Eastern Idaho – After many years of hearing about the tremendous fly fishing on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, I finally got the chance to try my luck. On an early morning in mid-August, I parked the vehicle near a rustic campground, and ambled past peaceful tents and fifth wheels. The thin, clear mountain air had a hint of coffee and bacon, flapjacks and biscuits. Round the campers I went, following a footpath that was just a few yards away from the magnificent Henry’s Fork.
Wide and slick – the river slid past me as smoothly as peanut butter smeared on a piece of warm toast. Little trout splashed recklessly at the river’s surface – dining on insects of unknown variety.
Keeping one eye on the river and the other eye on the footpath, I startled a woman in her bathrobe and her son, who were bent at the waist a few yards off the path.
“Everything ok?” I asked.
“Yes,” the woman said with great enthusiasm, “we’re picking huckleberries.” She proudly held up an ice cream pail an inch or two deep with blue treasure. Her excitement made me smile. The berries would go great with their morning flapjacks or evening cornbread back at the campground. It’s the little things in life like berry picking and trout fishing that make me happy – and apparently her, too.
Amidst the tree roots, the greenery on the forest floor, pine cones and gravel underfoot, I noticed the edible splendor of her affection: huckleberries. They twinkled blue on the edge of the footpath. Sweet and flavorful, they reminded me of rustic life in the northern climes at home, seven states away.
Proceeding on my way and a couple hundred yards later, I finally found a rising trout worth pursuing. Halfway across the river, Mr. Trout didn’t splash the way the little ones did, but rather, it dimpled the surface with a surgeon’s precision. And it wouldn’t just pluck one insect off the surface, but three or four in a trip to its floating breakfast bar overhead.
Wearing wading shoes and a pair of shorts, I slid into the river. ‘Twas as cold as a mountain stream, alright, but it wasn’t unbearable. Before I knew it, I was up to my knees, then my thighs. Patches of river grass swayed in the mellow current like hosiery on a clothesline. It didn’t take much imagination to picture “my” trout using the grass for cover, then rising to the surface for a quick meal.
I tied an old favorite to the end of my twelve foot, tapered leader: a Griffith’s gnat. Although I’ve caught plenty of trout on that fly, I must admit that it really doesn’t imitate any certain insect. In August, when most of the season’s mayflies have been hatched, matched, and dispatched, the only game in town is a tiny fly with generic appeal. Griffith’s fit that bill – or at least they do way back in Michigan.
As luck would have it, the trout I had been stalking had moved. I greased my gnat with fly floatant and tried to keep up with the ghostly image of the trout. It was 30 yards upstream, then 20 feet closer to shore. My theory about it using one clump of grass for cover had been dismissed. This big boy was roaming now – plucking breakfast off the surface like a careless vagrant.
The sun had cleared the Targhee mountain range to the east and the air temperature was quickly rising. I could feel it on the back of my neck. That subtle increase must have triggered the insect activity into overdrive. Tiny, black and white mayflies were floating past me in great numbers. Little trout and some bigger ones were zeroed in on them.
That’s the beautiful part about trout fishing. Time stands still in those instances – with the current gurgling around my legs, the fly-line making sweet music as it rushes through the air, and my mind concentrating on delivering a fly to a crafty adversary.
I wish I could tell you that I landed that big trout but that wouldn’t be true. Oh, I had my chance alright, but I missed the take when it finally arrived. As the case w most sizable trout back home, they seldom give me a second chance to fool them.
Just as quickly as the hatch unfurled, it came to a graceful end. Little trout splashed in the shallows while a kingfisher winged past, chattering as he went. I left the river disappointed in myself, but not with the experience. Even though I only fished a tiny section of the river, the Henry’s Fork delivered a sizable trout, plenty of bugs, and a picture perfect setting.
I’m not really sure what kind of trout I was dueling with. The Henry’s Fork has cutthroat, brown, rainbow, and brook trout.
The Henry’s Fork is named after a fur trader, Colonel Andrew Henry who explored the Snake River plateau in 1810. The river starts as an outlet for Henry’s Lake and meanders for 113 miles through ranchland, high-desert floodplain, and timber-covered canyons. I could have fished hoppers in the ranch land, nymphs in the floodplain and streamers in the canyons, if I could get to it.
Next time I go, I’m going to hire a guide, float the river, and take in all that the river, the area, the experience has to offer.
Chris Zimmerman is the author of six Michigan based novels and an independent insurance agent in Shepherd Michigan. Visit Chris Zimmerman Insurance.