Henrys Fork Flyfishing Classic
Henrys Fork is known internationally as one of the great flyfishing classics. For 50 miles "The Fork" offers one of the finest tests of oneís flyfishing expertise within glorious Idaho scenery. Though the trout population had a setback in the late 80s due to drought and siltation, the complex river system of Henrys Fork is still exciting.
by Sharon Watson
Some brook trout are found in the upper river area, and brown trout lie in the lower river from Warm River downstream, but big rainbows are the primary target for flyfishing. It is infinitely wise to check in at local flyshops before fishing. Henrys Fork Anglers in the area will share with you the current hatch wisdom. There is a complete flyfishing education just in the store. You can call them at (208) 558-7525 until October 15 when they close up for the season. After October 15, they can be contacted at (208) 624-3590.
Read the current fishing regulations carefully before fishing the Henrys Fork. Different stretches of the river and its tributaries are covered by special rules.
From spring up to fall, the primary hatch chart sounds like this: "Caddis, Stoneflies, Leadwing Olive, Gray Drake, Brown Drake, Green Drake, and Pale Morning Dun."
Henrys Fork originates at the outlet of equally-famous Henrys Lake, just under the Continental Divide between Idaho and Montana. Fishing is closed from the outlet to Big Springs, a major trout spawning area. From Big Springs to the headwaters of Island Park Reservoir, angling is best for rainbows and cutthroats. General regulations apply here. Fishing quality in this sluggish, less-famous river stretch can be good, but it varies with transient fish moving up from Island Park Reservoir downstream.
It is the 15-mile river section from Island Park Dam to Riverside Campground, however, that most earns "blue ribbon trout stream" status. This stretch is Catch-and-Release-Only fishing. The result has been bigger and bigger fish over the past ten years. A 20-incher is not uncommon.This particular stretch of Henrys Fork varies in character between the grassy meadow flows of Harriman State Park below Last Chance, Idaho, to the tumbling rapids and rocky runs of Box Canyon upstream.
The former resembles central Idahoís Silver Creek in appearance, and it is equally tough to match subtle insect hatches in both places with tiny dry flies and gossamer leaders. River flow and temperatures are determined largely by exact water releases from Island Park Reservoir. Insect hatches are therefore very predictable throughout the late-May-to-November season.
Upstream, Box Canyonís rougher water allows more margin for beginnersí goofs. Bottom-bumping nymphs and streamers are the most common methods used here. Fast-water trout also have to make up their minds quickly to strike or not, so delicate presentations and fine leaders arenít quite so critical. Even so, Box Canyon rainbows have definite preferences for prevailing hatches and other available forage, so itís a good idea to ask around before tying on a particular pattern.
Mid-stream holding areas, not near-bank waters, are favored in Box Canyon. Felt-soled waders or cleats are a must among the slippery rocks there.
Below Harriman Park to Riverside Campground are both flat-water sections and some fast water. To escape summer crowds, try floating, bank hiking, or driving (via Wood Roads 14 and 16) into this section of Henrys "blue ribbon" portion.
Downstream from Riverside Campground to Warm River, special regulations apply. Much of this area is so remote and steep that it is de facto blue ribbon water. Lots of big fish are there, but most anglers donít want to work that hard. Lunkers wait in lonely canyons and deep pools for backpack anglers and devoted day-trippers sliding down the hill in a clatter of gravel. Scenic Upper and Lower Mesa Falls lie in this stretch, as does aptly-named Cardiac Canyon!
Below Warm River to Ashton Reservoir, you may encounter some big browns along with plentiful rainbows in the deep, swirling holes of Henrys canyon torrent. Brown trout are even more common below Ashton Reservoir all the way to the Snakeís South Fork, itself a world-class brown trout stream.
Riverbank land in this valley setting is largely private, so ask trespass permission.
Floating this last, long stretch of Henrys Fork is another productive approach -- and youíll probably have most of the fabled river to yourself!
There are plenty of motel and restaurant accommodations ( Check Eastern and Southeastern "Accommodations & Services.") in this popular vacation area, or you can camp in your RV or tent at the many public campgrounds. Undeveloped National Forest lands nearby are open to primitive camping as well.
Early autumn is an excellent time to visit the area -- summer crowds are gone and big fish are feeding steadily against the coming winter. Fall weather can be raw and unpredictable at these 6000í elevations, however, so be prepared.
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