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 Uncommonly high and often turbid flows in the Henry’s Fork have been replaced by low, clear currents, and dry fly fishing is the best it has been in months.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.

Return to Slow Water By Rene’ Harrop

The land I call home is a fly fishing paradise. With diversity nearly beyond description, the lakes, rivers, and smaller waters of Yellowstone country provide a wide variety of options capable of satisfying any trout angler, and I enjoy them all.

But like all who pursue trout with a fly fishing rod, one personal preference rises above all else to dominate my attention.

Home Again

Home Again.

It is not because I am now old that the slower portions of the Henry’s Fork have become so attractive – it has always been this way. This is not to imply that a current that gently tugs at my waders is not more suitable to aging legs than the forceful flow of fast moving water over a coarse stream bottom, nor is it because the fishing is easier.

While far from being physically taxing, there is a mental intensity that comes with selecting exactly the right fly pattern and executing the perfect cast that is needed when engaging big, wild rainbows that reject any semblance of imperfection.

I fish these clear, slow moving currents knowing that my best is sometimes not good enough and that my mistakes will often outnumber those of my opponents. It is because of this that any success comes with a sense of accomplishment and validation unique to this type of fishing.

Slow Water Rainbow

Slow Water Rainbow.

All expectation must be tempered with a sense of humility when one plays by rules that do not permit disrespect for the rarity of great trout that survive mainly on small aquatic organisms.

I do not need a trout badly enough from these special waters to resort to a streamer, large attractor, or any other means intended to short circuit its resistance to flawed presentation or incorrect fly selection during a hatch.

Intensity

Intensity!

There are plenty of other situations where such methods are perfectly acceptable, but they do not include the Harriman Ranch or waters of similar characteristics of the Henry’s Fork.

The Harriman or Railroad Ranch is one of only a few stretches of the Henry’s Fork that is subject to a seasonal closure.  June is the time when I will again wade the slow currents of this historic and pristine section that I have loved since early youth. And there is no other place like it on earth.

End of a good day

End of a good day.

 

 

First Caddis – Field Report From Rene’ Harrop

The first showing of caddis tells me it is finally spring here in the mountains of Idaho.

This event happened last week, along with a big spike in the water level of the Henry’s Fork. And now, with the world greening around me, I am fully engaged with a changed behavior of trout as it applies to feeding on or near the surface.

Caddis reward

Caddis reward!

 

Along with increased depth, reduced water clarity has weakened the demand for intense precision as the rainbows and browns feed almost recklessly on the first sizable insects of the year.

Generally speaking, the fish are holding within a few feet of the bank, which means battling heavy currents toward mid-stream is not required.

Caddis on the edge.

Caddis on the edge.

Often casting from the bank, I will fish a floating caddis adult or emerging pattern when working upstream.

Fishing a slightly submerged pupal pattern with a twitching action on a tight line is a good method when working downstream.

In either instance, I will focus my attention on the 6 to 8 feet of water closest to the bank unless a rise appears further out.

Trout looking for caddis and concentrated close to the edge by high water are also a perfect setup for fishing from a drift boat.

Working the bank

Working the bank – from a drifting boat.

The size 14 caddis that appear at this time of year are not considered large until they are compared to the insects that precede them. A size 18 Baetis mayfly is on the upper end of the scale, and most are smaller. And it is rare to get away with fishing a midge larger than size 22.

From this point forward until mid to late September caddis flies will be a staple on the Henry’s Fork and most other streams in the Rocky Mountain west. At no time, however, are they more appreciated than at the end of a long winter when the season truly begins for the fly fisherman.

High water hook up.

High water hook up.

Sunshine and Thin Water By Rene’ Harrop

Like a rude house guest that doesn’t seem to know when to leave, the departure of winter has yet to occur.

A Cold Day

A Cold Day.

Stiff wind and precipitation often in the form of snow seem to characterize every overcast day. The result has been a weakness in the conditions needed for productive dry fly fishing on the Henry’s Fork.

With this lingering limitation, most of my days on the water have been spent casting subsurface offerings. However, this is not to say that finesse in all aspects of approach, presentation, and choice of tackle does not apply.

Flows in the Henry’s Fork thus far in 2016 have been far less than would be considered typical. Exceptionally clear and shallow water will always place a higher premium on precision, and this year the river is reminiscent of fishing found on a much smaller stream.

Thin water rainbow

Thin water rainbow.

Longer casting with a lighter rod and line is made necessary by unusually thin water that cause elevated awareness on the part of trout. This also means that spotting fish at greater distance and a very cautious approach are as vital as any ingredient of a successful day.

The problem becomes compounded on a bright, clear day when the fish become even less tolerant of foreign activity within their habitat. However, these are conditions that have generally prevailed on most days that I have been on the water. And despite the absence of prohibitive wind or heavy precipitation, air temperature has often been capable of causing ice to form in the rod guides, which adds even more to the level of difficulty.

Compensating for heightened trout awareness has also meant the application of a longer and finer leader than would normally be utilized at this time of year when spring runoff begins to increase depth while reducing water clarity.

A nice nymph run.

A nice nymph run.

Smaller nymphs and streamers of lighter weight have also been helpful in overcoming a degree of selectivity generally reserved for later in the year when angler attention becomes more intense.

Streamer Reward

Streamer Reward.

But despite the fact that an extension of winter and exceptionally low water have not made it easy, most of my time on the water has been enjoyable and reasonably productive.

The signs of an approaching spring are definitely here and the sense of anticipation for all that lies directly ahead cannot be suppressed. And life continues to be very good on the Henry’s Fork.

Tightlines Rene’

Blame it on Gareth – By Rene’ Harrop

Since the beginning of my life as a professional fly tyer, I have probably been my own best customer. With a borderline paranoia of being caught on the water without the right fly, my personal needs are always given priority at the start of any work session.

Stocking up

Stocking up

In what has become routine over many years, the first two or three flies are designated for my own fly boxes. And until recently, this practice has been a mostly uncomplicated system of restocking flies that are of my own design. With a sizable inventory of tying materials, quickly accessing necessary components for familiar patterns was never a problem. However, this began to change shortly after I joined the Airflo Pro staff about ten years ago.

Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones

Meeting and fishing with Gareth Jones was the beginning of the end for a near complete dedication to moving water. And while rivers will always dominate my fishing preference, there has been a progressive shift toward still water that has strengthened with each year that I have attempted to follow my friend’s example on local lakes that previously had been given only minor attention.

As my time on still water began to expand, so too did the demand for flies inspired by Gareth’s concepts. A sizable box containing samples of several dozen of his favorite patterns was a recent gesture of his generous nature and willingness to share. However, I’m not sure he understands how much this thoughtful gift has complicated my life.

Inspiration From Gareth

Inspiration From Gareth

Acquiring and working with unfamiliar materials has created more than a little discomfort as I work to fill my fly boxes using tying techniques that are often quite different than my own. And it will probably be years before my still water selections will bring the same comfort as those I carry for moving water.

But in winter when most of my restocking takes place, I reflect with gratitude on the contributions Gareth has made toward a better understanding of the fishing and tying techniques that hold the secrets to finding success on waters that have so much to offer.

In anticipating a new season, I know that the labor now being applied at the vise will be rewarded on a warm summer morning on Hebgen or Sheridan Lake, and again in the fall when the big cuttys and hybrids on Henry’s begin to prowl.

Dreams of Summer

Dreams of Summer

A reunion sometime this year with my friend from Wales would be absolutely welcome. After all, Gareth is largely to blame for the growing distraction of stillwater.

A Big Winter for the Henry’s Fork – By Rene’ Harrop

Every month Fishtec presents a blog post written by American guide and author Rene’ Harrop. They get ‘proper’ winters across the pond – check out the images below!

With unusually warm temperatures and modest snowfall, I became spoiled during the past two winters on the Henry’s fork. In 2015, conditions reasonable for fishing were common throughout the month of January on the lower river, and by mid-February I was making the drive to Last Chance almost weekly to fish Baetis hatches at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet.

Brave winter souls.

Brave winter souls.

At St. Anthony, 2,000 feet lower, spring arrived about 5 weeks earlier than usual and hatches such as March Browns, caddis, and Salmon flies were proportionately early as well. But there was a penalty to be paid for the absence of snowfall and frigid temperatures through a time when both weather features would be considered typical.

With reservoir storage well below normal, water flows in the Henry’s Fork were alarmingly low through late spring and early summer. However, the reverse was true in mid-summer when flows were increased to a level that became actually hazardous for wading and brought considerable disruption to the timing and volume of hatches.

Henry's Fork at Last Chance.

Henry’s Fork at Last Chance.

Fortunately, timely rain brought reduction of irrigation demands downstream, and river flows became considerably more stable from late summer into early fall.
With both Henry’s Lake and Island Park Reservoir depleted to seriously low levels, flows in the Henry’s Fork were reduced to well below what is considered ideal for the fishery in late October and would see only a minor increase as the year came to an end.

It is now a month into the new year and I have not fished since early December. In most years I would be suffering separation issues, but that is not the case in 2016.
Beginning in mid-December 2015, weather on the Henry’s Fork has been exactly what is needed to restore the necessary components of an outstanding fishery. With prolonged snow storms alternating with periods of extremely cold temperatures, winter is progressing in a mode that has refilled Henry’s Lake and Island Park Reservoir to 85% and 70% respectively. A current snowpack of 100% of average could even increase if weather forecasts for the coming 2 months are correct.

Our summer home in winter.

Our summer home in winter.

 

If there is light at the end of the tunnel with respect to fishing it is that most of the river is now ice free and temperatures have begun to climb above the freezing level on some days.

Deep snow even along the lower river will continue to complicate access to the water, but I am convinced that the first day of fishing in the new year is not too distant. Meanwhile, I will celebrate each new storm that continues to pile snow deep in the high country. This is like money in the bank for anyone who understands the importance of a big winter in sustaining the sport we love and the elements that support it. Spring will eventually come and all discomfort of winter will be quickly forgotten.

Winter Hibernation.

Winter Hibernation.

Saving The Best For Last – Rene’ Harrop January, 2016

Rene’ Harrop is a respected American fly fishing guide, author and fishing tackle consultant for Airflo. Read his monthly contribution to the Fishtec blog here!

At high elevation, a change of seasons can be abrupt, and is never predictable. This applies especially to winter when frigid temperatures and heavy snow can bring an end to fall overnight.

Winter on the Fork.

Winter on the Fork.

For this reason, I fish with urgency through all of November knowing that each day on the water could be the last of the year. An extension that runs into December is a rarity where single digit temperatures can be the average low and open water can be tough to find.
It is during these cold months, however, that opportunity for big browns is at its peak, and I become a single minded angler for much of that period.

Late Season Brown.

Late Season Brown.

In 2015, weather and water conditions on the Henry’s Fork were far from ideal for bringing enthusiasm to the big streamers I fish almost exclusively in late fall. Low water and bright days made daytime fishing a near futile proposition for wary browns that will never tolerate obvious angler presence. With only a handful of respectable fish to show for nearly a dozen days on the water, it might have been tempting to turn my attention to a different game, but I didn’t.

Best Brown of 2015.

Best Brown of 2015.

On a day when weather conditions finally served my intent, sunset fell on the best brown trout of the year, and also the end of another season. A 10 day stretch of unusually cold weather followed by ongoing snow storms that include wind as a complication has put an end to most outdoor activity. And perhaps it is fitting that the best fish came on the last day.

End of the year.

End of the year.

Happy 2016 from the Henry’s Fork!  Rene’ Harrop.