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Frequent contributor Mike Bodenchuk just got back from Idaho fishing the green drake hatch on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, and here he files another of his engaging reports:
After eight days of fishing the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho, I have to say it provided me the best dry fly fishing I’ve had in my 46-year fly-fishing career. The fish were not the biggest, nor was the fishing consistently “on,” but I’ve never been to a more consistent bug factory, nor have I ever seen fish so eager to take dry flies when the hatch was happening. Once we figured out the hatch, we each consistently caught 15‒20 wild trout (rainbows and browns) each afternoon hatch and managed to dredge up several more every morning on nymphs.
The Henry’s Fork proper starts at Henry’s Lake near the Idaho-Montana border south of West Yellowstone and runs some 40-plus miles to below St. Anthony, past Rexburg, where it joins the Teton River and the South Fork of the Snake. Most of the fishing centers around Island Park, a town built around fly fishing. Last Chance, Idaho, technically falls within Island Park, with several fly-fishing shops and lodges located in Last Chance. There is one large dam above Last Chance (at Island Park Reservoir), and another, which forms the Ashton Reservoir. Both of which provide tailrace fisheries and controlled flows. This is very important given the high snowpack in the Rockies this spring and the blown-out fishing elsewhere. Several smaller irrigation dams are also present on the lower river near Ashton and St. Anthony, some of which are navigable by drift boats during high flows.
Our fishing trip was scheduled to coincide with the opening of fishing on Harriman Ranch State Park (locally known as “the Ranch,” which opens for fishing June 15) and the green drake hatch. My fishing companion and I trailered his RV to the Riverside Campground south of Last Chance. He made reservations six months in advance on www.recreation.gov. Our campsite near the river did not have water or electricity, but with a generator and ample available water we were very comfortable. Given the long days and short nights surrounding the summer solstice, we used the RV very little—only for sleeping and our evening meal.
For those not interested in camping, other local lodging options include: Trouthunter in Last Chance (with an attached restaurant); Henry’s Fork Lodge just south of The Ranch; and Mack’s Inn, north of Last Chance. A new hotel is under construction at Mack’s and should be open next year. In the Ashton area, Angler’s Inn and the Rankin Motel are both available to those fishing the lower river.
For our first full day, we had lined up a float trip through The Henry’s Fork Angler Fly Shop. Guide Curt Barker met us at the shop, looked over the flies we had brought, and selected several other patterns he thought would work as well. The fly shops collectively have divided the river into several sections and only three boats from any shop can be on a particular section each day. Curt selected two stretches of the lower river for us to fish that day. We fished one of them before lunch and the other in the afternoon. It’s worth noting that guided fishing here is handled in a rather laid-back manner. Guides meet their clients about 8 a.m. and get on the water around 10. While we were there, we were amazed at the lack of fishing pressure in the mornings. Apparently, that is due to the overwhelming interest in throwing to rising fish this time of year. There seemed to be almost no interest in throwing nymphs.
Curt’s approach was to rig us up with stone dries with a zebra nymph dropper in the morning. We did well; each catching half a dozen trout, including the only cutthroats we caught all week. We stayed in one pool above an irrigation dam all morning and returned to our vehicle.
In the afternoon, Curt set us up on another section of the river and arranged a shuttle company to move his truck downstream. We were still fishing the dry-dropper rigs until fish started rising, at which point we changed to green drake imitations. The local favorite (and the one I stayed with all week) was a Last Chance Cripple. If you could cover a rising fish with a decent drift, you would invariably get a rise from the fish. We caught several fish on the dries, hooking and losing even more than we landed. All considered, we had an exceptional day. A day of float fishing at peak season runs $595 plus tip and was worth every penny. Curt joined us for a beer afterward and shared several wading access points for us to try during the remaining time there.
For the record, there are several other fly shops in the area that offer float trips, including Three Rivers Ranch and the TroutHunter. They all fish the same river, and I understand all of them offer excellent service. I can only personally recommend Henry’s Fork Angler as an outfitter and Curt as a guide. We had an excellent day of fishing and he provided us with more than enough options for the rest of the week.
We wanted to spend some time on the Ranch and took the opportunity the next day to fish there exclusively. The river has a slow gradient on the Ranch, and the water, even at this time of year, was crystal clear. Internet research will tell you that the fish on the Ranch are extremely difficult to fool and that a downstream presentation is the only way to fish. We tried that with some success, but cooler than normal temperatures meant few bugs were emerging. That meant, of course, that fewer fish were rising. We did manage to catch several trout with golden stone dries and zebra nymphs in black and green. There are several named sections on the Ranch, and we had our best luck in the Millionaire Pool, and in the stretch of river below Stock Bridge. Both of these are walk-in sections, and the hike is about 1.5 miles each way.
We spent our mornings the rest of the week more or less exploring, and we fished twice below the Island Park Dam and other sections of the upper river (Wood Road 16, Osborn Bridge). All these waters were good for some fish. Each afternoon, we returned to the lower river and fished several sections there, including one near the Ashton Dam, one near Ora Bridge (access currently impacted by new construction, but available), and several between Ashton and St. Anthony. We used the excellent Henry’s Fork Map we bought at the fly shop to identify access points. Several we found were easily accessible and yet not being heavily fished.
Each afternoon, despite a wide variety of conditions, the green drake hatch came off. We fished the hatch through NOAA wind advisories (>30 MPH winds), bright sunshine, and even in afternoon rains. At one point, backcasts into the gale were not possible, so I improvised by lifting my rod and letting my line blow upstream before lowering it to the water. I found I could get a decent drift that way and some occasional rises! The time of day that the hatch came off varied considerably, from just after noon on one day to 6 p.m. another day.
During the hatches I fished the Last Chance Cripple exclusively. Other times, I experimented with BWOs, golden stones, and zebra nymphs. All worked to some extent, but during the green drake hatch the fishing was incredible.
Our trip was timed to coincide with the green drake hatch, and I think we hit it just right. Later in the month, I was told, the hatch tends to move upstream and other sections fish as well as the lower river did for us. One thing that amazed me on this trip was the abundance of caddis flies and the fact that the trout paid little attention to them. This river is an incredible bug factory all year, and the trout seem to know what’s coming and when. After fishing it during June, I want to fish it in August or early September when the hoppers are said to be working.
The Henry’s Fork is located in the best possible area for fly fishing, with Yellowstone Park (and the Madison, Fire Hole and Lamar Rivers) to the north and the Tetons to the east. On the east side of the Tetons is Jackson Hole and the Snake River. Other rivers in the area include the Warm River and the Teton. With the scenery and the National Parks, there is plenty for the non-fishing family members to do. Cabin and drift boat rentals are available in nearly every town along the river. Enjoy!‒Mike Bodenchuk.