By RALPH BARTHOLDT
Trevor Pool has been fishing.
“I caught a couple the other night,” the teenager with the Ray Bans tells fishing guide Rich Lindsey.
Lindsey has motored his 22-foot welded aluminum boat through calm, sun-slick water to the fuel dock at Hills Resort on Priest Lake where Pool mans the pump.
“I got one off the point, and another one at Four Mile,” Pool said, nodding toward the island, a green lump of fir and pine near the east shore of Priest Lake against a dropcloth of gneiss-backed mountains.
Pool fishes only as time allows, he said. The fish he caught weighed under five pounds, but the real anglers he knows, the ones who use cannon balls on their outriggers, chase bigger fish.
They are after mackinaw, he said.
Lindsey is among them.
Lindsey caught his first mackinaw — or lake trout — in the big lake in the Panhandle’s northwest corner in the 1960s, and knew he would return.
“I thought they were pretty cool fish,” Lindsey said of the speckled trout with the forked tails. The fish were sizeable, good to eat and people enjoyed catching them, he said.
Same as now.
When he returned in the 1980s to guide anglers on the lake after stints on Coeur d’Alene, Hayden and Pend Oreille lakes, it was deliberate.
He wanted to catch lakers, and so did his clients.
“I’m here by choice,” Lindsey said. “I love these fish.”
Most anglers who make the drive to fish on Priest Lake, and many who live nearby, seem to agree. Of almost 50 people who commented on the Priest Lake Bulletin Facebook page regarding a recent plan forwarded by Idaho Fish and Game to bolster Priest Lake’s kokanee, bull trout and cutthroat trout fisheries at the expense of removing lake trout, only three were in favor of the state’s latest management proposals.
The bulk of the comments follow a mantra that Lindsey often finds himself saying.
“Leave the lake alone.”
The utterance is spawned by the idea that Fish and Game’s fiddling with fisheries is not only costly, but the results are mixed.
The introduction of mysis shrimp in the 1960s into Priest Lake and Lake Pend Oreille turned both fisheries upside down.
The shrimp were added as fish food to increase the size of kokanee — also introduced — but instead competed with kokanee for zooplankton, a primary kokanee food source. The dwindling food supply resulted in the collapse of kokanee numbers in Priest Lake and nearby Lake Pend Oreille. In Pend Oreille, the demise of kokanee had a secondary effect. It caused numbers of trophy Kamloops — big, non-native rainbow trout that feed on kokanee — to diminish.
After spending years and millions of dollars to resurrect a failed kokanee and Kamloops fishery in Lake Pend Oreille, which included paying commercial and sport anglers to kill the mackinaws that flourished in the new conditions, the department has set its sights on Priest Lake.
That is the contention of fishers who believe Priest Lake’s dynamics aren’t the same as Pend Oreille’s. Mackinaws here live on mysis shrimp, not in spite of them. The mysis food source gives Priest’s lake trout a pinkish salmon-like meat that makes good table fare, and is one of the reasons anglers target the lake’s mackinaws.
“The fishery is starting to come back,” Lindsey said. “They need to just leave it alone.”
Justin Webb, a Sandpoint angler who likes to target trophy mackinaws, said by its spring gill-netting program in Upper Priest Lake, Fish and Game is already killing a large number of big lakers that travel upstream to spawn as it tries to stem bull trout predation.
“Priest Lake is the only place you can catch trophy lake trout right now,” Webb said. “I don’t know of any other lake in the region where a person can go to catch big lake trout. It is also home to the largest kokanee in the region and they are flourishing.
“If they don’t know why the kokanee are flourishing, It’s difficult for me to support killing lake trout, since they aren’t feeding on kokanee.”
As Lindsey, his chocolate lab pup, Rider, and two anglers motored away from the fuel dock in the heat of the day Tuesday, the latest lake management proposals ebbed for the time being in favor of wetting lines.
So far this season, anglers have scored some decent fish from his boat, Lindsey said. The biggest fish have pushed the scales over 30 pounds.
“We get a lot of two- and three-pounders,” he said.
The other day, a client pulled in a 23-pounder.
Lindsey charges by the half day and guarantees anglers catch fish.
Priest is one of the few places he’s certain to get bites. When the action slows, and the subdued lulling of the waves mix with the purring of the trolling motor, he resorts to tales of exploits past.
“You should have been here yesterday,” he quips.