Montana Fly Fishing
The Kootenai River

Kootenai River

The Kootenai River

Kootenai River near Libby 
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The Kootenai River begins in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia. In 1973, the Libby Dam was built, forming Lake Koocanusa that extends all the way back into Canada. Below Libby Dam, the river flows for 50 miles to the Idaho border. The countryside, as is typical of northwest Montana, is mountainous with thickly covered forested slopes.

The Kootenai River, as Libby Dam regulates it, flows erratically. The river level is subject to sudden flow increases that effect both the fly fishing and the safety of the wade fisherman. All anglers who plan to fly fish the Kootenai River, whether from shore or by boat, are advised to check the current river flows before heading out, especially in early summer when flows can be extremely high.

Below Libby Dam, even at low flows, the Kootenai River is wide and has a very quick current. For the first twenty-five miles below the dam, only small riffles and waves exist. The river then flows through a rapids called the "China Rapids", so named because a group of Chinese gold miners attempted to float through these rapids instead of portaging, and instead ended up capsizing their raft, sending their gold and all but one man to the bottom of the river.

Just below China Rapids, the Kootenai River flows over Kootenai Falls, a thirty-foot waterfall that requires a portage of all boats except for advanced paddlers in whitewater kayaks. Just below the falls, the river flows through a gorge that has extensive whitewater sections.

After emerging from the gorge, the Kootenai River continues on, with only small riffles and waves, to the Idaho border, which also is the lowest point of elevation in Montana. Due to the low elevation the river flows through, this part of Montana can be surprisingly warm during the summer months - so be prepared for some potentially warm days during any heat waves that happen to hit Montana.

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