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Plenty of Company

Jun 27, 2017 | Mike Lawson Anglers_at_Millionaires.jpg

It has been great to have a normal year on the Henry’s Fork. The releases from the Island Park Dam have been optimal for great fishing from the Box Canyon downstream to the Chester Dam. The current flow of 649 cfs should remain relatively stable until irrigation demand calls for higher flows later in the summer. Last year this occurred almost simultaneously with the opening of the Ranch on June 15. Current forecasts predict this won’t happen until early July unless we get a prolonged period of hot, dry weather. Thankfully the forecast is for near normal conditions through the end of June.

Our two major tributaries, Fall River and the Teton River have been flowing well above normal for this time of year. Fall River has cleared and is fishable and the Salmonfly hatch has moved steadily upstream. If you like the Teton like me, don’t expect it to fish well for at least another week or so. These two rivers have been providing enough natural flow to reduce irrigation demand on the Henry’s Fork. Irrigators won’t need to pay for storage water as long as there is enough natural flow.

The South Fork of the Snake has a similar story. The snowpack in the entire Snake system was well above normal. Water managers are currently trying to juggle the remaining capacities of Jackson Lake and Palisades Reservoirs with the inflows and outflows to reduce the danger of flooding. Most of the Montana rivers are in the same state. The Madison is fishable but running above normal and has shaped up nicely just in time for the Salmonfly hatch.

The Henry’s Fork has basically been the only show in town resulting from less than ideal fishing conditions on our surrounding waters. This coupled with great hatches and some of the best fishing we’ve had in years has resulted in a crowding problem. Our parking lots and boat ramps have been at capacity or above every day since the Memorial Day weekend.

We’ve heard of a few confrontations but by and large, it seems like most anglers have been considerate and courteous. Fly fishing etiquette is not a popular subject but I think it warrants attention, especially at busy times like this. I’ve written about this subject a number of times. I shared some of my thoughts on this in the last chapter of my book, Fly Fishing the Henry’s Fork.



Every popular river has its own set of rules for what is acceptable etiquette. There are a lot of anglers fishing the Ranch and the lower section below the Osborne Bridge. Everyone is looking for rising trout to cast to. For that reason every angler deserves enough space. In my mind, 100 feet is the minimum distance when the river is crowded. On the Ranch most trout are caught within 30 feet. It’s also important to wade carefully. Charging around the river like a buffalo is not acceptable. Many of the trails are close to the river. When you see an anglers fishing near the bank, give them plenty of space. Most anglers value quietude as much as solitude. Sound travels a long distance in the open spaces of the Ranch. It is important to keep the noise down. Even if you hook the fish of a lifetime, yelling and screaming to your fishing buddies is a very bad idea.

Another consideration is if you hook a trout, try to land it in a reasonable amount of time. I’m not a fan of ultra light tippet. I recommend the rule of 3 to determine the proper tippet size. Divide the size of your fly by 3. For example use 6X for size 18, 5X for a size 16. For odd sizes round up to the larger tippet diameter. One of my pet peeves is when anglers let a trout play them instead of the other way around. A hard running trout doesn’t give you the right to chase it through someone else’s fishing area. That’s one reason you need strong tippet. There is nothing stronger for the diameter than Rio’s Powerflex Plus. Use a net in open water like the Ranch. Modern nets have soft netting that does not damage the trout. Whenever possible remove the hook while the trout is in the water with forceps. If you need a photo, try to keep the trout in the water. I’m not against hero pictures if you lift the trout out of the water for a second or two. Wet your hands, get the camera set right, quickly lift the fish and back in the water again. The better photos are those with water dripping from the fish. The best photos are those with the trout still in the water. The worst photos are of trout laying in the grass next to the rod.



Many anglers and especially the non-fishing public often view every drift boat as a fishing guide. It’s quite easy to differentiate a legal fishing guide. First off, in Idaho all guides are employees of an outfitter. There are no independent contractors. There are 7 legal outfitters on the Henry’s Fork including Henry’s Fork Anglers, Trouthunter, Three Rivers Ranch, Firehole Ranch, Big Sky Anglers, Teton Valley Lodge and Worldcast Anglers. All guides who work for these outfitters are required to have the outfitting business identified on their boats with 3 inch letters. These guides also are required to have a small white and red boat sticker with a number if they guide in Montana. Those who guide on the South Fork of the Snake are also required to have a BLM sticker which has a letter/-/number. This year the BLM stickers are pink. A boater is likely not a legal guide if the boat is not marked with the above mentioned identification. Henry’s Fork legal outfitters are also required to have not more than 3 boats in any given section of the river at any one time.

With so many surrounding rivers unfishable there has been a proliferation of illegal guides on the Henry’s Fork. These thieves are not easy to prosecute. They prime their customers beforehand to state that they are just friends if confronted by legal authorities. If you witness illegal activity we encourage you to provide as much information as possible including boat and vehicle description, trailer identification, and location to legal authorities. The contact for the enforcement arm of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board is 208-327-7167 Customers who knowingly employ the services of illegal guides are also subject to prosecution.

Today boats are more prolific than ever. The top drift boat vendors are all within 100 miles of our shop. I know these companies do their best to educate the consumer when they sell a boat but there is no substitute for experience. Responsible boat ownership is far more than knowing how to handle a drift boat. The restrictions on legal guiding have been in place for many years which limits the number of guides. Today, the highest percentage of drift boats are do-it-yourselfers. Their behavior can range from competent oarsmanship to totally out of control.

All boaters including legal guides must follow a responsible code of ethics. When the river is crowded it is important to allow each boat plenty of space. Cutting in front of another boat is a No-No. I like to give another boat at least 100 yards. If that isn’t possible it’s wise to pull over and wait for things to clear. If another boat is stopped and you need to pass, I recommend you row out away with at least 100 foot radius until you pass. The same goes for wading anglers. Stow the rods and oars and drift quietly until you have passed an acceptable distance.

Driving and Parking


This year parking and driving to and from parking areas has been a problem. Some landowners have allowed private parking access with signs describing specific requirements. We’ve received numerous complaints regarding anglers not complying with these rules and we are very concerned that such access may be lost. We’ve also had complaints from homeowners along access roads about excessive speeding. Towing a drift boat on a gravel road makes lots of noise even when driving at low speeds. We encourage boaters to drive slowly and to be considerate of homeowners along the route.


It shouldn’t take much longer until the fishing conditions are better on our surrounding waters. In fact, we’ve received reports of crowding and unethical behavior on the Madison River. There was a report in today’s Idaho Falls newspaper regarding a man who was charged with aggravated assault for pulling a loaded gun on another person over an altercation at a local boat ramp. The most important thing to remember on any water is to simply apply golden rule. Try to treat others with the same consideration, courtesy and respect you would want to be treated. Don’t be the subject of discussion about the knucklehead who behaved like a jerk on the river. There is plenty of opportunity for everybody and fishing has been great.