Welcome to Share Your Montana River Stories!

Some of Montana’s rivers are obscure, others are legendary. But all of Montana’s rivers support our economy and our outdoor way of life. Our rivers are here for us to use, and use responsibly.

We created this site for people to celebrate Montana’s rivers. Whether you work or play in Montana’s rivers, boat, fish or just splash around, please share your river stories and photos.

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Montana River Story

My First Class IV

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By Dave from Bozeman, MT - To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness designation, we floated and fished Bear Trap Canyon: the nine-mile stretch of water running through the east end of the Metcalf Wilderness. With our group was Bill Cunningham, an advocate of the Metcalf’s wilderness bill and his personal friend. In 1984, to commemorate the nation’s first BLM wilderness designation, Bill floated the canyon with Metcalf’s widow, Donna, and Secretary of the Interior William Clark during record flows. They dumped a raft right in the middle of the Kitchen Sink rapid, and I really hoped this time through the Sink will be a little less eventful. After fishing our way down, we pulled to the side and hiked around to scope the rapids. The gentle trickle of water changed to a roar when we got down to the river’s edge, thousands of gallons of cold water crashing over the jagged rocks. “She’s a little bony,” our guide said, pointing to a notch between two boulders. “That’ll be the route through. It’s a bony Class IV, but still exciting.” Then he said, “I can fit two in my boat. You wanna come with?” I'd never seen the power of the river like that before, and I almost wet my waders. I opted to stay safely on shore and take photos instead. Mark (pictured above) got a little crazy on the first drop, but paddled through to safety. The guide in the other raft was so good at rowing that everyone in his boat looked bored. I have a hundred reasons to get back into the Bear Trap, and not blasting through Class IV gives me one more. I'll run it next time, I swear.
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Fun, Sun and Tasty Snacks

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By Wes from Missoula, MT
- It was a beautiful late summer day in Missoula, and a good buddy of mine and me were contemplating….Blackfoot or Clark Fork for a nice float? Since it was late summer and the hordes of college students would be dominating the lower Blackfoot with black rubber tubes, banter and Keystone Light, we settled on the Clark Fork. We’d do a nice mellow float from Kona Bridge to Harper’s Bridge. Once we convened at his house and loaded up his cedar strip canoe, we rolled down the windows, pumped the reggae and headed for the river. As we slid the canoe into the calm water at Kona Bridge, we noticed several crayfish (crawdads, crawdaddies) scuttling away into the crevices of the rip-rap. We took off our ball caps and spent a good 15 minutes chasing crawdads, trying to catch them in our caps. Not the best method. We lost many in the opening toward the rear of the cap, but managed to catch several, of which we stashed in our icy beer cooler. Once we actually got on the river, it was an easy, splendid cruise. The canoe sliced through the water, gliding easily. We saw the wildlife activity that was typical of this stretch—ospreys fishing, great blue herons taking off and trout rising to unknown prey. It was exactly what we asked for. We saw only one other group, which was perched on a bank pursuing some fish near the inlet of a small creek. In between birding and fishing, we enjoyed ice-cold quality beers—Miller High Life. With our captives in the cooler, reaching for a refreshing beverage presented a certain thrilling challenge. The crawdaddies were a bit slower because of the colder temperatures within the cooler, so our retrievals left us unscathed. The whole time floating down the river, we were scheming about what we could do with these recently harvested tasty snacks. We eventually settled on a very appropriate option: A New Orleans-themed dish with Andouille sausage, our boiled crawdaddies and some Cajun rice. We convened at a buddy’s house, cooked them up and kicked back and schemed about future crawdaddy inspired adventures. It was an absolute delight to return from a hot day on the river and complement our meals with a delicious tasty snack!

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An Unexpected Winter Quarry

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By Wes from Missoula
- It can be a little cold fishing in winter. Cold hands, cold feet, cold ears. But there I was in January, standing on an ice shelf on one of my favorite western Montana streams. I was looking to fish for the nice-sized browns that lie in the cold waters of major tributary streams after the fall spawn. After several unsuccessful casts in a prime location with small nymphs, I tied on a small streamer intended to imitate a small brown trout fry. Brown trout are known to be cannibalistic, embracing the opportunity to feed on an injured juvenile of its own species should it present itself. With this in mind, I cast across the creek from my ice shelf and began retrieval, stripping in fits and starts. After five strips something slammed the fly, torqueing its body in a slow and deliberate manner. After fighting the fish for about 5 seconds and seeing his several flashes of golden brown- indicating a big brown- he dropped the streamer. Pumping with adrenaline, I cast back to the same spot where I had gotten that take. As the streamer swung toward the bank I was standing on, I felt a tug, then it dropped. Then a TUG! I set the hook and instantly I felt the slow and deliberate pulse of good sized fish in cold winter waters. Then it ran. With the drag already at a low setting, the fish pulled into the current and ran for the opposite bank, stripping the line from my reel and hearing the coveted ‘ZZZIIINNNNGGGG” sound of line getting pulled out that I had only heard on the silver screen. Through a cloud of excitement, it dawned on me that I was poorly outfitted for such a fish. Sure, I had a 5 weight rod, but I only had 5x tippet. I knew this fish had the power to snap my line, but I also know that fish in winter generally have slower metabolism, a strategy to save calories during a food-slim season. My rod tip bent over strongly, I braced the base of my rod on the backside of my forearm and kept the drag setting on low. As I brought the fish closer, I began to piece together information through flashes and twists - well-built head, pink dots, white fin edges and a powerful tail. I had not hooked a big brown - I had a mature bull trout on my line. After a gentle fight, I coaxed it to the icy river’s edge. Everytime I got close the fish ran, stripping line from my reel. After several of these efforts, I was able to pull the fish into a calm recess along he edge of the ice.. There it sat, a 22-inch bull trout. He sat calmly fanning his gills as I gripped his body and prepared to retrieve the streamer. Breaching the water's surface, I cued my hemostats and retrieved the fly. After snapping a brief photo, I slipped the fish back into his home waters and motioned it back and forth to ease the transition and allow oxygen uptake. After several “breaths”, I felt his body pulse and he made his way from the icy shallows into the liquid deep. I stood there, my jaw dropped, marveling after meeting this aquatic creature for the first time. My lesson here? Use caution with fishing streamers in western Montana waters that you know hold bull trout. Mature bull trout feed primarily on juvenile fish, making them an easy target for lures and streamers alike. While it is quite a thrill to hook up with one of these unique and predatory fish, we must resist the temptation to “target” bull trout specifically. Fishing for bull trout remains a somewhat legal grey area in Montana. Catching a bull trout is not necessarily illegal, because it can happen by accident, as was the case on this January day. However, “targeting” bull trout is only legal on one stream and two lakes in the state. Still, however, it’s not uncommon to witness guides trying to get clients hooked into trophy bull trout and roadside anglers scouting deep holes for the elusive fish. But beyond the legal concerns are the deep moral questions: Is risking mortality of a threatened fish worth the thrill of hooking one?

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