Big Flies – Big Trout by Rene’ Harrop

Monthly escapism to the land of the free, where the fishing is fantastic and the fly life just as good. Here Airflo fly line consultant Rene’ Harrop talks about the extraordinary fly hatches of his local Henry’s Fork.

Nature provides numerous ways to measure seasonal progress in the mountains. For a fly fisherman, however, no indicator is more reliable than the size of aquatic insects that emerge only in response to actual climatic conditions rather than a calendar date.

Green Drake Brown

Green Drake Brown

It is common to find freezing conditions and even snow as late as June and into July when the elevation exceeds five thousand feet. This level also describes habitat suitable for the biggest insect events when individual size of stoneflies and mayflies is considered.

On the Henry’s Fork, the giant salmon flies and golden stones are measured in inches and their appearance can ignite the interest of the largest trout in the river.  But like the big mayflies known as drakes, emergence at the wrong time will cause the hatch to wither if the temperature is too cold. For this reason, we know that summer has arrived when the smallest fly we tie on is likely to be size ten or larger.

Green Drake And A Beer

Green Drake And A Beer

While salmon flies have run their course for another year and the golden stones are only recently beginning to show, we are currently in the heart of drake season. Though notably smaller than the size four and six stoneflies, Green, Brown, and Gray Drakes will dwarf any of the other mayflies we will see in the entire year.

Gray Drake Spinner

Gray Drake Spinner

Whether wading or floating, the big flies create a level of excitement that has the ability to cancel the discipline of even the most responsible adult. Succumbing to this annual temptation will almost always put me a week or two behind on most obligations and I will spend the rest of the summer trying to catch up.

The pace of drake time can be exhausting when a spinner fall of Gray Drakes can appear before eight A.M., and that is only the beginning. Green Drake spinners usually arrive a bit later in the morning and emergence can stretch well into the afternoon. Brown Drakes usually favor the last two hours of daylight and that can mean staying on the water beyond ten P.M. at this time of year. A break in the heat of the day can mean missing out on golden stone action, and when all possibilities are included, fourteen hours on the water become almost the norm.

A Net Full Of Rainbow

A Net Full Of Rainbow

To make matters even more interesting, a half dozen or more minor insect happenings can be added to the big flies on any given day, and this is on the Henry’s Fork alone.

With other great waters close by and all holding their own respective magic, a fly fisher could be driven to madness by all the choices, but what a way to go.

 

Return to Still Water By Rene’ Harrop

For a trout fisherman, it would be difficult to picture a region with more choices of water than Yellowstone country. Flowing from its hub, which is the National park, are the Yellowstone, Snake, and Madison, and the Henry’s Fork lies just outside its boundaries. Smaller but no less attractive are the Fire Hole, Gallatin, and a host of diminutive spring creeks.

Hauling On Henry's

Hauling On Henry’s lake

Through the decades I have left boot prints on some of the world’s finest trout streams and my professional identity has been shaped mostly by moving water. But in recent years a different type of fishing has begun to challenge a dedication to the rivers and streams that have historically dominated my attention.

Because of elevation that rises well over a mile above sea level, the lakes and reservoirs that lie within convenient distance can remain ice-covered well into May. With most rivers open and spring hatches well underway, I do not suffer for lack of fishing opportunity but I confess to a sense of anticipation as the time draws near for a return to still water.

Sheridan Kamloops

Sheridan lake Kamloops trout

I’m not sure if the influence of my friend, Gareth Jones is a curse or a blessing, but it is certain that he is largely responsible for the distraction represented by Henry’s, Hebgen, and Sheridan Lakes. From this point forward, at least thirty percent of my fishing days will be occupied by the mysteries of still water, and this will end only when the lakes are again frozen over in late fall.

Following a master’s lead to considerable extent, a sizable portion of the flies tied in winter for my personal use are still water patterns, and I am excited to test the new ideas that come during the season of contemplation.

Why Still Water?

Why Still Water?

Though the mind state of fishing still water is in contrast to the more familiar mental requirement of fishing a river, it is no less satisfying or rewarding. I view my time on the lakes as a companion rather than competition to my loyalty to moving water and my life as a fisherman is made richer by having such a wide diversity of choice. How lucky can a man be?

Light at the End of the Tunnel – Rene’ Harrop

Airflo blogger Rene’ Harrop muses on the spring fishing that lies ahead….

Through much of a winter that seems to stretch endlessly in some years, May can exist like a distant light at the end of a tunnel.

Twenty eighteen has been one of those years when temperatures have remained consistently below normal through the months of March and April. As a result, precipitation has arrived in the form of snow at least as often as the rain that typically separates the storms of spring from the season just passed.

There are many reasons to look forward with great anticipation to the arrival of May and most if not all are related to weather conditions. Beyond Baetis and midges, spring hatches on the Henry’s Fork are dependent upon stable water and air temperatures that are consistently above freezing. This includes nearly every aquatic insect above size sixteen and there is no exception to this hard rule.

Fortunately, the lower Fork has finally moved passed the time when snow is not an impediment to accessing the water and bundling against the cold is no longer a constant requirement. It is a different story in the high country, however.

Early May is the traditional time to change my residence from five thousand feet elevation to a location nearly two thousand feet higher. In most years I have succeeded in meeting that long awaited target but this year that may not be the case.

Soon To Be Occupied

Soon To Be Occupied

As recent as late April nearly three feet of snow surrounded our summer cabin and nighttime temperatures were still dropping into the low double digits. Comparing this to the green lawn and early blooming flowers in our yard at St. Anthony is a description of two different worlds that lie less than fifty miles apart.

Trading caddis and March Brown hatches in sixty degree weather for a return to conditions left more than a month behind is tough to consider as the calendar turns to the fifth month of the year.

Early Rainbow

Early Rainbow

Right now I am thinking it will be at least two weeks until our annual move back to Island Park can be justified. In the interim, my fishing at Last Chance will continue to be a one hour commute, although recently it has been well worth the drive.

And while I stand in the river with snow still lining the banks and fishing a size twenty Baetis rather than a caddis two sizes larger, I am compelled to remember that this will change at some near point.

Spring Brown

May has arrived and before month’s end an extra-long winter will become only a memory as it is replaced by another new season that holds no bounds for a fly fisherman.

And I plan to be there for it all.

Urgings of a Short Month By Rene’ Harrop

The latest musings from respected American fly fishing author Rene’ Harrop.

The days of deep winter in Henry’s Fork country do not necessarily end with January. But while February can feature equally cold temperatures and even more snowfall, the notion of a coming spring can begin to accelerate with its arrival.

February On The Fork

February On The Fork

With daylight hours noticeably longer and the potential for ice free water an increasing likelihood, the state of progress on winter projects can become a source of discomfort if distractions cause me to fall behind.

For me, few things are more stressful than losing a day of prime fishing to an indoor task that must be completed before spring. This was not a problem during the big winter last year, but 2018 is shaping up to be somewhat different.

Rene’ in action on the fork!

The severely cold temperatures, deep snow, and low winter flows of 2017 have yet to materialize and much of the river is ice free as of this writing. With more water flowing in the Henry’s Fork than I have seen in recent times, I am anticipating some of the best late winter and early spring fishing we have experienced in several years.

In the absence of extreme winter hardship, past experience has shown a healthier and more active trout population and aquatic insect life has displayed similar effect as well. If I am correct and the weather pattern we have seen thus far continues, there is no question that my personal discipline will be severely tested in the weeks that lie ahead.

March looms just beyond a month that carries only twenty eight days of relatively distraction free opportunity to finish restocking depleted fly boxes in advance of a new season and to complete household chores assigned at the beginning of winter. If neglected, some of those chores can carry a penalty administered by a stern enforcer.

While a mild winter and early spring cannot be assured at this point, there are signs that could indicate the arrival of Baetis hatches as early as the end of the month and strong midge action could arrive considerably earlier. But this leaves me with a dilemma.

February Distraction

February Distraction….

It is almost unnatural for a fisherman to hope for weather that would discourage time on the water with a fly rod, but that is what I am facing right now. Reviewing a checklist, I am finding enough unfinished projects to bring urgency into the need for more time.

Being forced to remain indoors by blizzard conditions or subzero temperatures is something I have never particularly enjoyed, but I also know my weakness in resisting a pleasant February day that holds the potential for rising trout. Shirking my responsibilities at home for the sake of fishing is a character-flaw my wife has accepted for more than fifty years. The resumption of real winter weather is probably all that could prevent further testing of her patience, but I am not getting carried away in this regard. I’m ready for spring.

Rene’ Harrop is a big fan of the Airflo Super Dri Elite fly line – his ‘go to’ all purpose taper line for the Henry’s Fork and many other venues. Check them out here.

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…