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Teton River is Now Part of the Henry’s Fork Anglers’ Operating Area

Aug 1, 2014 | Mike Lawson

I grew up in Sugar City, Idaho. The North Fork of the Teton River was only a mile up the tracks from the railroad depot where I lived. The South Fork of the Teton was only two miles away. Because it was close I fished the Teton more than any other water. It was at least a 5 mile bike ride to the nearest water on the Henry’s Fork. It was a great place to grow up with such amazing fishing close by. Today my mother and father are buried in the Sugar City Cemetery overlooking the South Fork of the Teton River.

Mike Lawson, Age 12, Bringing Home Dinner at the Railroad Depot in Sugar City

I fished the Henry’s Fork whenever my dad took me or when I hitched a ride with the telegraph maintenance man on his two-seat motor car on his way to West Yellowstone. After I was old enough to drive I ventured further east to hike down into the Teton River Canyon or up into the Teton Basin to fish the flat water west of Driggs. The Teton Narrows was another great spot I hiked down with a couple of my fishing buddies. I also fished several of the tributaries of the Teton including Bitch Creek and Badger Creek. After I was in college I spent my summers in Island Park working for the forest service and later guiding on the Henry’s Fork and Madison so I didn’t get much time on the Teton.

After I got married I had a chance to float the upper river a couple of times with Laron Kunz, who once guided for his father, the great Teton River outfitter, Alma Kunz. I learned a lot about the hatches and the intricacies of this section of the river that has many similarities to the Ranch section of the Henry’s Fork.

Teton Dam Disaster, June 5, 1976

On June 5, 1976 I was fishing on the Firehole with my brother Rick when I got the news that the Teton Dam had broken and a great wall of water was raging toward my home in St. Anthony. It wasn’t until we reached Ashton that we learned that the flood had missed St. Anthony but the towns of Sugar City, Rexburg and the outlying areas were inundated with water. My mother had moved away from Sugar City but virtually all of my friends and neighbors that I had grown up with lost their homes and everything in them. The water even flooded my grandfather who lived in Roberts on the Snake River 30 miles downstream.

Magesty on the Upper Teton

Later that fall we incorporated Henry’s Fork Anglers when we purchased an existing business that had an outfitter’s license on the Henry’s Fork. At the time the outfitter also offered to include his operating area on the Teton River for an additional cost. I declined because I did not believe during my lifetime the Teton River would ever recover from the devastation of the flood. A year or so later another outfitter offered to sell us his Teton River operation at a very reasonable price but again I declined. In the years since I have lived to regret those decisions. Not only has the fishing on the Teton recovered from the days following the flood but it may be even better today than ever. Part of the reason has been due to the efforts of the Friends of the Teton River organization. Like the Henry’s Fork Foundation, they have focused on the Teton River watershed to find ways to improve the fishery through collaborative efforts to protect and restore the watershed.

Healthy Cutthroat Trout on the Lower Teton

In Idaho each river is limited by law to a specific number of outfitters. Up until now our legal operating area encompassed the Henry’s Fork, South Fork of the Snake, all of the waters within Yellowstone Park, the Madison River and much of the water in Southwestern Montana, as well as several great lakes including Henry’s Lake, Hebgen Lake and Island Park Reservoir. We’re extremely excited to announce that we have received an amendment to our outfitters license from the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board as well as a special use permit with the Bureau of Land Management to conduct guiding operations on the Teton River.

The Upper Teton is a spring creek in every sense of the word

Like the Henry’s Fork, the Teton offers great diversity of water. The upper section is a large spring creek that meanders quietly through the Teton Basin, once known by mountain men as Pierre’s Hole. Further downstream the river cuts its way into a narrow canyon gorge pocketed with whitewater up to class 5. Deeper into the canyon the river widens and becomes less angry. Access is only possible by dragging rafts down a steep trail to reach the water. Along with great fishing there are some exciting rapids for a whitewater thrill. Further down the river is checked with long deep lake-like cuts that were gouged out of the bowels of the reservoir when the dam broke in 1976. To see the site of the Teton Dam is an historical experience within itself. Below the canyon the river flattens out until it eventually becomes more like a large irrigation ditch than a river. Yet it still holds nice fish on a consistent basis. Unlike most rivers the north and south forks branch away from the main stem. Both forks offer some distinctive fishing options until they reach their confluence with the Henry’s Fork.

Shooting the rapids in the Teton Canyon

Both the upper river and the canyon are literally loaded with trout of all sizes. Further down the population decreases significantly but there are some serious lunkers to be found. The Teton is one of the premier cutthroat fisheries in the world. These native trout are found throughout the entire 80 miles of the Teton. Rainbows are also found throughout the system with Brook Trout in the Upper River and brown trout in the lower water.

Chris Lawson with a speckled Cutthroat

The main objective for acquiring a business on the Teton River is to provide more fishing opportunity for our customers during the warm summer months. Of course the summer is not the only time the river fishes well but it holds up better than some of the lower sections of the Henry’s Fork when the water warms up. This provides an important fishing option in addition to the South Fork of the Snake, the Madison, Yellowstone, and the upper reaches of the Henry’s Fork including the Ranch and the Box Canyon as well as our lakes.
I have been busy learning and relearning the fishing on the Teton while training our guide staff. By now most of the guides have received the training necessary to run trips on this great resource. There is a lot more to consider and I’ll personally be focusing as much effort as possible on the Teton for the remainder of the season. It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.