Noted mainly as being the shortest month of our longest season, February is a continuation of deep winter on the Henry’s Fork. Precipitation mostly in the form of snow averages more than in January while temperatures in the early part of the month can be among the coldest of the year. Still, there is benefit to a fly fisherman when daylight stretches toward 6:00 P.m., an addition of 1 ¼ hours from the lowest point in mid-December to February first.
For much of the month ice will continue to chill the river and fishing is mainly limited to deep nymphing for bottom hugging trout still locked in winter’s lethargy. Eventually, however, the occurrence of severely frigid days begins to thin and the river enters a period of reawakening.
While midges exist almost exclusively as the basis for February dry fly opportunity, the days of rising fish increase proportionately to increasing air temperatures as the month progresses. Though spring Baetis are a rare feature prior to early March, there are occasional years when the first mayflies can make a token appearance in late February. Usually, this uncommon event portends an early spring which in the high country can mean returning to our mountain cabin in April rather than May. However, in a place where general prosperity is measured by the abundance of snow, only a foolish person would welcome the temporary comfort of a short, dry winter.
Fortunately, we now approach February with snow continuing to accumulate and the expectation of that trend extending into the foreseeable future. Accessing the river will be come more not less difficult until average daytime highs rise well above the freezing mark and rain becomes the common form of precipitation.
In the interim, I will savor the incremental process of achieving spring while enjoying even small advancements in outdoor comfort.
As the water warms and winter releases its icy grip, the activity level of trout responds proportionately to the change. Hungry from winter’s dormancy, the big guys will go on the prowl and the methods of capitalizing of this new-found energy begin to expand.
By February’s end, I will be pulling a streamer at least as often as fishing a nymph and the dry fly rod will seldom be left at home.
While warm days and green grass lie well into the future, the shortest month will not be time wished away nor will it include long strings of days spent indoors away from the water. And at this point in winter, that is good enough.