Three Idaho anglers won $1,000 each after catching reward-tagged fish in the Pend Oreille walleye lottery during the month of May. These are the first reward tag winners since the program launched in March 2019.
Mike Gordon of Sandpoint caught his winning fish in the Clark Fork River while fishing for smallmouth bass. “I told my father-in-law this is going to be the one,” said Gordon.
In order to win, anglers submit walleye heads to F&G freezers located throughout the region. Tiny tags are implanted in the snouts of winning fish. There’s no way for anglers to tell if a fish has a reward tag without submitting the head for biologists to scan.
Gordon’s walleye was tagged by biologists in May 2019 off Kootenai Point. It was caught over 20 miles away just below Cabinet Gorge Dam.
Tony Butler of Hope caught his wining walleye in northern Lake Pend Oreille. Butler’s winning fish was tagged in 2018 in Martin Bay near Sagle. It is estimated to have grown five inches in two years, measuring about 23 inches when harvested.
Like many other anglers, Butler hasn't caught many walleye in Pend Oreille. “We do target them but it can be very hit or miss,” said Butler. In 2019, most anglers participating in the lottery submitted five heads or less.
The third angler, from Idaho Falls, wished to remain anonymous. The walleye was also caught in the northern part of the lake and was around 20 inches in length, similar in size to Gordon and Butler’s fish. It was tagged in May 2020, only a few weeks before it was harvested.
Up to 97 tagged walleye are still available for anglers to catch. In 2018 and 2019, 50 walleye worth $1,000 apiece were tagged in Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille and Clark Fork Rivers. In May 2020, an additional 50 walleye were tagged.
Biologists tagged fish from different size classes and locations in order to distribute the chances of winning across the basin. Eligible walleye can be caught anywhere in the Pend Oreille system in Idaho, including tributaries like Priest River.
Tagged fish aren’t the only way to win prize money in the walleye lottery. All anglers who submit heads are also entered in to monthly drawings for ten $100 prizes. Each untagged walleye submission counts as one entry in to the drawing. As of June, just under $10,000 had been distributed to anglers in the monthly drawings.
The walleye lottery is designed to encourage angler harvest of walleye in Lake Pend Oreille. In addition, it helps fisheries managers understand what role anglers play in controlling this non-native population. Keeping the walleye population low is important for sustaining other fish populations in the lake, such as kokanee, rainbow trout and bull trout. The walleye lottery is funded by Avista through the Clark Fork Settlement Agreement.
More information on how to participate, including a list of freezer locations, is available on Lake Pend Oreille Angler Incentive Program website.