Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Northwest Montana is a boater's paradise

| July 15, 2021 12:00 AM

Northwest Montana has more than its fair share of lakes and streams ideally suited for recreation use.

With the sprawling 100,000-acre Flathead Lake just seven miles south of Kalispell, plus many other large lakes like Swan, Ashley, Little Bitterroot, Middle Thompson and McGregor, plus two major reservoirs, plus dozens of other smaller lakes, plus scores of hike-in mountain lakes, the region has an unbelievable array of flat water to satisfy any water lover.

Now add in all our stream opportunities on the numerous large and small rivers that offer wade, float and white-water opportunities.

Wow, what an array of choices we have!

Many of us get great enjoyment from our lakes and rivers by just sitting on the shoreline and enjoying the water view.

During my Forest Service career, I had the delightful job of negotiating and appraising land, mostly waterfront land, for additions to the National Forest system.

What a great job! During the early years of that work, I couldn’t understand why people would buy waterfront land that did not have a sandy beach for swimming or was known for great fishing.

Eventually, I realized that what makes waterfront land so valuable is simply the water. People love water whether it is the broad expanse of a lake or a babbling brook.

Water has a soothing or tranquil quality that people love. I am fortunate to have a lake cabin. What amazes me is the large number of my lake neighbors that don’t swim or fish. Again, they just love the water.

While we can enjoy just sitting and looking at a lake or creek, an even better way to enjoy water is to have a boat, kayak, canoe, float tube or pontoon boat which allows us to literally get into or on the water.

Recreational boating has undergone a lot of changes over the many decades of my life. Those changes in recreational boating are similar to my boating experiences.

My first watercraft was a canoe. My father bought this used canvas covered canoe for all three of the Illi boys. But I had the greatest desire to fish and canoe, so I soon claimed this canoe for myself. I have paddled this canoe on hundreds of miles of wilderness lakes in Minnesota and Canada.

This 100-year-old canoe still hangs in my garage, but is seldom used. My second boat was an old wooden plank boat that my older brother and I found submerged in the back of a weed-choked bay on a Wisconsin lake.

It was full of dirt, water and weeds. It had probably blown away in a wind storm and never recovered by its owner.

To us, it was literally like finding a buried (submerged) treasure. We paddled our canoe back to our cabin to get a bucket, shovel and rope to salvage this treasure.

After a long period of drying out and many coats of paint, our boat was seaworthy again. My brother had a paper route, so he had the money to buy a 3 horsepower outboard motor from Montgomery Ward.

We now had a motor boat. Lucky us! My father had a 14-foot cedar-strip wood boat powered by a 10 HP motor. That was the standard fishing boat of that era.

My next boat was a 12-foot used aluminum boat which I bought for $75. I powered it with a 3.9 HP Mercury motor. I still have that boat and motor.

My current primary fishing boat is now an 18.5-foot Crestliner boat, with 150 HP main motor, 9.9 HP kicker motor, electric motor on the bow and lots of other bells and whistles for fishing.

It is a high-quality expensive piece of fishing gear which I love. My current fleet also includes several kayaks (for the granddaughters), three aluminum boats, a paddle boat and other assorted inflatable fishing boats.

So, I have plenty of choices of water craft to enjoy the Montana’s lakes and rivers.

My history of boats pretty well mirrors the boating trends in Montana and the United States.

Sixty years ago, a 14-foot fishing boat with a 10 HP motor was the go-to fishing boat. Now that same type of fisherman will likely have a sleek 17–21 foot fishing boat with 150-250 HP main motor, plus a kicker motor for trolling, plus an electric motor on the bow that communicates with satellites for water depth, lake bottom maps and fish locations.

The old pontoon boat of 30 years ago, with a 10 HP motor was known as a grandpa’s boat to take the grandkids fishing. Modern day pontoon boats have 150-350 HP motors that can pull multiple skiers or tubers at a time.

Wow, has recreation power boats changed! Similar to many

things in American things, bigger is better, or so we think.

In recent years, kayaks have taken over the boating industry in terms of number of water craft sold. Kayaks gained popularity because of their low cost, portability and the fun of paddling.

They are a very personal type watercraft. Basic kayaks can be purchased for a few hundred dollars at your local box store.

Specialized kayaks for fishing have been developed. A good fishing kayak is designed for greater stability and has all sorts of bells and whistles for fishing.

Let’s not forget the current popularity of stand-up paddle boards.

So regardless of how you want to enhance your lake or river experience, there is a watercraft to suit your needs and budget.

Enjoy the Flathead and its waters.