A showdown of Montana waters.
There exists a great recreational schism between anglers everywhere, and a river does not run through it. In fact, some stay far away from those rivers and their fly-whipping, tube-hugging coterie, preferring to seize the rudder and dispense with all this go-with-the-flow drivel. But lest we become blinded by prejudice, let us undertake a completely objective comparison between lakes and rivers, applying a set of rigorous, scientific criteria to reveal the superior water––criteria like chilling, sexiness, and fishability. We’ll soon get to the bottom of this.
You’re bobbing on the lake all afternoon, and that’s just how it should be. Crack another cold one, chuck another nightcrawler, and settle in. On the river, as the paddleboard yogis floating ahead of you salute the sun, you figure it’s a good time to break out the sandwiches. But before you can say “snag,” your craft is hung up on a submerged cottonwood and the aquatic yoga class left with some dangerously unbalanced chakras. While there are stretches of river that are great for letting up on the sticks, vigilance is paramount in any current.
Winter is one of the great seasons for lake fishing. Sitting inside of a tiny house on ice, swapping yarns, and eating brats isn’t a bad way to spend the darkest months of the year. And while every riverine fisherman has thought to winter-wade once in his or her life, there are few return customers. Changing flies in an iced up river with the dexterity of a lobster is fun for some masochists, but it makes for a long, miserable day to humans unafflicted by madness.
There is a great variety in Montana’s lakes. Some are situated high in the mountains, where the cold glacial waters dot the evergreen topography like sapphires. Some lie in the lowlands, attracting a diversity of birds and vegetation. Floating a river is like a tour of a whole ecosystem, new scenery and wildlife appearing around every bend. It’s all so scenic that it’s too close to call.
If you’re looking for a Tinder photo that exudes outdoorsy titillation, for the love of humanity, don’t pick that one of you in the aviators, dangling a walleye by the treble hook aboard a 500-horsepower speedboat. There is an easier way. Get a rowing frame, a Chaco tan, a Wild Rivers license plate, and watch the right-swipes pour in.
Lakes, especially large ones, tend to attract and arouse every imbecilic form of disportation. On a good day in this carnival of anti-delights, one may find a profusion of sunbathing, jetskiing, rattling subwoofers, children in water wings, and tanning oil slicks in every direction. But while there are plenty of folks floating the river these days, moving water has the advantage of conveniently shunting the lewd multitudes downstream as quickly as it brings them. Simply back into an eddy and let the crowds drift by.
Even the most approachable lakes often require a boat to access their fishiest depths. A quick trip out to the lake can necessitate quite a lot of planning and coordination––commodities in short supply these days. Floating is a great way to cover more of the river, but just a short drive after work and some wet wading will get you smack in the middle of the best-fishing waters in the world. The trout bum could not exist if it weren’t for the democracy of rivers.
Score: 3 to 2
Never saw that one coming. Montana is full of great lacustrine and fluvial fisheries, but our beloved rivers will always be first in our hearts and waders.