Yesterday was the opening of the fishing season on the Railroad Ranch section of the Henry’s Fork. This is a much anticipated event in the lives of many fly fishermen both near and far. On opening day you are likely to cross paths with fishermen who have traveled from all across the United States, and the world for that matter, to participate in this special day. The weather for the opener could pretty much be described as lousy. Overcast skies, temperatures in the 40’s, a steady breeze that made it feel colder and rain showers sometimes bordering on downpours. Because of the weather I had pretty much decided to skip the opener. I decided that this might be a good day to come to the shop and work on my weekly fishing report. There I encountered my old friend Bruce Copeland. He had come down from Bozeman for the opener. Bruce managed to shame me into accompanying him to the river where he was sure, in spite of the weather, or maybe because of it, the fishing was going to be outstanding. I was further encouraged to join him by Trouthunter owners Rich Paini and Jon Stiehl both of which felt that the conditions were ripe for some great fishing. Jon even predicted that the best fishing was going to occur between two and five pm. As Bruce and I geared up at the river’s edge the weather seemed to improve ever so slightly. This was encouraging for me since I was still grudgingly making my way to our chosen fishing spot. Once at out destination we anxiously awaited the sign of some sort of hatch that would send the fish into a feeding frenzy. Twelve o’clock came and went. No activity! One o’clock came and went. No activity! Two o’clock and then two thirty. Still no activity! At that point I began to feel that I was on the verge of hypothermia. I decided to walk back to my vehicle and warm up in front the heater and enjoy a warm cup of coffee and a snickers bar that I had brought along for just such an occasion. After I felt sufficiently warmed up I rejoined Bruce along the river. It was now past three o’clock and still nothing was happening. At about three fifteen it started to rain rather hard and Bruce announced that he was calling it a day. I, on the other hand, was reenergized and decided to stay. Besides, it was still before five o’clock, the time that Jon Stiehl had predicted would be the magic hour. At four o’clock I realized that I was the only one left on the river. The six or so other anglers Bruce and I had encountered on the river earlier in the day had all given up and gone home. For a moment I felt that I was the only dummy still holding out hope for a great opening day. Then it happened! I observed one, then another and another. A nice hatch of large, size #14, PMD’s was starting and fish began rising all around me. I tied on a PMD Improved Sparkle Dun and every fish that I presented it to took it without hesitation. This activity lasted a good thirty to forty- five minutes before I became frustrated that the fish had suddenly began to ignore my size #14 PMD pattern but were continuing to feed. A closer examination of the water revealed that a strong hatch of size #18 and smaller baetis had started and the fish were now feeding on the smaller, but more abundant, BWO’s. I changed flies in favor of a much smaller baetis imitation but it soon became apparent that the fish were being much more selective to pattern selection and presentation now than they were during the PMD hatch. I never did figure out what those fish wanted and went fishless until the hatch came to an end. I need to mention that around five o’clock I started to notice that a few Green Drakes were hatching. I probably observed a dozen or so of these wonderful mayflies on the water but I have to report I never saw a fish take one even as they floated long distances before their wings dried sufficiently for them to escape the water tension and fly away. This is just the beginning of the hatch and we should expect to see the fish pay more attention to them over the next couple of days. Jon’s prediction turned out to be pretty much spot on as all activity came to an end right around five o’clock. I started to head back to the stable when something in the water caught my attention. There along a scum line in about no more than eight inches of slack water was what appeared to be a very respectable fish sipping something from the surface. I postponed my exit from the river and got into position to make a few more casts to this actively feeding fish. I observed a good number of light olive female PMD spinners on the water and concluded that this must be what that fish was feeding on since all other hatching activity had ended. I tied on a size 16 light olive spinner imitation and much to my surprise the fish took on my first cast. After a very spirited struggle I was able to get that fish to the bank where I guesstimated she was somewhere around eighteen inches in length and in very good condition. I quickly removed the barbless hook and returned her to the water where she took off like a torpedo. What had started out as a pretty dismal day ended up to be one heck of a great opening day on this very special river. In closing I think it is important to point out that the fish I was catching during the PMD hatch were not fish of great size. Those fish ranged in size from eight to twelve inches. What they lacked in size they more than made up for in fight which included spirited runs, strong pulls and great acrobatics.
Box Canyon: The fishing in the “Box” continues to be solid. As usual the most productive technique has been nymphing with double nymph rigs dead drifted under your favorite strike indicator. There have been a few reports of fish caught on adult golden stone imitations. Dry dropper rigs with a golden stone dry trailed by a small beadhead nymph have produced some nice fish.
Last Chance: Fishermen have been reporting good action working the PMD and caddis hatches occurring on this section of the river. Yesterdays bad weather put a little damper on the fishing but as I look out the window of my office I can seen Rene’ and a number of other fishermen on the river today indicating to me things are back in business.
The “Ranch”: See my report above.
Warm River to Ashton: This section of the river is producing some great fishing. As usual there are opportunities for everyone. Whether you like your dry fly, nymph or streamer fishing all disciplines are producing fish. A word to the wise. The whitefish are on the bite on this section of the Henry’s Fork. If you don’t mind catching a bushel of whities, and I don’t from time to time, go ahead and fish those beadhead nymphs in tandem with a larger rubber leg or trail one under your favorite golden stone or chubby pattern. You will be into fish all day.
Ora to Chester and Chester to the Fun Farm: Excellent fishing on both sections of the river. Nymph and streamer fishing have produced good results for some very healthy rainbows and browns. The real draw down here has been the dry fly fishing. Golden Stone, caddis, PMD, Green Drake and Grey Drake hatches have produced exceptional top water opportunities.