Just she and me for five cold, wet, wind-blown, isolated, glorious days on the Smith River.
So we embarked... After the flow spiked to about 560 cfs early Wednesday morning (our launch day, April 23), we were pleased to see fishy green water at Camp Baker. But about 25 feet downstream enters Sheep Creek, which was vomiting mud. Our first two days were pretty blown out, and our fish had to come at tributary mouths.
Day three graced us with a lighter hue. Quickly, a 20-plus-incher was brought boatside before popping off, and later another dandy came to net. We'd had a day of fishing that seemed unlikely. Baetis backed-up in the foam eddies (fish eating them in places), midges were about, and we saw a few skwalas.
|"Panic Attack" got lucky.|
We found three public-land pictograph locations. The first are handprints downstream of the mouth of Tenderfoot Creek at about river mile 16.2 on river left. You have to catch them while floating - they are above the water. The next are animals, handprints, and finger swipes on the cliff directly upstream of Crowsfoot boat camp on river left (you'll need to pull over and hike). The final is Pictograph Cave, which requires a short, steep, rocky hike to an opening that can be seen from the river. The trail is river left just downstream of lower Parker Flat - be on the lookout for the cave on the cliff side. This location has the most diversity and offers views of the river from above.
It's a mystical experience to feel connected to these ancient people, and the pictographs are considered sacred. If you locate them, make a point to tread lightly as the walls can be fragile.
|Handprints downstream of Tenderfoot.|
The Seamstress (so called for the "needles threaded" through scattered river rocks) rowed about 75 percent of the trip, while I (nicknamed Panic Attack for overly aggressive oar strokes) was forced to fish...
Despite cold, wet nights, windy days, muddy campsites and barely translucent water, we agreed we'd do it again. Even in April.
As the sensation of bobbing downstream fades, sweet sadness enters. We survived and we're warm and dry, but the jagged walls, honking geese, and intimacy of a remote float have long-since faded. Our parting gifts are memories of Montana backcountry, the chance to grow together, and indulge in some of the best of the outdoors.
- CrossCurrents Fly Shop Smith River blog
- CrossCurrents Fly Shop Smith River packing list
- USGS Streamflow Gauge Smith River
- Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Smith River web page (includes shuttle services and outfitters)
- FWP Map of the Smith River
- Detailed map of Smith River with GPS coordinates for boat camps
- GPS Micro SD Card; fits into Garmin and Magellan units that take SD cards; GPX waypoints for Smith River boat camps and launches, and waypoints for access on trout waters statewide
- Information regarding the proposed mine in the drainage
- Not to be confused with this similar situation