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Rock Creek fishers need to know where to row

A week after a Canadian drowned while float-fishing on Rock Creek, the popular Missoula-area fishing stream spiked again in the past few days to even higher flows.

Rain throughout the region continued to make some waters rise and fall going into this weekend, creating thrills for whitewater enthusiasts and danger for unwary floaters on some stretches.

Rescue crews recovered the body of James Dewhurst, 55, of Pickering, Ontario, on June 11, a day after the raft he was fishing from capsized. He was wearing waders but no life jacket at the time of the accident, officials said.

Rock Creek, which flows into the Clark Fork, spiked to even higher flows on Thursday before starting a trend to lower flows for the weekend.

Dewhurst was on a guided raft operated by The Complete Fly Fisher of Wise River. A guide and one other fisherman also were in the raft when it overturned, but they managed to swim to safety, officials said. The victim’s body was found the next day tangled in a tree about 200 yards downstream from where the raft had overturned.

Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin said the water on Rock Creek has been cold, high and full of hazards. Only search and rescue members who were swiftwater-certified were allowed to navigate the creek during the search.

Mack Long, a regional supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the twists and turns of Rock Creek are notorious for accumulating woody debris as trees and branches pile up against one another.

“Some of those corners just naturally catch logs,” Long said. “This time of year with the water flows up, you might think a section looks good one minute and the next there are logs jammed up in there. It’s just an extreme caution scenario right now. There is a lot of timber up Rock Creek that could wash in and cause problems.”

The fishing expedition went awry just above the microburst, near mile marker 27, a known hazard to those familiar with Rock Creek.

“The creek braids out and there are several ways you can go,” said Deb Peltier, who owns Trout Bums fly shop and coffee bar on Rock Creek Road along with her husband, Joe. “The right channel looks like the safer option, but it’s almost completely obstructed. He took the right fork and came up on a log jam.”

Matt Potter, co-owner of the Kingfisher Fly Shop in Missoula, said the channels near where the boat capsized present an “optical illusion” of sorts, making it appear as though a tree is blocking the proper left channel and steering inexperienced boaters to the right.

“It’s a known hazard that’s been there for a couple of years,” Potter said. “It looks like you don’t want to go left but you do. The right channel is passable, but there is no margin for error.”

Matter said the guide who capsized the boat was licensed, experienced and has a good reputation in the outfitting community.

Tristan Scott of the Missoulian contributed to this story.