The mighty Kootenay makes a detour south of the border. Never seen so many fish…
Date Paddled: August 28, 2016
Nearest City: Bonners Ferry, Idaho
Put-In: Yaak River Campground (Troy, Montana) 10:30 am
Take-Out: Twin Rivers Resort (Moyie Springs, ID) 4:30 pm
Duration: 6 hours
River Miles: 16
Shuttle: $40 from Rex at Twin Rivers Resort
Weather: mostly sunny 80 degrees, some wind;
water 60 deg. very clear
Difficulty: Class I, quickwater; some tricky currents
and huge eddy pools
The Kootenay River (Canadian spelling) begins high in the mountains of Kootenay National Park in Canada and heads south, barely missing a meeting with its future suitor, the Columbia, near that river’s headwaters at Columbia Lake in British Columbia. Having averted this premature conclusion, the Kootenay crosses the 49th parallel, replacing its final “y” with an “i” for a brief trip through Montana and Idaho before returning to Canada (and it’s original spelling) and entering vast and amazing Kootenay Lake.
Emerging from Lake Koocanusa and the Libby Dam, the American Kootenai is a big river with steady, cold flow, as it passes the run-down town of Libby, Montana and tumbles over the falls just before Troy. Our put-in, just past Troy, starts us out on a relatively calm but fast-slowing river set in a steep valley between heavily forested hills and rocky bluffs/cliffs. Though the rapids are mild and easy to negotiate, the current never really lets up – even in the “calm” waters below the frequent rapids and riffles. We are conveyed along smoothly but swiftly at 3 or 4 miles per hour, but accelerated to more than twice as fast in the rapids. Quite exhilarating!The most notable features of this ride, however, were the clear water, that made the rocks and fish dramatically visible. The colorful rocks, rushing by just a foot or two below our kayaks, enhanced the sense of gliding motion, like riding on a magic carpet, especially going into the rapids. And, amidst the medium to large cobbles that lie under much of the river, just below our boats, were thousands of easily visible fish, from tiny fry and fingerlings, to 8 to 16 inch adult trout. It seemed as if you could just reach down into the cold water and grab one!Another notable feature of this paddle is that it started in Montana and ended in Idaho, so it was that about mile 7 that we came to the only structure spanning the river in this section – the abandoned highway bridge at Leonia – that happens to mark the state line, and so we paddled into Idaho for the first time. The copious fish in the river naturally drew many osprey, two kingfishers and a small number of mergansers as well as deer coming to the river for a afternoon drink. The size and depth of the Kootenai in this section make navigation by powerboats possible, and several folks fishing and playing with their noisy machines in just one small section. However, aside from this and the occasional freight train on the adjoining tracks we were hardly bothered by the trappings of civilization for many hours until we arrived at our take out at the confluence with the Moyie.Here we were delighted to see Vincent, who had been shuttled back from the put in site by the kind folks at Twin Rivers Resort. The Resort, in Moyie Springs is on land owned by the Kootenai Indian Tribe. They’ve recently built a fish hatchery next door to the resort at the confluence of the Kootenai and Moyie Rivers. The fishery is being run by Rex and his family in a cooperative relationship with the tribe. We hope to be able to return to comfortable campground and this amazing river!