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River rage seeps into rules



On the evening of Aug. 17, Billy Pfeiffer and two friends were fishing from a raft on the Clark Fork south of Missoula when a powerboat buzzed past, creating waves that Pfeiffer says were big enough to swamp a canoe. Pfeiffer and company expressed their irritation, only to have the powerboat and an accompanying quartet of jet skiers swing back around. The boaters hurled insults at the fishermen, calling them "faggots," among other things, and threatened violence, Pfeiffer says.

"It's like five guys in a powerboat," he says. "What do you do? You can't get away. They're following me as I try to row away from them down the river, idling next to me, taunting us."

According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the confrontation is one among about a dozen on the Clark Fork the agency has received complaints about this summer. "We'll call it river rage," says local FWP Warden Captain Jeff Darrah.

"There are a few individuals in the motorized world who are basically acting as antagonists and they're making the situation worse," Darrah continues. "When [access] becomes more restrictive, they will have no one to blame but themselves."

Darrah is referring to the agency's consideration of new rules that would close the Clark Fork and Bitterroot rivers near Missoula to high-speed watercraft. More than 700 people weighed in during a public comment period earlier in the summer. Darrah says the agency will likely present a proposed rule change to the FWP Commission in October.

One person has been the focus of at least a few of this summer's complaints, Darrah says. That person has been driving his powerboat through Brennan's Wave and otherwise annoying motor-less boaters. But he hasn't been cited because, as Darrah says, "it's not illegal—yet."

"It's not so much that they're using these devices on the river, it's that they don't seem to care about other people using the river," says Pfeiffer. "It's frustrating because I think there's probably a group of powerboat users on the river who are respectful, and they're going to suffer because there's a small group of people...who are ruining it, effectively, for all these other users."

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