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Big Fish, Big Business

Howe's Fishing cements itself as one of Montana's largest guide outfits

LAKESIDE — On a beautiful sunny afternoon at West Shore State Park, Mike Howe tended to his fishing boat after taking visitors for a spin on Flathead Lake. As he dealt with the lines and gear, another boat pulled up alongside the dock.

“You catch anything?” Howe yelled across the dock.

“Nope,” the other boater yelled back. “But a bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work!”

Luckily for Howe, 56, fishing is his work as the owner of Howe’s Fishing, operator of A Able Charters, which recently became one of largest fishing and guiding outfits in Montana with the acquisition of Mo Fisch Charters. This season, the company plans on running more than 700 fishing trips on Flathead Lake, the vast majority of them between mid-June and Labor Day.

Howe currently manages eight boats and guides on Flathead Lake and another four on Fort Peck Lake in eastern Montana. He also does tours on Lake Mary Ronan, Lake Koocanusa, Swan Lake and Little Bitterroot Lake. He also organizes ice-fishing trips in the winter.

Howe grew up in New York and the Pacific Northwest before joining the U.S. Air Force. After eight years in the military, he got a job with the U.S. Postal Service. After bouncing around, he ended up in Northwest Montana in the late 1990s. Howe, a lifelong fisherman, can still remember the first time he and his wife saw Flathead Lake.

“The first time we came over the hill in Polson and saw the lake, my wife looked at me and said, ‘There’s a boat in our future, isn’t there?’ And I said, ‘Oh, dear, you know me better than that — there are a couple boats in our future,’” he recalled.

While working as the postmaster in Kila, Lakeside and eventually Columbia Falls, Howe spent his free time casting lines in the area’s lakes. Among the people Howe went fishing with was Bob Orsua, who ran Mo Fisch Charters. In 2008, Howe started guiding for Orsua on his days off. Howe quickly found that he loved taking people on the water to experience fishing in Montana.

“On a daily basis I hear people say, ‘That is the biggest fish I’ve ever caught,’ and that never gets old,” he said. “It’s also great to share this lake that we are so lucky to have.”

In 2011, Howe left Mo Fisch to purchase A Able Charters. For the first year, he managed the operation and guided on the weekends. In 2012, when the USPS offered a buyout, he accepted it and retired after 23 years with the service. He started guiding fishing trips full-time.

It’s usually slow going this time of year, but Howe said once June 15 hits, he and his guides are constantly on the water, with morning, afternoon and evening tours.

“No one gets rich being a guide; it’s more of a lifestyle,” he said. “This job gives me a ton of freedom, except those 75 days between mid-June and Labor Day Weekend — then we’re just slaves to the boat.”

Earlier this year, Orsua passed away and Howe decided to take over his mentor’s business. The merger makes Howe’s charter company one of the biggest of its kind in the state.

Howe hopes to continue helping the business grow for the next few years, but eventually he’d like to work a little less and fish a little more. His long-term goal is to hand the business off to his kids.

“If my kids decide they want to move home to Montana, I want them to have the option to take this business over,” he said.

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