In a normal year people are not usually as interested in what happened last year or even last week. I suspect this feeling is amplified when we look back on 2020. I’m not going to focus too much on the effects of Covid-19 other than to say that in March we expected the worst and hoped for the best. Many of the guide trips that were in the books canceled. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game suspended the sale of nonresident fishing licenses. We cut back inventory. We cautioned several of our guides that they might not have enough work to get through the season. In spite of taking every recommended precaution it was hard to expect we could get through the season without some of our employees or customers catching the virus requiring a shut down. The season outlook was indeed grim.
Amazingly we made it through the entire season without any of our staff contracting the virus. Several of our employees tested positive after the season ended. Sheralee and I stayed away from the shop as much as possible as a precaution but I tested positive for the virus in late August. Sheralee got sick a few days later. Fortunately our symptoms were relatively mild.
The greatest impact was completely unanticipated. Hordes of anglers. By late June all of our rivers were more crowded than we had ever seen. It was like the years following the movie only worse. Crowding became the number one concern throughout the region. It’s a very controversial issue that I want to address in an upcoming blog. Today I want to stick to the subject at hand.
In spite of heavy fishing pressure all of the rivers fished exceptionally well during the 2020 season. Even the most vocal skeptics admitted that the Ranch fished better than it has for years. I personally went fishing more than I have in any season in the last 45 years. I fished various locations on the lower Henry’s Fork below Ashton from March through early July. After the runoff subsided later in June I started fishing the upper Teton, the lower Teton near my home in St Anthony, and the South Fork of the Snake. I have a self-imposed rule to not fish the Ranch until mid-July. On July 15th I was casting to rising trout that were feeding on spinners. It’s always such a rush when I venture into this wonderful section of trout water. I also had some good days in Yellowstone Park but negotiating the crowds limited my attention. I personally didn’t fish the Madison River but our customers and guide clients reported exceptional fishing throughout the season.
For more details on specific times and places you can review our 2020 fishing reports by Todd Lanning on our web site. Weather and water conditions have the greatest short term influence on fishing. In early September the water turned very turbid and roily and remained so for a good part of the month. This had a negative impact on the Box Canyon and Ranch fishing. Unfortunately the river below the Island Park Dam is held hostage to whatever goes on in the reservoir above. You can learn more about the dirty water event on the Henry’s Fork Foundation website.
Long term relationships with quality fishing are heavily influenced by winter stream flows, reservoir carryover, winter snow pack and the timing of spring runoff. We had optimum winter releases from the Island Park Dam for at least 4 straight years resulting in great recruitment of young-of-the-year trout. It is also logical that good winter flows result in a healthier population of all age classes of trout. Due to Covid-19 restrictions our IDFG did not complete a trout population survey for the Box Canyon section in the year 2020. You can check out the 2019 IDFG report which provides detailed information on the Box Canyon, Teton, South Fork and other rivers and lakes. There is no reason to believe that 2020 was not on par with 2019.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game completed population surveys on specific sections of the Teton River and the South Fork of the Snake River. The trout numbers were above average on both of these great rivers. From July on it was hard to decide where to fish. It was good everywhere.
I also experienced some of the best hatches I’ve seen in a long time. This is backed up by a couple of studies conducted by the Henry’s Fork Foundation. The Henry’s Fork Foundation research shows the river supports a tremendous population of aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates. You can also read Dr. Rob Van Kirk’s blog as to why the hatches were much improved in 2020.
It is important to realize that what constitutes good fishing is highly subjective. It’s always been amazing to me to listen to the discussion in the ranch parking lot or in our shop with differing opinions of what fishing was like on a given day on the same piece of water. That’s why I’ve provided as many links as I could with research data to support my position.
As I said to begin with, the 2020 season is behind us, and I believe most anglers are more interested in what to expect in 2021. I plan to discuss this in my next blog so stay tuned.