Smalley experiences Mack Days and a fish filleter

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The Conferedated Salish and Kootenai Tribe’s fish filet machine. (Jerry Smalley photo)

Fishful Faithful should know by now that I’ve never shown much interest in Mack Days.

Purely a personal choice of how to fish, but, honestly, I can’t remember once in the 15-year history of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe-sponsored event, both spring and fall events, that I felt I was missing something I wanted to do.

While reasons are many, three stand out.

First is unpredictable weather on the big lake.

Second is the necessity of having a boat and gear big enough to safely withstand nasty weather.

Thirdly, and most important, I just don’t get fired up for jigging 300 feet deep for 12-inch lake trout.

Judging by the packed trailer-parking spots at Yellow and Blue Bays, not everyone shares my opinion!

One of my friends, in an effort to learn more about how to catch lake trout in Flathead Lake, entered Spring Mack Days and recently invited me to go fishing last Saturday.

The weather forecast was great and even though a big lake veteran told me 40 years ago that one good thing about lake trout was that they bit all day long, we met at 6 a.m.

I will admit that more than once on Saturday, I looked up from my rod tip at the blue skies and those magnificent snow-capped mountains, and was thankful to be sitting in a boat on Flathead Lake.

Late in the afternoon we motored over to Blue Bay, and while Cindy Benson, who organizes Mack Days for CSKT, was counting our fish, I asked her what a certain machine in the room did.

“Fillets fish!” said Benson, “We process fish for food banks from Missoula to Whitefish.”

A machine that fillets fish. Now we’re talking.

Headless fish are fed into one end of the $62,000 machine, which cuts off the belly and scrapes out the entrails. Then parallel blades first slice fillets off the backbone, then remove the ribs.

Pelvic fins and tiny pin bones are removed manually from the fillets, which are then vacuum-packed and quickly frozen.

“Week one we took in 6,100 lake trout,” said Benson.

“Can that machine fillet lake whitefish?” I asked.

“Unfortunately no,” she replied.

Jerry Smalley’s Fishful Thinking column appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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