Rules of the River

Floating Etiquette.

Montana is a driftboat state and having a boat is almost a state right. However, our world-class rivers have become increasingly crowded and conflict has ensued between users. Although there aren’t many laws like on the highway, there are definitely rules of the river. Here are a few.

Entry & Exit
Most of the conflicts between river users come at the bottleneck point of the put-in and take-out. When you arrive at the put-in, stop away from the ramp in the staging area. Now is the time to get your boat, rods, and fishing equipment ready to go. Once the ramp is traffic-free, back down and quickly launch your boat. Either anchor the boat next to the ramp or have someone hold it as you move the vehicle out of the way. There’s nothing more frustrating than having someone back into the ramp and then proceed to get their boat ready to launch. Park your vehicle quickly, get in your boat, and pull away from the ramp. The take-out is the same procedure, just in reverse.

While you’re on the river, you’ll encounter other drifters as well as bank- and wade-fishermen. As a general rule, give a 100-yard bubble when possible. On the more serpentine rivers, give as much room as possible, and throw in a simple “I apologize for running in your water”; courtesy goes a long way. Give other boats the same 100 yards.

Anchors are a great tool on any driftboat but they need to be used correctly. Never anchor mid-river and never drag your anchor. If your anchor doesn’t hold, jump out and secure it. Dragging your anchor disrupts streambed gravel and can be dangerous.

Floating the great rivers of Montana is a right, but with rights come responsibilities. Follow these simple rules of the river and use a little common sense. That way everyone can enjoy what many believe to be Montana’s best treasure.

John Way is owner and outfitter at the Tackle Shop in Ennis and has guided all over Montana for 20 years.