Humbled by the Henry’s Fork

August 20th, 2015

Part of our deal with my son Mark was if he got good grades he could have a car his sophomore year in Bozeman at Montana State University.  As much as buying a car without sales tax in Montana is we just couldn’t afford to do that.  So, it was clear that an 1130 mile road trip from Carlsbad, CA to Bozeman, MT was in order to drive a car out, move him into his apartment, and then fly home.  I figured we’d take 3 days and fish 4 hours each day as we worked our way from pretty much as far south in the US as you can get to as far north.  Then I mapped the route on my computer and stared at possible fishing locations on the way.  “My God.” I said to myself.  “We are driving right by the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River!”  Arguably the most famous stretch of fly fishing in America and I have never been there.  It’s also just two hours short of Bozeman which makes it logistically complicated.  So, without telling him I made the call: we will drive all the way to Pocatello, ID in one day so we can fish a full day on the Henry’s fork.  It took us 11 hours to do that.  From Pocatello it was an easy 2 hour drive to the Henry’s Fork at Island Park, ID.


I did a ton of research on the Henry’s Fork before going.  And I talked to a lot of my fly fishing buddies and guides who have fished there.  Every single one said basically the same thing: “Prepare to be humbled.”  Then why so special?  I got the same answer from all of them: “It’s all dry fly casting to the rises of huge fish.” 


Much of the guidance I got was you have to stop in at the fly shop there in Island Park, ID (Trout Hunter) and get some guidance and buy some flies.  Now, I tie a lot of flies, but, I firmly believe that getting guidance from the fly shop should not be free.  so I always buy flies because of that.  And, this was special.  this was a bucket-lister.  So, I convinced myself I wouldn’t go cheap because they have genuine Rene Harrop flies there and those are not cheap.  $120 later and a ton of great advice Mark and I walked out of there with 8 sets of 4 flies.  Of course we had to buy two of the special floatant at $15 and Mark insisted he needed a few more things.  but, I bought $60 of flies and it’s so not like me to do that.  But, this was special.  It was fishing the Henry’s Fork with my son.


Technically I got skunked.  I never got a fish to my hand or to the net.  I hooked 8 fish in about 8 hours of fishing.  which matches up exactly to what I was told to expect.


Here’s what I learned from the shop, my fishing buddies, and guides.  It may help you; it may not. Henry’s Fork is so different than anywhere else I have ever fly fished and it’s so interesting….at least to me it is:

The Trout of the Henry's Fork

  • It’s extremely technical dry fly fishing.  You don’t need to do a perfect cast and drift: you need to do hundreds of them.  I loved it. I could have fished there 14 hours a day for 7 straight days and still been happy to get skunked. But, Mark, no so much.  There’s just so much a 20 year old who thinks he’s an expert fly fisherman can handle.  His classic comment was something like, “Let’s bail this place; It’s 60 miles to the Madison. I just don’t understand why not catching fish is fun to you.” 🙂
Mark with a Bad Attitude.  The Trout Hunter in

Mark with a Bad Attitude. The Trout Hunter in the background

  • We just caught it on a slow day/week.  Mid august and a low river.  The first indicator was that there were only a handful of other fisherman in this 7 mile stretch of America’s most famous fly fishing river.  This place is supposedly shoulder to shoulder fishing…which I hate.  But, we had the river to ourselves which I Love.  
  • The Henry’s Fork is Known for crazy ass hatches of multiple bugs.  We just didn’t see any significant hatches.  We did see bugs, but not the blankets of them I read about.  And consequently we just didn’t see a lot of rising fish. Also, they say it’s only big fish there. We found the opposite to be true. I caught a 3 inch fish. The biggest fish I hooked was only 12″ and probably 14″. 
  • In a single day of fishing if you are upper intermediate or an advanced fly fisherman you can expect to hook up 3 times and lucky to land a single fish.
  • You stand in the river and wait.  you wait for a rise and move to casting range.  If there is a hatch and you can figure out what it’s eating you are golden.  if not you keep changing flies until you do.  casting at a single fish for an entire hour is common on the Henry’s Fork.
  • You never blind cast and it’s dry fly only.  You hunt and wait and casting at a rising fish…. never casting blind. So different. I thought I’d hate it because I’m such a 5 cast and move guy. But, I loved it!. I casted at a single rising fish for over an hour. I changed flies 8 times because I bought 8 different flies from the shop they recommended. And I still couldn’t fool him/her. I had to give up on him basically because mark was “done”.   I know if I had another hour I could have got him.  Smile
  • For Californians, in terms of look and feel, it’s like a giant hot creek. It’s a hot creek that is 100 yards wide. Crystal clear and weedy.  It’s different because you can wade it in every stretch of the river.  in August it’s an easy wade and crossable everywhere.  The gentleman’s rule of Hot Creek is you do not wade it.   The Henry’s Fork has that slow current just like Hot Creek and never more than stomach high (in august). No riffles, no pocket water, no tailouts… no real structure of any kind.  just one giant really good miles long run.

Because I didn’t land the huge Henry’s Fork rainbow I am now haunted by it.  I would love to go back and fish it for 3 straight days.  I have a son in Bozeman and it’s just 2 hours away.  hmmm….  

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