POLSON — Mike Benson’s nickname used to be one-fish.
But no one calls him that anymore after Benson took top honors at the Fall Mack Days event for the fourth year in a row.
Benson caught a total of 1,141 lake trout after fishing every single day of the 45-day event on Flathead Lake.
“He just kind of had a hard time figuring out how to catch them when he started out in 2006,” said Cindy Bras-Benson, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal fisheries specialist charged with conducting the tribes’ semi-annual Mack Days fishing contest. “He’d always come in with one fish and so that’s what we nicknamed him — one fish.”
Benson, who also happens to be Bras-Benson’s husband, told everyone that either he was going to figure it out or he was going to stop spending dawn to dusk for days on end trying to catch as many lake trout as he possibly could.
He evidently figured it out.
In the 696 days that Benson has spent fishing both spring and fall over the past 10 years, he’s reeled in a total 25,319 fish.
“I’m always in total awe of the people who participate in this event,” Bras-Benson said. “Most of them are out on the water at the crack of dawn and don’t quit until dark.”
This year’s challenging weather took its toll and the overall numbers reflected that.
“There were so many days when the water was rough and it was cold and snowy. It was just miserable, but you couldn’t keep some of those hard-core guys off the water," Bras-Benson said.
This fall, 119 anglers turned in a total of 14,775 lake trout over the eight-week-long event. That was the fourth highest number of lake trout call in a fall event.
The record was set in 2015 when 19,525 lake trout were caught.
Behind Benson, Terry Krogstad of Kalispell placed second with 941 fish. Others in the top 10 included Felix Gauci, Stevensville, third, 820; Larry Karper, Florence, fourth, 564; Richard Kreis, Huson, fifth, 523; Scott Bombard, Missoula, sixth, 461; Larry Ashwell, Missoula, seventh, 487; Sam Cusker, Whitefish, eighth, 405; John Gauci, ninth, 297, and David McDaniel of Polson placed 10th with 283.
In the women's category, Laurie Kreis of Huson was the top angler with 190. Bobbi Hereford of Missoula and Julie Woolley of Manteca, California, tied for second with 108; Gina Schiff of Whitefish was fourth with 96, and Jeanee Mooney of Missoula placed fifth with 57.
In the over-70 bracket, Karper and Ashwell finished in the top 10 with Bob Christensen of Missoula, Dan Olsen of Helena, and Jim Hoover of Whitefish.
Ali Putzler of Kalispell won the 12-and-under with nine fish, Matt Kreis placed second with eight and Makenna Garrett of Missoula was third with one fish. Tyler Varga of Kalispell was first in the 13-17 class with 55 fish, Abby Hodgson of Kalispell was second with five, and Christain Wyatt of Missoula was third with one.
Spirit of the Event knives made by Bob Crowder of Thompson Falls went to Felix Gauci and Gina Schiff.
Bras-Benson said Scott Bombard was awarded the Heart of the Event award after going through four different medical procedures for kidney stones and being back out on the lake the next day.
“He couldn’t wait to get back out there,” Bras-Benson said. “He missed four days of fishing, which just about killed him. He gave everything he had. It was pretty cool that it meant so much do him.”
The Mack Days event is an effort by the CSKT to reduce the number of non-native lake trout, or mackinaw, in Flathead Lake with the long-term goal of returning native cutthroat and bull trout to the lake. The CSKT provide up to $150,000 in prize money for the events that held in the spring and fall.
“It’s a big investment, but hopefully we’re making a difference,” Bras-Benson said. “This isn’t something that you can do for a couple of years and quit. It’s a big commitment that the tribal council has made. They care about the fishery for the future. It’s commendable that they are trying to make this difference.”
The 2018 Spring Mack Days dates are set from March 16 to May 13. For more information, go to mackdays.com.