POLSON – Steven Benson caught himself a $1,000 lake trout as Spring Mack Days started its 10-day sprint to the finish line over the weekend.
Benson, involved in a dogfight with Craig Morigeau of Polson for third place in the overall standings, pulled up one of the Flathead Lake fishing tournament’s 10 lake trout tagged for a worth of $1,000 on Friday.
There’s still one $10,000 tagged fish, and five worth $5,000, swimming around, but the 850 anglers entered this spring will now be chasing one less $1,000 fish.
More than 4,000 more have been tagged for values ranging from $100 to $500. Indeed, the tournament has already paid out $14,000 for tagged fish this spring, the bulk of it $100 at a time.
The chance of catching a tagged fish appears more likely at this point than the chance of anyone catching leader Jason Mahlen of Kalispell
Mahlen has turned in 1,403 lake trout this spring, a total that qualifies him for $5,700 in bonus payouts. Interestingly, even though he’s caught more than 400 fish more than any other angler, Mahlen has only caught two tagged lake trout.
He turned in one worth $200, and one worth $100, on the tournament’s opening day back on March 15, and none of the other 1,401 fish he’s caught have been tagged.
They have, however, given Mahlen a commanding lead in the race to be crowned Spring Mack Days champion.
The top 10 places overall will be decided by the average of anglers’ 18 best days on the water out of a potential 34.
Mahlen was averaging 63.67 over his 18 best after Sunday.
Following eight consecutive three-day weekends of fishing, anglers are now adding to their totals as we speak. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the start of 10 consecutive days of fishing to close out the 2013 tournament.
Mahlen is chasing last year’s record individual total of 1,551, set by Don Beville of Lakeside.
In second place was Steven Benson’s brother, Mike of Lonepine, who is averaging 44.17. He’d caught 917 lake trout as of Sunday.
The race for third was razor-close. Morigeau was averaging 40.67 lake trout over his best days, while Steven Benson, who is from Four Lakes, Wash., was averaging 40.5.
Steven Benson, who has fished more days than Morigeau, had 884 total lake trout to Morigeau’s 804.
Using averages rather than totals, the rest of the top 10 were Danny Smith of Hot Springs, 36.89 (745 total); Scott Mahlen of Kalispell, 35.06 (742); Bryan Long of Kalispell, 31.39 (565); Dean Vaughan of Charlo, 30.44 (548); Jerry Benson of Plains, 29.06 (593); and Darren Borgen of Columbia Falls, 27.44 (494).
There’s a good battle for that 10th and final spot in the money as well. David McDaniel of Polson has caught more fish – 567 – than some of the others, but his 18-best-days average is 27.16.
Other anglers put some space between themselves and their closest competitors in the other categories as the tournament entered its final seven days.
Garett Vaughan of Charlo will run away with the 12-and-younger youth division title. He has 331. Next closest is Matt Guckenburg of Kalispell with 37.
Danner Shima of Kalispell has opened up a healthy lead in the 13-to-17 age group. Shima is at 303, while second-place Connor Kowalski of Florence has 178.
Susan Martin of Polson leads the women’s division at 267, 65 more than Julie Vacca of Florence, who’s at 202.
Spring Mack Days wraps up Sunday, May 19.