The Spokane region is a hotbed for rental fishing boats, relatively speaking.
Anglers heading out Saturday for the opening of Washington’s lowland lake trout fishing season can choose from two dozen resorts that rent boats at 16 different fishing lakes in northeastern Washington.
Perhaps it’s even more notable that the region has that many fishing resorts, a once-bustling family hospitality industry that’s faded from many areas, especially on the West Side.
“There used to be at least one resort on every fishing lake, but times have changed in the lake real estate market,” said Mark Stepper of Mallard Bay Resort on Spokane County’s Clear Lake.
“When a resort owner retires or gets out of the business, the people looking to buy prime lakefront property aren’t planning to pump septic tanks and maintain docks for the public. They’re going to build a nice private house and lock the gate.”
Or they’ll develop a subdivision, as happened to the resorts on Liberty Lake.
An exception to the rule is just a short boat ride away from Stepper in the northeast corner of Clear Lake, where Brent Roundtree and his family are entering their first full season as owners of Sun Cove.
The resort once was Connie’s Cove, then Rainbow Cove, and then Dan’s Landing before the Roundtrees took it over last fall.
“There was no Dan here anymore so we renamed it,” he said.
“It’s been an eye opener. Take the dock. Fixing it was a job I thought I’d start one day and finish the next. Two weeks later, I’m still working on it.
“All 300 damned feet of it,” he added with a chuckle.”
Although he rents fishing boats, he said the dock has been the most critical and expensive part of his operation.
“But it’s up and floating real nice for the people who’ll be out fishing this season,” he said.
Stepper said he and his wife bought Mallard Cove, formerly Barber’s Resort, because “we had two kids –4 years old and 6 months old – and we weren’t into the daycare thing. The resort became our lifestyle.”
“Now the kids are grown,” he added, “and here it is, a few days before opening day and I’m still scrambling to get ready. I always work harder in the month before the season than I do after the season actually starts.”
Bob Farley, 74, and his family are the new operators of Downs Lake Resort this year – a leap they made after falling in love with the setting.
“When we heard the previous owners wanted to get out of their lease but couldn’t find someone to take over, we got worried it might shut down and we’d lose our favorite place to camp,” he said.
Farley, his wife, Judy, and sons Richard and Duane have been busy ever since.
“It’s been a labor of love,” he said. “The place looks a whole lot better now and we’ve been getting a lot of compliments.”
Downs Lake Resort still has a few rowboats for rent. “But we don’t have motors,” Farley said. “With all the lily pads out there, people used to burn up the motors.”
Rental boats are in less demand nowadays partly because a higher percentage of fishermen own their own boats and partly because the clientele for fishing resorts has declined.
All of the region’s long-time resort owners point out that fishing no longer is a top attraction for families consumed by sports and other activities that compete for their kids’ time and attention.
Granite Point Park on Loon Lake used to have 65 boats, all reserved for opening day.
“This year we have a dozen boats, but they all have brand new motors,” owner Guy Pruitt said.
Brad McHenry has a handsome fleet of 15 shiny aluminum rental barges for anglers at Bunker’s Resort on Williams Lake.
“They’re very stable and safe,” he said. “That’s the key.”
When he started the resort 51 years ago, he had 125 boats and barges, “all made of wood,” he said. “I worked all winter to get them in shape for the next season.
“Aluminum is the only way to go, but these boats cost $2,200 and each has a nine-horse Honda motor that costs $2,200. We rent them for $50 for an entire day, including gas.
“You don’t make any money on rental boats, but you have the have them,” McHenry said.
“Most of our customers fish of the dock, but some people say they aren’t fishing unless they’re in a boat. It’s part of the experience.”
Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email email@example.com.