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.

The Best Month By Rene’ Harrop

There is never a time when I am more distracted by fly fishing than October.

In a year of negative extremes with respect to weather and water conditions, October brings a welcome relief from hot, dry, and extremely windy weather. Uncommonly high and often turbid flows in the Henry’s Fork have been replaced by low, clear currents, and dry fly fishing is the best it has been in months. Daily hatches of Mahogany Duns, Baetis, and midges have the trout looking up and the fishermen smiling.

Baetis time

Baetis time.

Competing for my attention are the waters of Yellowstone Park where the Fire Hole, Madison and Yellowstone all beckon me northward.

While surface feeding becomes largely nonexistent on most local lakes, there is no more tempting time to be on Hebgen, Sheridan, and Henry’s Lake. October brings urgency to these wonderful still waters as the largest inhabitants feed ravenously on subsurface organisms in advance of the approaching winter.

Hook up on Henry's

Hook up on Henry’s.

As the month progresses I become almost frantic when the mating urge sends the big male brown into a state of frenzy. As colder temperatures begin to dominate, I will return to my winter home in St. Anthony where the remainder of October and even longer will be spent throwing streamers on the lower Henry’s Fork.

October magic throwing streamers

October magic throwing streamers.

With more opportunity than time, I will try to sample every item on October’s expanded fishing menu, and I will gorge myself on some.

Henry's lake cutty.

Henry’s lake cutty.

In a land where winter arrives early and leaves late, I will compress more fishing into October than any other month. Beyond that time, there is no assurance that frigid weather will not put an end to fishing for another year, although I will hope for more.

It is with this in mind that I will savor each day as though it is the last while building the memories that sustain me through deep winter. This is life in the high country and I would have it no other way.

A Day with Brandon By Rene’ Harrop

Brandon Prince is a wild man. Ambitious, aggressive, and impatient, this man of the mountains exerts his will in any activity whether for business or pleasure. However, on a day designated for testing some new Airflo fly lines and a few other products connected to his profession of Regional Sales Representative in the Rocky Mountain region, it was difficult to know if we were at work or at play.

Airflo fly line test

Airflo fly line test.

With beautiful Sheridan Lake as the proving ground, we would be matching wits with some very large and wily Kamloops rainbows while applying techniques and tackle from a full continent away.

We began the morning casting dry flies to cruising surface feeders that fed randomly on an amazing spinner fall of Callibaetis mayflies. As a diehard dry fly man, I was perfectly content with shooting long casts to visual targets that ran from sixteen to twenty inches in length. Within little more than an hour, however, Brandon was pulling the anchor and heading for another location on the lake.

Got Flies

Got Flies.

Though Brandon insisted that we needed to vary the testing, I knew that his real motive in moving to deeper water was not based purely on professional responsibility and discipline.

While a four pound trout would satisfy any angler, there is an inner pig residing within the core of Brandon’s fishing mentality that was about to be released.

Leaving the rising trout and the dense weed beds of the upper lake, we were soon anchored in water that showed only minor surface activity. Probing a depth exceeding ten feet would require a complete change of tactics that would include multiple subsurface fly patterns and a very long leader.

Deep Water Rainbow

Deep Water Rainbow.

When the first fish hooked turned out to be a monster pushing eight pounds, Brandon began to cackle. None of the trout taken with the straight line technique would measure less than twenty inches, and we stopped fishing only because we were too tired to continue, or more honestly because the old guy was too tired. At more than twenty years my junior, Brandon would have continued until wind or darkness shut the fishing down.  Like I said, Brandon is a wild man.

The Wild Man

The Wild Man.

 

 

Stillwater Therapy By Rene’ Harrop

There is a calming element to everyday spent fishing and I believe I have survived to advanced age because I fish a lot. In recent years, however, many rivers in the western United States have fallen upon harder times.

Therapy

Therapy.

Drought, climate change, and a host of other disorders both natural and man caused have altered conditions necessary for trout and the aquatic organisms by which they are sustained on some of the world’s most renowned fly fishing streams.

For this reason I am fishing even the Henry’s Fork with a sense of concern that subtracts from the state of well-being I am accustomed to.

Start of a good day

Start of a good day.

Most of the still waters I frequent are not exclusively self-sustaining fisheries. Therefore, I do not experience the same anxieties on Hebgen, Sheridan, or Henry’s Lake as on moving waters that depend upon the fragility of wild trout in maintaining their viability.

The mental state I crave at this time of year is most reliably found in the quiet of early morning on still water. Whether casting to cruising surface feeders or probing the depths with sunken imitations my mind does not go to a dark place where negativity can invade my consciousness.  And in this manner optimism that has recently begun to wane becomes recharged and I am able to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Anticipation

Anticipation…

As fly fishers, we will always be compelled to defend the water we love, and in my case it is the Henry’s Fork. Battles here are currently being waged in defense of water quality, stable flows and other factors that influence the river’s ability to sustain a healthy fishery. And with the help of those who care, I believe these battles can be won.

Because I must be there, I will fish the river tomorrow, and the next day as well. By Monday, however, I will be seeking the soothing therapy of stillwater where my mind will again be temporarily relieved from a very pressing objective.

Splendid!

Splendid!

Season of the Drakes by Rene Harrop

Barring limitations of weather, I will fish in any season. I do not always seek easy fishing, big trout, or comfortable temperatures but late June and early July can provide all three. This is because it is summer and the time for the big mayflies known as Drakes.

Brown Drake Time.

Brown Drake Time.

At a minimum of size 12, Green, Brown, and Gray Drakes grace the first fifty miles of the Henry’s Fork, and nearly any angler who happens to be there during this period will generally find uncommon success.

With few exceptions, most aquatic insects that inhabit this legendary river are at least three sizes smaller, and this limits a trout’s enthusiasm for a single floating target.

There is no mistaking the assertive and sometimes violent rise of a heavy trout to any one of the drake species. And it is probably for this reason that I share the excitement exhibited by anyone else who is fortunate enough to be on the water when they are hatching.

Morning Drake Action.

Morning Drake Action.

With differing habitat requirements and preferred activity periods, drake action will take place in various types of water, from fast current to slow moving glides. While Green Drakes will generally emerge in late morning, Brown Drakes are mostly an evening hatch that can extend into darkness. Gray Drakes are not quite as predictable and can be found emerging at nearly any point in the day.

The spinners from all three drakes prefer the calm of the morning or evening for returning to the water to deposit eggs. Trout response to both duns and spinners is roughly equal.

Morning Drake Action.

Morning Drake Action.

It should come as no surprise that the Henry’s Fork is never busier than during Drake time. But the charitable treatment instantly disappears when these special hatches come to an end and the trout return to their more typical insolence. But it is wonderful while it lasts.

Thank You.

Thank You.