Friday, June 24, 2011

Lindsey and his North Idaho lakers


Priest Lake guide Rich Lindsey with a ubiquitous laker/Ralph Bartholdt

PRIEST LAKE—Rich Lindsey keeps a wire cutter in a pole holder in the back of his boat.
It's a pocket size cutter used to dislodge fouled fish hooks and snip tangled leaders.
Mostly, it's used to kill fish.
This is done with swift dexterity and a mantra.
The mackinaw - invariably the fish his clients hook are V-tailed lake trout - is held with one hand by its gill slits as clients admire its lines, size and verticulation. The other hand, the one grasping the implement makes one or two swift movements as the dull steel knot of the wire cutter thumps the fish between the eyes.
Lindsey, one of the Idaho Panhandle's premier fishing guides, a guy who has been at it longer than anyone in this land of woods and mountains that plunge into the gem-like lakes of prehistoric glacial gouges, has his own way of doing things.
"Welcome aboard," he lilts almost quietly to the fish whose fins extend like oriental fans with each thump. They quiver as their brain pan is irreparable jostled.
The fish are dropped into a box at the transom with a cutting board top and although Idaho Fish and Game allow anglers to keep six lake trout, Lindsey's boat limit is three apiece, which allows his clients enough of the meaty mackinaws to feed a family and ensures the lake keeps on giving.
"This lake has been generous to me," Lindsey says.
And his generosity is not only in giving clients a taste of North Idaho's Valhalla, but in making sure it stays fertile, at least from a fishery perspective.
As fishery programs in many northern Idaho lakes preclude any mention of mackinaw or lake trout, Priest Lake, up here in the northern reaches - so far north that it keeps the riff raff out as some residents like to proclaim - the name of the game is simple: Lambaste lakers.
And that's what Lindsey and his clients do.
My own preponderance with lake trout began as a kid on northern Minnesota's Lake Vermilion where I grew up.
I fished for bass mostly, and walleye during the full-moon nights of July and August. Muskie could be found in the spring and northern pike were caught in the evening pulling plugs off the rock ledges where they came to hunt.
Lake trout were an anomoly.
They hung deep, between 70 and 150 feet, out there in Big Bay, paddling their V-tails in the haunting water that was often white-capped and swollen with mystery.
I caught one as a 14-year-old, by accident, while fishing for walleye using a method my Uncle Jim taught as my line dangled into the depths and the waves slapped the side of my 14-foot Crestliner.
I was alone of course, summers in the North Country of Minnesota were made for learning about everything from jointed plugs and cotter keys, portages and pint-size beers to making outboard repairs in swelling seas.
And doing it solo.
These were not seas. Not like the kind I became familiar with much later, in Southeast Alaska, but to a teenage boy the whitecaps on Big Bay were sea enough.
The fish I pulled from the depths of that lake was speckled. Its eyes were not glazed like shop-window glass: The sign of a walleye.
This fish came up slowly like a walleye does. When it got to the net, however, it had the same spike teeth but a different feel altogether.
Lake Trout, I said and pulled it in for a better look.
I kept it longer than I usually did, back then. I looked it over hard and let it go.
This was catch and release before it was cool, an impetus that later earned me a biology degree. Aside from anything feathered or furred punched with bullets or BBs, I tossed it back.
My mother assailed me for this. In hindsight, I think the piscatorial patchwork I brought home was pan worthy enough and kept me in fishing licenses.
In some respects, Mr. Lindsey follows the same philosophy.
He tells of a 50-pound mack he caught while fishing alone and the trial of shooting a picture with his cell phone camera before letting the beast free to spawn again and hopefully, be hooked by one of his clients some time in the future.
"Those 50-pounders are heavy," he says.
The memories of releasing them, though, are light.
And just like a good mackinaw lake, they remain.
Even without a photo.

Ralph Bartholdt

Another version of this story can be found in the August issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine or at http://www.nwsportsmanmag.com/

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