The Idaho Department of Fish & Game says three anglers won big last month claiming $1,000 prizes through the Pend Oreille walleye lottery, including two from Bonner County.
According to the IDFG, the three anglers caught reward-tagged fish in the lottery during May, the first reward tag winners since the program launched in 2019. 15 months had passed with no tagged winners.
Mike Gordon of Sandpoint caught his fish in the Clark Fork River while fishing for smallmouth bass.
“I told my father-in-law this is going to be the one,” said Gordon.
Tony Butler of Hope caught his walleye in northern Lake Pend Oreille. His winning fish had been tagged in 2018 in Martin Bay near Sagle and is estimated to have grown five inches in two years, measuring about 23 inches when harvested.
“We do target them but it can be very hit or miss,” Butler said while mentioning he hasn't caught many walleye in Pend Oreille.
The third angler from Idaho Falls wished to remain anonymous, but the fish was caught in the northern part of Pend Oreille Lake and around 20 inches in size.
In order to win the $1K prize, anglers submit walleye heads to IDFG freezers around the region. Tiny tags are implanted in the snouts of winning fish and there's now way for anglers to tell if a fish has a reward tag without submitting it for biologists to scan.
IDFG says up to 97 tagged walleye are still available to catch. In 2018 and 2019, 50 walleye worth $1K a piece were tagged in Lake Pend Oreille and Clark Fork Rivers, and an additional 50 were tagged in May 2020.
"The walleye lottery is designed to encourage angler harvest of walleye in Lake Pend Oreille," IDFG said. " In addition, it helps fisheries managers understand what role anglers play in controlling this non-native population. Keeping the walleye population low is important for sustaining other fish populations in the lake, such as kokanee, rainbow trout and bull trout."
More info on the Lake Pend Oreille Angler Incentive Program is available here: https://idfg.idaho.gov/lake-pend-oreille-angler-incentive-program