Lake whitefish have been making annual spawning runs up the Flathead River system for over 30 years.
In this space on Nov. 21, 1990, Tom Weaver, FWP fisheries biologist, reported, “A river run of lake whitefish is very unusual.”
Weaver noted, “The lake whitefish in the Flathead and Stillwater Rivers now have mature sex organs and they appear to be on a spawning run.”
At that time, local fisheries biologists had estimated over 15 million lake whitefish were swimming in Flathead Lake, filling a niche vacated when a popular kokanee salmon population crashed.
Biologically, the infamous mysis shrimp had out-competed kokanee salmon for plankton, a tiny invertebrate food source.
In short, the kokanee population — and riverbank snagging — plummeted. Lake whitefish were gorging on mysis shrimp!
In the early 1990s retired FWP Fisheries Manager Jim Vashro, sensing anglers were upset over the loss of salmon, did his best to educate anglers how to catch lake whitefish in the river system.
Fortunately, one very popular and easily accessible fishing spot was just below the Old Steel Bridge, where dozens of anglers showed up every fall morning.
One day, when former local doc Chet Hope was fishing off the old steel bridge, he set down his fly rod and a car ran over it.
The lake whitefish still migrate every fall, but the river has changed, and without a boat, it’s just harder to find a good jigging hole.
Jerry Smalley’s Fishful Thinking column appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.