Go fish: Charter industry finds silent partner in local lakes

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  • Photos courtesy of PREMIER CHARTERS The Birnbaum family enjoys a morning on Lake Coeur d’Alene via Premier Charters.

  • 1

    Photo courtesy of PREMIER CHARTERS Not everyone in the Birnbaum family enjoyed their Premier Charters tour of Lake Coeur d’Alene in equal measure. The charter and guide service expects a strong summer this season thanks in part to minimal winter flooding.

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    Claire Cook shows off a massive mackinaw.

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    Photo courtesy of FINS & FEATHERS TACKLE SHOP AND GUIDE SERVICE A 27.5-pound northern pike caught by Jordan Smith.

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    Photo courtesy of FINS & FEATHERS TACKLE SHOP AND GUIDE SERVICE A few nice salmon from Lake Coeur d’Alene caught by fishing guide Jeff Smith, left, and Dick Smith.

  • Photos courtesy of PREMIER CHARTERS The Birnbaum family enjoys a morning on Lake Coeur d’Alene via Premier Charters.

  • 1

    Photo courtesy of PREMIER CHARTERS Not everyone in the Birnbaum family enjoyed their Premier Charters tour of Lake Coeur d’Alene in equal measure. The charter and guide service expects a strong summer this season thanks in part to minimal winter flooding.

  • 2

    Claire Cook shows off a massive mackinaw.

  • 3

    Photo courtesy of FINS & FEATHERS TACKLE SHOP AND GUIDE SERVICE A 27.5-pound northern pike caught by Jordan Smith.

  • 4

    Photo courtesy of FINS & FEATHERS TACKLE SHOP AND GUIDE SERVICE A few nice salmon from Lake Coeur d’Alene caught by fishing guide Jeff Smith, left, and Dick Smith.

North Idaho’s relationship with the outdoors is more than a simple admiration of a natural phenomenon.

It’s an opportunity.

In a 2017 survey conducted on behalf of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, when participants were asked how they would describe North Idaho, twice as many respondents answered with “Beautiful Scenery” than any other answer.

In that same survey, when asked what visitors would try for the first time on their next visit to the area, the third most popular answer was, “Fishing.” Local guides and charters are capitalizing on that data every chance they get.

“It’s shaping up to be a good year,” said Vicki Cook of Premier Charters in Coeur d’Alene. “We’re improving every year. We nearly doubled this year from past years.”

Cook and her husband, Travis, purchased the charter service to appeal to the needs of experienced and inexperienced anglers alike, targeting tourists from the Interstate 90 corridor and travelers heading down U.S. 95 from British Columbia.

“If the tourists don’t come, we don’t have a [successful] year,” she said. “Plain and simple. So far, though, it’s shaping up to be a really good year.”

“I think we’re on pace for hitting 250 percent of last year’s numbers,” husband Travis said. “We’re full probably six months out of the year. June and July, we’re busy all the time.”

The recipe for a successful charter season, Travis said, has more to do with The Farmer’s Almanac than the checkbook.

“Weather can be all over the place,” he said. “As charter guys, we like to see as little wind as possible. Not too hot, not too cold. So far, this year has been excellent. Temperatures were perfect, and the flooding this year has been very manageable. The biggest single criteria that can impact a fishing season is major flooding in the lake.”

True success in the charter business, he added, comes from preparations made in the office, not on the dock.

“For North Idaho,” Travis said, “it’s pretty simple: Maintain an internet presence and know your clients. That’s really the key. Know your client, and know what they’re doing, where they want to go. It’s the same as in any industry.”

Captain James Mullen of Eagle Charters, out of Lake Pend Orielle’s eastern coastal berg of Hope, agreed.

“People are calling us or contacting us through the internet every day, asking to get something booked. We’re nationally known as a destination lake. There are plenty of tourists from around the country who book with us before the fall. Then, when fall comes and tourism dies down, the people who know us and trust us — good repeat customers — come back and fish with us. But in the summer months from Memorial Day all through Labor Day, we have a ton of tourists coming through here booking their reservations. Our lake is obviously a huge draw.”

Repeat business and strong reviews have been the drivers behind the business model of other charter services in the area.

“The Coeur d’Alene Resort has been a great tool for us,” said Jordan Smith of Coeur d’Alene’s Fins & Feathers Tackle Shop and Guide Service. “The Resort’s a great draw. Their concierge does an amazing job, and we’ve had a great working relationship with them. Plus, we’re just out on the lake more. People see us out on the lake. We get great reviews.”

Mullen added that Lake Pend Oreille has enjoyed cooler spring temperatures than Lake Coeur d’Alene, as well as experienced little flooding, so fishing the northern lake is just now getting good.

“It was an awfully cold spring up here,” Mullen said, “so the temperatures are warming up, and the fish are just starting to come up. We should have a longer season. One of my friends has caught 60 pike so far this spring. We really have a big trophy pike fishery, and we’ve had a ton of kokanee. We’re still catching walleye. The walleye have really come on since the temperatures came up. The flooding hasn’t been bad at all, so it’s making for a great summer.”

“It’s funny,” Smith said. “Coeur d’Alene is a destination lake, but it isn’t considered a destination for fishing. People come for the lake when they don’t really think about fishing. That’s where we get a lot of our business: People have spent all winter and spring inside, and the sun comes out. People get some Vitamin D in them, or they get cabin fever. They want to get out and do something, so they come to the lake, not even thinking about going fishing until they get here.”

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