Flathead Lake Fishing Heating Up

By Beacon Staff

With the warm weather of summer comes the hot fishing on Flathead Lake.

Anglers now are enjoying a brisk yellow perch fishery. While many anglers prefer to fish for the bigger lake trout, the small perch provide an exciting fishery for the creel and the frying pan. Perch, a non-native species to Flathead Lake, are an excellent eating fish, with white, flaky meat. They provide constant action, which if you’re fishing with kids, is crucial to keeping them interested.

One person who knows fish better than almost anyone on Flathead Lake is Dick Zimmer. Owner of Zimmer Tackle in Pablo, he fishes all year and knows what’s hot — and what’s not.

Right now, Zimmer is focused on yellow perch.

Last Saturday found Zimmer and fishing partner Steve Naethe at the North Elmo fishing access on Flathead Lake. “We had a great afternoon catching a variety of fish,” Zimmer says. Included in the catch were 58 perch and three mackinaw (lake trout). The best fishing depth was 40 feet, with the best chance for lake trout being a little deeper, Zimmer said. He and Naethe used simple float tubes to kick out to their hot spot. No fancy boats required here.

They used a fishing setup consisting of two flies baited with night crawlers above a bottom weight. A single large hook size 1 or 1/0, baited with a good-sized chunk of cut bait above a bottom weight, works best for lake trout, Zimmer recommends. Throw this mackinaw rig as far out into deep water. Give the lake trout a little time to ingest your bait after it strikes, Zimmer recommends, then set the hook. Fishermen Mario MacCarter and Andrew Zimmer got into some bigger perch, including some fish over 12 inches.

A healthy perch population depends on aggressively thinning them, Dick Zimmer says. “Predator fish (like lake trout) have a heavy impact on the smaller perch but the larger fish can be controlled by angler harvest,” he said. “Don’t worry about keeping too many.”

Zimmer says perch fishing should be excellent in the areas of Rollins, Dayton Bay, Elmo Bay, Big Arm Bay, and Skidoo Bay from now until mid–October.

right now is the format of the popular Mac Days fishing tournament.

This spring’s tournament “broke down toward the end of it,” Zimmer says, due to some accusations of unscrupulous fishermen vying for big cash prizes. As a result, “The harvest of lake trout was short of what could have been expected,” he said.

The tournament — which runs in the spring and fall — is designed to help reduce populations of nonnative lake trout in Flathead Lake. It is managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

To help increase harvest of harvest, this fall’s Mac Days tournament will be formatted to keep the top 20 to 30 anglers active in the contest. Friday fishing will be separated from the weekend to give those who can only fish on the weekend equal opportunity. Fall is a good time to fish for lake trout, which are concentrated in shallower water and are vulnerable to angler harvest. Much of the fish harvested during the Mac Days tournament goes to local food banks.

Zimmer said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks deserves kudos for their management approach to Flathead Lake by aggressively encouraging lake trout harvest. “They helped the other species immensely,” he said. “There was a time not too many years back when I saw a small lake trout, in his desperation for food, chasing small perch in East Bay with his dorsal fin against the ice and his belly in the mud. We didn’t know if we could expect a perch fishery ever again.”

Now, Zimmer says, “This year there were relatively few lake trout caught in East Bay and the perch population is close to its historic norm. We anglers have been catching many more bull trout, including one that was my personal biggest in Skidoo Bay.”

Another popular Flathead Lake fishery is the Lake Superior whitefish. These fighters, another nonnative fish introduced to Flathead Lake decades ago, can be hunted from late July through September.

If you’re interested in catch and release fly fishing, large numbers of westslope cutthroat are concentrated in Bigfork Harbor in May and early June.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.