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Payette Lake

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Huge IceHole:
Been a tough year for me on Payette.

Hadn't ventured out on Payette for a couple years due to not the greatest ice conditions. 

Called F&G Biologist.  Below are my notes from he coversation and my summary/opinion...

Mackinaw Update- 1.20.21

Fishery Biologist- Jordan Messner

[email protected]


My Summary/Opinion:

Objective is to manage the lake for both Kokanee and Trophy Mackinaw.  Kokanee will receive the larger focus and will get the better end of the management stick in the long-run.  More stakeholders pushing F&G towards Kokanee fishing opportunities than Mackinaw.  Economics supports this theory as more money involved with Kokanee restoration, i.e.  Cost of hatchery program/stocking, gear/equipment, travel, lodging, licenses sold, than Mackinaw fishing.  While I believe a stable population of Kokanee can and will be good for the trophy quality of Mackinaw, I am worried that in the long-run it is Kokanee that win the management battle.  There are plenty of quality Kokanee fishing opportunities in the state, but limited Mackinaw.  Fish and Game, at this time, is not going to eliminate the Mackinaw opportunity on Payette.  However, suppression efforts for Mackinaw will continue at least through 2024.  Encouraged that larger fish will be thrown back going forward (over 32”).  This will create less opportunity for good numbers of fish caught but quality of fish should be equal or better.  Continued pressure on the Mackinaw population will reduce the overall demand.  Less fish to catch equates to less fisherman and less stakeholders to support Mackinaw in Payette.  Big concern is that we could be in similar situation to what is happening at Stanley Lake, replace a health population with Hatchery/genetically modified fish.  Optimistic that Mackinaw fisherman will have a seat at the table, but that will require diligent feedback and communication on the importance of Payette as a Trophy Mackinaw fishery.   


·         The early to mid-1990’s the Kokanee and Mackinaw thrived in Payette Lake

o   Kokanee spawn was in the 40-60k range

·         1996 the Kokanee population crashed (No listed reason).

o   Kokanee spawn was in the 1k range for most of the early 2000’s

·         2007-2014 the lake with stocked with Kokanee with no noticeable increase in the spawn

·         2015-2019 the stocking effort was stopped

·         2020 marked the first year in which Kokanee have been stocked again

o   This is due to increased number of Kokanee observed in the spawn

o   The counts have been in the 3k range (Not sure if this was just one year or has been multiple years)

o   Most of the age class was 4-5 years old, but noted several that were in the 6 years (20-21”, which would be a large Kokanee)

o   2020 467k Kokanee were stocked

o   Plan is to continue at similar or larger numbers going forward, depends on the brood stock production in any given year

·         The long-term objective is to see an increase in the number of natural spawners

o   The glory days of the early 1990’s are not the goal, but the Lake and the spawning grounds should be able to support a much larger number of naturally producing fish than 3k


·         The water shed comes off a granite base which does not produce a significant food base for Plankton, i.e. the clear water

·         A long-ass time ago the watershed got most of its nutrients from the ocean from migratory fish

o   Human expansion stopped this….We are talking a hundred years, probably.

·         There is observed increased of Plankton in the lake

o   Fish and Game monitor this on a consistent basis

·         Very little competition for the plankton from other fish species observed in the lake gives Kokanee an opportunity o do well


·         The fate of the Mackinaw is tied to the Kokanee

o   Kokanee is major food source, but others exist; smaller Mackinaw, Rainbow trout, pike minnows, suckers, etc.

o   Other food sources maintain the population but not enough o sustain trophy quality fish over the long haul

·         As the food source population dropped the larger and more healthy fish were still able to spawn (Error in Mackinaw Management in the early 2000’s to now)

o   This created an age class of smaller/slender/skinny/snakehead and unhealthy fish that has been observed in the last over the last several years

o   Mackinaw growth cycle is slow and this helps explain the delay in the Mackinaw population over the Kokanee food source

·         Fish and Game, per the current management plan, will have a suppression effort on the Mackinaw

o   ~2300 fish have been killed since 2014 with a majority of that happening in last three years

§  2018:  700 fish but all fish over 32” were released

§  2019:  800 fish – All fish killed for a state wide age class study

§  2020:  520 fish – All fish killed for a genetic study

o   The catch rate has gone down each of the last 3 years…More hours in the net (do not give me exact hours put into each survey) and less fish each year

§  The McCall subregion has one fisheries manager and four technicians

§  Surveys for mackinaw are not top priority for the region so they are done as they can be done

o   All fish were measured and the weight to length ratio (A common measurement to determine health of fish) has improved and as compared to other fisheries (Priest, Pend Oreille, Yellowstone, Flathead) is of excellent quality

o   No exact population estimate can be done base on these surveys, i.e. no idea how much of the population has been taken out the last several years

§  In 2016 (I think that was the year) over 200 fish were tagged and to date only 3 tags have been returned

§  Assumption is that the population is large

o   All fish from the 2018-2020 were measured and large majority of the fish killed were 13-21”

o   Unless there is a reason/study for them to kill fish, fish over the length of 32” will be thrown back

§  The science argues for all fish, especially big ones, should be taken out as well to restore quality to the lake at a faster rate

§  Bigger and healthy fish spawn more fish, which create more competition for food sources

§  The decision to throwback the larger fish is to maintain some trophy fishing opportunity in the short-run with hope that elimination of the smaller fish will preserve quality in long-run

o   Suppression efforts are not meant to exterminate

§  Current operations in Idaho on Priest and Pend Oreille cannot be duplicated in Payette…They use commercial fishing operations for them

§  The cost of the extermination of the natural fish in Stanley Lake is being funded by organization wanting to protect the Sockeye recovery

·         The Mackinaw in the lake are being exterminated to protect any Sockeye recovery with fear of fish escaping Stanly (Currently the outlet has man made structure to prevent this) into the Sockeye recovery system

·         Mackinaw are being replaced by sterile hatchery fish and transported fish from Bear Lake to maintain some semblance of a sport fishery

·         Fish and Game are doing studies on hatchery fish with XX chromosome

o   All fish raised and release would not be sterile, but would only produce male offspring

o   Current studies focus how these genetically modified fish can help manage invasive species are being studied

o   No current data or plans available to discuss, but option for Mackinaw management in the future

Nice write up. Sad to see the management going this way. Hopefully they don't ruin a good mack fishery with it.

Same story up here in N. Idaho. [email protected] is gilnetting Priest, Pend Oreille, and others. The CDA tribe is gillnetting pike on the S end of lake Coeur d Alene to bring back native cutthroat into a stream that looks like the Snake River in the middle of the summer in S. Idaho. Sad deal. I do see a lot of people Kokanee fishing, but man I would rather catch some good eater sized macs than those little Kokanee.

The biologists are bored in the offices and needs to ruin the fishery with their nets.  Should manage for spiny rays too.


--- Quote from: bullpine on Dec 15, 2021, 08:21 PM ---The biologists are bored in the offices and needs to ruin the fishery with their nets.  Should manage for spiny rays too.

--- End quote ---

If you are familiar with the Mack's in Payette lake, you know there population was too high and that the fish were in poor condition due to lack of a food supply. Payette lake needed some changes. I have noticed a significant improvement in the last couple years as to the quality of the fishery.


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