Priest Lake’s Major Trout Species: Mackinaw

It’s not actually a trout, but a char. Like the protected species of Bull Trout, the Dolly Varden, is also a char; not quite the same subspecies as trout. But across the U.S. and Canada, the Mackinaw is also called a Lake Trout. I capitalize these names because I’m writing specifically of a certain strain.

Mackinaw grow very large. The video presented here shows an average mackinaw at best coming from the deeper water of Priest Lake. Most are caught at depths between 90 and 200 feet, depending on the time of year. November, when the wind can be fiercely cold and fishing a rather brutal sport is actually one of the better times for consistency in catching mackinaw.

However, they spawn in June and if you know where they beds are, where the favored spawning grounds are, you’re chances of hooking a true monster mackinaw in shirt-sleeve weather on a balmy summer day are actually pretty significant.

That happened to a friend of mine, Herb Wagoner, who in 1966 and 1967 was my boss at the Indian Creek Store, which he owned. He also held a guide license for fishing and specialized in catching mackinaw. Most of his clients came to him out of Spokane in those days, but a few flew in from other places. He had a couple of open fishing boats which he used for this purpose. He was rigged with steel line on large reels (pictured here, I still have one).

Please watch the video I’ve shared from YouTube. This will give you a clear picture of what I’m writing about:

One mid-June morning, we were trolling large green flatfish and jointed green Rapala perch imitations on this fully weighted line at depths exceeding 90 feet, not far from the main island straight out from the Indian Creek Campground where the store was located.

I know what it’s like to get a strike. Wow. So sudden and so powerful. But I don’t know what it is like to pull in what Herb landed that day. Fortunately (though you will have to take my word for it, because I don’t have the Kodachrome slides any more) I was there, fishing near him and his client when Herb hooked into what surely seemed an extra large mackinaw. The advantage of steel (like thin cable) line is that you know it’s not going to break. Herb could bring up a mackinaw from deep down fairly quickly and in the process render the fish incapable from the bends. That’s what he told me.

Though he had to work a little harder, it wasn’t long before I heard exclamations from the two of them and saw his client grab the large salmon net. I hurried to get myself over near enough for a photograph or two while they readied to land whatever was coming up. The first moment of fish was a rather huge snout cresting the top of the net’s rim. Then on the other side, the tail, pointed like an arrow’s feathers to the rear, extending out over the opposite rim of the net.

Herb laid his rod down at that point and the two men had to work together to heft the big char into the boat. It was unbelievable. Herb was not a tall man. At most, I believe from memory he was maybe 5’6″ or 5’7″. I was taller than him at the age of 18 and I only reached 5’10”. I’m envious of that now.

The client (I wish I could remember his name, but can’t), was as excited as if he’d caught the fish himself. When Herb got the hooks out of its great maw, and secured his strong hands into the gills, he lifted the fish full length from the bed of the boat. I remember, from the photo I took, the snout of that great mackinaw was at Herb’s shoulder and its tail stretched to the tops of Herb’s boots. We measured it later on shore. It was 46″ in length. We weighed it again at the store, to be sure. It weighted 46 pounds.

Yes, I’m telling you the truth. No reason to fabricate a memory like that. I’ve never seen or heard of another from either Priest Lake or Pend Oreille (which also has mackinaw) that big. But it really was and it’s measurement and size in weight has stayed with me in clear Kodachrome memory for forty years and growing.

I hope you enjoyed the video above and more so, I hope you make time to fish for Priest Lake’s mackinaw. They are too oily to eat by frying; you wouldn’t enjoy that with any fish over 5 or 6 pounds. Those of lesser weight are incredibly good. The way you cook the larger of the species is to smoke them in a smoke house. Applewood is great, or hickory; then you have something to brag about and share with friends.

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