Man killed in Bitterroot River accident was rafting guide
By ANTHONY QUIRINI of the Ravalli Republic
HAMILTON - Bitterroot Valley fishing guide Dave Dedmon died on Sunday after his raft flipped over on the East Fork of the Bitterroot River. According to Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman, Dedmon, 53, of Corvallis, was pronounced dead at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital late Sunday afternoon. CPR was performed on-site and during transport, he said.
Dedmon and his wife, Sharon, were floating down the Bitterroot River to scout potential hazards in preparation for upcoming fishing trips with clients, Hoffman said. “They were taking it slow,” he said. “I don't believe they were even fishing.” Hoffman said the couple's raft hit a “weird eddy” that sucked it back into a snag hard enough to unseat the pair. In that second when the raft was unweighted, the raft flipped. The raft began floating downstream with the couple hanging onto it when it hit another log in the water. Hoffman said Dedmon's wife thought she might drown before being pulled to safety by a couple of kids. “We don't even know who they were,” Hoffman said. Dedmon was pulled from the water farther downstream.
The accident happened in between mile markers 16 and 18 on U.S. Highway 93 north of Sula, near the Rocky Nob restaurant and bar. Dedmon was a former Ravalli County sheriff's deputy and Hamilton police officer. He owned a fly-fishing outfit, Montana Flywater Co., and recently ran on the Republican ticket in the Ravalli County commissioner race. “David Dedmon had a lot of friends in the valley and that included me,” Hoffman said. “There was nobody quite like Dedmon. He was just an extremely passionate individual. Everything he did, he did with a lot of vigor. He was the most energetic person that I ever knew.” “He will be missed,” the sheriff said.
Sunday's accident served as a grim reminder of how hazardous the Bitterroot River can be. “He wasn't a rookie,” Hoffman said. “He'd spent a lot of time on the river. This accident was simply a very painful reminder of how dangerous this river can be. Every year, we beg and plead with people to be patient and wait until the river comes down.” The Bitterroot River is considered by many to be one of the most perilous in the state, primarily because of the number of log jams and sweepers on the river. “During runoff, the Bitterroot River is a very dangerous river because there's so much debris,” Hoffman said. “It's not the Lochsa, the Clearwater or the Selway. ... It's deceptively dangerous, especially this time of year.”
Area outfitters highly encourage floaters to check in with shops to find out about any hazards before launching. “Check in locally and don't attempt anything beyond your comfort zone,” said Chuck Stranahan, owner of Chuck Stranahan's Flies and Guides. “If you are feeling a little uneasy about going out - don't do it.” Stranahan recommended that everyone venturing onto the river wear a personal flotation device and be prepared. Have a patch kit (if you have a raft), extra oar, first aid kit, sections of rope and carabiners (for winching or pulling a boat) and a throw bag. “The river tends to claim a life every year,” Stranahan said. “This river is sneaky dangerous. You can be in water that looks placid and idyllic, which all of a sudden gains momentum and brings you into sections that are more dangerous.”
If you find yourself in the water, get in the defensive swim position, said Rescue 3 swift-water instructor Cody Harris of Montana River Guides. “If you do end up coming out of your boat, make sure you are in the defensive swim position,” Harris said.
He also stressed the importance of always wearing a PFD. The defensive position is floating on your back with feet out in front (going downstream) with your toes up. Keeping your toes up will avoid a foot entrapment - getting your foot stuck in debris and possibly ending up face down. As soon as a pool or some slow water presents itself, swim for the shore. “If you see any wood in the water, the No. 1 priority is to get out around it,” Harris said.
Mr. Dedmon was not wearing a PFD. t's unclear whether this was a factor in the accident.