A Land of Lakes

Minnesota claims to be the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.” And if they really have that many, we can’t match ‘em. But the Flathead area does contain well over 700, ranging in size from tiny reed-filled ponds, to gargantuan Flathead—at its extremities, 28 miles long and 15 miles wide.

It’s a water wonderland, never far from a freshwater lake of some sort. One can easily test the placid waters of a remote warm-water lake with a canoe, or watch powerboat races at the Whitefish Regatta. One can manhandle a cartop dory into a little known forest gem, or pack a rubber raft into an isolated high mountain lake. Or simply relax, still fishing from shore along one of the many “oxbow sloughs.”

They range in popularity, too. Many have first or second homes and condominiums scattered around their shores, while others have excellent state, federal or private campgrounds, picnic areas, boat docks, launching ramps, boat rental facilities, and repair shops. There are many lakes that are served by no roads, some by poor or no trails. Still, others are so remote as to even require days to reach by horseback.

There are lakes near the top of 10,000-foot mountain peaks, glistening like jewels in beautiful glacial cirques. There are others, shallow and warm in the valley bottoms, thick with waterfowl and marsh life.

There are lakes with flashing, tail-dancing rainbows; others with tackle-busting lunker Dolly Varden, mackinaw, or northern Pike; still others with tasty kokanee salmon, cutthroat trout, or whitefish, several with slashing largemouth bass or fun-to-catch perch.

There are easy-access lakes where the water skiing is excellent and the people few, others with no-wake speed limits, and Wilderness and National Park lakes where only oar-powered boats can be used.

All in all, there’s a lake to suit you, no matter your taste. All you must do is look.

In this corner of Montana, there are 17 lakes and four reservoirs each with over 1,000 surface acres. Flathead Lake is, of course, the largest at 126,080 acres. It is followed in size by two long, narrow reservoirs - Koocanusa and Hungry Horse.

Others within the list includes Lake McDonald, St. Mary, Kintla, Bowman, Logging and Sherburne within Glacier Park; Lower St. Mary and Duck on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation; Ninepipe and Pablo Reservoirs on the Flathead Indian Reservation; and Whitefish, Swan, Little Bitterroot, Ashley, McGregor, Lake Mary Ronan, Tally, Placid and Seeley, all within surrounding forests.

Opportunities for the highest quality recreation abound in these lakes; including pleasure boating, fishing, water skiing, swimming, diving, sailboating, and wind surfing on the half dozen largest (Flathead, Whitefish, McDonald, etc.).

Fishing can range from a simple relaxing way to while away an afternoon, to an outstanding tackle-busting, gut-wrenching adventure. All the big lakes contain a variety of fish, but the variety is different from lake to lake. Depending on the one you fish, your catch could include cutthroat, rainbow, Dolly Varden, and brown trout; bass, northern pike, kokanee salmon, and perch.

Most larger lakes (and some smaller ones) have boat rentals available at various locations, and boat ramps are always around somewhere.

There are a couple of tour boats plying the waters of Flathead Lake, for those wanting to relax and enjoy. One boat is based in Polson, the other in Somers. There are also tour boats based on Glacier Park’s McDonald, St. Mary, Swiftcurrent and Two Medicine Lakes.

Any of these huge lakes contain enough surface area to be dangerous to boaters during storms. Especially so, is that true of Flathead Lake, where a sudden storm could catch unwary boaters several miles from shore. Take care.

Roland Cheek has lived the better part of fifty years living in Columbia Falls in the heart of the Flathead area. A good many of those years he spent as an outfitter. Most of the rest of that he’s spent observing the area and its wildlife and writing about bears, elk, and the great outdoors surrounding him. His “Trails to Outdoor Adventure” has been syndicated in print and radio. He is the author of six books and countless outdoor articles. Find out more about him at www.rolandcheek.com.

by: Roland Cheek