No Boat? No Problem!
From the Summer 2022 Issue
5 ways to get out and enjoy the lake
Swimming, sunning, fishing, wading, and floating are all easily accessible from any of the beaches dotted around the 100-mile shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille, but it is a lake best experienced on the water itself — that is, on a boat.
Of course, we all know the adage: boat stands for “bust out another thousand,” meaning that boats are generally expensive to purchase, transport, and maintain. Not everyone has pockets deep enough to regularly ply the deep waters of Lake Pend Oreille, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to avoid the high costs of boat ownership while still enjoying the thrill of motoring, paddling, or riding across the waves.
From Dover to Sandpoint to Hope there are several opportunities to rent or charter a variety of watercraft to suit whatever experience you, your family, and friends wish to enjoy on Lake Pend Oreille. Here are a few.
1 Motorized Boat Rentals
Just three miles west of Sandpoint, at Dover Bay, is Sandpoint Watersports, which for the past eight years has offered a range of options for would-be boaters looking for everything from a half-day cruise to a week or even month of temporary boat ownership.
Owner Gary Chapman said some folks who are visiting long-term will even mix and match the kinds of watercraft they rent.
“They’ll spend two weeks here, rent a house on the water, and come and get jet skis for a while or the pontoon boat or one of the ski boats,” he said.
Sandpoint Watersports has a fleet of 17 watercraft available for rent, including a pontoon boat that can be chartered if the renter doesn’t want to double as the pilot.
Those who want to take out a boat or jet ski will need to prove that they can responsibly be on the water, of course, and Chapman said, “Safety is a first issue — making sure they can handle what they’re going to get.
“Like anything else that you rent, there’s a process to make sure that you’re qualified,” he added.
The rental season at Sandpoint Watersports typically runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, though Chapman said they’ve had requests to start earlier, and the company can accommodate those requests, depending on the lake level.
Action Water Sports has been living up to its name since 2010, offering high-energy experiences on the lake ranging from waterskiing to wake surfing. The company offers rentals that range from lessons to private lake tours to a host of other motorized and non-motorized watercraft — all accessible from Sandpoint Marina in downtown Sandpoint.
Owned by local Sandpoint brothers Pat and Nate Holland — who between them have competed at the highest levels of snowboardcross, including the Olympics — Action Water Sports boasts a lesson boat, three wakesurf boats, five pontoon boats, four Seadoos, eight kayaks, and eight stand-up paddleboards.
The wakesurf boats are all high-end Malibu or Axis brand, and the lesson boat is a specially made Nautique G23, piloted by U.S. Coast Guard captains. Up to 15 people can be accommodated on the rental wakesurf boats and six at a time on the lesson boat.
While the power boats are a big draw, Pat Holland said the pontoon boats are “by far the most popular way to get on the water — especially for people without a lot of experience.
“They feel fairly secure and safe to operate; they’re pretty simple operationally,” he added. “We describe them as a living room on the water.”
Rentals are offered from Memorial Day to Labor Day, though the season can run to early October, weather permitting.
Non-motorized rentals are offered by the hour, Seadoos for a minimum of two hours, and the pontoon boats are rented for a minimum of four hours with multi-day discounts available.
Customers must be 18 or older to rent their own boat, with those under 18 requiring a parent or guardian. Holland said families especially enjoy the kayaks, paddleboards, and pontoons, but “I’ve taught kids as young as 3 years old how to waterski and wakesurf.”
If you want to get out on the eastern part of the lake, Hope Boat Rentals is new on the scene and offering rentals of pontoon boats and waverunners out of the Hope Marina. Multi-day rental discounts are available, as is the ability to make reservations online.
2 Take A Tour
At or near the top of the list of most distinctive boats on Lake Pend Oreille is the Shawnodese. Its origins go back to 1966, providing ferry service to Coronado Island in the San Diego area. It had another life as a charter boat on Lake Mead, and as a crew boat in San Francisco.
It sat mostly idle in North Idaho from the early 1980s to 1992, when the original owners of Lake Pend Oreille Cruises bought it and embarked on a multi-year redesign and rebuild that put the Shawnodese back on the water in 1995.
Since then, it has been a favorite of locals and visitors alike, providing a unique and stress-free way to experience the scenery and history of the lake and its surrounding area.
Eric “EJ” Jensen, who took over Lake Pend Oreille Cruises four seasons ago, said the Shawnodese operates out of Kramer Marina in Hope during the early season, which begins May 14, but relocates to City Beach for the summer season, beginning on or around June 13. After that point, the Shawnodese offers three cruises per day until early September.
The first cruise, which begins at 12:30 p.m., is an hour-and-a-half, 10-mile loop from City Beach, along the railroad bridge and shoreline to the vicinity of Bottle Bay, then the north shore of the lake and back toward City Beach.
Following the history cruise is the birds of prey cruise, which also operates for an hour-and-a-half, and takes passengers past three bald eagle nesting areas. The sunset cruise, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., is a stunning way to end the day.
“The lake history cruise is probably our busiest cruise we take,” Jensen said.
The 43-foot-long Shawnodese is Coast Guard rated to accommodate up to 36 passengers in four seating areas — including indoor, outdoor, and covered sections — in the bow, stern, and upper and lower decks.
Families with kids of all ages are welcome, with children 12 and under invited to participate as “captain of the day” on the history and birds of prey cruises.
“We let them come into the wheelhouse and pilot the boat for a minute,” Jensen said. “It’s really just about cruising around the lake. You get to see everything North Idaho has to offer.”
As for the Shawnodese: “It kind of has its own following on the lake,” Jensen said.
3 Go For A Sail
For those with or without sailing experience, there are a multitude of options for experiencing the thrill of coasting over the waves by the power of the wind.
The Sandpoint Sailing Association, based at the Windbag Marina at City Beach, welcomes old hands as well as greenhorn sailors with a Thursday evening non-competitive “beer can race” in which crews sail around buoys.
“We open that up to the community — if you want to try out sailing and if there’s space on a boat, people will take you out sailing,” said SSA Commodore Chris Ankney, adding that participants don’t need to have a boat or be a member of the association, and young sailors should be in the 8 and older age range.
“I’ve never had to turn anybody away in the past four or five years that I’ve been active in it,” Ankney said.
Another option is to enroll in a class, with three sessions offered per summer in June, July, and August. The classes are run in collaboration with the Sandpoint Parks and Recreation Department, with additional information, including registration, at www.sandpointidaho.gov under “Your Government.”
For the most bang-for-your-sailing buck, SSA membership costs $65 for an individual and $85 for a family and affords access to the club’s six sailboats anytime they’re available.
“You pay that membership fee and you get to take those boats out whenever you want,” Ankney said. “You basically own four boats that you can take out sailing whenever you want.”
For the more experienced, captains on Saturday racing nights “are always looking for crew,” Ankney added.
The sailing season begins in earnest in early June, with various events offered throughout the summer.
Finally, there are captains on the lake such as Bruce Robertson who own a boat and are also happy to offer lessons or take folks along for a ride.
“If someone wants some instruction in sailing, they can do that. If they want to sit on the bow and look at the scenery, they can do that, too,” said Robertson, who got bitten by the sailing bug after crewing on one of SSA’s races.
A Coast Guard-certified captain, Robertson can take six passengers on his 29-foot boat, moored at Hope Marina. His season ends in October, with sailing routes determined by clients — wind and weather permitting.
4 Fishing Charters
Few things are as satisfying as landing a catch — or several — from Lake Pend Oreille’s famous fishery, out of which have come multiple record-breaking specimens over the years. They call it “fishing” rather than “catching” for a reason, but your odds increase greatly with the experience, equipment and, most important, vessel of an experienced captain.
They don’t come much more experienced around here than Ken Hayes of Seagull Charters.
Affectionately known as “Captain Ken,” Hayes has been operating out of Hope for 23 years, running an average 150 charters per year. With a Coast Guard-certified inspection, the Seagull can take out as many as 23 people, with no age or experience limit.
“I’ve had babies on the boat — starting them early,” he said.
The Seagull has a large, covered aft deck and heated cabin, making it comfortable year-round, and Hayes indeed operates year-round thanks to the deep-water moorage at Holiday Shores Marina, which also gives the Seagull and other charter companies ready access to the so-called “Big Lake,” extending from the Clark Fork River delta to the Green Monarchs, taking in Cottage and Pearl islands and all along the opposite lakeshore.
Hayes’ route takes him throughout the whole area, though “it depends on where the fish are going to be,” he said — and that depends on the season.
Hayes said his spring season books up almost a year in advance and the fall fishing is already nearly full, though he added that the best fishing is mid March through almost Christmastime.
“As far as booking, you’ve got to get ahead of the game,” he said.
It’s worth it, though. Patrons on the Seagull have reeled in several fish pushing the 25-pound mark, and two rainbow trout in the past year that were only a few ounces off that size.
“I spend almost all my time on the lake, and I rarely get out and about,” he said. “But being out on the lake still has that old quality; it’s still peaceful, there’s serenity.”
Also located at Holiday Shores in Hope is Pend Oreille Charters, which operates the largest fleet of fishing boats on Lake Pend Oreille: five vessels, ranging from big-water fishing boats to more shallow-water bass and river boats.
The Wiley family has operated Pend Oreille Charters for the past five years, but the company has been around for about 40 years. Chris Wiley, who serves as primary captain of the fleet, has been fishing Lake Pend Oreille since he was about 6 years old, back in 1995, and his father, Bob Wylie, has been angling on the lake for close to 30 years.
Chris Wiley said Pend Oreille Charters runs about 260 trips a year — 180 of them with him as primary captain.
“We’ve expanded enough that it’s hard to book us up,” Wiley said. “Very rarely do we have a problem taking someone out.”
Like the Seagull, Pend Oreille Charters operates year-round, and frequently in the same fishing grounds. “The charter services all work together. We kind of piggyback off of each other’s experiences,” Wiley said.
Pend Oreille Charters’ vessels typically cruise under a six-pack license, which allows a maximum of six occupants regardless of the size of the vessel and with no age or experience restrictions.
“It’s very safe for families,” Wiley said, adding that kids aged 5 to 7 don’t even need life vests, though “every safety accoutrement is available.”
Pricing varies based on the number of patrons and the season, and Wiley said they take kids under 12 out for free: “We want to get kids out on the lake as much as possible.”
Regardless of the season, Wiley said, “It’s more just about going out pleasure cruising, enjoying each other’s company and enjoying Lake Pend Oreille.”
But Pend Oreille Charters has pulled in some big ones — including a 31.12-pound bull trout in January 2022 that weighed in .88 ounces below the world record for weight, though it did break the world record for length and broke some gear records. And that’s not to mention the legendary “Old Man Sparkles” — a state record-breaking 36.5-inch Gerrard rainbow trout caught and released by then-8-year-old Sophie Egizi under the captaincy of Bob Wiley in 2019.
“If you ever want to win the lottery, take her,” Chris Wiley said of Egizi.
5 Non-motorized Watercraft Rentals
Not every lake excursion has to happen under engine power and on the big water; a leisurely paddle along the nearshore is a great way to take in the scenery in a quiet, contemplative connection with the waterscape, not to mention a great way to get some exercise.
For more than 20 years Outdoor Experience has been renting out kayaks and stand-up paddleboards right in the heart of downtown Sandpoint.
Located at 314 N. First Ave., Outdoor Experience has access to Sand Creek right out its back door, renting a fleet of three single-person 10.5-foot Wilderness Systems Aspire sit-inside kayaks, three Wilderness Systems Tarpon 12-foot sit-on-top kayaks and three Boardworks SUPS — all of which are also sold in the store.
Owner Jenny Curto said most rentals are put in at Farmin’s Landing around the corner and behind the store, though customers are welcome to transport the boats elsewhere if they have a safe and reliable way to do so. Racks, straps, or padding are not provided, so plan accordingly, though OE does include life jackets and paddles.
Rentals are offered in 2- and 24-hour options, with no experience necessary. Curto said OE only offers adult kayaks, “However, children over 12 can typically enjoy these boats,” further noting that kids under 18 must have a parent or guardian present.
As for the season: “We typically start rentals when the lake reaches full pool in early June. This ensures we can safely access the water in Sand Creek. We typically rent until late September when the water level and temperatures drop. If you have the means to transport the boat yourself, we are happy to rent in the weeks before or after the water level restrictions — temperature permitting.”