Flathead Lake

Montana State Parks Pamphlet

"A number of launch sites are available at private marinas as well as the three state parks. Contrary to popular belief, many areas are safe for fishing out of a small boat, if boaters are observant of the weather and don't venture too far from the shoreline. The Flathead Lake fishery has changed dramatically with the invasion of the mysis shrimp in the early 1980s. Introduced in the '60s and '70s opossum shrimp were planted by fisheries management across the western United States and Canada to increase the growth of kokanee salmon.

Unfortunately, their proclivity for avoiding light and their habit of resting in deep water adversely impacted both the populations of cutthroat and kokanee. Mysis awake from their lairs at depths of 100 feet and rise to the surface at night to feed on zooplankton, the same food source preferred by kokanee.

By first light they have safely settled again on the bottom, quite out of reach of their intended prey, the kokanee. The zooplankton populations crashed. Unfortunately, the beneficiary of the mysis shrimp is the lake trout, who grow fat on both shrimp and kokanee. Today large populations of lake trout may be caught throughout the lake. Lake trout (mackinaw or "macs") are primarily fish predators with whitefish as their main course.

"They prefer colder water and are usually found near the bottom, although they can be found at all depths when the water is cold. Generally fish 30 to 100 feet deep for smaller (2-5 lb.) lakers and over 100 feet deep for larger lake trout, but expect lots of mixing of sizes. Generally, look for areas that will concentrate bait fish such as points, sloping areas of large rubble, or flats adjacent to drop-offs or steep slopes. Expansive flats may not hold many fish. A fish finder helps locate likely spots and may locate schools of bait fish or lake trout, but lake trout can hold so tight to the bottom most fish finders won't show them.

"Lake trout prefer dim light so the best fishing is dawn to mid-morning.... Lake trout up to five pounds eat lots of shrimp and can be delicious fried, baked barbecued, or smoked....

"Vertical jigging...has really revolutionized lake trout fishing since it is simple, productive, and requires little gear. A medium-weight spinning or bait casting outfit with 10-lb. test monofilament will work. Drop the lure to the bottom, reel up about a foot and jig the lure up sharply one to three feet, and then let it free-fall back. Jig every 10 to 20 seconds. Set the hook hard when you feel a tap or a jerk. Often the fish will hit as the lure is dropping so if the line stays slack reel up and strike....

"Lake trout can be readily caught from shore in May-June and October-November when the water is cool and they're in shallow to look for food...or to spawn in the fall. Generally look for steep to moderately sloping bottoms with lots of rubble.... Count down before starting your retrieve so the lure is near the bottom. Use silver/red or gold/red lures. You'll lose lures so use inexpensive ones. Most lakers will be two to four pounds, but you may catch a larger one, particularly in the fall....

"A good contour map of Flathead Lake showing access points is available locally.... For more information on fishing, seasons and limits, and licenses, contact local sporting good stores or Fish, Wildlife and Parks (406) 752-5501) or the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe (406) 675-2700." -Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks publication, 1999

Visitors to Flathead Lake who are pulling a large boat behind their rig may want to consider combining a fishing trip with a tour of Wild Horse Island State Park. Access to the island is best from Flathead State Park at Big Arm, located about 35 miles south of Kalispell and 13 miles north of Polson along Highway 93. Wild Horse Island encompasses 2,163 acres of primitive management. Just a few shoreline parcels are still owned by private landowners. No camping is allowed, and boaters are cautioned to beach their boats at one of the five public landing sites. Yes, in addition to more than 100 species of birds and mammals, the island's tradition of wild horses is still kept alive by the Bureau of Land Management.
For more information contact:

Montana State Parks
490 N Meridian Road
Kalispell, Montana 59901-3854
(406) 752-5501

For information on booking a guided fishing tour on Flathead Lake, contact:
Montana Charter Boat Association
375 Jensen Road
Columbia Falls, Montana 59912
(800) 735-9244