tagged macks with values from $100 to $500.

This is the last full week for anglers with the tourney ending Sunday, June 28. There will be no awards ceremony or fish fry on the last day due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. All lake trout entries end at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Through Sunday, 221 anglers had turned in a total of 22,624 lake trout entries.

Up to $225,000 in cash and prizes sponsored by CSKT will be awarded at the conclusion of the event.

Saturday’s total came to 1,838 and Sunday ended with 1,229 for 4,559 entries over the weekend.

Kalispell’s Jason Mahlen continues to lead the top 10 with a total of 1,211. Mahlen is gunning for his seventh Mack Days title.

His chief competition is Kalispell resident Kolton Turner. He is second with 1,069 macks.

Another Kalispell angler, Bob Turner, is third with 1,000 fish.

Six-time champion Mike Benson of Lonepine is fourth with 887 fish. In fifth is Sam Cusker of Bigfork with 870 fish, while Larry Karper of Florence is sixth with 624. Lolo’s Jack Kirkland is seventh with 586 fish.

After Guckenberg Sr., Kalispell’s Ken Varga is ninth with 517 fish and son Tyler Varga is 10th with 512.

Top 10 anglers will be placed by their best 12-day average at the end of the event.

In the ladies category, Julie Perkins of Kalispell is first with 331 and Connie Jones of Kalispell is second with 56. Debbie Paine of Polson is fourth with 49, Laurie Kreis of Huson is fifth with 44 and Nicole Peters of Missoula is fifth with 32 macks.

In the 13- to 17-year-old group, Matt Guckenberg Jr. of Kalispell leads with 384, Leah Banyai of Kalispell is second with 41, Wyatt Thompson of Bigfork is third with 25, Madison Mahlen of Kalispell is fourth with 17, and Allison Hotchkiss of Missoula is fifth with 11.

In the 12-and-under age group, Kalispell’s Brodie Smith is first with 136, Colton Marrone of Kalispell is second with 67, Karson Cox of Charlo has 27, Aldon Wood of Kalispell has 24, and Josey McIllangey of Kalispell has 14.

Other tagged lake trout were caught during the fourth week were Hank McCloud-Kalispell-$500; Bob Turner, Will Best-Florence, Tyler Varga and Joe Quimby-Polson each had $200 tagged fish; John Dorias-Big Arm, Mike Cosby-Thompson Falls, Tristan Persico-Missoula (2), Craig Morigeau-Polson, Jack Kirkland, Glenn Hoffman-Missoula, Clint Speer-Kalispell, Travis Banyai-Kalispell, and Sam Cusker all had $100 tags.

For more information go to and click on the events tab for the drop down boxes or call 406-270-3386.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or

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