Return to the Henry’s Fork

As part of a visit to my son and his family in Bozeman, I decided I needed to make a slight detour and fish the Henry’s Fork again.

The trip out from Gig Harbor was sunny and mild with hours of easy driving – I like long road trips in general and road trip days like that in particular. The only disappointment along the way was the lack of autumn colors; most trees were still green. As I dropped into Silver Bow Creek valley to spend the night in Butte I did notice the snow on the distant ranges.

The next day I spent two hours driving over Montana highways along both the Jefferson and Madison rivers making my way through Ennis and ultimately Island Park. Stopping at Henry’s Fork Anglers (HFA), I picked up a few dry flies and drove to my favorite place – Wood River Road.

Jefferson River Montana

Arriving at the river, I noticed fish sipping the surface and hurriedly got into my waders and rigged up my rod. HFA had suggested blue-winged olives and mahogany duns as flies and I selected a blue-winged olive size 16 to start.

I got at least two brief tugs indicating fish had taken the fly – only to spit it out before I could react. That was a bit disappointing, at least until I talked to a couple of other guys working the river who said the same thing. So either the fish weren’t very hungry or after a summer of being chased by fly fishers along they were very discriminating.

The wind began to pick up – the temperature was in the low 50’s – and I got a bit cold. I had brought my Patagonia Rio Azul waders and left my much-warmer Simms G4Zs at home. Unfortunately I had neither my winter wading pants or long underwear. So after lack of success with dry flies, I switched to a nymph and did a bit of wet-fly swinging. But no fish was interested.

Packing up I made my way back to Island Park to spend the night in the Angler’s Lodge. It is a beautiful wooden lodge on the banks of the Henry’s Fork. There’s nothing like looking out the window and seeing a river outside. The sunset made a perfect ending to the day.

Anglers Lodge Sunset, Island Park

Next day up and early and back to Wood River road. This time I had the area to myself. Low 40s and no wind made for pleasant time in the water; that required ignoring how cold my legs were.

As I did the previous day, I rigged up another dry fly – this time a size 18 Mahogany dun. Unfortunately, there were no fish sipping the surface. Looking around, I saw no hatch in progress as expected. HFA had said the hatch was occurring between 11AM and 4PM. I still thought I might find a hungry trout.

Two tugs later I had the same experience as yesterday: a quick bite and then release.

I kept at it for another couple of hours until I had to leave to get to Bozeman at the time I said I’d be there. Fortunately, I had time to stop in West Yellowstone and get lunch at Bullwinkles.

After a day and a half of a very pleasant visit – I follow Ben Franklin’s observation that guests like fish begin to stink in three days, it was time to drive home. The previous two days forecasts had predicted widespread snow for my day’s drive and I was particularly concerned about the drive over Homestake Pass.

As it turned out, the snow was delayed by 12 hours, Homestake Pass only had a bit of snow on the sides of the road and I had only snow flurries in the area west of Butte. Still, it was a good reminder: winter is coming.

Looking back at the fishing, I think I understood that I really didn’t know as much about dry fly fishing as I should. Out here on Puget Sound, blind casting wet flies to searun cutthroat trout and resident Coho, presentation and fly preparation aren’t generally a big issue.

But dry fly fishing requires a more in depth understanding of trout behavior and insect hatches as well as a good deal more refinement in presentation casting. Thinking about all that’s involved I can understand the obsessiveness that dry fly fishing can engender. I do think the next trip back will require a day with a guide to get more insights into dry fly fishing.

Author: Tom

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