On the Henry’s Fork, I know few who would challenge May as the most anticipated month of the year.
With a long winter safely behind and a new season freshly at hand, a sense of excitement and anticipation permeates the population of we who call this place home. This is despite the anxiety that pertains to certain unknowns related to the health of the river and its fishery.
With much of the upper Fork isolated by deep snow or seasonal closure in the case of Harriman, most projections must be based on limited information, which causes any forecast to be largely guesswork at this point in the year. However, there is one constant and visible indicator that has historically been reliable in predicting trout survival through the months of greatest vulnerability.
From a scientific standpoint, it has been long known that the trout population is largely governed by winter flows released through Island Park Dam. Simply put, more water has meant more trout, and in recent years the river has suffered in this respect.
Whether good or bad, the status of water is always news, and in 2018 the news is good. The coldest months are always the most critical and in years of low winter flows many trout are lost to the population from December through February.
It has been more years than my memory provides since we have seen winter flows averaging close to 500 cfs but that was the reality in the winter just completed.
Those much older than I are few in the Henry’s Fork community but the oldest of the old timers do not remember when Island Park Reservoir was maintained at a level just shy of 90% through a long portion of the winter.
With any benefit of generous winter flows already in the bank and a reservoir filled close to capacity before any significant melting of an above average snowpack throughout the entire upper Snake River Basin, there is justification for the optimism that rules the mood of those for whom life and happiness depend on the Henry’s Fork.
Of course, caution must be exercised during the coming weeks as a more complete picture of the river’s health is revealed. In the near future early hatches like Salmon Flies, caddis, and March Browns will preview the vitality of aquatic insects and whether this valued component of the Henry’s Fork experience will be enhanced by an improved winter environment.
The current real concern is for the possibility of having too much water in the short term, but barring major flood damage, this is a problem I would like to see more often. Nothing could bring more healing to the river than the continuation of weather that could end the damage of unstable water conditions.