Montana's refreshing waters naturally draw anglers, hikers, wildlife viewers, campers, floaters and boaters into the outdoors.
With growing numbers of recreators, those hoping to experience harmony with nature may instead find frustration, hurt feelings, and conflict by day's end.
The remedy—river etiquette—draws on common sense, courtesy, and respect to minimize one party's impact on another party's good time. Other steps that help reduce your impact on the state's river resources include acquiring good river skills, practicing "Leave No Trace" river ethics, and always packing out what you pack in.
Here are some examples of basic river etiquette.
Respect People's Space and Privacy
Feeling crowded detracts from the outdoor experience. The point at which someone feels crowded is subjective, but every outdoor activity requires space.
River etiquette helps create a feeling of adequate "space" when recreating by emphasizing respect for other people's privacy.
On the river, maintain a reasonable space between you and other river users, and friendly communication when encounters are unavoidable.
When pulling ashore, select unoccupied beaches and swimming areas whenever possible. Don't assume because it is a public space that strangers will welcome company.
In another example of respect, when passing people fishing on shore or from a boat, be quiet, and if safety permits, move to the opposite side of the river. Avoid floating through an area where anglers are fishing.
And, when fishing, do not monopolize a fishing hole.
Respect Other People's Time
Always be prepared to launch your boat before you get to the boat ramp. That may sound obvious, but who hasn't found themselves waiting to launch behind someone who is loading gear into their boat while occupying the boat ramp?
Be prepared to launch by organizing gear, loading boats, inflating and rigging rafts. You can complete these steps close to the boat ramp without blocking it. Use only the space you need, and once in the water, clear the launch area as quickly as possible.
Keep It Down
Excitement is what river recreation is about, so a few hoots and hollers are to be expected. But excessive yelling and screaming is annoying—in the same category are overly loud music, noisy generators, and other "noise pollution" in the outdoors.
River etiquette calls for keeping noise-levels down when others are nearby and when floating past residential areas. Sound is one of the most invasive ways to impact others privacy and good time.
Respect Private Property Rights
Respect the property rights of private landowners. Know your rights and responsibilities under the Montana Stream Access Law and stay below the ordinary high water mark. Keep dogs under control, respect ranchers' fencing and learn how to use float gates and other portage routes. Leave gates as you find them.
"River etiquette" also applies to giving nesting loons a wide berth and refraining from disturbing other water-dependent wildlife species. Taking proper care not to interfere with or displace wildlife has became a golden rule of outdoor etiquette in Montana
To learn more about recreational ethics, go to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website at fwp.mt.gov. On the Recreation page select Ethics. Or, request one of the new "Respect Your Rivers" brochures at any regional FWP office, or call 406-444-2535.