In the early 1800’s, a young Scotsman lead the first official party of white men, Indian scouts, and some French Fur Trappers through Kootenai River Country. After parleying with Flathead Indians near what is now Kalispell, Montana, the small party continued West. The Scotsman navigated using a sextant — a primitive telescope, as well as astronomy and a crude compass. The native peoples' name for him was, "He who looks at the stars." Of course, some of the route was along ancient Indian trails used for many years by the Flatheads, Kootenai’s, and Salish tribes. One of the main trails ran approximately where U.S. Highway 2 now connects Kalispell with present day Libby, Montana. This route meanders along a series of glacial kettle lakes. Other routes, canoe travel and portages were also used and all pathways were marked and recorded in a field book by the Scotsman. His first reference to these lakes were recorded in an 1811 journal. This young man would eventually be known as one of the greatest cartographers, navigators, and explorers in human history. His name was David Thompson, and the David Thompson Chain of Lakes is also named after this amazing man.
Today, if one travels on Highway 2 South and East from Libby towards Kalispell approximately 45-miles, you will drive alongside Loon Lake. This lake holds eastern brook trout, pumpkinseeds, smallmouth bass, mountain whitefish and recently pike and walleye. The unique bird called the common loon sometimes resides on this lake and some of the other 18-lakes along this roughly 25-mile "chain." Although called a chain, most of the lakes are not connected, and although called a “common” loon this bird is quite uncommon. The goose sized bird has a striking blend of black and white plumage, and can dive 240-feet deep to harvest aquatic organisms and small fish.
This species is sensitive to nesting disturbance especially from May to early July, and no wake zones are established at some of the nesting sites with floating signs to protect nesting loons throughout the chain.
As we continue along the chain from west to east, we come upon Horseshoe Lake. This is a beautiful swimming lake, with no wake zones and an assertive species called Tiger Muskies. A few of the smaller lakes like Bootjack, Topless, and Cibid Lakes are popular fishing holes for rainbow and westslope cutthroat. Crystal Lake is a bit larger, located just south of the small (200 folks) community of Happy’s Inn. Crystal Lake sports mainly Kokanee Salmon and rainbow trout. Upper Thompson Lake harbors Northern Pike, yellow perch, and largemouth bass. Middle Thompson is an awesome fishery with kokanee, eastern brookies, largemouth bass (some at 18”), yellow perch, northern pike, and is the site of the spring/summer bass tournaments. Lower Thompson is noted for kokanee, rainbows, brookies and large mouth bass. At 1,328 acres, McGregor Lake is the largest and contains the much desired Lake Trout, sometimes up to 26-inches and rainbows up to 24-inches. Trolling from boats in summer might land you a nice lake trout, or ice fishing with colored line in 200-hundred or so feet of water is quite the challenge too!
There are several other lakes in the chain also, and most all can be fished with spinning or fly fishing gear. These lakes are also perfect for rafts, canoes, kayaks, and float tubes. There are No-Wake sections, so please consult the regulations. The smaller lakes usually warm quickly, and provide good top water fly fishing July through September. For larger bass, try streamers skipped along the bottom in shallow water and the weed line. Middle Thompson is also a good rainbow lake, has great access, and camping is available on the lake. For larger water craft, there are concrete boat ramps at Crystal, Loon, Horseshoe, Upper Thompson, Lower Thompson and McGregor Lakes.
This 3,000 plus acre recreation area is managed by Montana State Parks and provides a variety of opportunities for fishing, camping, swimming and boating. There are 83-standard campsites and 8-group campsites. The chain of lakes is also great habitat for many species of wildlife, and birders, photographers, and watchable wildlife fans can spot herons, ospreys, bald eagles, common loons, great horned owls, woodpeckers, numerous songbirds and a plethora of ducks, geese, swans, possible Sandhill Cranes, kingfishers and hawks. Black bear, whitetail deer, moose, elk, mink, otter, and grey wolves also reside in these habitats. Western painted turtles, frogs, and amphibious and aquatic life thrive in this area. For more information call the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MFWP) at (406) 752-5501.
The friendly folks of the community of Happy’s Inn are always willing to help! Pat and her husband at the Kickin Horse Saloon and Eatery can be reached at (406) 293-8592, and the address is 72639 U.S. Highway 2 West. Jerry and Carrie at the Happy’s Road House Inn (72576 U.S. Hwy 2) also have live music during the high season and make a good pizza! Happy’s has fuel pumps and both businesses have annual events. Check with MFWP, the Kickin Horse or the Roadhouse for exact dates of the next events including the Father’s Day Family Fishing Festival, Middle Thompson Bass Tournament, and winter ice fishing derby’s. Enjoy one of Kootenai River Country’s most unique areas, the David Thompson Chain of Lakes!