By RALPH BARTHOLDT
The fish came out of the cold water of Lake Pend Oreille slick and spent, and they both got pulled into the same boat.
Doug Sheldon of Rathdrum and Dan Whitney of Spirit Lake placed in the top two of Bayview’s annual Oktoberfish derby last weekend that kicks off the start of the fall fishing season.
Sheldon’s winning fish weighed 17.66 pounds and Whitney’s 16.8-pound Gerrard rainbow, better known as Kamloops or just rainbow, were caught from the same boat.
That doesn’t happen a lot said Ralph Jones, who started the tournament more than a dozen years ago.
“Dan and Doug were boat mates,” Jones said. “So, the first and second place fish came out of the same boat. That’s remarkable.”
It comes with the territory.
The fish the anglers chased last weekend in the big lake’s southern end — at least two anglers brought in fish caught a half-hour to the north — have a long history in the lake.
The fish, and their history is remarkable too.
The name Kamloops, stems from a town in Canada not far from the lake where the big, fish-eating rainbows originate. The trout are a Gerrard-strain of rainbow trout, indigenous to the cold, deep waters of Lake Kootenay where their genetics were brewed in the lake’s glacial waters.
The feisty, red-sided rainbows, which feed on kokanee — small, silver-sided salmon — have for decades been the predominant sport fish in Pend Oreille. Celebrities such as Bing Crosby, opera singer Patrice Munsel and Clyde Beatty, owner of nationally-renowned Cole Bros. Circus came to catch the famous trout in the 1950s. Their presence enhanced the fish’s reputation.
A decade ago, however, the big rainbows were almost depleted.
The problem was, the lake’s kokanee were getting hammered by lake trout, leaving less food for the Kamloops.
A massive effort by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game that focused on pounding the lake trout population into near oblivion, has allowed kokanee populations to spring back resulting in the resurgence of big rainbows.
“In those years we were getting rainbows that weighed 9, 10, 11 pounds,” Jones said. “They were pretty small.”
Anglers, however, kept coming and the derby stayed alive. Two years ago, the Oktoberfish record, a 22-pounder, was caught.
Although Jones likes to fish too, he stays away from the poles and outriggers during the tournament that draws a lot of big guns, he said.
It’s not uncommon to see boats dragging a dozen or more lines, using several downriggers and planer boards, as their boats idle on GPS coordinates.
“I’m not that technologically advanced,” Jones said.
Many years ago he used a produce scale to weigh derby catches, but he switched to a digital scale that measures to the 100th of an ounce. It came in handy this year as six fish, including Nelly Bell’s 16.48-pound, third place Kamloops weighed in the 16-pound range.
“There would have been a lot of arguing this weekend if we didn’t have those scales,” he said. “The digital scale really came into play.”
The two-day tournament kicks off with a buffet at the Captain’s Wheel the Friday before Saturday’s official start. It ends Sunday afternoon with an awards ceremony. Local businesses pitch in prizes and help sponsor the event.
Winning the annual derby, which can draw more than 100 participants, can depend on many variables, Jones said.
“A certain amount of luck goes with it,” he said.
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For outdoor information or story ideas contact Ralph Bartholdt at firstname.lastname@example.org.