With more than 3,000 private shoreline parcels on Lake Coeur d’Alene and more than 1,100 on Hayden Lake, it’s sometimes difficult to find a place to dip a toe in the sky-blue waters of either North Idaho pool.
But there’s a lot of water in the Panhandle and one of the best ways to access lakes and rivers is with a boat you can carry on your back.
Kayaks have been around a long time — the word is derived from the Inuit and the slim boats are believed to date back 4,000 years — and their main purpose is to assist in food gathering such as hunting and fishing.
Panhandle residents use their boats for similar purposes.
Tandi Foil of Coeur d’Alene got her sons hooked on kayak fishing a while back when she purchased a couple secondhand boats. Since then she and her boys have become adept fish stalkers as they slip into bays of Lake Coeur d’Alene that otherwise get little fishing pressure because they are weedy, or out of the way.
“We go all over,” Foil said.
Their favorite haunts include bays on the lake’s west side, as well as Hayden and Hauser lakes because of the ease of access.
“With two people we can pretty much launch our kayaks anywhere,” she said.
She and her family recently upgraded to sit-on kayaks that weigh around 60 pounds and are made for fishing.
The family has started a page on Facebook, paddle2fish, for novices looking to break into the sport — and they are part of the Kayak Fishing Idaho Facebook group that plays host to fishing tournaments around the state.
Chad Nelson of Black Sheep Sporting Goods uses his kayak almost exclusively. He has found the ease of launching, coupled with the kayak’s silence as he moves through fish habitat that is difficult to access effectively with a motorboat, gives him an advantage.
“You can move right into the lily pads without spooking fish … cast out and reel back to where the fish are,” he said. “It’s more stealthy.”
Nelson’s kayak weighs 38 pounds, making it the ideal watercraft to access motorless lakes that are too big or otherwise impractical to fish from the bank. Many lakes he fishes have rustic boat launches or none at all. With a kayak, that’s no problem. As an added benefit he no longer pays launch fees, and a paddle boat sticker costs far less than regular boat registration.
“I didn’t even license my boat last year,” Nelson said.
He paid the $7 sticker fee that allowed him to almost effortlessly skim the surface of Panhandle lakes as he snuck up on unsuspecting gamefish.
North Idaho lakes — there are 41 navigable lakes in the Panhandle, including Coeur d’Alene and its river chain lakes — have dozens of regular launches. Some require fees, while others do not. Launches with access to Lake Coeur d’Alene are maintained by Kootenai County, the state, the Bureau of Land Management and cities such as Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls. No-pay launches are sprinkled around the lake from Fullers Landing in the southern lake to Neachen Bay (formerly Squaw Bay) launch on the northeast side of the lake.
Miles Moore, who runs a website at FuntoSail.com, has a list of nontraditional launches that can be used for paddle boats. Although the Kootenai County website lists a dozen launches on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Moore has mapped out at least a dozen more, some of them in Benewah County south of Harrison.
“There are probably 34 to 36 launches on the lake,” he said. “That’s not including the Coeur d’Alene River and the chain lakes.”
His documented launches include an overgrown road at Powderhorn Bay that sneaks off Highway 97 and slips directly into the bay. The access point is a little difficult to use because it’s almost hidden, and veers downhill from a blind corner, he said. Many of the other launches he documents at FuntoSail are just as clandestine.
“I’ve had people who lived here all their lives tell me, ‘I didn’t even know that was there,’” said Moore, who operates a boat rental business on Miles Avenue.
Nancy Nelson, who grew up in St. Maries on the St. Joe River, recently started kayaking in places she drove by on the road Highway 3 or Highway 5 and U.S. 95, including the Coeur d’Alene River and its 10 chain lakes. Before kayaking she had no way to access what looked to be cool places to visit from the water. Although there are eight boat launches on the Coeur d’Alene River and three on the chain lakes, there are many non-mapped access points, Nelson said, and there are a lot of places with access that are not used very much.
Killarney Lake is among her favorites.
“When you put in at any of these places, depending on the day, or the time, you may have the whole place to yourself,” Nelson said.
Kayaks don’t require boat maintenance, winterizing or launch fees and traveling is quiet.
“I like that,” she said.
North Idaho has more than 140 lakes — many of them mountain lakes — and 2,000 miles of rivers. A large portion may be off limits to boats with electric or gas motors but can be accessed with a kayak.