Like most others in the civilized world, I am not immune to the climate of negativity that clouds the general outlook. As a fly fisher, however, I am grateful to be entering a new year with a sense of optimism for the status of the Henry’s Fork as a trout fishery.
With the same above average winter flows from Island Park Reservoir extending from last year into 2019, there is justification to expect a continued rebound of trout and insect numbers that suffered in recent years prior to this period.
Although it is true that other factors play a role in the health of the Henry’s Fork fishery and remain a concern, it is a known fact that water level in the coldest months is the main driver in determining the survival of young trout. In a year when large fish were noticeably harder to find, most who know the river and its history ended last season with a positive impression of the numbers of juvenile and young adults that rose to the last mayflies of the year. While this applied to most of the river length, it was especially encouraging to find numerous twelve to sixteen-inch rainbows sipping October Baetis in stretches of Harriman Ranch that, in recent years, seemed nearly unoccupied.
Further downstream, I was struck by a noticeable increase in the rainbow population below Ashton Dam where numbers were impacted by the effects of repair work several years back. This, and a stronger population of aquatic insects, is likely due to the clearing of a sizable volume of sediment that entered the river during the repairs. Adding to an impression of habitat recovery was a distinctive increase in whitefish, which have fallen into even harder times than the rainbows. It has been uplifting to see a return of high-quality midge fishing in this same area and to know that even in December trout can be found rising on the right day. This is especially important for one who does not leave the Henry’s Fork for winter fishing opportunity.
In early January it is mostly about looking forward when most days do not see temperatures above freezing and much of the river becomes choked with ice. In lean years it can be difficult to maintain a positive attitude when flows are too low and the trout are suffering. If only by choice, however, there is optimism when I consider the positive signs that point to a reversal in a troubling trend of decline in the well-being of the Henry’s Fork.
Certainly, there are persistent concerns that will hopefully be addressed, and these relate to water quality along with other factors that can hinder a flourishing fishery. But for now, I am comforted to know that we seem to be headed in a positive direction in the New Year and this will keep me going until I am again back on the water.
With Island Park Reservoir at 89% of capacity and downstream flow at 500 cfs, my optimism in 2019 is for more and larger trout in the Henry’s Fork.