Man catches $10,000 Mack Days fish

by Scott Shindledecker
| June 24, 2020 1:00 AM

For the just the second time in tournament history, the famous $10,000 tagged lake trout has been caught during the annual Mack Days event on Flathead Lake.

Kalispell’s Matt Guckenberg Sr. brought the valuable fish to net in the Yellow Bay area. It was one of 1,492 macks anglers caught Friday.

The 16-inch fish was tagged and put back in the lake March 18, according to tournament official Cindy Bras-Benson.

Guckenberg Sr. fishes with his son, Matt Guckenberg Jr. They weren’t sure the magic fish was even a tagged one, but they made sure to keep it.

“You can tell when the adipose fin is clipped, but it wasn’t clear with this one, so we took a chance and it’s worth the chance,” Guckenberg Sr. said.

He said he received a phone call from tournament official Cindy Bras-Benson later Friday night it was the $10K keeper.

“It was a pretty normal day fishing, better in the morning,” Guckenberg said. “He didn’t go too far from where he was tagged.”

The fish was tagged in Skidoo Bay and Guckenberg Sr. caught it on the west side of Bird Island.

Guckenberg said fishing with his son is what makes the event special for them.

“He’s been fishing with me since he was 7 and he’ll be 15 soon, so we both enjoy being on the water,” Guckenberg Sr. said.

The junior Guckenberg leads the 13- to 17-year-old group with 384 macks. Guckenberg Sr. caught a $200 tagged fish last week. He currently is eighth in the standings with 583 fish. He also caught a pair of $200 fish on opening weekend in March.

“We’ll use the money on family recreation and things for the boat. The boat always needs something,” he said.

The last angler to catch the $10,000 trout was Felix Gauci of Stevensville. He caught a 10-inch lake trout during the 2014 Fall Mack Days event.

Mack Days, which began in 2002, is held in the spring and fall as part of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribe’s effort to reduce the lake trout population in Flathead Lake, which has wiped out the huge water body’s kokanee salmon fishery and severely reduced its cutthroat and bull trout.

There are still three $5,000 tagged fish and five with $1,000 tags. There are more than 6,000 tagged macks with values from $100 to $500.

This is the last full week for anglers with the tourney ending Sunday, June 28. There will be no awards ceremony or fish fry on the last day due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. All lake trout entries end at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Kalispell’s Jason Mahlen continues to lead the top 10 with a total of 1,211. Mahlen is gunning for his seventh Mack Days title.

His chief competition is Kalispell resident Kolton Turner. He is second with 1,069 macks. Another Kalispell angler, Bob Turner, is third with 1,000 fish. Six-time champion Mike Benson of Lonepine is fourth with 887 fish. In fifth is Sam Cusker of Bigfork with 870 fish, while Larry Karper of Florence is sixth with 624. Lolo’s Jack Kirkland is seventh with 586 fish.