SANDPOINT — The centerpiece of this year’s installment of the annual Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club Thanksgiving Derby will be a challenge format.
The club is utilizing the challenge format for the adult and junior divisions of the rainbow trout competition, which means anglers in these contests will only be able to enter one fish and it has to be at least 31 inches long.
“We’re trying to be proactive in the restoration of rainbows,” Barbara Gillespie of LPOIC.
The derby begins Saturday and extends through Wednesday before pausing for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It resumes on Friday, Nov. 24 and concludes at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26.
The entry fee is $40 for adults and $20 for the junior division (ages 14-17). Anglers in the Youth A (9-13) and Youth B (O-8) divisions can compete free of charge, although preregistration is required.
More than $10,000 in cash and prizes can be won during the derby. The top finisher in the adult rainbow division stands to win $2,000, while the top finisher in the adult Mackinaw standings can win $1,000. Cash is awarded to the top four finishers in each division.
Cash prizes will also be awarded to the top three finishers in the junior and youth divisions. There will be rainbow and lake trout contests within the youth division.
“They have been able to fish for either one (in previous derbies). Now they’re going to have two divisions just like the adults,” said Gillespie.
In the youth division, anglers will be competing for a cash purse plus 80 percent of the proceeds collected in their division and a 20-percent match by LPOIC.
There is also a $500 bonus for LPOIC members who place in the adult rainbow division.
The derby’s award ceremony is set for Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Bonner Mall in Ponderay. The event begins at 7 p.m.
It’s not the first time the club has adopted a conservation-minded approach to Pend Oreille rainbow trout during a derby, but this year’s decision generated a backlash which spawned the creation of competing derby on Lake Pend Oreille. There were also erroneous rumors that the club would not be conducting a derby this year.
Gillespie said the club opted for a challenge derby this year because its members saw it as a way to give a meaningful hand in protecting the rainbow trout fishery.
“We want to be able to pass this on to future generations,” Gillespie said of the trophy fishery.
The health of the fishery is still a topic of impassioned debate in the wake of the state’s former angler incentive for harvesting rainbow trout in an effort to restore the lake’s kokanee population.
Although some despair over the state of the rainbow population, Fish & Game biologists say the rainbow population is improving. In 2011, a five-year-old rainbow measured approximately 15 inches long. In 2016, a five-year-old rainbow is topping 20 inches, according to Andy Dux, regional fisheries manager for Fish & Game.
“Things are trending in the right direction,” Dux told the Idaho Lakes Commission last month.
The department has also been working with anglers to keep log books to better track catch and growth rates of Pend Oreille rainbows. Fish & Game is also collecting fin rays, which allows the department to assess the population without contributing to fish mortality.
“That’s one of the key things we’re after with the rainbow population. In addition to wanting to have a good number of fish out there, we certainly want to see by having more kokanee in the lake that it’s providing better growth rates and more trophy fish opportunities,” Dux told the commission.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.