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Lessons from the K&K

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Lessons from the K&K

Clint Nicholson writes about his first Derby and thoughts on the effort to preserve our fishery

This year’s K&K Spring Fishing Derby started out with the nicest weekend of the year, with temperatures reaching into the high 60s, maybe even the low 70s. This is only the second Derby I have fished, and I still have a lot to learn.

First thing I learned this year was that good weather doesn’t mean good fishing. In fact, I was quite disappointed, along with the other guys on the boat who were complaining about the sunny weather. They wanted a 15 mph wind (gusting to 30), gray skies, white-capped waves, and heck, they would have settled for some rain and snow. The “Wave Hopper” can handle it! After catching my largest Rainbow ever in the Fall Derby during this type of weather, I was convinced they were right. Thanks Dave, Bernie, Brian, and Jack.

After 14 hours of riding around in the boat with sunglasses and sunscreen, with not even a bite, I soon realized that good weather wasn’t always so good. My boat mates, many of them with 25 years of experience fishing this lake and several trophies, helped me to understand: while fishing is still great, catching is poor.

It wasn’t just the weather. After I finished my three-egg omelet with ham, cheese, jalepenos, bacon, a pile of hash browns and two English muffins (I also learned breakfast on the “Wave Hopper” is the best), they went on to explain to me why fishing is declining.

First is the Idaho Fish & Game’s plan to rid the lake of predator fish. And let me tell you, they deserve a pat on the back - their plan is working. Since 2005, the winning Derby fish has decreased in size considerably. In 2005, the winning Rainbow Trout for the Spring Derby was approximately 22 pounds. In 2006, 18 pounds; 2007, 15 pounds; 2008, 12 pounds. Mackinaw, or Lake Trout, has seen the same experience in winning weights.

This is a big disappointment for experienced fishermen on Lake Pend Oreille, especially ones who remember letting go of 18-pound Rainbows because it was going to take a 20-pounder just to get into the money. Fishing is slow, and catching a big fish is getting tougher everyday.

IDF&G hired a netting crew to come in and set up a series of nets to capture predator fish. It’s working. The number of fish being killed in these nets is unconscionable. These nets are also capturing fish that many people may not have known were in the lake, most notably Walleye, another predator fish with similar feeding habits as the Rainbow. IDF&G put a bounty on the Rainbow and Mackinaw. For every Rainbow or Mackinaw caught, you receive $15 for the head if it’s turned into IDF&G. There are some rules, so make sure to check your regulations before sending in fish heads.

The question needing answered is this: “What happens when all the predator fish are gone?” Well, the answer IDF&G wants to hear is that the Kokanee population begins to explode. You have to realize that IDF&G has their neck out on a limb here. All of this work is being done so that the Kokanee population can gain a stronghold and rebound to sustainable levels. This will benefit those who enjoy catching Kokanee, but it will also benefit those who enjoy catching large Rainbow because it will provide a main food source for the Rainbow. But will it work? That is the million-dollar question. If it doesn’t work, the IDF&G will have a huge failure on their hands to deal with, and what to do next will be even more scrutinized. Their track record has been questionable over the last 20 years for this lake. Can we trust what they are doing now is the answer, or will this just deplete the lake of trophy size Rainbow Trout? The answer may be years away.

I, for one, have my doubts the Kokanee will ever prosper in this lake again. It is not only the Mackinaw that have infiltrated Lake Pend Oreille, but now there’s a very strong Small Mouth Bass population, and it appears that the Walleye population is taking hold. There are some rumors that Northern Pike have made their way into our lake, and this is bad news if true. The Mysis Shrimp, still competing with the Kokanee, will keep the struggle going. The Army Corps of Engineers must raise and lower the lake, so the Kokanee spawning grounds will always be threatened.

It just seems to me that the Kokanee hardly stand a chance with so many factors against them, which means that IDF&G may not stand much of a chance either. But give them credit, they have accomplished, or at least are close to accomplishing, their goal. No more predator fish!

At the advice of my fellow fishermen, I’ve decided to mount my 11.2-pound Rainbow and hang it on my wall. According to them, it may take 20 or more years before I catch another Rainbow of this size, or worse yet, I may never catch another Rainbow this size.

One thing, however, will remain the same: I will continue to try, year after year, to catch a bigger fish than the one hanging on my wall.

Click here for more information on the plan to rid Lake Pend Oreille of predator fish.

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