by Chris Hinote
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2018 issue
Who hasn’t been enamored with the romance of seaplanes, or imagined splashing down on a remote mountain lake, far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, or perhaps whisking oneself away to warm, tropical islands? In a time when air travel is a necessity, seaplanes still evoke the romance of the golden age of aviation. Most of us have had these thoughts, but due to cost, accessibility, or practicality, they tend to remain fantasy. Well, seaplanes are a lot more practical, and accessible, than you may think, and offer so much more than the $100 hamburger.
When talking seaplanes with a prospective water flyer, many questions come up, but a few are inevitable. For example, where can you go in a seaplane? How do you know if you can land somewhere? As one of my college professors, Dr. Horine, used to say, “it depends!”
In a very broad sense, seaplanes may land on any open navigable waterway, or private body of water with the water owner’s permission. Some publicly-owned waters are open, some are closed, and others have various restrictions. The Seaplane Pilots Association maintains a nationwide “Water Landing Directory” to help pilots determine the status of a particular body of water. However, the best way to be assured of the status of a proposed landing area is to call ahead and verify with whomever controls or owns the water.
In the St Louis area where I live, we have access to the Missouri, Mississippi, and Illinois Rivers, in addition to Carlyle and Mark Twain lakes. A little farther afield in Missouri, we have the Lake of the Ozarks, Stockton Lake, Table Rock Lake, and Bull Shoals Lake, each offering something different.
The rivers bring a challenge to the seaplane pilot. They are muddy and carry debris downriver, which can be hazardous and challenging to the seaplane pilot. But they offer some fun spots to pull onto a sandbar for a picnic or fishing. There are numerous boat ramps, beaches, docks, and marinas along the river, and each river town usually has one waterside restaurant worth checking out.
One of my favorite places to splash down is Carlyle Lake, east of St Louis. Carlyle is an Army Corps of Engineers Lake open to seaplane traffic with restrictions. Those restrictions are for seaplanes to stay 500 feet away from the dam on the south end of the lake, and to stay south of the railroad causeway at the north end of the lake.
Carlyle offers camping, hiking, and boating. It is popular with St Louis area sailors, and can get pretty breezy. There is a great restaurant on the southeast side of the lake called “The Fish House.” They have a semi-private cove with a beach and dock for their patrons.
Mark Twain Lake, northwest of St Louis, is another Corps lake open to seaplanes. Like most of the Corps lakes, private docks are prohibited or severely restricted, keeping lake traffic down. Mark Twain Lake is relatively quiet compared to other Missouri lakes. It offers two marinas and a lot of shoreline suitable for beaching. Mark Twain Lake is known for fishing, so bring your fishing tackle if you go there.
The Ozark area of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas offers some of the best flying anywhere! There are several large lakes and backcountry strips to choose from.
Among them, the famed Lake of the Ozarks, which has a lot to offer the pilot flying in: restaurants, night life, fishing, boating – you name it. The lake is big, and there are a lot of options with regard to things to see and do. Just exercise caution over the summer and holiday weekends, as the lake traffic gets pretty heavy, and the water is often too rough for seaplanes.
Stockton Lake, in southwest Missouri, is a beautiful lake with a rock bottom and relatively clear water. The lake has two large arms with numerous coves. Stockton State Park Marina, near the center of the two arms, caters to seaplanes with multiple docks, moorings, and boat ramps available. The marina also has a small store and restaurant. This is a great lake for family fun offering swimming, sailing, fishing, camping, and more. If you don’t want to lug your camping gear along, the Stockton State Park Marina also runs a modestly priced hotel. Just stay 500 feet from the dam at the north end of the lake, and stay north of the causeways on the south end of both arms.
The Branson area’s Table Rock Lake is seaplane friendly with numerous marinas, beaches, and resorts. Lake Taneycomo connects Table Rock and Bull Shoals Lakes. Bull Shoals, arguably one of the prettiest lakes in the Ozarks, spans the Missouri-Arkansas border. It offers numerous marinas, campgrounds, resorts, restaurants, and activities. You can even swim and go scuba diving in Bull Shoals Lake. The Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock Marina has moorings and dockage available. They will gladly give you a ride to Gaston’s White River Resort, a well-known spot for trout fishing just downstream from the dam. There is a grass runway at Gaston’s worth noting for the pilots with wheels. Gaston’s is in a valley surrounded by hills.
There are numerous other lakes that are open to seaplanes, which are waiting to be explored in the Midwest. For more information, check out the interactive map at https://flyingfishseaplanes.com/no-limits-flying-club under the “make a splash here” button. If you are a seaplane pilot and want to see your home waters listed on the map, contact us at Flying Fish with the details.
Another good question we hear a lot is “How do I get into seaplane flying?” For a long time, the status quo for the majority of pilots not living in Alaska, Minnesota or Florida, was to go get a seaplane rating for fun, most likely to never fly a seaplane again, unless they bought a plane of their own. Flying Fish is on a mission to change that.
We have developed a program to allow someone with no seaplane experience to safely solo our seaplanes. We call this program the “No Limits Flying Club.” To find out how you can slip the surly bonds and splash down on a lake or river near you, checkout the club on our website at https://flyingfishseaplanes.com, or call 340-514-1680! Follow us on Facebook @flyingfishseaplanes1.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Chris Hinote is the owner of Flying Fish LLC, located at St. Charles County Airport in Portage Des Sioux near St. Charles, Missouri.