It is interesting to look back on our previous forecasts. Todd Lanning’s blog “Looking Ahead” in late January had a very positive outlook for the Henry’s Fork. By the middle of March we had a better read on our snowpack and winter conditions. My blog “Moving Forward” followed up with additional thoughts on what to expect for 2017 in comparison with our 2016 season.
We're On Track with the Henry's Fork
Even though our snowpack was considerably above normal, we started losing it fast with above normal temperatures in March. The pendulum swung back in late April and May with additional moisture and cool temperatures. Our calls for the Salmonfly hatch on May 20th and the Green Drake hatch June 20th were spot on. The Henry’s Fork isn’t as difficult to understand as some of the other rivers in our area because in addition to the snowpack natural flow from the springs that feed the river aren’t as variable. Currently the Henry’s Fork below Island Park is below normal for this time of year. The reservoir is full with the outflow matching inflow. It would likely take 3 or 4 years of above normal snowpack to for the natural flow to get back to the historical average. We’ve actually heard people complaining about low water compared to last year when the outflow was already very high to meet irrigation demand. Depending on weather and irrigation demands, we don’t expect the flow from the Island Park Dam to increase for another week. After that we also don’t anticipate the releases from the Island Park Dam to reach the high flows of 2016.
One thing I’ve grown to appreciate about our location is the diversity it offers. From our shop at Last Chance there are at least 10 major trout streams and several lakes, including the Henry’s Fork, Madison River, Gallatin River, Firehole River, Yellowstone River, Teton River, Fall River, and the South Fork of the Snake within 80 driving miles. Last year Chris Lawson wrote a blog entitled “Season 2016 Exceeded Expectations.” The 2016 season was one of the toughest we’ve experienced on the Henry’s Fork in 40 years in the business. We were soundly criticized by some of our competitors for making the fishing sound better than it actually was. Our meetings in the spring of 2016 with staff from the Henry’s Fork Foundation indicated that 2016 would likely be very tough. We believed the data and prepared for the worst. In the end, it turned out better than expected.
2016 Was Better Than Expected
Henry’s Fork Anglers is one of only two outfitters legally licensed for the Henry’s Fork, Madison, Yellowstone Park, South Fork and Teton Rivers. When the fishing turned down on the Henry’s Fork in mid-June it picked up on the Madison. The Teton River fished well throughout the summer from mid-June through the end of the season. The fishing on the South Fork of the Snake was also excellent throughout the season. We were also pleasantly surprised at the great fishing in Yellowstone Park, especially the Yellowstone River. All in all, 2016 was pretty good. That’s why it is important to realize that Henry’s Fork Anglers is not a one river shop. We are a regional business located in the center of the best trout fishing in the west. We continually stay up to date on what’s going on for all of our waters within our service area.
Now it’s time to make some more prognostications. What can we expect for the next two months or so? Stream flows are the key. I always check the historical stream flow averages. The average flow from Island Park Dam normally ramps up to about 1300 cfs in mid-July and starts dropping down about the second week of August. There is no reason to expect the flows to be different this year. If anything the flow from Island Park might be less than the normal average. Fishing might slow a bit over the next week or 10 days due to exceptionally warm weather but overall I expect good fishing in the Box Canyon, Ranch and Warm River to Ashton in the weeks to come. Our hatches should stay on track with Flavs, PMDs, Callibaetis, Tricos, and Honey Ants throughout the period.
The Madison has been fishing great and it should stay that way for several more weeks. Last year the fishing dropped off in August and early September resulting from the flow coming from the top layer of the reservoir. Work on the dam has not been completed. This year should be similar to last year. It is my understanding that when everything is done the flow should come from the bottom layer of the reservoir which will produce better fishing during the heat of the summer.
Chris and I floated the Lower Teton River yesterday. The water was a lot higher than normal but clear enough to fish. We didn’t get much on dry flies but the streamer and nymph fishing was good. We had a couple of hairy rides through some whitewater at a couple of diversions. The Upper Teton in the Basin is also very high for this time of year. It has cleared but it still has to drop in order to get under the bridges. Normal flow for this date is 761 cfs with the current flow at 1530 cfs. Our current weather forecast for the next 10 days calls for little precipitation with above normal temperatures. The Teton should continue to drop over the period. When everything comes together we expect a banner year on the Teton River.
What About the South Fork?
The South Fork of the Snake is also flowing very high. The current flow is over 18,000 cfs with a normal flow of 13,000 cfs for this date. When we factor in the weather and snowpack, we expect the South Fork to continue to flow above normal for the next several weeks. However, we expect the river to continue to clear and the fishing will definitely improve. We’ve run a couple of guide trips and our clients caught fish but they had to use nymphs. Higher flows will put more water in the side channels, more trout on the banks, and more water over the gravel bars. The hatches are late but they will come. The Salmonflies and Golden Stones might be very sporadic. Over the next few weeks we expect good hatches of Green Drakes, PMDs, Yellow Sallies and caddisflies. We anticipate great fishing on the South Fork throughout July, August and September.
We Expect Great Fishing on the Yellowstone River
The low snowpack of 2016 resulted in tough fishing conditions on some of the smaller streams in Yellowstone Park. So far this year has been a complete turnaround. Rivers like the Upper Gallatin, Lamar, Slough Creek and the Gibbon have been producing very good fishing. Slough Creek and the Lamar should be great over the next three months. The hatches will be a little later this year on the big water like the Yellowstone. Last year opening day produced great hatches of Salmonflies, Golden Stones and caddisflies. Anglers could wade areas seldom accessible on normal years. The Yellowstone is currently higher than we’ve seen in years. Fishing should be good for the July 15th opener but wading will be difficult. We hope anglers will exercise extreme caution while trying to negotiate this big river.
2017 Has Been a Godsend
So far 2017 has been a Godsend for our drought starved waters. I think the best fishing of the year is still ahead of us. All of this water will also bode well for the trout as we move into the winter. We’ll recalculate again about the first of September. It’s always fun to check out how our predictions stack up against what really happens.