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Looking to the New Year

Jan 4, 2019 | Mike Lawson Great_Brown.jpg

Here we are in 2019. Amazing. It’s too early to give a solid prediction of what fishing conditions will be like for the upcoming season. The level of our snowpack, weather conditions and timing of our runoff all have great influence on all of our rivers. In other words, we have all the data we need to predict that we will have great fishing but as it stands now, we just don’t know when.

For example in January 2017 our snowpack was below normal, not unlike it is this year. We had some big storms in April and May bringing it up well above average but our runoff started early due to above normal temperatures. We had a pretty good salmonfly hatch but the much anticipated Gray Drake hatch was dismal. Last year conditions were about the same in January. We had cool, wet weather from mid-February through mid-April which pushed our water supply to well above average. The result was high stream flows through the Upper Henry’s Fork including the Harriman Ranch. It didn’t help the fishing because the high flows moved lots of sediment that had accumulated over the years. This brought turbid water. Not good for the short term but great in the long term. On the Lower Henry’s Fork the water stayed high which created near perfect conditions for a spectacular Gray Drake hatch. We haven’t seen a Gray Drake hatch like that since 2011.


Current weather conditions also have great influence on our fishing. For example if we have prolonged hot, dry conditions without any cloud cover our hatches won’t be as strong as they would be if we have cool, cloudy weather. That was the case for a good part of last summer. Weather is the biggest factor in all of it.

For the past dozen years some of my amigos and I have been fishing the Louisiana marshes in the Mississippi Delta for big, bull redfish. When we had clear, calm weather we fought these big fish until our arms ached. I was lucky I couldn’t make the trip this year. The weather was windy and cloudy. More importantly the wind came from the wrong direction pushing more water up into the marsh. Visibility was almost impossible and there were few fish caught. Last year Sheralee and I arrived in New Zealand to prolonged hot, dry weather. The streams were super low. We caught some nice fish but we had to quit early in the afternoon.

We’ll give a more reliable fishing prediction in April when we have more to go on. Right now it is best to focus on what we know now. Trout populations are at or above objectives set by state fisheries managers on all of the rivers we fish. For example in 2018 the population of trout in Box Canyon was 2800 fish per mile. The population on one section of the Upper Teton River was over 3500 trout per mile. There is no reason to believe that these numbers won’t stay the same or actually improve.


The current winter flow at the Island Park Dam is 526 cfs compared to an average of 304 cfs. The year before flow through the Box Canyon was comparable to this year. Two years ago on this date the flow was a paltry 160 cfs. As I mentioned the early flush last season moved lots of sediment. Aquatic insects thrive in clean gravel while they don’t do well with sediment. Initially the flush may have had a negative effect on the bug numbers but it bodes well over the long haul.

As I look to the upcoming year with anticipation there are some things related to my personal fishing I hope to achieve. Resolutions might be too strong of a word. Intentions is more fitting. First off, I hope to spend more time on the water with my wife, Sheralee. Like most everything else I do, she is my favorite person to do it with. Somehow the craziness of the business always seems to get in the way. This past season we only got out together a couple of times. It would also help if she knew how to row. I know she could learn. Maybe I can find somebody who can teach her.


I hope I can get more time to fish with my children Shaun, Jeanette and Chris. Also my two grandsons Beau and Tanner. A couple of my granddaughters are also getting to the age where I could take them fishing. I hope I can make that happen. Over the years I’ve fished with my brother Rick as much as anybody. Hopefully we can spend even more time fishing together this year.

I have several very close personal friends that I didn’t fish with once last season. That is unforgiveable and I vow to not let that happen again. One thing I have been able to do the past couple of year is to fish more with our guides. I consider all of them close personal friends. It’s hard to get time with them but I want to keep making it happen. One guide who I hope to spend a lot of time with is Dom Traverso. For those of you who don’t know, after working with me for over 30 years, Dom retired. Now he’ll have plenty of time to fish and I plan to spend as much time as I can with him.

I hope I can fish the Ranch more often. I don’t fish it from opening day on June 15th until July 15th. My reasons are 1) So many anglers come here to fish during that period that I don’t think they need me competing with them. I have all year to fish here. 2) The fish in the Ranch get so much pressure early on that I don’t think they need me adding to the pressure. I love to fish the Ranch later in the season when most of the crowds have moved on. I hope to do more of it this summer.

I also haven’t fished the Madison much in the past few years because it is also very crowded. Things usually taper off in August. I hope to get over there more this year. It is a great river and I’ve missed fishing it. I began my career guiding on the Madison in 1974.


I haven’t fished the Yellowstone River in the park for two years. Hopefully I can get back there this year. Even though it can be crowded for the first week or so after it opens on July 15th, the fishing can be spectacular and the fish are big. I taped a beautiful cutthroat at 24 inches the last time I was there.

One reason I haven’t fished as many places as I’d like is because I have great fishing right behind my house. We have some beautiful property on the lower Henry’s Fork above St Anthony. Some of you have fished it with our guides. There is ¾ mile of river frontage with lots of channels that snake between more than a dozen islands. The access here is all private for both wading and floating. The fishing is terrific. Our home and this wonderful property is currently for sale. It is listed with Fay Ranches.

The reason we are selling this is because we have purchased a smaller piece of property on the Henry’s fork below St. Anthony. I’ve fished the water on our new property for many years but only by floating through. This year I plan to spend a lot more time learning this new water.


I plan to tie more flies this year. It is amazing to look back and realize that I got my start in the fly fishing business as a commercial fly tier. Now everything else seems to get in the way and I end up buying most of my flies. I’ve already got a good start. I have several dozen PMD and Flav Nohackles ready for the summer.

As I look to the New Year I can see that the only way I can fish as much as I hope is to work less. I love working at the shop, socializing with the customers and clients and connecting with our guides. The only way I’ll be able to make it happen is to show up for work early and leave early so I can fish. Chris, Todd and our shop guys can get it done without me hanging around. If you show up in the shop and I’m not there, I’ll likely be fishing.

Happy New Year!