Kootenai River Update: It is currently one of the loveliest times of year to be on the Kootenai River, as summer dips into fall. Mornings are crisp, afternoons golden; the air and water are both sharp and clear. You can hear the hoppers clicking on the banks, and our fish are looking up. Longer casts and lower shadows are rewarded. It’s the time of year when I am most tempted to take the rod and fish myself.
Water temps are starting to dip, holding in the range of 56-59 F throughout the 70+ miles of river we fish: from Libby Dam to Bonner’s Ferry. Those are perfect hungry trout temps.
Speaking simply in terms of river health, this has been a season of mostly positive trends on the Kootenai. As we watch many famous western rivers suffer under the burden of drought, excessive heat, and wildfire, compounded further by the explosion of enthusiasm for outdoor recreation like fly-fishing, we are grateful to live and operate on such a voluminous expanse of cold water. One that is far enough off the beaten path to escape the all-too-common fate of being loved to death.
We have certainly seen an increase in angler and recreational float traffic on the river over the last year and a half, though only a fraction of what other fisheries receive. It is still quite rare to see other boats around you all day. And it does not seem to be enough to make a dent in fishing quality. Though I will say that the nicer fish at least, are more suspicious than they were five years ago. But that is inevitable in any catch and release wild fishery. We are in the business of trout education.
Even so, that added traffic is a double-edged sword. We applaud people wanting to spend time outdoors. In this time of pandemic-wrought anxiety, that is one healthy way to wellbeing. We are happy to have enough business to keep afloat and we are happy too, to share the river. It belongs to all of us.
But we as guides who spend our lives on the water have seen enough to know that all rivers deserve ample respect and caution, the Kootenai not least among them. When things go wrong, they go wrong in a hurry. With the uptick in use, we have seen an uptick in casualties as well. As of this writing, the Kootenai River has claimed three lives since mid-July of this year, two of those DIY fly anglers.
Those are simply the unlucky ones. The amount of near misses we have witnessed this year alone, should be enough to give anyone pause. The Kootenai River gives the impression in many places as being fairly calm. But do not be deceived: that smooth surface devoid of whitewater is often cooking right along. And there are a handful of key spots along the river’s route where to go swimming, intentionally or otherwise, could prove (and has) disastrous.
If you are going to come to the Kootenai River to recreate on your own, please do it with an abundance of caution and preferably, some experience. Because we are some of the most likely folks to find your body, and that would really ruin our day. If you’re not that experienced, may I suggest getting a guide?
Cheekiness aside, just be careful out there. The Kootenai River is an incredibly special place, well worth a visit. And a bonus to all that strong current, is equally strong fish. It is a source of unending delight to me when a fourteen-inch rainbow slams the dry and the angler is so thoroughly throttled he or she can hardly hold on, certain they’ve hooked a monster. Only to be perplexed and strangely impressed when it is netted and its size proven beyond a doubt. If it gets away of course, it will live on in memory as an eighteen-plus tank, if it was an inch…
This Kootenai River update brought to you by Rita Rose. Happy Fall Fishing & may your lunkers be landed and continue to grow!