We certainly headed into our 2016 season with some uncertainties. First off, we lost our runoff. We had normal winter precipitation through early February, maybe even a little above normal. In the middle of February, things warmed up and never cooled back off. With a couple of other back to back mild and low precipitation winters, the water we had just went into the ground. Not only was this disturbing to the angling community, it was also very concerning to the irrigators as there is only so much water to go around. I hate to say it, but the fish in the river are put on the bench as compared to the agriculture in this area. With a big thanks to the Henry’s Fork Foundation and the hard work over the years in building a good working relationship with the irrigators, we as an angling community at least have a seat at the table with the irrigators in major water resource decisions. With the low amount of water heading into 2016 we are a bit anxious but we’re off to a pretty good start for precipitation.
Our early season fished very well, with the best fishing on the Henry’s Fork from early May to the middle of June. We saw some fantastic stonefly, caddis, PMD, and drake hatches. The lower Henry’s Fork fished fantastic from the Ashton Dam to far downstream of St. Anthony. Plenty of fish to go around. As things got hot in the middle of June coupled with the increase in irrigation demand we had a tough Ranch opener. It was just plain tough, no other way to put it. Was all lost….? Well, for a couple of weeks, maybe.
Normally, the irrigation demand is at its peak in August, but this year the peak was in early July. The flows coming out of the Island Park dam were pushing 1600 cfs. We just didn’t get any rain to offset irrigation demand. Did this effect the fishing? Of course it did, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Due to the dry summer, we had grasshoppers everywhere. I can’t remember another year that had as many hoppers. In the middle of July with very high flows, the big fish slid into the banks and gorged on hoppers. We saw this not only in the Ranch, but also all the way down the whole river. Normally, the fishing below the Ashton dam is done from the middle of July through the middle of September. Not this year! I remember in early August Mark (Smitty) Smith coming back off a guide trip on the lower Henry’s Fork with a huge smile on his face. “There were hoppers everywhere!! Those big browns were sipping them like drakes! We hammered them!!” The terrestrial fishing held the Henry’s Fork together clear through September when we started getting moisture, cloudy days, cooler weather and low water conditions. I spent several lunch breaks watching Todd Lanning nail fish in the Last Chance area with fantastic Mahogany Dun and Beatis hatches. Could things been better on the Henry’s Fork in 2016?? Absolutely! Was it as bad as everyone kept hearing?? Absolutely not! Do we need to pray for a big winter?? Absolutely! We are concerned with the back to back drought years, as the winter flows do affect fish growth and population. All I can say, is this year was not that bad as it could have been.
Even when things were tough, luckily we had other options. I can’t tell you how much I love the South Fork. When you have to work for the fish on the Henry’s Fork, the South Fork was like a breath of fresh air. Some of the best dry fly fishing I ever remember was this summer on the South Fork. Indeed, I don’t think the stoneflies were as good over there this year, but the mayflies were fantastic. Who doesn’t like standing in cold ankle deep riffles casting to big rising brown trout on a hot summer day? Enough said!
With a new permit to fish the Teton River, I can’t say enough about this great river. I cannot believe the size of the fish in this river. I guided on a lower section of the Teton in late June this year, and we landed at least 10 fat trout over 20” and some of these were well over 20”. I was getting pretty cocky talking about these huge fish until I started hearing about all the other huge fish caught down there. I had to race home from work just to beat our shop boys Scott Kennedy and Sean McKay to the best banks. These were some of best dry fly hatches I’ve seen in years. There were a couple of weeks where those big fish would pod up and feed on caddis, sallies, PMD spinners, and grey drake spinners. Not only was the lower Teton great from early to mid-summer, but the upper Teton was a treat. This fishery stayed good and consistent all summer. The upper Teton is very similar to the Ranch. With very wary and selective trout! Lots of large trout also, in fact we never landed any 24” fish, but we sure tried to. As September rolled around the fall drakes were a hoot! Our guides are still fighting over a couple of stretches in the basin. We saw numerous large grins from happy clients walking in the shop after an action packed day. We are so thankful to have this great option to offer our clients.
Our lake fishing was spotty this year. We saw some outstanding days and some skunk days. Henry’s Lake was tough all summer until now. It was just like a switch on September 20th and the bent rods appeared. We also saw some great fishing on the Island Park reservoir. This fishing was pretty short lived because the lake was being drawn down so fast. I would say we had about a week when it was on fire. The best fishing was in early August. Hebgen Lake was very good early in the season. We had some great gulper fishing starting in late June through July. Once August rolled around, Hebgen was low, warm, and tough. We also have a permit to guide on Sheridan Lake and creek. This water is private, so clients pay an additional $100 per rod to fish here. Is the fishing good here!? All I can say, is the guides refer to it as Disneyland!
In a nutshell, this season turned out far better than expected. We are so fortunate to have so many different options to offer clients. Even when one river is not fishing the greatest, we can almost always find one that is. We had plenty of ups and downs, but we saw the majority of ups. We need a big winter. Let’s all do some praying or rain dances. The clouds need to open and dump on us all winter in order to get where we need to be for 2017.