The tuber hatch has come late on the Blackfoot River. High flows and crummy weather kept the usual cooler-toting crowds away through much of July. Landings at Whitaker Bridge and Johnsrud Park lacked their usual party atmosphere. "The use has just dropped off across the board," says Chet Crowser, park manager with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "Even at our campgrounds it's slow out there."
That traffic has only picked up in the last two weeks, and the river still has a few surprises for locals finally taking their favorite dip. According to USGS stream-flow data, the Blackfoot River is currently moving at a rate of 1,500 cubic feet per second, nearly twice the average rate for early August. And while that volume is dropping almost hourly, Crowser says the Blackfoot continues to be "a different river" than tubers are perhaps used to. "It's moving quicker in some places, or there are obstacles that maybe they haven't had to avoid in the past."
Crowser adds that the water temperature—now fluctuating daily between 60 and 65 degrees—is lower than tubers might expect. Those temperatures are likely to decline further as September nears.
Gary Hand, owner of Blackfoot River Rentals, says the late start to the tubing season has generated a 60-percent drop in business over last year. Fishing guides and rental companies alike are frustrated by the lull. Hand hopes summer holds on another four to six weeks so he and others can recoup lost revenue. "We didn't even let anybody on the river until about July 16," he says.
The dangers of a higher-than-normal Blackfoot were underscored earlier this summer. On July 5, a woman was killed when she tumbled out of a raft near the Paws Up resort. Conditions have improved since then, but tubers downstream of Whitaker Bridge on July 30 noticed CareFlight buzzing the river in the afternoon. A young man had fallen out of his tube after navigating two stretches of rapids and nearly drowned. EMTs were called to the scene and revived the victim without further incident.
Crowser says FWP can alert people to the abnormal conditions. But ultimately, the level of danger still out there depends on the recreationist's own choices. "The best we can do is help folks have good expectations for what they're going to come across," he says.