It was with guarded optimism that we entered the 2009 fishing season on the Henry’s Fork. Adequate winter flows and relatively mild temperatures are typically considered a recipe for strong hatches and healthy trout populations. With both components in place it was somewhat surprising when March baetis and midge activity failed to meet the expectations of most who frequent the lower river during the off season.
Early April saw minor improvement in surface activity but streamers and nymphs continued to be the most effective means of stirring interest in the sullen browns and rainbows. Of course, neither are offensive methods but the time comes when the yearning for rising trout and the finesse of a four weight rod can subdue my enthusiasm for even the best days of fishing subsurface flies.
With the approach of May it seemed that nature had taken pity on the lamentation of a frustrated dry fly man. Almost overnight it appeared as though the flood gates of every early spring hatch had sprung open releasing almost more aquatic insect life than could be handled. Midges and baetis became a daily occurrence and were quickly joined by March Browns and some of the best early caddis fishing in recent memory. And this was just the beginning.
Cool but pleasant weather kept water levels reasonably stable and clear. With the March Brown hatch extending beyond its usual appearance and caddis in abundance, the trout continued to look upward for smaller food sources until the third week in May. But as water levels began a modest trend upward trout began to shift their focus to a larger fare.
By the opening of general season and the blooming of choke cherries at the end of May all eyes were on the fast water sections of the lower ‘Fork. It was salmon fly time and conditions were perfect for these 2 to 3 inch long flies that drive trout crazy.
With perfect water levels and just enough color to allow them to relax, nearly every big trout from Warm River to below Vernon Bridge seemed to be
stacked along the edges gorging themselves on salmon fly nymphs and adults. At about ten days in duration, the salmon fly emergence was comparatively brief but the action and exceptional size of the fish on most days was more than adequate compensation for a shorter hatch. As the salmon fly emergence progressed upstream to its termination point at Box Canyon, the lower ‘Fork began a rather seamless transition into the slightly smaller golden stones. While less concentrated than their larger cousins, the goldens would provide action until late July from Island Park Dam to the water below St. Anthony.
Early season on Henry’s Lake competes for attention through the first two weeks of June and most of the TroutHunter folks succumbed to the fast fishing that usually accompanies the opening of this great still water fishery. Days of 20 or more fish were not uncommon and the average size would probably exceed 18 inches.
Strong hatches of March Brown, Baetis, PMDs, and caddis greeted the opening of Harriman Ranch on June 15. And despite unusually good fishing, only a couple of dozen vehicles occupied the upper parking lot during the usually busy opener. But the best news was yet to come.
Green Drakes, the hatch of legend on the Henry’s Fork had made only fleeting appearances during the draught years following the turn of the new century. In 2009, however, anglers were treated to more than two weeks of exceptional Green Drake fishing with the hatch in the Ranch being as strong as anywhere on the river. With Brown Drakes and Flavs making a similar showing, it was hard to look anywhere else until well into July.
In keeping with favorable water flows, Green and Gray Drakes, Flavs, and caddis kept things interesting on the lower river from mid June through early July.
With temperatures cooler than average, the Henry’s Fork did not succumb to the usual dog days of July and August. Summer hatches of PMDs, Callibaetis, Tricos, and caddis continued to provide reliable fishing with little weather related interruption. Hoppers, Beetles, and winged ants were in abundance on warmer days with many of the year’s best fish falling victim to these tempting terrestrials.
September brought some of the most pleasant weather of the season. And while warmer than normal conditions seemed to hinder the appearance of baetis and mahogany duns, an extension of summer mayflies and caddis compensated for the early scarcity of typical September hatches. Terrestrials also contributed later into the season than is usual.
Any concerns for the cool weather hatches were quickly alleviated with the arrival of October. Weather conditions more typical of November would often test the resolve of even the most determined fly fisher, but there was no shortage of available trout. Baetis hatches were consistent on all but the coldest of days and mahoganies were abundant when conditions were more typical of the season.
As has become the habit in recent years, Henry’s Lake again begins to assert its influence in October. Henry’s Fork guides and others who call Idaho home seem helpless against the attracting force of big cutthroat, hybrid, and brook trout when the approach of winter brings an urgency into their feeding behavior. And the hardy souls who braved the elements last fall were not disappointed. Henry’s Lake continued to fish as well in 2009 as many can remember and there is no indication that this will change anytime soon.
In November, the Henry’s Fork seems all but devoid of local anglers who have the river essentially to themselves. Baetis and midge fishing continue to provide plenty of top water action, but a different game comes into the picture as the season nears its end.
With big brown trout as the objective, streamer fishing on the lower river becomes almost an obsession. And while the number of trout hooked was seldom spectacular, the size of the browns in the fall of 2009 was as impressive as I have ever seen.
In summary, my reflections of 2009 center on two defining characteristics of a very memorable year. Exceptional hatches and abundant trout of unusual size are the derivative of nature’s beneficial touch, and we should all be grateful.