POLSON - A co-championship remains a possibility in Spring Mack Days, as more than 1,100 anglers head into the final weekend of the Flathead Lake fishing tournament.
But Steven Benson of Columbia Falls will have to reel in his limit of 50 lake trout both Friday and Saturday to forge a deadlock with leader Stephen Naethe, the Pablo teenager and defending champ.
Benson picked up one of the three "perfect" days over the weekend he needs to tie Naethe, who is already averaging 50 fish a day over his 15 best. Warmer weather significantly altered the fishing for some anglers over the weekend, however, and Benson's 50-fish Friday dropped off to catches of 24 and 15 on Saturday and Sunday.
While Naethe can't be touched in totals, the rules state that places - including first - will be determined by the average of all anglers' 15 best days on the water out of a possible 32.
Benson has caught his limit 13 times. He is averaging 49.4 over his 15 best days, and has second place locked up no matter what.
With Sunday the official close of the tournament and that day's catch figured into totals, but not the 15 best-day average, it leaves Benson with two days to force Mack Days' first-ever tie.
Mack Days titles were originally settled by totals, but a few tournaments ago organizers switched it to encourage participation by anglers who couldn't fish every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for several consecutive weekends.
That's when tourneys ran seven weekends, and the 12 best-day averages determined the standings.
When the tourney expanded to 11 weekends this spring, the best-day average was upped to 15. Officials consulted with anglers about whether a tie-breaking formula should be implemented when it became clear a deadlock was possible, and elected to stick with the rules as published before the tournament began.
No one expected so many anglers to catch their limit so many times, and so many fish to be caught.
"When we started, I was hoping to reach 20,000," says Cindy Benson, who manages Mack Days for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, "and now it looks like we could hit 35,000."
The total (and record) harvest this spring jumped to 31,975, and for the third time anglers caught more than 1,000 fish each day of the weekend.
Every angler in the top 21 places has caught their limit at least once, and every angler in the top 11 has done it at least twice.
Naethe's caught his 50 17 times out of 30 days so far. The teenager is almost certain to exceed $4,100 in bonus payouts alone for his total harvest, which stands at 1,317 and guarantees him $3,975 even if he doesn't catch another fish.
Following Benson's 13 days of catching his limit are David McDaniels of Polson with 10, Charles Forgey of Arlee with eight, and Michael Benson of Lonepine with seven.
The top 10, by the 15 best-day average, are Naethe (50), Steven Benson (49.4), McDaniels (47.4), Michael Benson (45.1), Forgey (43.1), Daniel C. Long of Columbia Falls (40.9), Craig Morigeau of Polson (37.9), Jerry Benson of Plains (36.3), Tyson Atkinson of Charlo (34.5) and Don Peters of Missoula (32.8).
By totals, it goes Naethe, Steven Benson (1,105), Michael Benson (953), McDaniels (940), Forgey (854), Morigeau (743), Roger Smart of Ronan (723), Jerry Benson (718), Long (679) and Danny Smith of Hot Springs (602).
Nicole Peters of Missoula leads the women's division with 336, followed by Laurie Randall of St. Ignatius, who has 236.
Naethe, of course, will again win the 13-17 age category, where Brady Weible of Charlo is second with 174. In the 12-and-under division, Garett Vaughan of Charlo - an 8-year-old who has a 50-fish day to his credit - is first with 230, and Tanner Murry of Columbia Falls has 128.
Twice-a-year Mack Days is used as a tool by the CSKT to reduce the non-native and predacious lake trout population in Flathead in an effort to increase numbers of native fish.
This spring's version wraps up Sunday with a fish fry and awards ceremony at 4 p.m. at Blue Bay on the lake's east shore. Cindy Benson reports that new anglers are still registering to participate in the tournament, where a single lake trout will get them entered in a lottery-type drawing for some of the $100,000 in cash and prizes available, as the final weekend approaches.
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.