By Merle Ann Loman - Missoula Outdoor Recreation Examiner
The Bitterroot River has fairly good access and early in the season has less ice than the Blackfoot or Clark Fork where it is cooler both in and out of the water. The Bitterroot is the river that western Montana and visiting fishermen and recreators first visit to enjoy the spring.
Today was clear. That means cold. It was 36 degrees this morning. It warmed to 40 degrees by 2 p.m. and it was 50 degrees by 5:00 p.m. When the sun is out, that is darn nice weather; but if wind comes or you get wet, it is darn cold weather. Fishermen come prepared with waders, gloves, hats, and layers of warmer jackets. They also bring fishing boats and gear.
The video/automatic slideshow above shows the river and visitation of access sites in the middle river today from Veteran’s Bridge Fishing Access Site (FAS) just north of Hamilton, down-river (north) at two other stops, and finally, about 11 miles north of Hamilton at Tucker Crossing.Below is the breakdown of vehicles spotted at the times of the photos. What one doesn’t know is, were they wading, putting in or going to take out at the FAS.
- Veteran’s Bridge, Hamilton, MT – 12 vehicles, from Idaho and western Montana; 8 had boat trailers; one was a father and kids hanging out.
- Woodside Crossing FAS, 5 miles north of Hamilton – 14 vehicles from Idaho and western Montana; 9 had boat trailers.
- Private access, 7 miles north of Hamilton – 1 vehicle; a friend from the valley was wade-fishing.
- Tucker Crossing FAS, 11 miles north of Hamilton – 26 vehicles, in-state and out-of-state; 16 had boat trailers. One was a hurried shuttle driver moving at least one if not two boat/trailer rigs down-stream.
Today the river levels are about normal, 307 cubic feet per second (CFS), at the gage station about seventeen highway miles up-stream at Darby in the north end of the valley. But at the gage station near Florence, the river is below normal. Today it is 749 CFS when it is normally above 800 and almost 900 CFS. The water was clear.
Soon a lot of the shelf ice you see in the first photos will melt to become river water; snow in the mountains will also melt and flow in. In a few weeks it will look a lot different. The weather is forecasted to remain cool which will help the snow melt in a slow and orderly fashion. That means the river levels won’t surge as much as they would if the weather were unseasonably warm. We can predict, but, one never knows what the weather, the snow, and the river will actually do. Mother Nature has the power, not us.
Note that the photos show river and bank conditions and debris now, before run-off. When high water comes with the spring run-off, it will change dramatically. The power of the water will take trees, root wads, and anything else it can move down-river and deposit it where ever the debris lodges. When floating after high-water, scout the river carefully and use extreme caution.