POLSON – If Kalispell angler Jason Mahlen keeps doing what he did over the weekend – catching more lake trout than anyone else over two of the three days – Spring Mack Days will likely be a runaway.
As it is, Mahlen has already established a commanding lead.
He out-fished the entire field Friday, and again on Sunday.
Indeed, Mahlen has had the top catch on seven of the tournament’s 12 days so far, and no one is coming close to keeping pace with him.
Mahlen caught 86 lake trout Friday, 22 more than anyone else. His 71 on Saturday were second only to the 76 turned in by seventh-place Danny Smith.
Then, on Sunday, Mahlen’s 68 were again the best from a field where more than 225 anglers have registered fish.
He’s up to a total of 753 after four weekends in the biannual Flathead Lake tournament, which will award up to $150,000 in cash. More importantly, Mahlen – whose single-day best so far is 88, on the event’s opening day – increased his daily average to 63.
The top 10 anglers will eventually be determined by the average of their best 18 days on the water out of a possible 34.
The rule is designed to encourage participation by anglers who can’t fish every single day of the tournament, and gives them a better chance at a top 10 finish and the prize money that goes with that.
It does complicate the standings, especially in the early going, and averages can change drastically later on once anglers have at least 18 days in, and their worst daily totals that currently figure into their averages are jettisoned in favor of better daily numbers.
With two weekends left before anyone has at least 18 days of fishing in, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal officials who oversee the tournament use totals for now to determine the standings.
Craig Morigeu of Polson – who has skipped two of the 12 days – is in second place either way, with 469 entries and a 47 average. Morigeau has had the top daily total on three of the 12 days so far.
Third and fourth places are a virtual dead-heat between brothers Steven Benson of Four Lakes, Wash., and Michael Benson of Lonepine. Steven has caught 425 lake trout to Michael’s 419, and both are averaging close to 35 fish per day.
The leader’s brother, Scott Mahlen, is in fifth with 375 lake trout and an average of 31.
Sixth place and beyond is where things can get confusing. Bryan Long of Columbia Falls sits at No. 6 with a total of 310 lake trout. However, Long has fished just eight of the 12 days, so his average – 39 – is actually third-best.
Following Long are Smith (275, average of 28), Dean Vaughan of Charlo (260, average of 33), Jerry Benson of Plains (258, average of 22) and Darren Borgen of Columbia Falls (251, average of 31).
Dropping out of the top 10 in total catch after the latest weekend was 12-year-old Garett Vaughan of Charlo, at 227. Like his dad Dean, however, Garett has fished just eight days and his 28-plus average keeps the youngster a top-10 contender.
Garett has close to a 200-fish lead in the 12-and-younger youth division. Danner Shima of Kalispell has opened up a 44-fish lead in the teenage division with 175, to 131 for Connor Kowalski of Florence.
Susan Martin of Polson tops the women’s division with 101.
At 12,002 lake trout caught, the anglers are just 145 behind the record-setting 2012 Spring Mack Days event pace. The fourth weekend saw 3,403 lake trout turned in.