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Good Reasons For Optimism

Jan 18, 2016 | Mike Lawson Warm_R_Winter.jpg

I spent most of last week out of town. We exhibited at the Western Idaho Fly Fishing Expo on Saturday and Sunday. From there I traveled to Spokane for a presentation to the Spokane Fly Fishers on Wednesday. In between Chris drove to Western Idaho with our dogs where we hunted quail on Monday and Tuesday. California Quail provide great fly trying feathers and if you need some, let us know as we now have a number of prime skins.

It was great to connect with our friends and customers in the Boise area. It was also nice to be back in Spokane. The weather was good all week but I was ecstatic to see it change after I got back to St. Anthony.


Last winter we had a strong push of snow in December but after the first of the year it came to a screeching halt. What started out as a very promising water year turned out to be one of the driest on record. If not for timely rain in May our storage in the reservoirs would have been totally gone before the end of the summer. As a result of minimal natural flow the releases from the Island Park Dam to meet irrigation demand resulted in exceptionally high water for the better part of July.

While last season provided some great moments in the Ranch and the Box Canyon, I wouldn’t rate 2015 as an epic year. Hatches were bumped up in some cases almost a month before normal. Mayflies don’t like their twelve month life span condensed into 11 months. Experience has shown that high water years which push the emergence dates back a week or so produce the best hatches, especially with larger species like Green and Brown Drakes and especially Gray Drakes.


I currently follow a self-imposed personal rule not to fish the Ranch until mid-July. I started this custom back in the early 1990s when the fishing really went to hell. There were so few fish feeding that as soon as one started to rise somebody was casting to it. I didn’t feel the trout needed me exacerbating the problem. In fact I spent one morning with Dave Schultz sitting on the bank staked out to a feeding trout so it could feed without being disturbed. Later on, when the Ranch fishery came back so did the fishing pressure. Nowadays I don’t think my friends and customers need me competing with them. I have all summer to fish the Ranch. I’ve got plenty of other great options in June and early July.

My favorite time to fish the Ranch is August. Normally there isn’t a lot of fishing pressure, there are some great hatches and plenty of rising trout. The only downside is when the water has been consistently high, as occurred in July, the aquatic vegetation can get heavy making it difficult to land large trout. That was the case this past season.


This August I spent three grand days on the Ranch with Mick Mickelson. Like me he holds the Ranch in great reverence. I realized that my photo collection of this most extraordinary trout water had dwindled so I left my rod home and took my camera. It has always been very challenging for me to photograph the Ranch. There is so much expanse with the meadows and flat water that can simply overwhelm. A few clouds help. Mick knows his stuff and didn’t disappoint has he hooked up a number of nice trout every day. It started getting windy on our last day so I put the camera down and grabbed my rod. I got a decent cast with a small flying ant to a rising fish just before the wind became overwhelming and as luck would have it, landed the fish. It was fitting. The largest trout I’ve landed in the Ranch in years but I earned it.


We were fortunate to have viable alternatives to the Henry’s Fork when the water conditions aren’t favorable. This summer the Madison, South Fork, and Teton River provided exceptional fishing for our guide clients and customers. Some of the largest trout of the entire year were landed during the peak of the summer season from these great waters. While the Henry’s Fork is closest to my heart, I’m really thankful that we have such wonderful alternatives in the event something unforeseen happens like the high, dirty water that occurred this past summer on the Ranch.


Yesterday morning I plowed about 8 inches of snow from our 500 foot driveway near St. Anthony. This morning I plowed another 5 inches and it is still snowing. A couple of whitetail deer are chest deep as they trim the shrubs just outside of my office window. Our precipitation in the Henry’s Fork / Teton Basin is 97% and the snow water equivalent is 94% of normal. The story is about the same across the divide in Montana. The forecast for the next 10 days is more of the same. All in all I’m cautiously optimistic. An above average snowpack would be most welcome.

We’ll do everything we can to keep you up-to-date as the winter progresses. If the snow keeps coming we expect an awesome season. One thing to keep in mind is we are again offering our FOUR RIVERS SPECIAL during the peak of the summer season. Four days of guided fishing on four rivers (Henry’s Fork, Madison, South Fork, Teton) with accommodations and meals provided by Elk Creek Ranch.