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A big river: Business on the Gallatin picks up with the summer season

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A person fly-fishing the Gallatin River. ADOBE STOCK


As summer season on the Gallatin River takes shape, the river’s guiding crews are excited to get back at it. Throughout May and early June, guide companies that bring their guests on and along the canyon are bracing for the busy summer months that bring tourists seeking to enjoy their time here in many different ways. Throughout the shoulder season as the snow melts and the river runs high, companies and their crews are able to prepare for the upcoming surge in different ways.

Melanie West, operations manager with Montana Whitewater, said that they had 14 new raft guides recently complete their raft guide training and that they’re “excited for things to get going at full swing” later on in June and early July. J.D Bingman with Wild Trout Outfitters let us know that their “core guys that have been with [them] for years and years” are still around and ready to get after it once again.

On June 14 of last year, the Gallatin saw a peak flow of 8,000 cubic feet per second according to Last year’s peak flow came a little later due to all of the late snowfall that occurred in May. This year with much of our snow already gone, we’ve seen a peak of about 4,750 cfs which is about 13% above average.

With the river swollen and muddy, guide services have to adapt their strategies in order to keep people safe, and also continue to provide a great experience. Melanie told EBS know that Montana Whitewater for example has been bumping most of their trips down to the lower class rapids, as the “mad mile” has been too high for some groups. Melanie also stated that “consistent rain and consistent cool temps have lead to consistent mid to high water, which has been awesome.” Come July, the rapids will “level out” and they will be able to get people out on more of the river.

Wild Trout Outfitters’ Bingman said that the spring runoff is “in the rearview mirror” and that the Gallatin is fishing great. He says that many people will look at the Gallatin in its current state and say that it is “blown out and unfishable,” but also that those same people “haven’t taken the time to go and find out for sure.” With a half a dozen guide trips out on a single day last week, he said that everybody was catching fish—this happens every year and they’re used to it.

“Muddy water is a state of mind,” Bingman said. “If you give up before you start, you’ll never get to play the game” and went on to mention that this high muddy water seems to “drive the fish to more predictable spots”. 

As far as booking goes, he commented that the level of businesses feels “normal” this year in comparison to the last two years.

“The fever pitch is not quite as high,” he said, “the last two years with Covid were just full steam ahead for us.”

It’s unclear whether this is an industry-wide settling, as the great snow year that happened this past winter in the Rockies had ski resorts reporting more visits than any other season before, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

West, with Montana Whitewater, informed EBS that they have significantly expanded their team “in order to give guides more reasonable four- to five-day work weeks.” They are “looking to take better care of [their] guides so that there’s less burnout” and better guest experiences. She stated that “2021 taught [Montana Whitewater] a lot” after a huge surge in business and they’re making sure nobody has to go through a year like that again. In general, their bookings are “up from pre-Covid years and [they’re] seeing a lot more last minute bookings.”

As people start to get back out to the river, Bingman noted a very important and simple truth: “the general message is to be kind to your fellow fisherman, and to treat them how you would like to be treated yourself.”

This can be said of all hobbyists and outdoorsy folk. Kind and gentle words can go a long way.

“It’s a big river and it’s there for everyone,” Bingman said.

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