POLSON – The first day of Spring Mack Days produced an eight-way tie for first place.
By the end of the second day, a familiar name was alone on top.
Pablo teenager Stephen Naethe caught his limit of 50 lake trout out of Flathead Lake on Friday’s opening day, when a whopping seven other anglers did likewise.
But Naethe – the defending champion who won last fall’s event as well – was the only one to duplicate the feat on a windy Saturday en route to an opening three-day weekend total of 134.
Anglers harvested 2,820 lake trout on the first weekend of the 11-weekend-long affair, in which the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, sponsor of Mack Days, have upped the ante considerably in an effort to make a bigger dent in the population of the non-native and predatory population.
Already there are 745 anglers registered for the contest. While the bulk are from Lake, Flathead and Missoula counties, four states outside Montana — including Mack Days’ first-ever entrant from New York – are represented, as well as Canada.
And several of the names behind Naethe are ones new to the top 10.
Gerald Willet of Townsend is in second place with 117. He’s followed by Steven Biere of Butte (111), Charles Forgey of Arlee (108), Brad Forgey of Spokane (107), Jerry Plummer of Kalispell (92), Matt Slyder of Roundup (83), Dean Vaughan of Charlo (75), Roger Smart of Ronan (73) and Daniel Long of Columbia Falls (72).
Willet, Biere, both Forgeys, Slyder, Vaughan and Steve Benson joined Naethe in catching their limit of 50 lake trout on the first day. Naethe also turned in a tagged lake trout worth $500.
Doug Fransden of Missoula caught a $200 tagged fish, and $100 lake trout were turned in by Roger Smart and Craig Morigeau, Ryan Shima, David McDaniels, Brad Forgery and Larry Schmill.
Charlotte Benson of Plains leads the women’s division with 56 fish. Nicole Peters of Missoula – the first woman ever to finish in the top 10 overall, in last fall’s Mack Days – is second at 38, followed by Amber Sturgis of Missoula with 28.
Naethe, of course, also leads the youth division, where Brady Wieble of Charlo is second with 14.
Eventually, first place will be determined by anglers’ best 15 days on the water out of a possible 32, a rule designed to encourage participation by anglers who can’t fish every day of the tournament.
In addition to cash prizes for tagged lake trout (there are more than 2,000 of them, two worth $5,000), there are cash prizes in several more categories, including for the top finishers, and every fish caught gets an angler entered in lottery-style drawings for more than $16,000 in cash.
CSKT expanded this spring’s tournament from seven weekends to 11, and also raised the bonus payouts for total fish caught. Naethe’s 134 fish, for instance, have already earned him $185. If he continues on the same pace over the next 10 weekends he would end up collecting more than $4,400 in bonus payouts.
Anglers can enter Spring Mack Days at any point during its run by visiting www.mackdays.com.