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Idaho Endurance

Apr 2, 2014 | Mike Lawson


Back row left to right: Smitty, Dom Traverso, Bob Lamm, Curt Barker. Front row Sheralee Lawson, Tom Grimes, Mike Lawson

I recently received my spring 2014 edition of the Drake magazine. If you don’t subscribe to it you should. One look at all of the advertisers is an indication of how popular the Drake is. The new issue has some great dialogue on management of native trout in Yellowstone Park, especially the Park’s efforts to control Lake Trout in Yellowstone Lake. No matter where you stand, Yellowstone Park appears to be moving forward with little or no input from the general fishing public. Your voice is important.

Under the Scuttlebutt section on page 40 is the photo above with an article entitled “Idaho Endurance.” Personally I couldn’t be more proud than to stand together with my wife and five men that I most admire: Bob Lamm, Smitty, Curt Barker, Dom Traverso and Tom Grimes. They are the essence and foundation of Henry’s Fork Anglers. Individually each of them has worked for 30 years or more in an effort to provide the best possible service in the fly fishing industry. I appreciate the author, Miles Nolte from Bozeman, for recognizing the contribution these individuals have made to the fly fishing world. If there is another fly fishing outfitting business with five guides who worked together for as long as this crew I’m not aware of it.

Mike Lawson launching his boat on the Madison in 1977 with Ernest Schwiebert

In 1977 our first guide staff included Terry Ross, Jim Vermillion, Jerry Siem, and Bing Lempke. Imagine walking the banks of the Ranch looking for bank feeders with Bing. We still have a small bottle with 5 dry flies size 28 or 32 mounted on a match stick that Bing tied for us. Jerry Siem went on to be one of the top fly rod designers in the industry at Sage. Terry Ross eventually moved up to the Big Horn where he shared quarters with another guiding compañero, George Kelly. Today Terry is an accomplished finish carpenter in Jackson, WY who still fishes the Henry’s Fork as often as time permits. Before we opened Henry’s Fork Anglers I worked  with Jim Vermillion guiding for Jim Danskin, one of the finest outfitters in West Yellowstone. Today Jim’s company in Boise, Idaho manufactures precision ski equipment along with high quality fly reels for Waterworks/ Lamson.

Bob Lamm with a double hookup on the Madison River in 1978

In 1978 Bob Lamm followed Jim Vermillion and me to the Henry’s Fork from West Yellowstone. He wanted to be closer to the Henry’s Fork while he could still take clients to the Madison and surrounding area. Along with his fishing skills, Bob is a talented dog trainer.  In the late 1980s he left for a year with the prospect of purchasing a retriever training business from a noted dog man in Kansas. One long hot summer convinced him that Kansas wasn’t where he wanted to be. He was back at Henry’s Fork Anglers the following season where he has anchored our guide staff ever since.

Curt Barker with his client hooked up on the Yellowstone River in 1980

Not long after we opened our shop Curt Barker started showing up with photographs of enormous trout he caught in the Box Canyon. By the end of that first summer I was convinced that the young man knew more about the Box Canyon than any man alive so I offered him a job working in our fly shop. To be honest, the shop just wasn’t for him. In fact Curt could go down as the worst shop man we’ve ever had. He wanted to be on the river so we helped him get his guide license. In May of 1979 he showed up with an Alumaweld Drift Boat. It was more like a heavy scow than a drift boat but he made the best of it until he purchased a new Clacka Craft a few years later. Curt is homegrown and today he has the longest tenure on our staff working for a single outfitter.

Tom Grimes' client works a run on the Warm River to Ashton stretch of the Henry's Fork.

Like Bob Lamm, A J Campbell, Tim Stamm, Mike Atwell and a couple of other guys who have worked for us, Tom Grimes is originally from Missouri. Unlike most of our guys, he never worked in our shop and he didn’t work as a guide for another outfitter. He started from scratch in 1983. At 6’ 10” he can pretty much wade wherever he wants. Tom can be an imposing figure when he shows up with his cowboy hat and boots but he is a patsy. Over the years Tom’s light-hearted sense of humor has helped keep the rest of us from taking life too serious.

Smitty holds his boat on the Madison in the early 1990s

In the early 1970s I worked as a survey crew chief for the forest service. I frequently stopped in Will Godfrey’s shop to find out what was happening. Behind the counter stood a young teenage boy named Mark Smith, otherwise known as Smitty. He always gave us the right scoop. After he grew big enough to see over the bow of a drift boat he started guiding for Will Godfrey. He also spent a few years guiding in Alaska before he finally planted his feet at Henry’s Fork Anglers in 1990. Today Smitty is not only a fine fishing guide but also an accomplished artist. He specializes in a fish rubbing technique known as Gyotaku which you can view on his website.

Dom Traverso helping his client land a fish on the Harriman Ranch near Osborne Bridge

The oldest guy on our staff is Dom Traverso. Dom is actually even older than me. Yet he might be in the best physical condition of any of us because he works at it. Most mornings you’ll see him running on the back roads of Island Park before his trip. After his trip he’ll probably be tying flies. I’ve never met another man in my life who loves trout, the places they live, the art of fly fishing, and creating neat bugs more than Dom. A retired school teacher, Dom continues to work with young people as a baseball coach in Northern California. Dom started his guiding career working with a great friend of mine, the late Tom Webb before he came to Henry’s Fork Anglers.

It’s impossible to say enough about these five special men in a short one page magazine article. Yet I’m so pleased that the Drake has provided them with some well deserved recognition. Not a single one of them has ever contributed a magazine article, written a fly fishing book or presented a slide show for a fly fishing club. Yet they have guided many of the top fly fishing writers of our generation, taught CEOs of some of the largest corporations, and rubbed shoulders with movie stars, professional athletes, and other celebrities. I consider each one of them individually as a consummate fly fishing guide.

Henry's Fork Anglers fly shop in 1977. The sign came from across the street at the A-Bar

What an opportunity for the younger guys on our staff to have such mentors! Today the guide staff at Henry’s Fork Anglers is the best in the business. The result is the legacy that has been built on199 years of combined guiding experience that six of us share. At Henry's Fork Anglers our motto is "A Rich History, Continued Excellence." How could it be anthing else?