Seth Orme Photography

Flathead Lake Circumnavigation | Day 2

Day 2 | Bare-Belly Island - Wayfarer’s State Park | 26 Miles

My eyes remained closed in the early morning hours, shutoff from the world. Neighboring birds held conversations. Crows, eagles, magpies and other small birds chatting. Opening my eyes and gazing north, a moody blanket of clouds lay hovering above the water. Clear skies on the horizon reflected an incredible pre-dawn light on the tranquil cove. The map called this little patch of dirt Bare-Belly Island. The beautiful pebble beach made for a great low impact camping surface, but it was this little cove that lured the canoe while in route to Bird Island. Packing up camp, I pause periodically to listen and feel the winds. Not that there is anything I could have done to change them. Just twelve hours ago, the winds had switched and a squall came ripping out of the north. What would today’s weather bring? Leaving the islands the canoe aims south into Skidoo Bay.

Looking north toward Wildhorse Island

A smooth zephyr pushes south until a windless rain finds me just before Mulligan Bay. The rain leaves as soon as it comes. In its wake rests the smoothest water you could lay eyes on. I checked the map - half-way south into the bay. Mesmerized by the water, the decision to paddle through the heart of Skidoo Bay became overwhelming. Pulling off the poncho and settling into a comfortable position, each paddle stroke pulled toward deeper water. The teal tropical waters of East Bay were long gone; in their place remained a deep sapphire abyss. The Bathymetric Map shows the center of Skidoo Bay to be over 240’ feet deep. If there was ever a time to see the Flathead Lake Monster, this would have to be it. 

In the belly of the beast.

Tiny vehicles humming along the highway could be seen clearly now. The breeze heard about my journey and decided to return, this time pushing from the south. Like a knife, the canoe sliced through the water with every stroked of the paddle. The skies, a deep steel grey, were a perfect companion to the eternal blue below.

Blue Bay Campground came into view. After a snack break and stretch the boat was back in the water. The friendly tailwind once again gave an assist. Feeling good, Yellow Bay State Park drifted past. With the winds picking up and remaining favorable at the tail, the decision to push north toward Big Fork and Wayfarer’s State Park was a natural one. A stout “Yehaww” broke free. Digging my paddle blade deep into wind rippled waters, my planned campsite for the night drifted away.

Approaching the other side of Skidoo Bay

The waves continued to build on the approach to Woods Bay. Thoughts rose. With choppy waves near shore and building winds the experience in the bay may become too amplified for an open boat. Past experience has always been  a favorite teacher. I stayed shoreside, taking the longer projection. If memory served right there was a waterfront restaurant of sorts…a bar perhaps? What better way to shake off windy mid-day antics than with a cold beer on dry land. The waves built beneath the boat as I hugged the shore, aiming for the north-east pocket of the bay.

Mouth watering, a sign for The Raven could be clearly seen; the words brewpub hand painted below the title. The two-story display nestled cozy on the river bank. Patrons watched me with curiosity from the deck above. Moving slower now, I scanned for a potential landing site. The original plan was to land behind the protection of the dock, but the wind and waves had built to the point that no protection could be had. I whistled a tune. Focus on the task at hand. Nerves crept in but remained on the sidelines - this wasn’t the time or place to stutter or stall. This beer would have to be earned.

Simple and too the point - two paddles, a Granite Gear portage pack and a canoe.

With original projections out of the questions, my torso twisted across the boat and performed a cross bow draw, swinging the boat around while still retaining the option to quickly transition into  a powerful forward stroke. No chance of dropping the paddle by changing grip. The maneuver worked. The landing stared back at me between a cement retaining wall and stone spit of boulders. The wind pushed the canoe into the mix. No whistling; just work. Reaching wide off the starboard, I performed a sculling motion with the paddle. This provided stability while allowing me to make the minor boat corrections. Wind working for me, in a way, my job was to not smash my boat on the rocks. The shore came close. The moment came - a quick starboard pry swung the bow straight into the wind and brought the gravel underneath the water into view. I sprung out of the boat, gripped the stern in two places and ripped the canoe out of the water with as much speed and grace as one could. 

Five minutes later, a washing machine of white waves continues to churn. A lone canoeist mutters to himself before taking another sip of beer. 


“Yeah, good call,”

“Good call.”

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