Things That Float

With July heat on the rise watersports craft are suddenly en vogue.

My cluttered garage holds a float tube, a pontoon boat, a drift boat and canoe, a motor boat, and more recently, a kayak. I own all of this amphibious equipment strictly in the interests of accessing more or bigger fish (and hunting waterfowl when fall rolls around). But I guess there are also those who float across lakes and ponds and down rivers just for the pure fun of it. There has always been something fascinating about sitting inside or atop a boat of some kind, envisioning ourselves as part of an adventure like Lewis and Clark’s trek toward the elusive Pacific, or riding in wild water on the African Queen of Humphrey Bogart fame, or running away from home (if only temporarily) like Huckleberry Finn. It was these kinds of fantasies that sparked youthful enterprises constructed of driftwood and rope to try our luck on a handy cow pond — or using that $10 thin-vinyl swimming pool raft to run the rapids during a flash flood in one of the local creek (a very bad idea, by the way).

Residents of the Inland Northwest are blessed with a plethora of water. The Kalispell/Whitefish, Montana, region is blessed with more water than you might explore in a lifetime; large among them vast Flathead and Whitefish lakes. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, of course, sits on the shores of a lake by the same name, with gorgeous Pend Oreille and Priest lakes just up the road. Lewiston/Moscow, Idaho, offers quick access to the Snake and Clearwater rivers, plus lakes and ponds big and small too numerous to list here. Moses Lake, Washington, by some strange coincidence, is located near a body of water by the same name, as well as Potholes Reservoir.

All these waters offer world-class fishing of some kind, from trout to smallmouth and largemouth bass to kokanee and even catfish, pike and walleye. Or, if you’re one of those water lovers who needs no real excuse to paddle, kick, row or motor around, there’s plenty of space for you as well to cool off from the summer heat or get some exercise.

On small ponds and lakes fishermen can have plenty of fun from a float tube, a.k.a. “belly boat.” I’ve enjoyed plenty of productive fishing from my old float tube. They get you down close to the water (you’ll need waders in all but the warmest waters) and are perfect for probing the edges of weedbeds, cattail banks or shallow coves bank-bound fishermen can’t access. They’re also highly affordable (normally less than $150 for a complete kit with kick fins and air pump) and easy to transport (just toss an inflated tube – or several — in the back of a pickup, or deflate them and pack them in the trunk of a compact car).

Pontoon boats are perhaps a bit more versatile and keep you above the water, though do prove just a tad more unwieldy than a float tube. I’ve used mine to row into inaccessible coves and far shores on area lakes, as well as to float wild whitewater like the North Fork of the Clearwater and Locsha River.  They also allow you to take more gear along; an entire cooler full of food and drink, if you wish, or even your faithful Labrador retriever. They also hold a plethora of attached storage bags to stow necessary fishing gear, first-aid kits, raingear and the like. Better models include mounts for a trolling motor (a plus on a breezy day or when fishing bigger waters) and anchor systems to hold you in that productive hotspot.

Today, I must admit, I do most of my fishing from my trusty kayak. They’re easy to transport and launch – even more so than the average pontoon boat – and offer zippier transportation on bigger still-waters or large rivers. I can also easily paddle back upstream against fairly strong current if I want to hit a productive spot again. These aren’t the unstable kayaks you see people shooting rapids and doing barrel rolls in but highly-stable craft that leave you feeling secure even on rough or choppy water – though only a fool would paddle across any water without wearing a life jacket. Convenient dry-storage hatches and cargo space allows me to enjoy overnight floats or paddles on large lakes like Coeur d’Alene Lake or Dworshak Reservoir. And while my other water vessels are used strictly for fishing, I admit the kayak is fun enough I often leave the fishing pole behind and paddle just for the sheer pleasure of covering some water and having a look around…

Tri-State Outfitters and Sportsman & Ski Haus’ six locations also carry a wide assortment of inflatable rafts and kayaks, from big outfits designed to take on Class V whitewater to smaller two- and three-man rafts made to paddle around on a calm lake. Some of these smaller rafts can also be equipped with a mounting board to hold an electric trolling motor or small outboard. Still others prefer a classic canoe made to comfortably carry two people and ample gear for extended stays, or the tot or family pet for a leisurely day of angling or sightseeing.

Big-boat owners will also find a variety of powerboat accessories at Tri-State and Sportsman’s locations as well — from mix oil for your four-stroke outboard, to rod and cup holders, anchors, fenders and buoys , identification stickers, drain plugs and access ladders. Also look into our large selection of oars and paddles, rafting equipment, air compressors and safety gear – including one of the most extensive selections of life preservers in the Northwest. For those who look on water as a playground, you might want to check out our supply of towable platforms, water skis, wake boards (and accessories), tow ropes and safety flags.

In short, if it floats, in all likelihood we can help you get outfitted this summer.  Come and see us!