Friday, June 29, 2012

Lower Blackfoot River: Johnsrud to Wisherd Bridge

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2012 at 5:21 PM

“The river looked at him with a thousand eyes—green, white, crystal, sky blue.”
—Herman Hesse, Siddartha

By the time summer solstice rolls around I am usually a little wound up by the gaggle of activities that exist in the snow-free world. I want to do them all at once but try as I might, some things inevitably flow through the cracks. This year, it’s the water (better than the horse or the bike, I imagine—that could hurt). So, when my friends, Amy and Cory, invited me on an evening float, I leapt into the boat.

No, it was not some great expedition, even if getting all of my gear together for the first time this season felt like it. Seeing the Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue team at the put-in certainly added to the excitement, as well. We never got the chance to ask them if they were on an actual mission or just doing some training; the motors on their boat and jet-ski overpowered our greeting as they took off on the river. The Blackfoot was running between 3500 and 4000 CFS, and it was apparent in the latte of turbidity that flowed past us as we slid the raft off the trailer. I felt a flicker of the nerves I used to feel during spring guide training on the Gallatin.

Amy and Cory are anglers. I just like the water. So, while they rigged up their fly rods, I watched the river roll by. It was moving swiftly, but I could tell that at this level, most things would be washed out.


With dogs and people loaded, we pushed off and felt the current quicken. I always love that feeling, like your feet are swept from under you and the blood in your veins picks up the pace of the river. A mother merganser and her ducklings watched us from shore, while Amy cast along the bank, where the fish were more likely to bite. Another raft ahead of us pulled into an eddy, while the guy netted a decent-sized trout. We headed past the pylons as Search and Rescue raced up from down river and passed us, hopefully for the last time.

Around the bend, we watched high school boys jump the cliffs into the water, gasping for breath after surfacing—more from the cold than the submersion. The dogs paced and barked in the boat, not sure where to be.

Then, even though the current didn’t slow, everything else did. We arrived on the water. The fly on the end of Amy’s line skipped across and dropped below the surface, where our eyes could still see it. The orange and white glint of fish bodies leapt and twisted along the banks. The chatter of the rapids rose and roared, then subsided as we passed.

Cory and Amy switched, so that Cory could cast for a while. He caught two trout, one a good size. Twice, sizable bull trout rose to his fly but eluded him. He cast with greater and greater intensity to the sound of Amy’s gentle chiding,


“Well, get back in there! Catch one of those fish!”

We were carried and propelled down river beneath the late day glow and the wash of green that seemed to spread from the very spot we sat. Geese and their well-grown goslings walked among the willows. A small osprey landed with its white chest in the sun. I watched a bat feeding on a large insect hatch and we all sort of ducked as we went by, thinking it was odd to see one out with so much daylight left.

We laughed a lot and watched the sun peel up the mountains while the moon glowed more brightly.

With my two eyes, I can see the virtue of living in a place where we can access a scenic stretch of river after a full day of work. I can be grateful for the thousand eyes looking back at me.

For the first float of the season, this was a good one, and I only see the fishing, floating and swimming getting better from here.


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