As the year closes to an end it is time to reflect back on the past year before we turn to focus on the upcoming season. In many ways it was the best fishing year I can remember in a long time. As is often the case, things didn’t always go as expected. Our optimism was high from the start. Storage water carryover in the reservoirs was above normal. The result was an optimum flow of more than 500 cfs from the Island Park Dam for the second straight year. Research has confirmed that such flows provide better survival of juvenile trout through the Box Canyon and Ranch. Logic also dictates that larger trout are better sustained through the cold winter months with higher flows.
Our snowpack was pretty slim throughout the early part of the winter. Then the clouds came in and it snowed and snowed some more resulting in a record for the month of February. The snowpack is not always an indicator of what to expect in the spring and early summer. Several past years had above normal snowpack only to lose it with above normal temperatures later in the spring. That didn’t happen in 2019. The weather remained cool well into May.
Henry's Fork Salmonflies
The most anticipated fishing early in the season is the salmonfly hatch on the Henry’s Fork. We like high water. Larger trout hold on the banks when the water is high and off-color. Earlier in the spring more water than normal was released from the Island Park Dam to make room for the anticipated runoff from our above normal snowpack. Over the years I’ve prided myself in my ability to predict the salmonfly hatch. This year I got snookered. Cool weather brought on lower flows with clear water. The result was an early, fast moving hatch. Couple that with every drift boat sold over the past decade in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho all converging on the Henry’s Fork, the trout made for cover. It was over and done almost before it started. We still found some great fishing and landed some beautiful trout but we had to get out of the boat and wade.
Drakes in June
Our cool, late spring produced unanticipated benefits for the months to come. The Henry’s Fork was in great shape for the opening of the Harriman Ranch on June 15th. Good hatches of caddisflies, March Browns, BWOs and PMDs were well under way. The Green Drakes were right on schedule, peaking after the 20th of June. From St Anthony upstream to the confluence with Warm River and on up from Pinehaven to the mouth of Box Canyon, the big drakes brought some of the best dry fly fishing we’ve seen in a number of years. Anglers who didn’t mind staying out until dark also enjoyed some great dry fly fishing with Brown Drakes above Pinehaven and up through the Ranch.
Our biggest disappointment in June was the Gray Drake hatch on the lower Henry’s Fork didn’t really materialize. The impact of our spring weather likely had a negative affect on this great hatch as the best hatches usually occur with high water in late May and early June.
We hated to see June come to an end but just as the great hatches on the Henry’s Fork began to wane, they powered up on the Madison River, Teton and the South Fork of the Snake. The salmonfly hatch was epic on the Madison as well as the South Fork. It always amazes me how good the fishing on Madison is in spite of an almost endless procession of drift boats. The same is true for the South Fork but it is a big river. Even if the large parking lots are full you can almost always find ways to lose yourself in the vast array of channels. Several of our guides opted to stay close to home on the Henry’s Fork. They had fantastic fishing after the crowds moved on to chase the salmonfly hatch on the other rivers. In an effort to abbreviate this report all I can say is dry fly fishing was awesome throughout our coverage area during the month of July.
August Hopper Bite
The game changed in August from aquatic to terrestrial insects. This doesn’t mean we don’t get some good hatches in August. In fact my favorite month to fish the Ranch as well as the upper Teton River is August but it’s a game of finesse with 6X tippet and small flies. It’s hard to focus on the delicacy game when there are hoppers flying and you can get by with 3X and a size 8 dry fly. During hopper time it was hard to decide whether to fish the Henry’s Fork, Madison, Teton or the South Fork. All produced great hopper fishing well into September.
My only complaint about September was the rains and wind came back. We had to work around the weather. On good days there were great hatches of Mahogany Duns and Baetis mixed in with a few caddisflies and terrestrials. On the cool windy days we switched to streamers and nymphs. I usually only fish nymphs blindly as a last resort. I didn’t do much of it but when I did it was very productive. Our clients caught lots of nice trout using nymphs in September and October.
Late Season Streamers
The streamer fishing was fantastic, especially in October. I had good days on the lower Henry’s Fork near my home below St Anthony. There aren’t as many trout per mile in this section as most other areas but there are some very big browns. My wife Sheralee fought one for 10 minutes before it broke 3X. Streamer fishing was also great on the South Fork, Madison and Lower Teton Rivers. Todd Lanning loves to swing flies up on the Madison in the Park. He had some good days there as well.
To sum it up, it was a great year. We can look forward to 2020 with great anticipation. So far it is shaping up a lot like the past season. Right now our snowpack is down but the out flow from the Island Park Dam is again above 500 cfs for the third winter in a row, something we haven’t seen since 1997 – 1999.
We want to wish all of our friends, customers and employees a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.