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Ruby River

Description: This small, sinuous stream snakes its way through the historic Ruby Valley, providing excellent fishing along its way.

Vital statistics: 103 miles (including 3 miles of reservoir) from its headwaters south of Alder to its confluence with the Beaverhead.

Level of difficulty: Class I all the way. Practiced beginners can handle this river at low flows.

Flow: Annual mean flow: 210 cfs below Ruby Reservoir. Frequently too low for floating by late July, especially above Ruby Reservoir.

Hazards: Extremely sharp bends, brushy banks, narrow channels, protruding trees, barbed-wire fences, diversion dams, and cranky landowners. Contentious access.

Where the crowd goes: Nowhere in particular. Silver Springs to Twin Bridges is most popular.

Avoiding the scene: Upstream from Ruby Reservoir is isolated and difficult to reach. Perfect for explorers.

Inside tip: Floating can get you to some great, otherwise inaccessible fishing.

Maps: BLM: #33 (Butte South), #34 (Dillon)
USFS: Beaverhead Interagency Travel Plan (East)
USGS: Dillon-MT, Bozeman-MT, Ashton-ID, Dubois-ID

River rules: Check with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks concerning floater access.

For more information: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Bozeman; Four Rivers Fishing Company, Twin Bridges; Harmon's Fly Shop, Sheridan.

The paddling: With its well-developed curves and bends, the Ruby River makes an excellent little sister to the Beaverhead, the river it flows into near Twin Bridges. The river slinks and turns through the picturesque Ruby Valley, former home of outlaws and gold miners. Piles of gravel that line the banks of many of the Ruby's tributaries are remnants of the area's gold rush legacy. Robber's Roost, a famous roadhouse located between Sheridan and Laurin, was once a favorite hangout for outlaws and bandits who preyed upon gold miners.

The Shoshone Indians called this river Passamari, meaning "water of the cottonwood groves." When Lewis and Clark passed through, Captain Lewis named it Philanthropy, in respect to what he considered one of Thomas Jefferson's three cardinal virtues (he named the Big Hole River "Wisdom" and the Jefferson River, "Philosophy").
Pioneers later downgraded the name to Stinkingwater River after a large number of buffalo carcasses befouled the water one spring. Now it's called the Ruby for the garnets which sharp-eyed people still pick out of the stream's gravel.

This small river originates in the Snowcrest Mountains and flows north for about 40 miles before reaching Ruby Reservoir. Below the reservoir it flows another 25 miles before meeting the Beaverhead. The river above the reservoir is small with sharp bends, barbed wire, and occasional obstructions. It requires small crafts and large patience; it's often too low to float by August. Almost all floating on the Ruby takes place below the reservoir.

Then there's the access problem. Most land along the Ruby is private and landowners are quite sensitive about trespassers. The Ruby has excellent fishing and some landowners charge hefty fees to access the river. The problem? People floating the river can fish for free, and landowners resent it (as do their paying clients). Fortunately, Montana law says that all navigable rivers are property of the state. Landowners may charge fees for crossing their private property, but they cannot interfere with recreation within the high-water marks. If you plan to float this river, know your stream access rights.

While the Ruby is smaller than the Beaverhead, it has the same brushy banks and excellent trout habitat. It's predominately a brown trout fishery below the dam, and mostly cutthroats and rainbows above. While it's difficult to fish from a boat on the Ruby, a canoe can be useful for reaching inaccessible portions of the river. The Ruby's brushy habitat and frequent backwater sloughs also generate outstanding birdlife. It's a great area for sandhill cranes.

Because of limited access, the small size of the river, and long float distances between access points, the Ruby gets very little floating pressure. This river has so many bends that you should plan on traveling about 3 river miles for every air mile. Access is strictly by fishing access sites. Most floating occurs between Silver Springs access and Twin Bridges. A small canoe is the best craft, as it can handle sharp turns and narrow channels and can be portaged easily. Moreover, barbed wire and sharp willows will puncture all but the sturdiest rafts.

While the Ruby isn't difficult, it takes considerable skill to negotiate the repeated sharp bends, narrow channels, diversion dams, and protruding trees. Beginners should stay away when the river is high. But beware of flows getting too low. In 1985, parts of the Ruby went completely dry.

While Lewis and Clark called the Ruby "mild and placid," they didn't encounter present-day hazards such as barbed wire around blind corners, water diverted from the river, and landowners who feel they own the river. It makes one pine for the old days.

Excerpted from Paddling Montana by Hank Fisher
(Copyright 2000, Falcon Publishing, Inc.)

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