Trouthunter Fly Shop

The Henry’s Fork Buffet

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.

The Royal Fork: Miles of Food.

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.

Firehole Ranger reunion.

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.

The Henry’s Fork: Miles of Trout.

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 Firehole Rangers of the Henry’s Fork.

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.

The pride of the Henry’s Fork

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.

Marck’s man-sized Henry’s Fork fish.

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?

A beautiful day in The Box.

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.

Welcome to The Ranch.

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.

Those are cattle, not bison.

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.

Fishing for salad on the leading edge of a storm.

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.

Seattle Fish Hawks.

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.