I went with three friends to O’Hara’s that day – Steve, Dave, and Dan – and we split the boat rental fee. They are all pretty big guys, and I was no lightweight myself, so we chose a pontoon that could hold eight people. We also needed the extra room to store the vast collection of fishing gear and ample teen-size sandwiches and snacks that we brought along. We received a tour and lesson about the boat and how to be safe, and after putting on the life vests the staff provided we started out on my very first pontoon adventure.
We were unsure of ourselves so we started off slowly and had only traveled about a hundred feet from shore when a gold trout jumped out the water in front of us. The state of Connecticut had been stocking some hybrid golden and tiger trout back then but none of us had ever seen one. We shut the boat off and made ready our fishing poles. That’s when we noticed a large number of fish swimming past us and we quickly threw our lines in the water and almost immediately hooked up with trout. We each landed one and put them in a cooler filled with water and ice and then immediately rebaited our hooks and cast out again with the same result. What luck! We were ecstatic as we baited up for the third time.
It was then we heard a loud whistle. My friends and I turned to see who it was and to our surprise saw the Connecticut Department of Fish and Wildlife stocking truck parked on shore in the process of putting fish in the water. The two forest ranger types were watching us with their hands on their hips and disapproving looks on their faces. It seemed that although we didn’t break any laws we were guilty of being unintentionally bad sports for catching fish fresh from the truck. We sheepishly threw back some of the trout that were still healthy and took the boat out to deeper water out of sight of the rangers. We went on to fish for the next few hours but did not catch much. When our rental time was up we returned to the dock and got our deposit back. No mention was made by anybody about our fishing in a barrel trick – we had a great time on the pontoon and did manage to take three trout home for dinner.
I have also rented pontoon boats from Onota Boat Livery in Pittsfield, MA, on more than a few occasions. One of the first times I remember was when I worked at the Kolburne School in New Marlborough to take a group of special needs kids on an outing. We packed a lunch and beverages, enlisted a life guard and staff, and spent the day fishing on Onota Lake. Everybody got a life vest, a fishing pole, and a sandwich and we were off on our journey. One of the students lost his fishing pole overboard in the first few minutes. The water was too cold to go in after it, but somehow we managed to hook it with another pole as we drove over it. The student got to fish again and actually caught the biggest fish that day – a two-pound pickerel. A good time was had by all and all fish were released.
I rented a pontoon boat once again for my birthday with six other guys. There was plenty of room for all of us to fish with a minimum of tangles. We saw a lot of wildlife on the banks including a great blue heron, an otter, ducks, and swans. We caught a few large bass, plenty of perch and sunfish and we released them all with our good wishes. Another time we went out and got caught in a rainstorm. The canopy protected us though and because of the rain the fish were biting like crazy. We caught and released over a dozen assorted fish that day, were able to stay warm and dry, and enjoyed a nice lunch on the water finishing our rental time in style. Pontoon boats are built for comfort not for speed – it’s enjoyable to just cruise at a slow pace and appreciate the day. It’s an almost zen-like feeling floating in the middle of a beautiful lake with the sun on your face and nature’s beauty all around you.
There are two places in the Berkshires that I am aware of that rent pontoon boats, both in Pittsfield, MA. Berkshire U-Drive Boat Rentals, located on North Street, offers rentals for Pontoosuc Lake (www.berkshireudriveboatrentals.com). Onota Boat Livery, located on Pecks Road, offers rentals for – you guessed it – Onota Lake (www.onotaboat.com). Owners Caryn and Rick Wendling bought the business this past January. I was lucky enough to catch Caryn when she wasn’t too busy so we could talk for a bit. In addition to pontoon and various boat rentals they sell boats and motors, fishing supplies and bait, offer rental space in the marina for people to dock their boats, and have a full-service marine repair shop on site. Their pontoon boat rentals are all new, and they provide a half hour with staff so you can learn how to use and enjoy them safely. The older boats get sold by the livery at a good price, so I am saving my pennies.
If you would like to own a pontoon boat and would like to shop around, be sure to check out Tony’s Berkshire Boats on West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield, MA. They have been there for more than 50 years and are one of the oldest and biggest boat dealers in the area. They have up to 30 pontoons in stock and you can buy or even lease one for the summer. I spoke to Warren, their head salesman, and he was very informative about the size and types of pontoons they carry. They can even be customized!
In general a new pontoon can cost anywhere from $20,000 to more than $100,000 depending on size and custom features. They can come with many options including handicapped accessibility, refrigerators, elaborate sound systems, and even a flat screen TV for those that want it. As for me . . . I just want to fish from one.
~ Michael Romano, a Great Barrington, MA, resident for almost 40 years, is an avid fisherman who in his own words “kind of treats fishing as a contact sport and has had more than a few misadventures in the process.” Michael is a retired chef – he and his wife, Susan, worked for many years at the now-closed Kolburne School.
Read this article in the Celebrate Summer 2019 issue of Our BerkshireTimes Magazine.