Thirty One Days of Distraction By Rene’ Harrop

As a man well beyond the prime working years, I do not typically complain about a schedule completely compatible with my age. However, there comes a time when nearly anything other than fishing becomes a source of resentment.

The thirty one days between the end of September and the beginning of November represent the most enticing diversity of fly fishing opportunity that Yellowstone country will offer during the entire year.

Henry's Lake Distraction

Henry’s Lake Distraction.

Almost without exception, every lake and river in this region becomes a worthwhile destination during the month of October, and some are absolutely irresistible.

In the low, clear flows of the Henry’s Fork, big rainbows lift lazily to the small autumn Baetis in a daily feeding event that never fails to hold my interest. But at some point my mind will shift to Henry’s Lake where every cast holds the potential for the trout of a lifetime.

Baetis Memory

Baetis Memory.

The same type of distraction exists when I am fishing Sheridan Creek with the extraordinary lake of the same name situated close by. In either instance I am known to become a little frantic in trying to race from one place to another in order to make the most of every day that remains before winter’s arrival.

Cold Feet On Sheridan Creek

Cold Feet On Sheridan Creek

Fortunately many of the most tempting waters are not separated by prohibitive distance nor are they far from my Idaho home. North into Montana, Hebgen Lake beckons from thirty miles away and another thirty miles will take me to its source. Although now in Yellowstone Park, the Madison River becomes loaded in fall with migrating trout from Hebgen, which gives the sensation at times that I am fishing to old friends. And if time and ambition allow I can be on the Fire Hole in less than another half hour.

Late October will find me at our winter home in St. Anthony where the lower Henry’s Fork offers its own brand of fly fishing magic. A bigger river for much of the year, I will now wade a friendlier flow where the general emphasis is upon streamer fishing for large resident browns. It is at about this point that midges will become the primary source of dry fly fishing, and the month will often end with ice along the water’s edge and several inches of snow on the banks.

October Objective

October Objective.

It is good that the pressure of my work is close to its lowest annual point because I am not a very responsible man in October.

Autumn’s Test By Rene’ Harrop

It is not difficult to understand why some fly fishermen choose to avoid rivers like the Henry’s Fork after the month of August.

With low, clear water and currents complicated by aquatic vegetation near the surface, approaching and fooling a big trout with a dry fly is never more daunting than at summer’s end.

Passing The Test

Passing The Test

As the days become shorter and cooler fishing a fly larger than size eighteen and a tippet stronger than 6X becomes a luxury, and only the most precise presentation has any chance of yielding a positive result.

Adding to the difficulty of achieving complete success are extra wary trout that seem to understand that powering into a heavy weed bed will all but guarantee quick redemption from the mistake of accepting a fraudulent fly. Yet despite these many obstacles, this is the time I enjoy most.

Extraction

Extraction – a bend in the fly fishing rod

In fly fishing, like many other of life’s undertakings, the significance of any accomplishment is measured by the difficulty presented by the objective, and we are only tested by that which is difficult.

Prevailing in an unforgiving situation is mainly dependent upon patience and concentration. Certainly, only advanced presentation skill will enable a realistic possibility that the fly will be accepted, but I will never be more prepared than in September.

Working A Weed Bed

Working A Weed Bed

Precision honed by more than one hundred days on the water during the preceding months permits a sense that I can make the cast that will place the fly where it needs to be in most conditions, but being defeated by a trout is something that I accept, however grudgingly.

While the challenge seems great with the arrival of autumn hatches that are mostly very small it will only intensify in the days remaining before winter’s arrival, but I will treasure every one.

Making The Grade

Making the grade with Airflo fishing tackle

Cultural Exchange By Rene’ Harrop

The ability to attract visitors is a notable component in the reputation of one of the world’s premier trout streams.

Although varying in volume, the months of June through October will find that the Henry’s Fork will be occupied by far fewer residents than those from somewhere else.

Henry's Fork Treasure

Henry’s Fork Treasure

As one who calls this place home, I am constantly stimulated by new introductions or reunion with visitors whom I consider friends.

In nearly every instance I find initial commonality regardless of the distance they have traveled or the culture that separates us. In fishing the Henry’s Fork we are looking for the same thing, which is to test ourselves against the defiant trout for which this river is so well known. And remarkably, those who might seem most removed from the details of dealing with a big Henry’s Fork rainbow are those who impress me most.

Sweet Success

Sweet Success

Nearly all are considerably younger than I am but their intellectual and physical abilities serve to elevate them beyond even some of the world’s most capable fly fishers, and most come from foreign continents that lay thousands of miles from Idaho.

With passion that matches my own combining with reverence for what the Henry’s Fork experience represents, these adventurous emissaries from afar become my teachers in terms of understanding the power of a special place and how far its influence can travel.

With their assistance, I have learned that the ability to think and observe is not owned by any one culture and that fly fishing experience can come from virtually anywhere.

Upstream Lie

Upstream Lie

With the awareness that true talent travels well, I fish in the company of men who apply uncommon discipline and determination that inspire even an old river rat with more than sixty years of history on the Henry’s Fork.

While sharing time on the water is most important, the value of my long distance friendships is not limited to just fishing. Through conversation I learn that we are not that different as human beings and the things we truly care about are nearly identical.

A Smile Tells It All

A Smile Tells It All

And in a time when it is most needed, such international harmony and good will paints a better picture for the future of our planet.

One More Time By Rene’ Harrop

The latest monthly field report from Rene’ Harrop – American fly fishing guide, author and consultant for Airflo.

Aside from time spent away in the military, I do not recall being anywhere other than the Harriman Ranch on June 15.

June 15

June 15

Even as a very young boy in the 1950’s, the traditional opening of fishing within the Ranch was a date of supreme importance. What seemed a long journey in those days, the annual family fishing excursion was actually only a 65 mile drive up old U.S. 47 to Island Park. To both my father and grandfather the Ranch, as it is still most commonly known, represented a special fishing opportunity. And that awareness was firmly implanted in the mind of a fledgling angler not yet 10 years old.

Ranch Rainbow

Ranch Rainbow

On Monday just passed, I was joined by members of two subsequent generations in my son and youngest grandson in a renewal of an annual ritual as important as any in my lifetime. Along with Bonnie, whose time fishing the ranch water extends back nearly 4 decades, we joined a parade of like-minded fly fishers numbering perhaps as many as 60 or 70 individuals on the trail running downstream from the Last Chance Access at around 9:00 A.M.

Within less than an hour, both banks were lined with the year’s first human visitors for as far down river as the eye could see. With at least one fisherman positioned about every 50 yards, just finding an open spot to await the appearance of rising fish was a bit of a challenge along the northern most mile of the Ranch section, but on opening day it doesn’t seem to matter.

At more than 100 yards wide and quite wadeable, this section of the Henry’s Fork is unique in its ability to accommodate the exceptional numbers that will be mostly gone within a few days. And remarkably, this predominantly mannerly gathering seems able to coexist on the water with only minimal conflict.

Slow Water Performance

Slow Water Performance

I think this orderly conduct can be best explained by a sense of reverence that folks seem to possess for the history, tradition, and continuing influence that are represented by the gentle and fertile currents in which they stand. This is not a place for the selfish, greedy, or inconsiderate, and seldom are these characteristics revealed, even at the busiest of times.

On this day, my family and I were just happy to be there as part of something larger than ourselves, and our fishing success was of secondary importance. The reconnection with old friends seen only at this time of year combined with becoming acquainted with new faces that may become so somewhere down the road.

Working The Edge

Working The Edge

John McDaniel spoke of the “Ranch Culture” in his excellent book dedicated to the Harriman Ranch portion of the river. I agree with his comments pertaining to the age of those most often observed fishing this water. Most anglers I saw this week would be closer to 60 than 40, and this is somewhat troubling to one who might fear the coming of a new and somewhat indifferent attitude toward what fishing the Ranch has represented going back to when it was purchased by the Harriman Family more than a century ago.

For myself, the highlight of opening day 2015, was watching my 15 year old grandson land a very respectable rainbow hooked on a flawless upstream cast that was preceded by a skillful approach that told me he knew exactly what was needed.

I believe that in our descendants go ourselves and, therefore, we continue beyond mortal existence. Brogan Harrop is the most recent of five generations with whom I have shared the Ranch experience. My oldest great grandchild is 5 years old and with luck, I will live to include a sixth.

Choices – April Field Report By Rene’ Harrop

There is much to celebrate as winter advances into spring, especially at high elevation. Here at St. Anthony, Idaho, the snow is now gone and I watch the budding of shrubbery that surrounds a greening lawn in my back yard.

As in past years, these official indicators of a new season represent more than just warmer temperatures and an increase in daylight hours.

While I have been fishing consistently for nearly a month, most of my time on the water has involved probing the lower Henry’s Fork with streamers and nymphs. There is no complaint with respect to these honorable methods and I enjoy them at any point of the year.  But as the days become more comfortable and the variety of aquatic insects expand, so too do the choices that are available.

April Rainbow

April Rainbow

By April, my dependence upon midges and an occasional showing of Baetis mayflies for an excuse to break out the dry rod becomes somewhat more relaxed. Conditions that permit the emergence of plant life from winter dormancy have a similar effect on water born organisms that average larger than size twenty two. Additionally, receding snow at higher elevation increases the variety of opportunities to fish water different than what I have been dependent upon for the past several weeks.

Warm April Day

Warm April Day

Caddis and March Brown mayflies can approach size fourteen, and these are the hatches I anticipate as April progresses along the lower river. While considerably smaller, the reliability and intensity of spring Baetis also increase the likelihood that I will be fishing dry flies on any given day.

Gareth -April On The Fork

Gareth -April On The Fork

Although a drive to Island Park in early April will yield only Baetis action and the likely presence of snow, a return to Last Chance Run always brings additional excitement as the time to be there full time draws near.

Of course, nymphs and streamers will not be forsaken in favor of strictly fishing dry flies because most of the bigger trout will still be found beneath the surface, but in April it will usually be a matter of choice rather than necessity.

April Streamer

April Streamer eater

 

Back In the Game By Rene’ Harrop

While it is still winter here in the Rocky Mountain west, March is a time when I become serious about getting back on the water.

Whether on still or moving water, icing is the most limiting factor for fly fishing during the months of December through February. And while all of our lakes are still frozen solid, the Henry’s Fork is finally ice free.

Back In The Game

Back In The Game.

A stray blizzard or single digit temperatures are only temporary disruptions when the hours of daylight begin to equal those of darkness. However, in 2017 deep snow and tall ice banks along the river’s edge are a lingering impediment to accessing some of the more attractive parts of the river.

Island Park and the upper Henry’s Fork will have to wait for several more weeks but with less than half of the four foot snow depth forty miles upstream, the river near my winter home is providing some much needed relief to a long deprived angler.

Early Brown

Early Brown.

A bright, sunny day may not produce the best results in terms of midge or Baetis hatches but it is definitely the most comfortable time to be on the water. A day without overcast skies will usually find me drifting weighted nymphs in the shallower riffles with a six weight rod or swinging a streamer through the deeper runs with a seven weight. However, I look forward most to a day that shows promise of clouds and a temperature above 40ᵒ F. Dry fly fishing with my favorite four-weight is what I think about most through the months of deep winter, and I need these conditions to get back into my favorite game.

Although a rainbow approaching nine pounds in weight came on a March day many years back, most fish taken at this time of year are relatively modest in size. And with trout activity slowed by cold water temperature, a group of crossing whitetail deer may be the most interesting event of the day.

March Rainbow

March Rainbow.

While catching fish is always the primary objective, I am happy to again feel the push of the current on my legs and the presence of a good rod in my hand.

The river holds the smell of a spring not yet arrived but drawing near and the sound of its movement speaks of life.

Most of all, my mind is filled with all that lies ahead in a new season and the comforting knowledge that March is just the beginning.

Just The Beginning

Just The Beginning…

An Impressive Fly Line – The Airflo River and Stream

Testing fly lines for Airflo holds multiple pleasures, not the least of which is the excuse to fish more. However, sampling new technologies always seems to bring added excitement to an otherwise ordinary day on the water.

Admittedly, there are occasions when it takes a little time to warm up to a new design that might be intended to replace something that I have already found to be quite satisfactory. But this was not the case on a summer day spent with Airflo Sales Rep, Brandon Prince.

“Don’t let the name fool you”, he said as we spooled up the River and Stream Taper (aka the ‘lake pro’ in the UK) at the TroutHunter Fly Shop.  It was early August and we were headed for Sheridan Lake and a session with its beefy Kamloops rainbows.

Testing on still water

Testing on still water.

Rarely am I blown away by the first cast with any item of tackle but there is no better way to describe my response to the River and Stream.

Fishing multiple wet flies on more than twenty feet of leader, I was instantly impressed by the smoothness of the line and its aerial stability as I shot a seventy foot cast with amazing ease toward a big cruising Kamloops.

A Nice Kamloops

A Nice Kamloops.

With a hand grip weakened by time and more than forty years of professional fly tying, I appreciated the reduced effort required to push long and accurate casts over a three hour period on the lake.

The versatility of the River and Stream came instantly into effect when the trout began sipping Callibaetis mayflies from the surface at around noon.

In this dry fly situation I was compelled to constantly adjust the casting distance from as close as twenty feet to as far as I could reach as the big cruisers fed erratically about the boat. The River and Stream shifted easily to this contrasting type of fishing as it consistently accommodated every requirement.

Long cast to a rise

Long cast to a rise.

I fished the River and Stream exclusively on still waters that also included Henry’s and Hebgen Lake through mid-October, and my affection only deepened for this impressive line.

It was nearly November when I finally began to apply the line toward its designated purpose. Adjusting the leader to a short, aggressive taper, I found the River and Stream to perform perfectly for streamer fishing on the lower Henry’s Fork, where I finished the season chasing big brown trout.

Test on moving water

Test on moving water.

The arrival of February places a return to the water only a few weeks away, when testing of the River and Stream will resume. Midges, Baetis and smaller nymphs will be the name of the game in the beginning, but more diversity on moving water will come as the season advances. Based on experience thus far, I do not expect to be disappointed.

In the interim, I will continue to stock up on still water flies for those days when I know what line I will be fishing. Brandon was right, the River and Stream is more than its descriptive title implies.

Five Reasons To Live In Henry’s Fork Country

The temperature when I arose this morning was nearly twenty degrees below zero. From my second floor studio window I look out at a world buried in snow with the knowledge that it will likely remain this way for at least the next two months.

For many who have not experienced life in this kind of climate it is reasonable to question the judgment if not the sanity of a man whose life largely revolves around fly fishing.

While it is doubtful that any explanation will fully satisfy those skeptics, I believe there are some who can appreciate at least five of the reasons that I make my home in Henry’s Fork country.

Rainbow trout that reside in the Henry’s Fork grow large on a diet consisting mainly of aquatic insects, and I know of no other river where a twenty six incher will take a size 16 or even smaller dry fly.

Henry's Fork Rainbow

Henry’s Fork Rainbow trout.

About half the length of the Henry’s Fork holds a healthy population of brown trout. Though I am acquainted with others from similar origin, this European immigrant commands the highest respect and appreciation.

Henry's Fork Brown.

Henry’s Fork Brown

Fishing for smallish brook trout in tributary streams takes me fondly back to my youth, but the brookies of Henry’s Lake can exceed eight pounds. And though I am a nostalgic man at this point in life, I am far more likely to be found on the lake than some tiny creek.

Brook Trout

Brook Trout

The native trout of this region, Yellowstone Cutthroat have been reduced to a small percentage of their original habitat. The headwaters of the Henry’s Fork host a minor population of these natives but they thrive in Henry’s Lake where they grow especially large.

Native Yellowstone Cutt

Native Yellowstone Cutt.

Cut-bows are a mixture of cutthroat and rainbow trout. These hard fighting hybrids are quite common in the Henry’s Fork but it is Henry’s Lake where they have become most prominent. The largest known cut-bow from that amazing still water fishery exceeded seventeen pounds.

A Cutt-bow'

A Cutt-bow’

Yes, winter can be long in Henry’s Fork country but it will eventually pass. And while a significant separation from fly fishing must be endured as a result, the harshest of seasons provides the source of my happiness.

Snow that piles deep in the high country becomes the water that assures continued existence for the five big reasons for living here.

When Brown Trout Rule

While I am not immune to the temptation of a late Baetis hatch, I must confess to becoming thoroughly preoccupied with brown trout in the final weeks prior to the arrival of winter on the Henry’s Fork.

Henry's fork brown

Henry’s fork brown.

It is truly a hunter’s mind state that causes me to become armed with a big, nasty streamer and a seven weight fly rod. Moving at a more aggressive pace than usual, I will often cover several hundred yards of a promising run or deep riffle during the prime hours of potential.

A good run

A good run.

Reclusive by nature, a well-seasoned brown trout is at a peak point of accessibility from mid-October through late November. In obeying the mating instinct, even the largest and most secretive adults will occupy habitat that can be thoroughly probed by the determined angler seeking to prevail over a most elusive opponent.

A big, fall brown in full spawning mode is not responding to hunger when it slams a streamer. Instead, the strike is a fierce reaction to a perceived intruder that would challenge territorial dominance.

Uncommon objective

Uncommon objective.

Fast action and big numbers are seldom part of the deal when the objective is so far beyond what is common. A half dozen hours or more of continuous double hauling the big rod can seem, at times, more like work than pleasure. This is particularly true when the day’s effort produces little more than a good physical workout.

But when the drift is interrupted by the sudden presence of throbbing weight, all hours of futility vanish in a matter of seconds. A battle with a heavy fish can be its own reward, but the real prize is something completely visual.

The vivid colors of a fall brown trout are as striking as any in a season known for visual splendor. A big river brown is a muscular animal that seems built for combat, and there is a primal elegance in the powerful jaws and menacing teeth.

Elegant

Elegant.

I look forward to fall and the time when brown trout rule my consciousness with as much anticipation as any season of the year. But there are other times and other trout that are just as important.

And the attention I apply to the rainbow, cutthroat, brook trout, and cut-bows will be no less intense.

In Praise of Baetis By Rene’ Harrop

There are plenty of reasons to choose a month other than October to visit the Henry’s Fork.
 

At high elevation, the weather can resemble winter rather than autumn and human comfort can be a missing ingredient on any given day of fishing at this time of year.

Beneath the Tetons

Beneath the Tetons.

Brutal currents created by low, clear water flowing over dense aquatic vegetation can bring instant corruption to the drift of the most carefully executed presentation, and the trout are at the finely honed peak of angler resistance.

Baetis gathering

Baetis gathering.

Adding even more difficulty to the possibility for success is the need to fish flies that drop as small as size 24 and average only one or two sizes larger.

Things get even more interesting when a 6X tippet becomes too large for the conditions and the objective is a trout that may exceed twenty inches in length.

With so much to contend with, one could question the logic if not the sanity of anyone who might travel thousands of miles specifically for the purpose of subjecting themselves to a most daunting undertaking.

Sunset on a Baetis day

Sunset on a Baetis day.

Remarkably, however, this is the time that attracts more who travels great distance to the Fork than at any other point in the season, and they are some of the finest fly fishermen I have ever met.

It is the time when Baetis rule this great river, and I am indebted to these tiny mayflies.
 

It is because of Baetis and what they represent as an experience that I have been given the opportunity to share time on the water with friends I might otherwise have never met. Some are from distant states within the continental U.S., but others travel much farther.

An international mix

An international mix.

Japan, Wales, Sweden, Norway, France, and South Africa are on a list of foreign countries that have been represented on the banks of the Henry’s Fork during Baetis time, and some will return every year.

Thank you Baetis.