On a recent Sunday morning I received a last minute invitation to join a friend, Jerry, on an excursion to chase Coho (silver) salmon on a local river. Jerry didn’t call me directly, but rather his wife called my wife to ask if I wanted to go. It felt a bit like I was a kid again, with our mothers setting up a play date for us. As the day progressed I would feel like a kid in more ways than one.
Without a Seahawk game on television to keep folks inside on the couch drinking beer and eating chips, it appeared everyone and their uncle was doing the same thing we were doing. Parking was tight at the launch but I was able to wedge my child-sized Fish Taco between the Big Boy trucks and walked to the boat ramp. Under clouds and a fading light drizzle Jerry arrived and we launched his sled. Actually Jerry did all the work— I just stood on the bank and held the bow line, taking great pride in my responsibility.
We proceeded down the Snoqualmie River to its confluence with the Skykomish River; the union of which forms the Snohomish River. Down the Snohomish we went, dodging scores of sleds filled with other anglermen. The sky was beginning to clear and it was a crisp day defined by the yellow leaves of Autumn which dropped gently in a light breeze. With leaves in the water, Fall was definitely in the air and that included the stench of millions of rotting Pink salmon carcasses, which served as a reminder that I’d tried, unsuccessfully, to catch some of them earlier in the season.
We picked a spot between other boats and anchored up within a stone’s throw of the river bank. Armed with spinning rods rigged with weighted clumps of Jerry’s home made roe, we cast toward fish that were rolling and splashing just off the bank. As the weight tapped along the bottom, the clumps of roe drifted in the gentle current. When the tapping of the weight ceased, it was an indication that a fish had inhaled the eggs. That’s when you set the hook.
Or at least that’s when Jerry would set the hook, which he did successfully three times, filling his limit of 3 Coho in fairly short order. Other anglers in surrounding boats seemed to be doing the same thing. I managed to hook snags in the water and broke off my end tackle 5 times (yes, I was counting). Fortunately Jerry had come prepared with an ample supply of pre-rigged leaders, and each time I snapped off and tied on a new leader, I could see the vein in his forehead pulse more rapidly. Had I not at least been baiting my own hook I’m sure Jerry would have made me sit in the front of the boat eating animal crackers.
To my credit I did offer a small measure of value by netting Jerry’s fish, although I was accused of handling the net “like a fly fisherman, afraid of hurting the fish.” In my defense I was actually less concerned with hurting fish than I was with knocking his fish off the hook with poor netsmanship. Had that happened I’m certain I’d have been picked up by the back of my pants and dropped over the side of the boat.
There was no obvious explanation for my comparative lack of fish harvesting: we were fishing the same setups, the same water. The only difference being the pheromone that I apparently give off that repels fish. I’m sure Jerry had never seen anything quite like it. It wasn’t exactly like shooting fish in a barrel, but it shouldn’t have been this hard for anyone with half a reflex to catch one of these fish. And so went the afternoon.
With only 5 minutes remaining before we had to pull anchor and get back to the ramp, Jerry hooked another fish. And then the unthinkable followed: he handed me the rod. “Here you go, ” he said.
Blushing, I felt like the awkward kid as I played the fish to the boat where Jerry wielded the net like a man. We headed back to the boat ramp in silence.
At least I had my participant’s ribbon for the day—a charitable handout that is now in the smoker—my very man-sized Little Chief.
This is Part II of a 3-part series. However this is also the final entry, as Part III and Part I were previously published. Yes, it’s rather confusing…(Editor’s Note: this completes the 3-part series. There ain’t no more)
It’s really quite shocking to me that it took this long to visit the fabled Henry’s Fork because it’s been there all along, beckoning: so close, and yet…just beyond reach. Each year that the Firehole Rangers visit Yellowstone, we find ourselves less than an hour away from the legendary waters of what is also known as the North Fork of the Snake. Quite often the Salmonflies are hatching on the Henry’s while we seek small trout in the Park, or nymph for uncooperative, catatonic fish on the Madison at Three Dollar Bridge. Suffice it to say for several years the Henry’s Fork has been near the top of the list I keep in a bucket. And for good reason—any river named for a buffet has to be good, right? It was time to empty the bucket just a tad.
As a kid I always enjoyed the occasional family visit to the Royal Fork Buffet. I mean, who wouldn’t? What with seemingly endless miles of food set out for easy pickin’s and all. And so it was with similar anticipation that we drove north from Victor thru Ashton to Island Park and Last Chance, Idaho. Certainly the Henry’s Fork was aptly named because it’s a similar buffet with miles of tasty trout water—a veritable smorgasboard for the traveling angler; undoubtedly a bountiful feast of bugs for the many trouts in its hallowed waters.
But first things first: a stop at the Trouthunter Fly Shop for a few artifical bugs and perhaps a bit of intel. While browsing the vast fly bins we had the good fortune of bumping into some
old friends—the gals from Boise with whom we’d fished on the Firehole earlier in the year (Aileen and Rachel comprise 2/3 of Fly Fishing Ventures and Aileen is the headmistress of MKFlies). The girls were in Island Park with a plethora of other ladies as part of a multi-day Trout Chicks gathering and video shoot of some sort. I also had the pleasure of meeting the River Damsel herself—another long-time blogging friend whom I’d never met in person until this day. It was sort of like a family reunion, where I was the “little brother.” But enough socializing, we were there to fish so off to Box Canyon we went.
Despite the fact that we’d just stuffed our faces with a fine breakfast (albeit not a buffet), I was salivating as we geared up. Gazing upstream into the Box Canyon section of the Henry’s was akin to staring down the long line of food at the Royal Fork, without a line to wait in: the parking lot was empty so we’d have the banks of the river to ourselves.
The Box didn’t look like much of a canyon as we followed the trail upstream. There were sections of 15 foot cliffs that prevented descent to the river, but “canyon” seemed like a bit of a stretch, if not a complete exaggeration. Maybe further upriver it gets steeper, but where we fished it was pretty easy going. Jimmy and Morris dropped in and began fishing while Marck and I hiked further up the trail. When we got to where we thought looked to be a good spot, we commenced our angling ways. The first thing I noticed was that the relatively shallow riverbed was covered with weeds. That would have made streamer fishing a bit challenging had we opted for streamer fishing, which we did not. Marck was rigged up with a double nymph/bobber setup. I decided that since I was so close to Yellowstone, I’d try the tactics we use there. I quickly hooked up with my first fish: a game little rainbow of about 5 inches.
A fluke, I assumed—not only because of the early hookup, but because certainly the fabled Henry’s Fork would serve up some much bigger fish than that. And if a 10 inch trout is “much” bigger, then I was not disappointed. Over the course of 3 hours, I landed several more “much” bigger trout and had hookups and LDR’s with even more. Lots of fish. Lots of small fish. That seemed to be the consensus amongst the ranks of the Rangers, although Marck did get into one spot where he was finally served larger portions which was a good thing because he’s a big guy.
It was a beautiful day in the Box, with little to no w#nd and mostly sunny skies. It threatened rain early on but never made good on the threat—not until much later in the day. It was a rather pleasant midday outing for those (Morris) who would be wet-wading because of a lack of waders. As warm as the day was, I never regretted for an instant that I was clad in a breathable membrane from the chest down. Mid September in the high country means water temps that beg for waders. Morris—remember that for next time, hey what?
Throughout the day we saw several drift boats in the canyon: most were anchored up mid-river, nymphing much more productive water than we reached from the shore. The river wasn’t particularly deep and in many places looked to be wadable across its entire width. However, due to an abbreviated inseam I tend toward not being a real aggressive wader and opted to stay within 30 feet of the bank. That decision kept me dry but also kept me from reaching the multitude of fish that seemed to be laying further out. It was not unlike the buffet line food that, due to the sneeze guard, is just beyond reach. I didn’t see any large fish being caught by the boat anglers, but they definitely had rights to better water. After a few hours we all met back up at the limo and made plans to drive downstream to the next destination. We’d heard so much about The Ranch that we
expected hoped to improve on our catching.
Harriman State Park is a vast expanse of former private ranch land through which the Henry’s Fork gently meanders. Although strange and new waters to us, there are places where it reminded me very much of the Firehole, albeit with cattle along its banks rather than bison. Beautiful country for sure, and how fortunate that the land became public domain so that anglers like us could
enjoy it’s generous fishing get our asses handed to us in short order.
No sooner had we rigged up when the sky turned dark and ominous clouds moved in quickly from the south. No worries—the fishing was sure to be so bountiful that a little thunderstorm wouldn’t deter us. We spread out and began to fish. Immediately what stood out was just how shallow the water was—no more than shin deep—and just how many weeds there were. Each cast and retrieve was followed by weed-removal. I believe if you measured carefully the ratio was 4:1 weeds to water. One does not go to a buffet for salad.
We weren’t on the water more than 20 minutes when it began to rain: a heavy, soaking downpour that had us drenched within 2 minutes of the initial cloudburst. We
dug in our heels, fought through the storm like mountain men and caught many large fish quickly retreated to the car without a single one of us hooking a fish. We acknowledged that we’d hit the wrong part of the river through The Ranch. It had to be much better elsewhere, and had we not fished all day already we’d have sought out other sections of The Ranch in which to angle. However, we wanted to get back to Victor in time to watch the Seahawks put the hurt on the 49ers, so we pointed the Ranger Limo south.
Put a Henry’s Fork in us, we were done—for now, anyway. We’ll return to explore further stretches of this beautiful river. After all, buffets always have a way of getting you to come back for more.