Get Side Tracked

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

In railroad parlance, being side-tracked means you’ve been shunted off the main line onto a siding so that the fast trains can get by. As a noun, sidetrack is commonly known as a “minor path or track”. Although on the river, we anglers know it is easy to get “sidetracked” by all manner of things. Wildlife, tangles, weather, bugs, agonizing over fly selection, cold fingers, you name it. When your fly isn’t in or on the water, you’ve been side-tracked. However, getting side-tracked by an actual sidetrack can be a good thing.

A large majority of our larger Montana rivers have natural sidetracks that can be taken advantage of in the right circumstances. In fact, in my angling experience, rivers in the Southeast and Atlantic coast (as do most large to medium sized rivers anywhere) have sidetracks. In my experience, river sidetracks take on two forms, both equally valuable to the angler. The most obvious is the small natural channel that leaves the mainstem and flows some distance before returning to the main river—the true “side channel.”. The other is the natural trench or trough that lies adjacent to the main flow, but is separated by shallow areas. In both these cases, the sidetracks can be identified by the presence of an island of sorts that separates the minor flow from the mainstem. In rivers where the flow regime varies seasonally from runoff, the flow in these sidetracks varies as well. From an angling standpoint, sidetracks should be approached just as you would a small stream, because in fact, that’s exactly what they are.

Continue reading → Get Side Tracked