My brother-in-law Hal Tweto recently took a trip down the Selway River. Hal resides in Missoula, fishes/boats/hikes/photographs a variety of the beautiful landscape. See his post below. -CD
Any trip on the Selway river means some of the most pristine wilderness boating in the lower 48, and this run on May run was no exception. What was exceptional was the spring storm which blew through much of the Bitterroot range in the 24 hours prior to our launch, dropping a foot or more of new snow at on the Nez Perce pass between Darby, MT and our put in at Paradise. Not the most heartening experience, waiting for the shuttle drivers and obsessively running through a mental inventory of your warmest gear. Our shuttle drivers have a business built up around handling such conditions, however, and they run these specially modified, early 80’s Tacomas, neither driver nor tire fit for paved road. They had already come through once with chainsaws to clear out all the downed lumber (“Pretty wintery up here last night,” was, I believe, the only thing our diver said on the two hour trip). So, the caravan of jalopies trudged through, up, and over, and we arrived at Paradise on time, river time, threw our boats and gear together, and pushed off.
Our water level was pretty comfortable, 2 feet at the Paradise gauge, a Forest Service word for a stick in the water. This is a reasonable flow for the float, though we all understood it was lower than it would have been had our winter been what it could have been. Snowpack is just terrible in our area this year. The Selway’s season is all about spring run-off, and like any river so oriented, it is usually fast and furious early and slower and more mellow late, when fishing is more of a pursuit.
We were the beneficiaries of that storm in two regards: first, it was a big’un, so some higher pressure came in behind and left the weather pretty mild for the rest of the week, which we appreciated even in our dry suits; second, it had pushed a ton of wildlife down from the higher elevations. Hundreds of cow elk were working on the easier grass down low, and they bring other opportunistic animals with them to clean up those elk that stumble on the steep cliffs or that misjudge river currents. Bald and golden eagles, then, and three wolves, one grey and two black, tugging on a carcass just above Osprey rapid.
The fish were not interested in any of this. This was a fast trip, a training trip for two companies, so we did not fish. But we didn’t miss it, as the scene seemed “pretty wintery” still. Our high temps were mostly close to 50, lows close to 40, and the water stays pretty near 35 now. Bugs were not happy with the wind and occasional flurries, and the fish weren’t visible along the river bottom. Our last day was the exception: the sun was out, the temperature was closer to 65, which brought out some Baetis and a single, lonely salmon fly. Rises were afoot, and fish were darting around over the golden riverbed. Clearly the potential was there, and a trip later in the season would be productive.
I took this trip with my friend Ari Kotler, guide and owner of SOAR Northwest River Co, 208-709-8033 or www.northwestriver.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Three Rivers Rafting company, owned by Marty Smith, 888-926-4430 or www.threerivers.com or email@example.com, was the other company training guides on this trip. All four commercial outfitters with Selway permits get four launches, so trips usually book up well in advance. I’m not sure what Marty’s situation is, but I know that Ari has some room on a trip later in this season. Plus, he just picked up some nifty new boats specifically for that lower, more fishable water, which you should check out here: www.streamtechboats.com.