Idaho Fish and Game Offers $1,000 Cash Rewards for Tagged Walleye Caught in Lake Pend Oreille 

click to enlarge Fish and Game biologist Nicki Graham holds a walleye netted out of Lake Pend Oreille.  - MATT CORSI / IDFG
  • Matt Corsi / IDFG
  • Fish and Game biologist Nicki Graham holds a walleye netted out of Lake Pend Oreille.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game isn't beating around the bush when it comes to its new reward system for catching Walleye in Idaho's largest lake. Its press release, which hit journalists' inboxes Feb. 26, started with this eye-catching word bomb: "$50,000 is swimming in Lake Pend Oreille."

IDFG Regional Fishery Manager Andy Dux said that the incentive program, a lottery system that challenges anglers to catch 50 IDFG-tagged Walleye in the lake each worth $1,000, isn't unprecedented. The department introduced a similar concept in 2006 to deal with a spiking population of Lake Trout which, like Walleye, are a non-native species illegally introduced to Lake Pend Orielle, a popular fishing spot near Sandpoint.

"The first year or two, back in 2006 and just after that, we did try a similar approach and it worked rather effectively," said Dux, "But just a number of circumstances at the time lead us down a path to where we just pay on a per-fish basis. But because we had some success with that early on, it lead us to want to attempt to use that approach with Walleye."

IDFG now pays anglers $15 per head for each Lake Trout caught in Pend Oreille.

click to enlarge Lake Trout, like Walleye, are a non-native species in Lake Pend Oreille. - WIKIPEDIA, PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • Wikipedia, Public Domain
  • Lake Trout, like Walleye, are a non-native species in Lake Pend Oreille.
While $50,000 may seem like a lot of money to throw at an attempt to bring a non-native species in check, Dux said offering anglers the potential for high payouts is actually a safer fiscal bet for IDFG than giving out guaranteed lower sums for each fish caught, at least at this early stage. Plus, IDFG hopes the potential for a big win will generate more excitement in the fishing community than a low per-head payout.

"We don't have a great handle on, if we just put a per-head bounty in place, how much that would cost us annually. We don't quite understand over time if that Walleye population is going to continue to grow or if we're going to be successful in keeping it at a lower, reduced density. So it's a little easier to predict what our annual expenditures will be with this lottery-based system," he said, adding that in the past, it's been rare for anglers to catch a large percent of tagged fish.

In addition to handing over $1,000 for each head of a tagged Walleye turned in, IDFG is giving fishermen another chance to win big: every Walleye head, regardless of tagging, will be entered into a monthly lottery. ISP will draw ten names from the pot at the end of each month and pass out $100 cash prizes to the winners.

At this point, Dux said the incentive program is still an experiment. At the same time, IDFG will also use a gill netting program to catch Walleye, with the catch going to local food banks. IDFG plans to monitor both strategies to see which, if either, proves effective.

"The phase we're in right now is we know that Walleye are a threat to the fishery, so we are unsure yet whether or not suppression of Walleye is going to be an effective long-term strategy. But we are interested in evaluating whether or not we have the ability to curb their population growth. So we want to look at the two methods that we've had success with for Lake Trout," said Dux.

For those looking to cast their lines in pursuit of $1,000 prizes, full details on the 2019 incentive program, including a list of head drop-off spots, can be found here
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