“When is the best time to fish the Henry’s Fork?” This question ranks at the top of all of the questions I’ve fielded in the nearly 40 years I’ve been in the fly fishing business. This question, lacking in specifics, is normally answered with a general generic response. Something like, “whenever you have to time, we can find good fishing.” That’s an easy answer to stand behind given the fact that the Henry’s Fork is like 5 different rivers in one and other great waters like the Teton, South Fork, Madison, Firehole and other waters with storied names are only a short distance away. There will always be good fishing, no matter what time of year in Henry’s Fork Country.
To be more specific, the best time to fish the Henry’s Fork and surrounding waters is likely the period from the 1st part of March through early May, prior to the spring runoff. One reason it is such a great time to fish is because very few people do it. “We’re planning to come up and fish the end of March or early April. What will the fishing be like?” “Can I reserve a guide to fish a couple of days in April?” These questions are rare compared to similar questions relating to June and early July.
There is a strong reason our guide rates are highest from June 15 – July 15. It’s because we’re normally 70% booked a year in advance for that time of year. From this one might assume that the peak season offers the best fishing. Absolutely Not True! Yet it is the time of year where you’ll have lots of company on the water whether wade- fishing or float-fishing, no matter what section of the Fork you fish. One reason is because most other rivers are high and off-color due to snow runoff until late June or early July while the Henry’s Fork runs low and clear.
There is also a good reason our guide rates are the lowest from November 1st through May 14th. Now the last thing I’d recommend is to take your Christmas vacation to fish the Henry’s Fork. Yet I know a few anglers who do just that. They dress for the occasion and they almost always catch fish. I’m not one who likes to break ice out of my guides. However by the first part of March the daytime temps are rarely below freezing.
Here’s a brief summary on what goes on between March 1st and May 14th in Henry’s Fork Country. March brings warmer water temperatures which activates the trout, especially rainbows who are getting hot to trot for their annual spawning activities. Browns love rainbow caviar and they know how to get it – hang out with the rainbows! Warmer water also brings out the bugs. Midge activity intensifies in March, Baetis mayflies start showing up later on, good caddisfly action cranks up in April and March Brown mayflies start showing up in late April and early May. These hatches rival any of the great hatches common in June.
Along with bugs our trout really like to eat large quantities of heavy food like minnows and leeches. I don’t know a lot about leeches except that trout really like them. Normally they live under rocks but in the spring they seem to be everywhere, even attached to the trout. Rather than pattern specific, I just use a Wooly Bugger to cover all of these bases. If you can’t get them on dries or streamers, you can always slap on an indicator and a nymph or a glow bug. (I really didn’t mean to offend by naming an egg pattern but…..San Juan Worms also work.)
The next question is where to fish. Everywhere is not only good but a few notches better than good but there are a few places you can’t legally fish. The Madison River is closed from Quake Lake downstream to McAtee Bridge until the third Saturday in May. However, the section between Hebgen and Quake Lakes can be dynamite. You can’t fish the Ranch section of the Henry’s Fork which doesn’t open until June 15th. The Henry’s Fork is also closed from the South boundary of the Ranch to Riverside Campground. The stretch of the Henry’s Fork from the Ashton Dam downstream to the Vernon Bridge is also closed until Memorial Day weekend but this outdated regulation is likely to change soon. More on that in a future blog.
Other than that you can pretty much fish wherever you want and, like I said, everywhere is good. I’ll likely spend most of my time close to home in St. Anthony. I can’t see any reason to drive by fish to find fish but on occassion I like to venture out for a short road trip. I definitely plan to fish the Teton River. We didn’t have a legal permit to guide on this great river until late last summer and in recent years I’ve rarely fished this wonderful river. I want to get reacquainted. I grew up on the Teton River. I also expect to visit the South Fork because the water is low enough to wade almost anywhere. If I have a chance to get up to our shop I hope to spend a few extra hours at Last Chance because I know I can find rising fish. I might even head up to the Box to drift a few nymphs or swing a streamer. Better yet there is great water above Mack’s Inn.
Now, where to stay? If I were from out of town and wanted the perfect spot for my base of operations, I would stay at the Henry’s Fork Ranch. This quaint little cabin, owned by my friend Bill Fuchs, is just a mile or so upstream from the Chester Dam located quietly right on the river. The location couldn’t be better for quality fishing and the view over the Henry’s Fork can’t be beat. If you want to stay there in the busy summer months, good luck. It is usually booked solid up to a year in advance but this time of year the odds are good that it will be available.
If you can’t make it this spring, I’ll see you this summer but it looks like a very busy summer.