CommunityThis Week in Fish and Wildlife


This Week in Fish and Wildlife: River safety tips from Montana FWP

Posted at 2:11 PM, Feb 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-13 16:20:01-05

With temperatures warming, many of us are looking forward to a chance to visit one of Montana’s many rivers. This time of year, a trip to the river requires some planning.  MTN's Chet Layman shares some tips to stay safe.

BOZEMAN — The warm weather of the last couple weeks of January found folks getting out to hit the rivers. That can be an excellent time—or a dangerous experience.

A trip to the river in February requires some forethought; let’s start with an easy one.

“It’s never a good idea to walk on shelf ice. It’s just too unstable, too unpredictable, too uneven with how thick it is. So stay up on the bank and avoid walking in places that were once ice jams before,” said Morgan Jacobsen, information and education manager for Montana FWP Region 3.

The reality is a quick dip in these waters this time of year can be deadly. Add ice jams and other hazards and your chance to survive a slip in the water goes way down.

“The water temperatures are very cold, and hypothermia can set in very quickly,” Jacobsen said. “So keep these factors in mind and be prepared to rescue someone out of the water with either a throw rope or a flotation device if you need to.

Jacobsen also notes that rivers are dynamic—they change over time and over seasons. What was once a great fishing spot could now be a dangerous chance to literally get in over your head in a hurry.

“Rivers create new hazards through the river behavior itself. And so just because things looked a certain way last season does not mean that those same characteristics are going to be there the following year. There may be new hazards or unseen hazards there,” he said.

Jacobsen says it’s also important to realize that river levels can change quickly this time of year. Ice dams can break up, and melting can add to flows. He says awareness of the river upstream can go a long way to keeping a fun trip out from turning into an emergency situation.