Thursday, May 2, 2013

Upper and Lower Clark Fork Reunited

Yesterday was a happy day.  For the first time in a long time, it was possible and legal to float from Turah through the Blackfoot-Clark Fork confluence into East Missoula.  It was a busy day for the stretch, with at least 20 groups showing up for the inaugural day.

Many people were less than impressed by the detail in the Missoulian article on the opening so I thought I would give you a report on the river hazards, fishing, and some photos in case you are also feeling adventurous.

Hazards first.  Shortly after you pass under the Turah bridge, the river splits in two.  If you go left, you have to deal with a minor log jam.  While the FWP guys said they lined it, I don't believe this is necessary.  We didn't run it (went right) but if you do, just make sure you stay right.  You can sneak around it, but you need to row over the first part of the log before you can pull right into the slot around it near the bank.  Be careful not to catch the stern and spin the boat.

Left channel log jam below Turah Bridge
If you choose to go right at the split, you will see that the river splits again into three channels.  The left most channel flows back to the main left braid and is tight but probably floatable.  I just wouldn't do it.  If you go far right in the right channel, you'll end up in a thicket.  Don't go far right.  The correct channel is the center one.  It is narrow but passable.  You'll notice a boat-width gap between two standing cottonwoods that you have to squeeze.  It's an adventure in the tight bushes, but nothing too dangerous.
Colby Webb running the confluence drop with Will and Jason.
 To sum up, if you go left, watch out for the log.  If you go right, stay in the middle and don't follow the majority of the water.  Below this channel split, we didn't take too many side channels.  Some of them are likely floatable, but if you go in, be prepared to portage, cut your way through, etc.  The main river is pretty easy from the main split to the confluence.  The confluence and the new channel have a lot of created rapids, but rafters should have no problems as long as you hit things square.  There are some hydraulics and waves that could cause you problems if you take the hard boat.

FWP and the cooperating agencies are asking people to stay off of the banks where they are trying to re-vegetate.  There are signs up to remind you.  Gravel bars are still open for walking, but if you see netting, fencing, and willows, please stay off to allow the plants some time to take hold.  Runoff will be hard enough on them without foot traffic. Below the confluence, it's pretty much business as usual on the big river.  Lots of big boulders on the bottom to hold the fish.

As far as the fishing goes, we caught a fair number of nice fish on streamers, with an amazing March Brown emergence in the afternoon.  Most bugs I've seen at one time this spring.  The fishing is a little slow in the 1/2 mile of reconstructed channel.  Despite abundant structure placement, we didn't turn many in this stretch.  However, above and below, fishing was pretty good.

There you have it.  If you make it out, have fun and be safe.  It's great to have even more water to fish close to town.  Please follow the rules and we'll see you on the river.

Marshall Creek fish ladder with some deco.