For years, the lower Henry’s Fork has flown under the radar, taking a bit of a back seat to the more famous Harriman State Park section of river in Island Park. Walk into a fly shop where I’m from ‘back east’ and mention the Henry’s Fork, and talk will quickly turn to ‘the Ranch’ and its bountiful hatches and large, wary rainbows. But it is the brown trout which is the main attraction on the Fork’s lower reaches, and quite possibly the star of the whole show. Brown trout can be finicky, and yet aggressive. I’ve seen browns rise to the surface only to refuse a natural golden stone fluttering down past their lie, and I’ve seen them voraciously attack an eight inch long streamer. I’ve seen them sip grey drake spinners with only the slightest bit of surface disturbance, and I’ve seen them explode on stoneflies with reckless abandon. The tightest nooks and crannies brownies tend to call home make me shake my head, and if lucky enough to hook one up, it will certainly shake its head too. Like any worthy adversary, these fish are not easily defeated, which makes an angler’s success that much more of an achievement. I spent 6 hours last year with a client fishing to one fish that we estimated was over 2 feet long. We got it to eat twice, but never got it to the net. On another day, I witnessed a tantrum that would make my 2 ½ year old very proud after another large brown came unbuttoned. On yet another day, I saw a grown man reduced to tears of joy when the measuring tape on the brown in my net stretched to 24”. Whether the fish ends up in the net, or it kicks your butt up and down the river, if you encounter a large brown trout on the lower Henry’s Fork, it will be memorable, and you will be back.
Of course these magnificent brown trout are testament to a healthy river. They could not grow so large if not for a number of factors, including the truly ridiculous stonefly hatches which happen each year. It is not uncommon to catch browns, and rainbows alike gorged on stoneflies, with their stomachs ‘crunchy’ to the touch. These stonefly hatches coincide with and are followed by multiple species of caddis, march browns, baetis, pale morning duns, green drakes, grey drakes, and of course, midges.
After experiencing first-hand the incredible dry fly fishing that the month of June on the lower Henry’s Fork has provided over the past several years, I was saddened and disheartened by the chocolate-milk flows of the Henry’s Fork below the Ashton dam last fall. All anyone needed was to look in the water to see that siltation was going to be a factor. To what extent was it going to influence insect activity? What was it going to do to our future fishing? What was it going to do to the fish themselves? These are all legitimate concerns, and questions that still will not have answers for some months.
With the current health of the river in mind, I eagerly jumped at the chance to assist biologists with the Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game in an electro-study of the fish population from Vernon Bridge downstream to Fun Farm. Biologists use a moderate electric current to cause a muscle spasm in the fish, which actually makes them swim toward the current. The fish are then netted (that’s where I came in handy), placed in a large holding bucket, measured, documented, and released none the worse for the wear. At least that is what they tell me. Fish and Game biologists are currently studying the effects of shock therapy on fish…seriously.
Simply stated, I personally could not have been more pleased with the results. Seeing does truly make a believer, and with my own two eyes, I saw big, healthy fish, and lots of ‘em. I also saw an abundance of stonefly activity. Salmonflies and golden stones were crawling and hatching on the bridge abutments at Vernon. Overturned rocks had literally hundreds of mature, ready-to-hatch stonefly nymphs on them. There were caddis galore all the way to Fun Farm. March Browns and Baetis were in the air and on the water. Midges were everywhere.
Get ready. The Lower Henry’s Fork is about to go off. Again…