It is a different world in Island Park when the snows of deep winter pile high along the Henry’s Fork and human attention mostly shifts away from trout fishing. With highway traffic only a fraction of summer volume and most homes boarded up for the winter, the pace of life is slowed to reflect a quiet season when daylight hours are short and extreme temperatures frequently discourage all but essential outdoor activity.
A stop at TroutHunter last weekend found the parking lot occupied by as many snowmobiles as wheeled vehicles and little exterior evidence of the primary focus of the business. Missing were the dozen or so drift boats and familiar vehicles of river guides that consume a sizable portion of available parking space during the busy fishing season. Only core staff including owners Rich Paini and Jon Stiehl could be found in the TroutHunter fly shop, but they were the ones I most wanted to see.
While I am accustomed to seeing Rich and Jon almost daily through the half year I spend in Island Park we had spoken only by phone since returning to my winter home in St. Anthony three months earlier. Catching up with folks who have become like family was the reason for making the forty-minute drive back to the mountain and our two hours together was not a waste of time.
Over beers in the Bar and Grill, I was provided entertaining stories from the latest salt water adventure which included nearly all of the TroutHunter guides and several shop staff members. From the description, it seems possible that Cuba might never be the same after the invasion from Idaho.
Other familiar faces circulated through the Bar as the conversation turned to the river and the positives of strong winter flows and a growing snowpack in the high country. Realistic optimism for a new fishing season is not always present in uncertain times of climate change and other threats being confronted by the river we love but on this day in mid-winter it was agreed that the outlook for 2019 is quite good.
I will begin seeking confirmation of the sense of positivity in the coming weeks as the days grow longer and temperatures improve. My next drive to Island Park will be made with expectation for some February midge fishing on Last Chance Run. By early March, the first showing of spring Baetis is a distinct possibility and that eventuality would spell an end to any prolonged separation from my friends at TroutHunter.