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Slabbing for Mack's

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e-mail Andy at [email protected]

The day began around 4:00 A.M. when I rustled Jimmy Smith out of bed to start our fishing excursion. The day would lead us first to Aaron Rutherford’s house, and second to the Conoco Store for Gas, Coffee and Sandwiches. We wanted to be on the water at daybreak, which was a formidable task considering we had an hour drive and a half an hour boat ride at full throttle to get to the fishing hole.

The fishing spot was at the Clark Fork Delta on Lake Pen d’Oreille. The fishing tip came from a local charter boat Captain earlier in the Year. We were angling for Mackinaw Trout (Lake Trout) using Slabbing spoons, tied with a 2-ft long terminal piece of 30lb TyGer leader using a two turn clinch knot to a barrel swivel and the Slabbing spoon. A Slabbing spoon is just a lead or metal jigging spoon which depending upon the depth you are fishing comes in less than an ounce to 10-ounce magnum model. The jig is shaped like a fish and usually has an arch or slight bend to it, which gives it its characteristic action. These jigs come in as many colors as you can imagine. The lure of our choice was an 8-oz mackerel blue Crippled Herring Jig, which I felt most closely imitated the Kokanee Salmon which was the primary forage for the Mack’s.

Slabbing is a jigging technique often employed for suspending warm water species (Walleye, Stripers, Wipers Small mouth etc.), holding off deep-water structure or heavy concentrations of baitfish. When Slabbing you have to let the jig ride all the way to the bottom, then reel in the slack holding your pole tip at the waters surface. Now comes the crucial part, giving a sharp snap of the wrist to the 12 O’clock position gives the jig the darting motion required to initiate a strike. After the snap of the wrist the pole is immediately lowered to within one foot of the waters edge and held firm at that point, where the jig will rock in a pendulum like motion. After allowing the jig to sit for a second the action is repeated. When a fish has taken the jig you will feel the weight on the next upward thrust which usually will set the hook, then just hold on. Due to the aggressive feeding habits of the Lake Trout, often the jig will snag the fish in the side behind the gill plate (operculum). This is a result of the lake trout’s feeding behavior in which it will slash its way through a school of Salmon hitting them with its head and tail, and then any stunned Salmon are quickly devoured. This is a primary feeding behavior used predator fish to catch schooling baitfish. Jig Slabbing is one of the best techniques to use when you are seeking such a predator fish. 

This would be our third trip to the Clark Fork Delta to fish for these toothy critters. The first trip ended with a skunk! The second trip ended with a 4lb Mack with 1-whitefish in the boat after 6-hours of hard fishing. A tough lesson indeed, but we were wiser and ready to apply what we had learned to a new day on the water. To be a successful fisherman you always have to learn from your mistakes and your successes and apply them in the future. The knowledge we had learned from the first two trips was invaluable and we applied this knowledge to the third trip. We had one more tool in our belt called “CONFIDENCE”. This tool is often a hard one to find and is usually found only through experience, knowledge and is how to consistently be a successful fisherman and is what fishing is all about for me. You see the first time we fished in the Delta we had a pretty good idea where to find the Mack’s and how to catch them, but I was convinced we could locate the Mack’s on my Lawrence LCR Fish-finder if we covered enough water in and around the target area. We searched high and low and could not find any concentrations of Mackinaws anywhere. I was striving to find a pocket or concentration anything to give me an edge or “confidence”. All I needed was a few Mack’s concentrated in one area to begin jigging for them, but all I could find was a pocket of Kokanee Salmon, a small school of Whitefish, or a sporadic single Mac. This is where I learned from my mistake.

When we landed the first Mack all we saw on the screen was a small pocket of Kokanee suspended 50 feet off the bottom in 75 feet of water. We could see our jigs on the screen directly under the boat going up and down but not any Mack’s. What we figured out is that the Mack’s were holding so close to the bottom that my fish-Finder could not pick them up or they were coming in from outside the view of my LCR to hit the jig. We also found out by talking with other anglers that the peak fishing times were around 8:00Am to 9:30AM and we landed our first Mack about 10:00 or so and a white fish about 10:30AM. We had spent the better portion of the peak fishing time cruising around looking for sonar hits and coming up empty. Landing the Mack gave us the confidence we needed to figure out a game plan for the next day and this is what fishing is all about for me. Our game plan was simple, to get on the water by daybreak and start jigging over any pockets of Kokanee Salmon we could locate. 

As we proceeded to the lake I had realized that my game plan was starting to slip a little bit, you see we were already running 30-minutes late. “Oh well, in any good game plan you always have to overcome obstacles”. We finally unloaded boat off the ramp a little after 5:00AM. Being late already I put my boat in full throttle going south from The Hope boat ramp to the River Delta. There was a pretty good chop working the water as we sped into a headwind from the South. Jimmy managed to eat a wave-top or two coming over the top of the boat, as I ducked behind my half-shield. There were at least four other boats working the target area as we approached. Also there was a consistent breeze blowing from the south at about 5-miles an hour. This posed the second challenge to our game plan; you see when Slabbing you have to be directly over or at least no more than a 10% angle from you and your jig on the bottom. With the wind blowing this made it difficult.

Our solution to the problem was to employ the use of my bow-mount electric motor. We were not in the target area 5-miinutes before we noticed a small school of Kokanee on the screen 35 feet down in 75 feet of water. At the same time I looked at the shoreline and noticed a conspicuous fallen tree lying in the water. I put my bow-mount motor in the water and gave the order to start jigging. Aaron was the first to set his hook in the jaw of a Mack. I reacted with delightful surprise and then was overwhelmed with a feeling of confidence. As Aaron battled the Mack you could see he was also feeling pretty good about hooking it up. He landed a nice 8-lb Mack after a 10-minute battle. The jig showed some pretty good teeth marks as I dislodged it from the jaw of the trout. A close inspection of the leader showed no damage to the TyGer Leader, so into the water went the jig for another fish and into the Live-well went the first Mack.

When I landed Aaron’s trout, I left my post on the bow of the boat in which I was holding our position with the bow-mount motor. This had caused the wind to take over and started pushing us around a bit. After an hour of fishing I began experimenting with the bow mount motor and the wind. I would actually let the wind push us along slipping along the shoreline covering as much water as we could but at the same time not getting more than a 10% angle from the jigs below. This could not have worked any better.

We had slipped along the shoreline for another fifty yards when Aaron yelled out he had another fish. At this point we got pretty excited. We landed a 10lb Mack 8-minutes later. It was time to check out the knots and make sure the terminal rig was ok and it was. We noticed that there was a small sandy beach across where Aaron landed his second fish and decided to start up the big motor and run up to the downed log and slip-drift along the shoreline to the sandy beach. We had located a perfect drift that was giving us success. Confidence is a great thing to have when fishing. Over the next 2.5 hours we landed 5-Mack’s, 2-by Aaron, 1-by Jimmy and 2-by me. Aaron also landed a beautiful 12 lb Bull trout and all three of us had lost at least 1-Fish. The remarkable thing is that for as much as we could tell, in the 2.5 hours in the morning we were the only boat landing fish. I attribute this fact to the use of the bow mount motor because after the wind subsided I noticed a couple other boats producing some fish. At the end of the day we had over 50lbs of lake trout in he live well.

In reading my story, I hope you can appreciate that I am an average guy who loves to fish and always treats each fishing trip as a learning experience. I did not just go out and slam a bunch of trout. It took patients, trial and error, and the ability to apply what I learned to formulate a game plan and finally to have an open mind to adjust the game plan when needed.

Have Good Fishing and always take a kid along too. 

See Ya!


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