By RALPH BARTHOLDT
Hagadone News Network
When Priest Lake fishing guide Rich Lindsey heard the news last week that Idaho Fish and Game won’t suppress lake trout in Lower Priest Lake, he was elated.
Lindsey, who lives in Nordman on the lake’s northwest side, has guided lake trout anglers on Priest Lake for 30 years. For more than a decade he has tussled with Idaho Fish and Game over lake trout suppression.
The latest news, Lindsey said, confirms what he knew about his neighbors.
“People want to fish for lake trout,” he said. “And they want the lake left alone.”
Idaho Fish and Game held meetings last year and sent surveys to more than 10,000 anglers in an effort to gain public input on how the department should manage Priest Lake’s fishery in the future.
The department offered a variety of lake management options from its advisory board of lake stakeholders. Options included managing the lake for kokanee, cutthroat and bull trout, while suppressing lake trout — also called mackinaw.
One of the options, a hands-off approach, was the plan favored by most anglers who responded to the survey.
It was also the option Lindsey espoused through a grassroots campaign that took root with lake residents and area anglers. The campaign leaned on the idea that the lake’s fishery, which has lately seen a bump in kokanee numbers and has a seemingly stable cutthroat trout population, was doing just fine.
After holding meetings over the summer, Idaho Fish and Game sent 4,500 surveys to license holders in Idaho’s Panhandle, 500 to anglers in northeast Washington and more than 10,000 emails to license holders seeking comment on how to manage the lake’s fishery.
The large effort, Fish and Game regional fisheries manager Andy Dux said, was an attempt to ensure the department does what anglers want.
“We’re putting a lot of energy into it because Priest Lake is one of the high profile, popular fisheries in the region,” Dux said.
Anglers’ responses tipped the scales toward leaving Priest Lake a lake trout fishery. Although commercial fishing boats have used gillnets to suppress lake trout in the upper lake for years, the suppression efforts could have moved to the main lake if anglers had asked the department to manage the system at the expense of lake trout.
“People didn’t want to see those commercial boats raping our lake,” Lindsey said. “They didn’t want to sacrifice a very productive, stable fishery.”
An earlier Fish and Game survey showed that many anglers supported lake trout suppression in favor of managing for other species including a catch and release bulltrout fishery. Alan Greenway of Caldwell wasn’t among them. Greenway travels to Priest Lake from Boise twice a year to fill coolers full of lake trout.
Priest Lake’s lake trout, which feed on mysis shrimp, are helping the kokanee fishery make a comeback, Greenway contends. In other North Idaho lakes where mysis shrimp and kokanee exist, mysis outcompete young kokanee for food, creating a shaky kokanee population that is expensive to maintain. Because lake trout in Priest Lake gorge themselves on mysis shrimp, their flesh is red and enormously palatable, Greenway said.
“Good eating mackinaw come out of that lake,” he said. “You want to leave that alone.”
Longtime Priest Lake angler Brian McInerney, who has fished Priest Lake since the 1940s, prefers kokanee over mackinaw. He likes catching and eating both species. A year ago he regularly caught 16-inch kokanee in Priest Lake, he said. But investing money to manage a lake for a species like bull trout didn’t appeal to McInerney.
“Leave it alone ... It doesn’t cost anything to manage this lake right now,” he said in an interview last summer.