Some Guides Oppose Bitterroot Sidechannel Closure

Most Montana anglers would agree that the Bitterroot River is one of the state’s most dangerous floats, mostly because the riverbed changes each year and scads of woody debris clogs some portions of the river. To put it bluntly, you have to be pretty good on the sticks, especially during spring and early summer, to navigate the river safely.

On top of that, the Bitterroot contains a side channel with a diversion dam that has, over the years, wreaked havoc on floaters. Last year, in fact, a person died there. Even savvy veteran guides get anxious when nearing the dam.  In response to a death last year and numerous other incidents at the dam, FWP is seeking comment on whether to close that side channel for the 2015 season before repairs can be made to the dam, making it safer, by 2016. Here’s the rest of the story from the Helena Independent Record.


Allowing Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks the authority to temporarily close a section of the Bitterroot River for public safety is a “knee-jerk” overreach of state authority with statewide implications, several river guides and floaters told the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission Thursday.

Before the commission was a proposed annual rule to close the river at Supply Ditch Diversion, an irrigation structure that has caused multiple accidents including one fatality in 2013. FWP signage and media coverage alerted floaters to the danger, yet in 2014 more accidents occurred. On April 11 last year, FWP instituted an emergency public safety closure for a 5-mile stretch.

“There was some controversy over that (closure),” said FWP chief of fisheries Bruce Rich.

That controversy included legal action against the department that was later dropped, and criticism that the closure caused overcrowding on MORE

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2 Responses to Some Guides Oppose Bitterroot Sidechannel Closure

  1. Tony R says:

    There are lots of issues in play with this discussion, public safety, constitutional rights, education, liability, etc. This not only concerns fishing guides but all river users. Anyone with an interest in Montana’s rivers, and specifically the Bitterroot in this instance, should comment to Fish, Wildlife, and Parks region 2 at by March 9. Thanks for bringing more attention to this topic.

  2. Patrick Blackdale says:

    There is a similar situation happening in Colorado on the Arkansas River. An old low head dam was destroyed back in the 80′s and created an exciting but dangerous rapid. A couple years ago it was to be re-worked to make it safer. Oops. Now it is even more dangerous and commercial trips are not allowed through it.
    I am all for making the river safer when it puts client’s safety in jeopardy. Just be careful when it comes to re-working the river, as often mother nature has a way of making you feel silly for trying to control her.

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