COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — For the second year in a row, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is enticing more anglers to hook a walleye by putting some cash on the line in North Idaho.
A number of walleye have been marked in the head with microscopic tags and released into Lake Pend Oreille.
All walleye heads submitted to Fish and Game freezer locations in the Panhandle region will be scanned for those tags. If a tag is there, the angler wins $1,000.
There also will be a drawing for ten $100 prizes. Each walleye head submitted during a single month gives an angler a chance in the drawing.
In March 2019, Fish and Game kicked off the first year of the walleye lottery program by announcing that $50,000 in reward money was swimming in Lake Pend Oreille.
Nearly 200 anglers participated in that inaugural season and winners took home just under $9,000 in prize money.
However, nobody landed one of the $1,000 fish.
For that reason, fisheries managers have added more $1,000 tags.
They're also providing some clues, based on trends from 2019.
The majority of walleye caught by last year's lottery participants came out of the northern half of the lake, where the waters are generally shallower and warmer.
"In early May, walleye anglers were finding fish in the Clark Fork River and on the Clark Fork River Delta. Now that the walleye spawn is predominantly over, the Clark Fork and Pack River Deltas and the shallow warming bays west toward Sandpoint should be good bets in the coming weeks," said Pete Rust, a fisheries research biologist.
Biologists use radio telemetry and angler harvest reports to track fish movements.
Through summer 2019, the Sandpoint long bridge and Clark Fork River Delta consistently detected higher numbers of walleye compared to the rest of the system. The Pend Oreille River near Laclede and Clark Fork River also had high detection rates during the summer months.
Walleye are a non-native predator in Lake Pend Oreille. Fish and Game biologists are concerned that an unchecked walleye population could threaten the entire fishery, much like lake trout did in the 1990's and early 2000's.
To address the growing walleye threat, researchers implemented a two-pronged approach: incentivized angler harvest - including the lottery - and three weeks of netting during the spawning season.
The goal of that experimental suppression program is to keep walleye from collapsing existing fisheries like kokanee and rainbow trout.
In 2019, anglers submitted a total of 785 walleye heads, nearly equal to the number of walleye removed during spring netting efforts.
When submitting walleye heads for the lottery, anglers provide important data like size of fish, location and date of harvest. This information is key for researchers to understand how recreational angling affects the walleye population in Pend Oreille.
The lottery is funded through the Clark Fork Settlement Agreement.
More information about the program, including rules and submission locations, is available at this link from Idaho Fish and Game.