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High water on the Lochsa River is ferocious. White water adventurists love this destination.

First things first...

High water is DANGEROUS! So often, so many people underestimate the power of water. Water is a tremendous force, especially when in motion. Let me paint a simple scenario for you... think about standing in a moving current while fishing or just cooling down. Now, think about the increase of force and pressure on your body when you take just one small step forward, adding about one to two inches of depth compared to where you were just standing. The increase in force is often quite noticeable. Sometimes, that one or two extra inches of water is enough to push you off your feet.

Now, think of a river that is generally wade-able and easily accessible. Multiply that "regular" flow by 2...4...10 times or more!? It's really not the same river. It's a force to be respected. Even think of a lake that is still vs that same lake with 3 foot swells. It's incredible really.

Here in the northwest, we've had a record-breaking snowpack. Said snowpack is now rapidly melting and feeding our streams and rivers...gaining momentum and force...enough to move boulders and roll full-grown cottonwood trees along the riverbed. I've seen it... massive branches roll up out of the depths of a swift current, arcing high over the surface for a second or two, twisting and crashing back down into the water to the downstream-side like it was never there....only to reappear and crash back down a hundred yards down-river again.

Not for beginners...

Ego aside...

This is no time to be over-confident in your ability to maneuver a raft or boat. It's best to be very, very cautious here and defer to someone who has a TON of river experience. How do you gain that valuable experience? Slowly. Over time. Starting on easy, calm water.... working up in ability little by little by pushing your confidence one step at a time...not by taking a huge leap into something that's literally over your head.

Each river is different...the characteristics of the river at certain flows (measured in cubic feet per second or CFS), what sections of each river are safe or not safe at specific flows, what relative flow is just too dangerous to float, etc. A local guide may be your best option and often is anytime of year. At a minimum, you should be checking in with local fly shops, shuttle shops, or other knowledgeable source to get the lowdown.

The upper stretches of the Big Hole River beginning to swallow up its banks.

While wading, you must exercise extreme caution. Often the water is murky and you may not be able to see where you're stepping. You might have to feel your way with your feet. Stick to inside bends...where the river curves around you and the current pulls away from your shore creating a soft inside seam. There are two advantages to this approach: 1. It's much safer to wade here, out of the current. 2. Fish often stack up in this slack water to get out of the faster moving water. Just keep in mind our little scenario from above...going one inch deeper may be just enough force to knock you off your feet and into the drift.

I know you might not want to hear it but.. you may just need to stay off the water until flows subside a bit. I can tell you horror stories to scare you into exercising extreme caution...but I'll just let it be said that I have lived in many outdoorsy towns...places where the locals take pride in their outdoor prowess and vacationers flock to experience the same natural glory it's residents do. Missoula, MT is one such town. I love it there. Three rivers in town AND a blue ribbon creek just outside..... Every singe year I lived there, there was a loss of life due to high water. At least one person, sometimes more. And often, sadly and tragically, a child. No matter the gear, the helmets, the flotation device...high water can still win. One morning you float around a bend and it's all clear. You decide to do another float the next week, next day, or heck...even the same afternoon, take the same rout, only to discover an entire tree has fallen and is now blocking the entire channel. You have a few seconds to keep your cool and make your move.... what do you do?

Shoshone Falls in high water. Absolutely awesome.

I hate being grim here but let's be honest. Rafting, kayaking, float fishing, wade fishing...heck even hiking, biking, driving, etc, etc, etc, have inherent risks. Water is more powerful than most give it credit for. I love the water....being near it...on it. It's central to my survival really. I would never try to talk someone out of experiencing it the way I do. Except in high water. It's just simply no time to be over-confident or completely care-free. As a fly fishing guide, I do carry around a bit of a burden every have the best time possible but maintaining a safe situation for all aboard.

Stay safe out there. Leave the paddling to people who are accomplished. Don't be afraid to say that a certain time, flow, area, river is above your skill set. There is no room for ego at this time.



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