Idaho's Top Trout Hole - Henrys Lake
If you want to catch more trout per hour than on any other lake in Idaho, and especially if you want those trout to be big, hefty fish of a relatively rare type, you'd do well to select fabulous Henrys Lake in southeastern Idaho as your next angling destination.
by Lewis Watson
This nationally famous lake has been cranking out a remarkably high catch rate of cutthroats, brookies, and rainbow-cutthroat hybrids for many years. Not only are Henrys three major trout species plentiful, they also average deeper in body and longer in length than I've seen on any other Gem State lake, reservoir, or stream. Henrys Lake definitely gets my vote as Idaho's top long-term trout hole.
Because Henrys is located in the extreme eastern "toe" of Idaho well away from major population centers, it sometimes drops from the attention of most Gem State trout anglers. Those fortunate enough to live in that trout-rich region of the state, however, trek to Henrys in numbers disproportionate to the lake's modest 3-mile by 4-mile size.
Many of Henrys most regular and devoted visitors come from other states scattered throughout the country. Such is the lure of Henrys fantastic trout fishing that all this attention is given in spite of a daily catch-and-keep limit of just two fish, which must include any brook trout taken. (Elsewhere in Idaho anglers may creel 10 brookies daily, with no size limit, in addition to the normal 6-trout-in-the-aggregate limit.)
There are other "negatives" as well. Unlike most year-around Idaho lakes and reservoirs, Henrys Lake is open to fishing only from late May through October, a full month less than even the state's general fishing season. Special local closures dot the lake, including all stream tributaries most of the time. Much of the lakeshore is private property, which limits access. Camping near the lake is by fee only in commercial or state areas, though you can drive a modest distance to reach free National Forest ground. Night fishing is forbidden between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
It could be argued that many of these restrictions are largely responsible for Henrys outstanding angling. More important for rapid trout growth, however, is probably this shallow lake's exceptional fertility. Averaging only 18 feet deep over its roughly 16 square miles (maximum depth, 23 feet), Henrys is a weed-growing phenomenon. Hiding in the depths of the lake's thousands of acres of dense aquatic vegetation are countless forms of insects, larvae, freshwater shrimp, sculpins, and leeches. So heavily do Henrys trout feed on these forage forms that several tests have indicated that imitative flies here outfish flashing "hardware" by six to one!
Still, trolling remains the most popular method of fishing Henrys Lake, at least in early summer before weed growth chokes trolling lanes and fouls treble-hooked lures beyond usability. There seems to be no one favorite trolling lure on Henrys Lake, though Panther Martin spinners are extremely popular. Spoons and small plugs of many types take their share of Henrys trout, as do gangtrolls trailing worms a few inches back.
By July or August, aquatic weeds mostly put an end to trolling until about mid-September, during which time Henrys' vast flotilla of float tubers take over. Most tubers use fly rods with a wide assortment of sizable wet patterns stripped in anywhere from just below surface to 20 feet down. Though even single-hook flies harvest their share of moss and weeds, they remain clear long enough for cutthroats, hybrids, and an occasional brookie to find them during this hottest period of the year. Trout are scattered fairly evenly in late summer, though special fish concentrations may be found near subsurface springs and in deeper holes.
If you don't care to work from a float tube, you can drift-fish Henrys weedy areas from a boat or canoe. This provides a higher casting perspective as well as faster mobility for trying different lake hotspots. Either fly tackle or spinning equipment works fine if you'll stay with slowly-retrieved single-hook lures and baits to reduce weed entanglement. Because Henrys' shorelines are extremely gradual in slope, bank fishing isn't all that great except in a very few steeper areas. Wading out into chest-deep water helps in lure presentation, but it's simpler to go to tube and fins.
A remarkably effective technique I stumbled across on Henrys Lake last September involves the use of a 1/8th ounce marabou jig suspended a few feet under a small bobber. This is the identical jig I use for crappie elsewhere in the state, and it turned out to be pure dynamite for Henrys 2 and 3 pound cutthroats! The jig evidently imitates a leech or other preferred forage form and probably could be used without the bobber. The clincher that day, though, seemed to be my float's suspension of the lure at an exact depth (roughly 4 feet) well above bottom weeds, plus an in-place "teasing" action imparted to the suspended jig by bouncing waves above. In any case, this out-of-place setup dramatically outfished a number of nearby tubers working flies on sinking lines.
Since brook trout are fall spawners, try fishing for them near stream mouths in September and October where they may be briefly congregated. Otherwise concentrate on deep water during the low-light conditions of dawn and dusk. Brook trout in Henrys Lake are also thought of as a trophy fish, not so much due to their size as their scarcity and difficulty in catching. For what it's worth, a few German browns also prowl the depths of Henrys Lake, but so far they constitute a very minor portion of the lake's creel count.
Since Henrys is perched at nearly 7000 feet, virtually on the Continental Divide between Idaho and Montana, weather here is wildly unpredictable. Snow is possible in all three summer months, and severe winds are a constant possibility. It's not so much that this area is always bitter cold and nasty as that you never know what's coming next - maybe even several days of pleasant, balmy weather! Still, it's a stock wisdom locally to go prepared for cold, windy conditions and then be thankful if you don't get them. This is especially true, of course, if you want to fish the lake in autumn, one of its very best and least crowded periods.
Henrys Lake is located just 18 miles southwest of West Yellowstone, Montana, and right alongside U. S. 20. Roads completely encircle the lake, and there are several public and commercial boat ramps, campgrounds, and lodges. Nearest significant shopping is in West Yellowstone or the Island Park area. Incidentally, if foul weather (possible) or poor fishing (unlikely) turn you away from this grand old trout fishery, you have dozens of other almost-as-famous streams and reservoirs in the general area.
In a word, a trout angler can hardly go wrong by visiting this best-known of Idaho's many trout fishing regions.
Copyright 2000 by Spring Creek Communications
Henrys Lake Foundation's 2000 Newsletter
Henrys Lake Foundation's Creel Statistics
Island Park Sportsmens Association
Henrys Lake Hatchery
Thunder Mountain Float Tubes
BOOKS FROM AMAZON.COM
Fishing Idaho - an Angler's Guide
by Joe Evancho
Montana-Idaho-Wyoming - Top 45 Fishing Waters
Edited by Ed Mitchell and Michael Robertson
Snake River Country Flies and Waters
by Bruce Staples