As in all recent years, the attention of the Henry’s Fork community was trained on winter flows from Island Park Reservoir at the arrival of 2013. And while carry over storage in the reservoir rather than abundant early snowfall make it possible, negotiated flows were again adequate for trout survival through an Island Park winter. This, combined with reported influence from the buffalo River fish ladder, was responsible for the biggest news in 2013 as a new record of 6,000 fish per mile was reported by an Idaho fish and Game survey conducted in May.
Further downstream, evidence of a full recovery from the effects of a recently completed repair project on Ashton Dam was easily observed as conditions altered by the work returned to normal. Virtually silt free, the river resumed its former clarity and with it came a revival of hatches suppressed by nearly three years of disruption created by the urgently needed repair.
Perhaps the best indicator of river health between Ashton and St. Anthony was the strongest appearance of Green Drakes in recent memory. Combined with excellent hatches of Salmon Flies, Golden Stones and the usual assortment of mayflies and caddis, higher water flows kept this section of the river productive well into July.
Upstream in the caldera section, returning anglers found good fishing to Baetis, March Browns, early caddis, and midges as spring arrived a bit early in the high country. But the quiet of May quickly gave way to the busy month of June and the opening of the Ranch water.
Once again, a lavish appearance of Green Drakes gave witness to a vigorous aquatic environment that also spewed a remarkable assortment of trout tempting hatches on the most popular portion of the river. Morning and evening mayfly activity joined with a scattered emergence of caddis to create continuous fishing action for twelve or more hours on some of the best days.
The summer months of July and August were unusually hot and dry throughout much of the rocky Mountain west. Unlike many rivers in the surrounding area, however, the Henry’s Fork was spared the disruption of low flows and high water temperature that forced the closure of numerous notable fisheries. With a full reservoir to deliver irrigation to parched farmland downstream, the river ran higher than usual during the warmest period of summer. And though inconvenient at times for wading, these higher flows served to retain oxygen at levels necessary for trout survival. Greater depth and sustained sunshine created a perfect storm for the growth of aquatic vegetation, particularly in the slower stretches of the river. The upside to this relatively unusual occurrence, were the PMD hatches that poured daily from the dense weed beds. Less enjoyable, however, was the increased difficulty of bringing a big rainbow to the net brought on by the overabundance of in-stream vegetation.
Late summer brought a return of flows closer to normal and also some terrific terrestrial fishing as well. Tricos, Callibaetis and late caddis kept the fish looking up well into September as the weather remained pleasant and water conditions became seasonably stable.
October brought a dramatic cooling trend to the upper reaches of Henry’s Fork country where rain and occasional snow began to dominate the weather pattern. Mahogany Duns were a feature of the warmer days but conditions were generally more suitable for Baetis and midges in a month that warned of an early winter.
As in most years, November was prime time to fish streamers for big autumn browns on the lower river while enjoying temperatures usually a few degrees warmer than in Island Park. Midges and remnant Baetis hatches kept things going until around Thanksgiving time when winter conditions brought early icing to the water and air temperatures considerably lower than an aging man finds acceptable for most outdoor activities.
December and a year’s end have become a time for reflection on the seasons of the Henry’s Fork. There have been highs and lows in every year, and 2013 was no exception.
An unbelievable rainbow taken during a PMD hatch in late June could have never been expected, even on the Henry’s Fork. At a length roughly equal to the butt section of a 9 foot, 4 piece Scott; it was the fish of a lifetime.
The passing of two longtime friends of the river was a loss felt personally and within the community as well. Bob Evans and Hugo Melvoin will be missed.
With Island Park Reservoir depleted to less than 30% capacity, only early snow and diligent effort from the Henry’s Fork Foundation persuaded managers who regulate release of water to provide flows that will protect the fishery through the most critical months of winter. While more snow will be needed moving forward, a reservoir at nearly 60% of capacity and a snowpack just slightly below average were cause for relief and optimism at the end of a very dry year.
Other good news from last year is the announcement that work on the Chester Dam by late winter of 2014 will be completed. This means that a rather elaborate fish ladder at the site will soon allow long barricaded trout to gain access to water upstream from the dam and Fall River as well. This long awaited reconnection is expected to significantly benefit the lower fishery as will fish screens on two canal head gates also located at Chester Dam. As is so often the case in matters pertaining to the river the Henry’s Fork Foundation deserves our gratitude for causing these improvements to be part of the renovation of Chester Dam, which is now generating electricity at the site.
Looking forward in mid-winter, it is difficult to make firm predictions for the New Year. However, the usual indicators thus far point to a continuation of recent trends that have produced a vibrant fishery with strong hatches and plenty of healthy and sizable trout. In 2014, it is good to be alive on the Henry’s Fork.
Wider, deeper, and faster, the lower Henry’s Fork is best accessed by drift boat from May through early September, and sometimes even longer. But changes occur by October when peak demands for irrigation and hydroelectric generation have passed and the demeanor of the river becomes more accommodating to the wading angler. With the exception of areas at Chester Dam and Fun Farm, the 15 miles of water downstream from Ashton Dam to St. Anthony becomes reasonably safe and comfortable for wading when flows from Island Park Reservoir and numerous tributaries are at a yearly low. Additionally, an elevation that is more than 1,000 feet lower than Island Park reduces weather extremes that can impact comfort and access during the shorter days of the off season.
Generally speaking, I prefer dry fly fishing when a choice exists, but refined nymphing in clear, shallow water would not be ranked much lower. However, there is a time in the late season when a reunion with the burly browns of the lower Fork takes control of my attention. From late October through most of November, I am likely to be found in the canyon stretches throwing big streamers on a 6 or 7 weight rod. Exercising this heavier gear combined with the realities of being an older man can seem more like work than pleasure at the end of a day when several miles of wading and countless casts have taken their toll on an aging body.
There are many ways to pursue trout with a fly rod, and I enjoy them all. But at the end of a season and with winter lying directly ahead, I appreciate the lower Henry’s Fork more than at any other time. With frigid conditions through much of December, January, and February, each day on the water prior to that period is savored. Hunting big browns in the final days of fall is a fitting conclusion to each year, and I am grateful that the tradition continues.
words by René Harrop
photos bt Bryan Gregson
By Rene’ Harrop
Like our ancestors and most other warm blood creatures, the instinct to leave the mountains of Island Park kicks in when the hours of darkness begin to noticeably exceed daylight. This typically occurs during the latter weeks of October and by Halloween we have settled back into our St. Anthony home which, like our summer place, is located in Fremont County, Idaho. And while the Henry’s Fork cuts through both communities, the differences outnumber the similarities when cultures are compared between societies separated by less than 40 miles.
Unlike most of their upstream neighbors whose interest seems to center around fly fishing, conversations in the coffee shops and taverns in St. Anthony always seem dominated by subjects pertaining to agriculture. Mention hatches, fly patterns, or the latest graphite rod in the Star bar and you might as well be speaking Chinese among people more interested in potato prices, the cost of diesel fuel, or the Government’s Farm Policy. But even among folks of varied positions, there is one topic that can transcend the respective differences between those who fish and those who farm.
Water, and the river from which it comes, is known to be the source of existence for the economic drivers represented by agriculture and sport fishing in Fremont County. And in years like 2013, residents who depend upon these two activities for their livelihood are fortunate to have the connection of two entirely different interest groups working toward the common good of the Henry’s Fork.
This year, a lighter than normal mountain snowpack and a very dry summer has disrupted the ability of water managers to provide the generous flows of the past 5 years. In the past, a drawdown of Island Park Reservoir to below 30% of capacity has resulted in thousands of trout being stranded below the dam when flows were shut down completely. Saving these fish required a massive rescue effort involving hundreds of volunteers. The mission extended for 3 days as otherwise doomed rainbow trout were captured and transported to the mouth of the Buffalo River a quarter mile downstream.
With history as a basis for concern, members of the Henry’s Fork fishing community were relieved to learn that 80-100 cfs will be allowed to flow from the dam which is adequate for fish survival until severely cold temperatures arrive.
According to Henry’s Fork Foundation Scientist, Rob Van Kirk, at least 180 cfs will be released from December through February, normally the coldest months of the year. And while certainly less than ideal for increasing the fish population, this flow should minimize loss of juvenile trout while permitting operation of the dam’s hydroelectric generation plant. Wintering trout may also find sanctuary in the Buffalo River via the relatively recent completion of a very efficient fish ladder. Based upon current information, it appears that the Caldera section of the Henry’s Fork is not facing the likelihood of anything catastrophic during the coming winter. However, it is important to acknowledge the need for a big snow year to avoid a repeat of problems associated with low flow in rivers throughout the northern Rockies in 2013.
In order to place the significance of flow management during years of low water supply into perspective one must remember that the fishery below Island Park Reservoir has not always been given the consideration it now receives. It is only since formation of the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council in the 1990’s that all who have a stake in the well-being of the river also have a seat at the table and a voice in how it is managed. With the Henry’s Fork Foundation and Fremont-Madison Irrigation District as co-facilitators, a remarkable new balance has been achieved when addressing the multiple threats to this vital natural resource. Dodging the bullets of draught, dam repair, and bridge replacement headline a number of recent issues that reveal the efficiency and value of this cooperative organization.
It is likely that no river on the planet receives closer scrutiny than the Henry’s Fork, and few are asked to provide more benefits to a wider cross section of human need. As one who finds trout as being essential to his existence, I am grateful to the bond that connects the participants comprising the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council.
words: RENÉ HARROP
A September snow arrives silently in the high country like an uninvited guest. And while not a lasting feature of early autumn, the white messenger issues a sobering reminder of what lies directly ahead for the Henry’s Fork community.
For those who are economically dependent on a busy summer, October brings the relief of a slowed pace brought about by a thinning of visiting anglers and the return of an eight hour work day that is as much as five hours shorter than during the peak of the fishing season. Pleasant temperatures in the 50-60? range are typical of late morning and early afternoon but they are often replaced by ice on the water’s edge and sunset can be accompanied by temperatures hovering around the freezing mark. A later start and earlier finish to each work day combined with fewer marathon sessions of consecutive days on the oars have a noticeable effect on hollow eyed river guides who can now begin to become reacquainted with normal life and the relationships that are put on hold for nearly half of the year.
Although spared the physical rigors of guiding, fly shop and restaurant staff are not immune from the pressures of a constantly changing clientele and a demanding work schedule that allows far too little time for personal needs. In fall, the smiles that are not forced and their fishing stories become their own as the reason they live here is reclaimed.
Seriously depleted by summer’s end, the renewal of energy provided by a lighter burden of responsibility is demonstrated by evening gatherings around the fly shops or saloons where spirits are high and the conversation is always lively. Comprised mostly of locals but augmented by a handful of familiar visitors who return at this time each year, it seems everyone knows each other. From a cultural standpoint, it is a revealing time when sharing is never more liberal and contentment is the dominant mood but there is an underlying urgency for residents who attempt to capture the special opportunities of a season that always seems to end too soon.
Although hunting comes into the picture for many who call the mountains home, it is fall fishing that calls most strongly in Henry’s Fork country. Largely relieved from the daily pressure of the warmer months, trout in the river exist in a more relaxed state as they rise freely to late hatches of Baetis, Mahogany Duns, and midges. Remnant hoppers and other terrestrials remain attractive on the warmer days and sight nymphing becomes especially productive with the improved visibility of especially clear water that accompanies the lower flows of the late season. However, this is not to imply any weakening in the requirement of precise casting and presentation as well as accurate imitation of the prevailing food source. Other demands of fall fishing on the Fork include the ability to handle extremely small flies on the lightest of tippets and successfully approaching fish that may be feeding in mere inches of water. Tricky currents flowing over aquatic vegetation accumulated over several months can complicate the drift of the fly and the big rainbows have learned to quickly gain freedom by burrowing deeply into the heavy weed beds. And while there can be golden days of summerlike conditions, the best hatches often occur on cool, overcast days that can also feature rain or even snow.
Through October, a day of reasonable weather conditions will not find the river deserted but the sparse number of regulars found on the water at this point in the year are generally courteous and are not inclined to disrupt their fellow anglers. With freedom of movement and plenty of open water assured, there is an intimacy with the river not always found in other seasons.
Although the moving portions of the Henry’s Fork attract the greatest attention internationally, the still water contributors to this famous river certainly warrant attention when the conversation turns to exceptionally large trout.
Guides whose fishing pleasure is primarily derived vicariously from the success of their clients through most of the season frequently choose Island Park Reservoir, Henry’s Lake, or the private lake on Sheridan Ranch for a personal reconnection with fishing that often goes unattended during their prime earning months. With free time and big trout as their continual objective, these dominating human predators find fall to be a unique opportunity to apply the skills that only be described to a paying client.
It is likely that cooling water and changing light conditions trigger an instinctive response in wild trout that prepares them for the lean times when their world becomes overtaken by the frigid conditions of winter. Aggressive feeding activity that can border on gluttony becomes normal behavior as they pack on as much fat as their bodies can store. And on Henry’s Lake, for example, the right fly fished at the right depth in fall can produce almost unparalleled action with the potential for the fish of a lifetime on practically every cast. The lake can be a busy place during weekends and on warmer days but conditions from mid-October on have a way of thinning out those of weaker resolve.
A boat provides better range but even the largest fish will cruise the shallow edges which makes wading the shoreline a practical method of fishing Henry’s Lake. Leeches, streamers, and scud patterns fished on a slow sinking line are reliable flies with suspended midge patterns on a floating line also a good fall choice.
In most years, the first signs of autumn begin to appear in late August when the Aspen begin to change color. Fall hatches and Baetis can overlap with the last of summer mayflies like PMDs, Callibaetis, and Tricos, and this will continue until night and morning temperatures regularly dip below freezing. Fishing in shirtsleeves remains common through much of September but a jacket should be kept close by as daylight hours begin to shrink.
By early October snow can appear on any day but it is also a month when temperatures can rise into the 70’s. Even a foot or more accumulation can vanish within a day or so, but snow beyond Halloween can remain until May. Winter above 6,000 feet can easily stretch for as long as 6 months and the sanity of residents who remain can be severely tested before its end only a few weeks before Memorial Day. However, a year of abundant snowfall is like money in the bank for those who choose to call the Henry’s Fork home. It is the water that gives them life and without snow the river would not exist.
images: Bryan Gregson Photography
Fall on the Fork is a wonderful time indeed. The days grow shorter, the air has a certain bracing feel & the trout are putting on the feedbag in preparation for a long cold winter ahead. For the fly angler, fall is a magical time, full of eager trout & ample opportunities, but bittersweet just the same as the promise of a colder season, void of any prominent hatches, lingers not too far off down the road. The fishing as of late has been outstanding. We’re nearing the end of the Tricos & their spinner falls, but the Mahoganies & Baetis are filling the void. The terrestrial fishing is still a legitimate option & the streamer fishing is really starting to heat up. Along with all that, the midge hatches will intensify as we move further into fall. Here’s a little more of what to expect from stretch to stretch.
BOX CANYON: Current flows from I.P. Reservoir are 364cfs. Expect flows to drop even more with minimal irrigation demand. The typical standard rubber-leg to beadhead dropper approach will fill the net, but the streamer bite has been strong lately & gives you a little more bang for the buck. Focus efforts in the deeper middle river water & around deep bank side structure. On the lower end of the float, keep your eyes open for Mahogany & Baetis duns. On certain days these hatches come off strong and bring some truly impressive fish up to the surface for a bite to eat. Hoppers will still be a safe bet for the next couple of weeks or until we get a couple of good hard frosts. So don’t forget to pack those along.
LAST CHANCE & THE RANCH: Although the Trico spinner action is starting to subside, we’re seeing good Mahogany & Baetis activity. With the water dropping, the weeds will become more of a nuisance, but will also concentrate pods of risers. The midges are starting to become an option as well, look for fish feeding on midge emergers, adults & clusters early in the day and again in the evening. Terrestrials are still about and are a solid option on those warmer sunny afternoons. A selection of ants, beetles and hoppers should always accompany an angler this time of year. With cooler temps being the norm now, look for good fish up and eating throughout the entire day.
WARM RIVER TO ASHTON: This section of the Henry’s Fork continues to fish well. A deep double nymph rig is a sure fire way to get the fish. Hitting the bank with a big hopper pattern can be productive as well, and adding a beadhead dropper will only increase your odds. When the weather turns south, tie on a big gnarly streamer and target those big cantankerous pre-spawn browns. Keep your eyes open for fish up on Baetis & Mahogany duns throughout the canyon.
THE LOWER RIVER: This section is once again starting to shape up for the fall season. Look for Baetis & Midge hatches to intensify over the next couple of weeks. We’re hearing reports of good nymph fishing with a smaller rubber-leg stonefly trailed with a Zebra Midge dropper. The big browns that inhabit the lower river are starting to get a little attitude in preparation for their yearly spawning ritual, so be sure to pack along some large meaty streamers. This section is a fall favorite and fishes extremely well throughout fall and into early winter.
HENRY’S LAKE: Henry’s is really starting to turn on. The areas around the creek mouths and springs are your best option. Strip leech and bugger patterns with varied retrieves for a shot at voracious Cutthroat, Brook & Hybrids. Another proven method is to hang Midges or still-water nymphs under a hopper or small indicator. Mix up the depth to find that magic spot. For an added challenge, strip a mouse or rodent pattern over pods of trout.
THE MADISON: The Madison is starting to fish really well. Nymphing will bring good numbers, but these fish are still keyed on Terrestrial patterns and we’re starting to see solid Baetis and Midge activity. The bigger fish are responding well to streamers under cloudy skies or early & late in the day. The Midge hatches will get stronger as we move through September & into the colder weather of October. The Madison above Hebgen is starting to fish well with terrestrials, Baetis & a swung soft hackle or streamer.
HEBGEN & QUAKE LAKE: The Midge hatches are starting to come on and can provide outstanding fishing on top. Targeting trout with terrestrial patterns is still a viable option too. Look for fish cruising the bank or shallows and get a hopper or ant pattern out in front of them. Stripping leeches and buggers can be productive as well and the bead-head Midge under a hopper or small indicator can really get it done on the right day.
Stop by the Fly Shop for real time conditions, the hottest gear and flies or to check out some of our spectacular late season sale items.
The testing of individual skill against the hook resistant rainbows of Harriman Ranch predates the early 1980’s when public access to the legendary water was formally installed by the establishment of Idaho’s first State Park. Doug Swisher and Carl Richards were among the first to bring widespread attention to the uniqueness of shallow, slow moving water where a single rising trout can become more important than anything in an angler’s consciousness.
The writings of Swisher and Richards followed by other dry fly notables like Ernest Schwiebert painted a vivid picture in the 1970’s of varied hatches of mayflies, caddis and other aquatic invertebrates that have served to create the intensive selective feeding behavior of resident trout that continues to typify the Ranch experience to this day. But matching the hatch is only one component of a complex skillset that defines the traditional approach that anglers, regardless of their origin, have applied when fishing this special water.
Walking slowly along open banks within the Ranch has become ritual for those who appreciate the opportunity to search the surface of shallow, mostly wadeable water where the rise of a big trout can be spotted at distance beyond a hundred yards by a trained eye. Locating an exceptional fish is the starting point for a process intended to bring contact with a creature that has survived to impressive size on its ability to avoid peril. It is a process laden with decisions that include selecting the best angle of approach to a predetermined location from which to present the fly.
When playing by the traditional rules of engagement for the Ranch, fly selection is a deliberate act always preceded by close examination of the water. On water where multiple choices can exist simultaneously, rising trout will almost invariably focus on a single food form at the exclusion of any other insect that may compete for attention. Understanding that several possibilities can exist on any given day, it is only prudent to carry a variety of flies when fishing the Ranch.
Successful Ranch fishermen are above average in casting proficiency, and most work continually to improve their skill. The ability to present the fly on a long leader from any angle is always an asset but its value is multiplied on the Ranch.
Bringing in a trout of 20” or larger can be an exercise inpatience and concentration when the tippet is 5X or finer. However, the best at playing and landing big fish can accomplish the final task in well under ten minutes. Consideration for the safety of the prize precludes playing the fish to utter exhaustion or failing to make certain it is fully revived before being released back to the water. Barbless hooks can speed the release process while minimizing tissue damage which can be especially problematic when fishing larger patterns such as hoppers. Photos are fine if the fish is not kept from the water for more than 30 seconds at a time. Floating the Ranch can be a memorable experience regardless of how much time you have spent there. Fishing from an anchored position in water too deep to wade is considered acceptable but otherwise, a boat is used mainly for transporting anglers who will be wading some of the more remote areas like Bonefish Flat. And whether wading or floating, crowding or disrupting another angler is never good etiquette.
The modern history of the Ranch is a story of human passion of such profound intensity that it has become the final resting place for some of its most dedicated advocates. While of varying prominence in the international picture, Ashizawa, Fontan, Evans, Lempke, and Puyans are among the names of those whose remains are now part of the fertile streambed.
In the past 5 decades others have joined Swisher, Richards, and Schwiebert in adding their voices to the Ranch tradition. Men like Godfrey, Brooks, Lawson, and McDaniel have forged their identities as anglers, fly tyers, or both on the hallowed waters of the Ranch, and their work and words have penetrated the deepest corners of the planet.
A collective message of respect for its magnificent rainbow trout and gratitude for a place unlike any other did not fall on deaf ears when it reached Ryan Hammond and Gerhard Laubscher in remote South Africa several years ago. A long awaited visit to their river of dreams came about in mid-summer of 2013, and the depth of their preparation could not have been more impressive.
While both young men were well schooled in the use of a fly rod, trout did not appear on a long list of fresh and saltwater species they described as being primary targets in their homeland. However, diligent study of books, videos, and magazine articles had yielded a comprehensive understanding of the Ranch and the tradition that has evolved over the past half century. With no detail of tackle requirements left unaddressed, Ryan and Gerhard needed only minor assistance in fly pattern selection during their introduction to completely unfamiliar water.
It was hope rather than expectation that describes the attitude they carried on a trip requiring several days of travel, and big numbers were never part of the objective. For Ryan, the pressure was off within the first hour on the water as he closed the deal on a robust hen that took a winged ant after a long stalk in knee deep water. His deft casting and discipline through a spirited fight were not indicative of a man with very limited experience in this type of fishing. A ceremonial beer and a toast at 9:00 A.M. gave honor to the trout, and Ryan’s smile spoke strongly to the significance of his accomplishment.
Losing a trout and failure are not synonymous on the Ranch when a light tippet, dense aquatic weed, and a heavy fish are working against you. And while several respectable fish were hooked on the first day, Gerhard ruled it a success despite landing none of them.
Ryan and Gerhard spent the second and final day in spot and stalk situations that produced a memorable rainbow for both newcomers to the Ranch. The level of satisfaction with their initial experience was made obvious at day’s end when they voiced their plans to return in June of the coming year.
Our South African friends had met the Ranch on terms learned from a distance of many thousands of miles and they played the game by the traditional rules established over the decades by the reverence of many who preceded them. I look forward to seeing them again.
Jim Klug: http://www.klugphotos.com/
Bryan Gregson: bryangregsonphotography.com
Gerhard Laubscher: http://www.flycastaway.com/
words: Chris "Grizz" Andelin
images: Bryan Gregson Photography
After some less than ideal fishing conditions through late July & early August, the fishing here on the Henry's Fork has once again picked up to favorable action. The flows out of IP Res. have balanced out around 870 cfs making for some outstanding angling opportunities throughout the upper reaches of the Henry's Fork drainage. Henry's lake is starting to produce good fishing & the Hebgen gulper fishing remains strong. The Trout on the Madison are back on the feed too, making the options many should you find yourself here in Henry's Fork country. Henry's a run-down of what's happening when & where.
BOX CANYON: The fishing in the Box has been really good lately, particularly the streamer fishing. Throw big weighted lead-eye Leech patterns in the deeper slots & around those big Box Canyon boulders. Hopper-dropper rigs are producing as well. The old rubberleg to bead-head combo is a daily go-to approach & sure bet, so have a bobber rig ready to go. Look for some good Callibaetis spinner fishing on the lower end of the canyon during the morning & evenings.
HARRIMAN RANCH: The honey ants are showing and the Trout are paying attention. There are also strong numbers of smaller black ants on the water. The Callibaetis hatch remains good & we're seeing good PMD activity throughout the day, particularly in the afternoon. The spinner fishing early & late is a solid option too. It doesn't hurt to be on the water early, take a mid-day break and return in the early afternoon for more fun. The Trout have become a tad finicky, so make a stealthy approach and present your flies with a drag free drift. Mid to late August is a fine time to walk the Ranch, the crowds are down, the fish are many & solitude is much easier to find.
CANYON STRETCH: The Lower mesa slide down to the Warm River confluence continues to fish well for those willing to put in the extra effort to get there. Hopper- dropper rigs, streamers & deep double nymph set-ups are all solid options. This is also one of the most scenic floats on the Henry's Fork, so don't forget to take the time to look up a bit & absorb the majestic scenery.
WR-A: This stretch continues to produce day in & day out. Standard M.O. here is a rubber-leg trailed by a smaller bead-head dropper, but this time of year, a hopper- dropper rig will likely produce positive results. Mowing the bank with big foam will bring the big boys up & the streamer fishing, early & late, can put a true brut in the net.
LOWER RIVER: Warm water temps & weed growth are making this stretch a tough option. Better to focus your attention elsewhere until cooler temps & better conditions warrant feasible fishing.
HENRY'S LAKE: We're starting to see good fishing around the creek mouths & spring areas. Strip leeches & still-water nymphs or hang a chironomid under a small indicator or grasshopper. The Lake will only improve as the water cools and we move toward cooler day/night time temperatures.
words: Rene Harrop
images; Bonnie Harrop
Anyone who has ever fished with Gareth understands that he brings an uncommon approach to fly fishing. And while still waters are his specialty, no obstacle of location or condition can assure a trout’s safety when the man from Wales moves into action. This fact was not lost on the Henry’s Fork when a July visit was greeted by extreme summer temperatures and unusually high flows of less than ideal clarity.
While hatches and dry fly opportunity were sparse, Gareth would not be deterred from introducing himself to as many Henry’s Fork rainbows as possible. His ability to spot fish that would easily be missed by most anglers was made less impressive only by the number of trout he was able to subdue on the first day of a week-long venture that would cover a variety of lakes and streams. Relying mainly on self-devised sight nymphing techniques, Gareth kept Bonnie busy with the camera while demonstrating a mastery of overcoming difficulty beyond what is typical on a river known for being difficult.
Boobies, the Clothesline, and straight line nymphing were unveiled as still water techniques on day two. Sunrise found Gareth and me in an 18’ power boat piloted by Brandon Prince. A lake obsessed angler himself, Brandon had laid out a plan that would put us on two splendid but distinctly different lakes in the same day. We would fish Henry’s Lake beginning at 5:30 A.M. then jump across the Idaho Border into Montana four hours later to catch the Gulpers on Hebgen Lake only 15 minutes away.
Anticipation is the word on Henry’s where every cast holds the potential for an oversize cutthroat, brookie, or one of the giant hybrid cut-bows that can weigh more than 15 pounds.
As is always the case, time flies when you are fishing, and the four hours allotted for Henry’s left Gareth hungry for the proverbial one more cast. While certainly respectable on a morning when few were catching any fish at all, none of the half dozen or so trout he landed were above the average standard of about 17”, and we knew he wanted more.
Within minutes of launching on Hebgen, Gareth was fishing a dry dropper Callibaetis rig to cruising browns and rainbows that proved less than hospitable to our Welsh friend. A light hatch of the speckled mayflies was not adequate to keep the fish near the surface for significant time during their sporadic rising, and the catch rate was relatively slow during the 3 hour hatch.
With less than a dozen fish to his credit, Gareth took command of the boat as we cruised the edges in search of submerged targets that are typically immune from angler attention when surface activity ends. In shallow, slightly riffled water, Gareth’s accurate casting applied serious discomfort to the unsuspecting fish that finned along the shoreline in sheltered bays.
It was the same story at the mouth of a small tributary where sizable trout lay undetected by surrendering anglers that were beginning to leave the water at just past noon.
As is typical in the Rocky Mountain west, an afternoon wind put a chop on the surface that, for most, spells the end of fishing on Hebgen. With competition for water essentially nonexistent, Brandon and I were introduced to the real talent of Gareth Jones, and the reason he is held in such high esteem as a master of still water came into full display.
As a formidable predator beyond common, Gareth applied his remarkable memory and astute ability to recognize occupied water to extend our productive time on Hebgen beyond anything I had ever experienced.
Remembering the general locations where trout had shown themselves earlier, Gareth directed placement of the boat in water he knew would hold fish. Using a floating line and 4 flies strung along 20’ of leader, Gareth incorporated a straight line nymphing technique in a fruitful probing of deep water that lasted until late afternoon.
Perhaps conquering is too strong a term to describe his performance in conditions that would defeat even seasoned regulars, but Gareth certainly has left his mark on the trout of Hebgen Lake.
The guides call it Disney Land, and all at TroutHunter were looking forward to learning how Gareth would fare on the trout laden lake and spring creek on Sheridan Ranch. A private fishery, its waters are managed for trophy size Kamloop rainbow in the lake and Steelhead Hybrid rainbow in the creek.
I was not surprised when Gareth and Brandon were again up and running at 4:00 A.M. in order to be on Sheridan at dawn. Joined by Jon Stiehl and Rich Paini, Bonnie and I arrived at the lake 3 hours later to witness the carnage.
Although limited to 8 anglers per day, Sheridan is a moody lake that must be read and fished correctly if one is to prevail over its sizable occupants.
Even at a distance, Gareth is impressive to watch. From a seated position in Brandon’s drift boat, his routine of casting the entire fly line separated the two before we were close enough to identify which angler was Gareth.
Dry fly opportunity in the form of midges, Callibaetis, and Damsels helped to add diversity to the fishing, but Gareth continued to rely mostly on the straight line nymphing method that had worked so well on Hebgen. With an estimate of at least a hundred fish touched, Gareth finished 7 hours of the lake with a Kamloops that was 5 or 6 inches short of the 30 incher he had spotted in the narrow channel on the upper end.
Moving the short distance to Sheridan Creek after a late lunch, Gareth got down and dirty on the big stream fish that lie in some of the deeper, faster pools. Again, he was reaching fish that most others would never touch or even see. Nymphs fished on a long leader and no floating indicator were a revelation to companions unfamiliar with this European technique. But learning is something we all expect when fishing with Gareth.
We arrived back on the Henry’s Fork at a more civilized hour to find a slight improvement in water level and clarity on day 4. A modest spinner fall had the fish looking up at about 8:30 A.M. and Gareth wasted no time in spanking a very respectable fish on a fine upstream presentation. Several more dry fly touches followed over the next hour or so but as expected, the larger trout turned their attention to emerging PMD Nymphs over a long, dense weed bed that harbored dozens of big rainbows. This is the toughest fishing we are compelled to deal with on the Henry’s Fork and it can leave even the best skilled regular shaking his head in exasperation. Although his numbers were not high, Gareth made an impressive showing on fish that became nearly impossible to fool.
Hatches subdued by a piercing sun and a hot wind that swept away our ability to locate nymphing trout brought logic to the decision to exit the river at a time when a cold beer made as much sense as anything. Breaking from the fishing a little earlier than usual, I knew Gareth was already planning for his final day on the water before returning to Wales.
Knowing Gareth’s fondness for Henry’s Lake and that he had left some unfinished business there several days earlier, his plan to again be on the water at sunrise was no surprise to any of his friends at TroutHunter. While redemption was needed only in his own mind, the pull of something more impressive would not be denied.
The second day on Henry’s was wholesale manager Tom Watkins’ first opportunity to observe Gareth perform his still water wizardry at a time when the lake is at its most perplexing. It was not clear whether Tom was more impressed by the size and number of trout hooked or by Gareth’s ability to cast beyond 100 feet with what appears to be only modest effort. And true to form, Tom graciously expressed gratitude for Gareth’s patience in explaining the techniques that he too was able to utilize during their day together.
Although the big hybrids had eluded Gareth’s attention on that day, there was no disappointment expressed toward several dozen brook trout and cutthroat that ran as large as 4 pounds. It was a fitting end to a week filled with magical waters, splendid trout, and the talents of a friend who never ceases to impress.
If relentless tenacity and a remarkable skill set that seem able to overcome the most adverse conditions of weather, water, and trout are the characteristics of a beast, then Gareth Jones meets that description. However, his friends on the Henry’s Fork know him as a gentleman and enthusiastic companion who simply lives to fish. And unlike the trout that must suffer his persistent attention, we all look forward to his return.
Island Park, Idaho U.S.A.
Date: June 2013
Length: 26 inches plus
Rod: Scott S4 904/4
Reel: Hatch Monsoon 4 Plus
Line: Airflo Elite DT4
Leader: TroutHunter 14' (extended to 18')
Tippet: TroutHunter Fluorocarbon 6X
Fly: CDC PhD Emerger size 16
In water you would recognize, this magnificent hen rose to a size 16 PMD Emerger fished on a 6X tippet.
Surviving three spectacular leaps and a sizzling run into the backing was just the beginning of the most profoundly intense trout battle I have ever experienced. With weight perhaps three or four times the tippet's breaking strength, the massive rainbow employed every advantage of current, depth, and dense aquatic weed in a forceful freedom effort that, remarkably fell short of succeeding.
The ten minute fight was a test of every component of mind and tackle where any weakness or mistake would have resulted in just another story of the big one that got away.
When laid alongside the rod, this fish of a lifetime stretched more than six inches beyond the twenty inch mark. And there were no marks to indicate she had ever been hooked before.
As associates, (and friends) responsible for the perfectly functioning gear that made this amazing experience possible, you were each a part of this unlikely victory over the largest rainbow I have ever landed on the Henry's Fork.
Larry Keel is described by some reviewers as the most powerful, innovative and all-out exhilarating acoustic flatpicking guitarist performing today. Keel has absorbed the best lessons from his Bluegrass family upbringing, both sides deeply steeped in the rich mountain music culture and heritage of Southwest Virginia. From there, he has always integrated that solid musical grounding and natural-born talent with his own incomparable approach to flatpicking the guitar and composing original music. He’s also got a knack for choosing interesting and appealing material from all realms of music with guts, whether it’s a tune written by a fellow song-writer/musician friend, or a tasty cover from any number of genres all over the map. The combination is pretty irresistible, and has earned Keel the highest respect and billing among the top acoustic musicians alive, and some now gone: Tony Rice, Chris Thile, Vassar Clements, Sam Bush, Del McCoury, John Hartford, Bill Monroe, Peter Rowan, and Darol Anger to name a few. And his fierce, high-spirited energy also appeals to young rockers, jammers and alt country pickers and fans who are equally drawn to Keel’s deep rumbling voice, his earthy and imaginative song-writing, and his down-home-gritty-good-time charm. Keel regularly collaborates with JamBand and Rock giants Yonder Mountain String Band, Keller Williams, Jorma Kaukonen, David Nelson, Little Feat, Rebirth Brass Band, Dirty Dozen Brass, Railroad Earth, members of String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon, amongst others.
Joining the award-winning Flatpickin legend to make up Natural Bridge are the vastly talented Mark Schimick on mandolin and vocals, Larry’s life-long picker pal (and fishing phenom) Will Lee on soulful, blues-grass style 5-string banjo and penetrating lead vocals, and wife Jenny Keel with her impeccable timing and solid, yet imaginative bass lines as well as tenor vocal harmonies.
Throughout his career, Keel has released 14 albums and is featured on 10 others. The most recent release, March 2012, is CLASSIC, the 3rd album recorded by Keel and his powerhouse ensemble, Natural Bridge. The project is filled with originals written variously by Keel, the band members or by musician/song-writer friends.
For Keel the musical mission is always clear: to let technical skill, honest emotion and fearlessness connect the playing and singing to audiences, to entertain and to thoroughly enjoy the experience of creating and sharing in music.
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- Henry's Fork above Macks Inn
Flow (cfs): Ice
- Henry's Fork below I.P. Reservoir
Flow (cfs): 195
- Henry's Fork below Ashton Dam
Flow (cfs): 1040
- Henry's Fork at St. Anthony
Flow (cfs): 1540
- Fall River at the Chester Dam
Flow (cfs): Ice
- Madison River below Hebgen Lake
Flow (cfs): 804Temperature (°F): 38.3
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