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Fishing Report

Mar 28, 2013 | Mike Lawson

A lot of stuff has happened since my last fishing report. Mostly I sat in my office with the high temperatures in the upper 30s, wishing I was fishing. In the old days cold weather never slowed me down. Nowadays I draw the line if I have to break ice out of my guides. Looking at the big picture this cold, late spring has been a Godsend. It was snowing on the first day of spring. A month ago the snowpack was slipping well below normal and the water outlook was starting to look grim. As of this date the snowpack in the Henry’s Fork drainage has inched back up to 94% of normal, a gain of about 10 percentage points in the last month. I plan to put up a blog soon with my personal perspective on the 2013 season and I’ll get into this in more detail as it has much to do with the fishing on the Henry’s Fork and surrounding waters.

We had a couple of nice days early on and I fished Warm River, the Henry’s Fork below Warm River and Fall River. I caught fish everywhere but it wasn’t easy fishing. I couldn’t find any dry fly activity. Yesterday the temperature crept back over 50°. Chris called and asked me if I wanted to go fishing. I thought it over for about a half second and we were off. We fished some of our favorite water downstream from the Chester Dam and finished out in St. Anthony. Again, no dry fly fishing but we saw some feeding fish at the Fun Farm.

The hottest pattern was a size 10 leech pattern that Chris tied. Over the years I’ve noticed that in early spring there are leeches on most of the trout. They aren’t large and they don’t seem to harm the trout but they are very prolific. A few years ago Chris reasoned that if there are so many leeches finding their way to the trout’s skin, they must also be readily available as a food source for trout. Since our catch rate has gone up using leech patterns. While leeches can swim with an undulating motion, we mostly fish them dead drift with a nymph tandem. Yesterday we hooked some mighty fish. I landed a couple in the twenty inch range. (My 20” range is 4 inches short of 24 inches if you know what I mean.) Most of the trout we caught were 15 to 20 inches, fat, healthy and powerful.

Here’s a brief rundown of the fishing from what we’ve experienced as well as reports from reliable anglers:

Upper Henry’s Fork

There’s still a lot of snow and access is very difficult. If you can get to the water above and below Mack’s Inn you can catch fish. You will likely catch some large fish. Use leeches, beadheads, and egg patterns.

Box Canyon

The water flow from the Island Park Dam is just less than 450 cfs. While it is almost 100 cfs above the normal average, it is still quite low by summer standards and easy to wade (by Box Canyon standards.) Fishing has been good with Rubberlegs, beadheads, leeches and streamers. There is still a lot of snow and access is tough. Not much has changed since Tyler Treece floated the Box a couple of weeks ago on a guide trip. If you didn’t see it, you can check our video of his trip.

Last Chance

Best dry fly fishing has been on cloudy days with midges. You can also catch fish on small nymphs, egg patterns and leeches.

Harriman Park

Closed to fish until June 15.

Middle Henry’s Fork – Pinehaven to Warm River

Much of this water will not be accessible until the snow is gone unless you’re lucky enough to own a home in Pinehaven or have a good friend who does. There have been some good days with midges in this section.

Warm River to Ashton

Fishing has been good with nymphs and streamers. We’ve talked to several anglers who have floated this stretch but their reports are not much different from wading anglers who are spending more time working the water. Some of the best fishing has been at the Stone Bridge near the confluence of Warm River. I stopped there a week or so ago and there were about 10 vehicles in the parking lot. I saw a lot of anglers catching fish on both sides of the river. I didn’t see anybody upstream so I hiked up to the confluence of Warm River. I caught half a dozen trout with beadhead caddis larvae and prince nymphs.

Lower Henry’s Fork – Ashton Dam to St. Anthony

Remember: The river is closed to fishing from the Ashton Dam to Vernon Bridge from December 1 until the Saturday prior to Memorial Day. (May 25) The reason for this closure is to protect spawning Rainbow Trout. The main parking areas at the Vernon Bridge and Henry’s Fork Ranch have been getting a lot of pressure but fishing has been good with nymphs. Snow is finally melting down enough so that you can do some walking to get away from the crowds. It is possible to get a boat in at the Vernon Bridge and take out at the Chester Dam. Chris and I fished downstream from the Chester Dam and found nice fish in most of the runs and riffles.

The work to put in a new boat ramp at the Fun Farm is not complete but you can still get a boat out if you put in at the Chester Dam. The last I checked the north road upstream from the Chester Wetlands Headquarters was not open. You can access the river from the Chester Dam road but you’ll have a steep climb down to the river through the snow. The road is narrow and parking is limited.

Lower Henry’s Fork – St. Anthony to Confluence


Last week our boys floated below St Anthony. They caught a lot of nice browns and produced a fun filled video entitled “Down and Dirty Streamer Fishing”. This week Chris and I parked and walked down the St. Anthony Greenway below St Anthony. I’ve waded rivers all over the world for trout, steelhead and salmon but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered more difficult wading. It’s like a miniature Siegfried Line with heavy current flowing over the top of hundreds of 2 – 4 foot pyramid-shaped lava rocks. Chris was all over the place but I picked my way through the rocky rubble to one of my favorite runs. There I stayed for the next two hours. We mostly hooked browns but I tagged two big rainbows at the top of a fast slot. I landed one, a chrome fat 18 inches. The other one rolled up so I could see his red side before he raced through the run jumping until he threw the hook. All in all it was a fine day.

Henry’s Fork Tributaries

There is good access to lower Warm River near the campground. There is a snow machine parking area near the campground. Warm River is a good option with nymphs and streamers. I fished Warm River a couple of weeks ago and had a nice time. Most of the fish I caught were small but I never saw any other anglers.

I also stopped at Fall River about a mile upstream from Chester. The Fall River Road is still closed with snow further up. It was pretty eerie as I had to pick my way down to the water through a wall of ice that was 8 feet high. Yet it wasn’t hard to walk upstream along the ice bank. I caught a number of strong rainbows with a double nymph rig. Best patterns were a black Rubberlegs and a Prince Nymph.

Madison River

The stretch from Hebgen Dam to Quake Lake is open on a year round basis. Fishing has been good with nymphs and streamers. Look for improvement with milder weather. This section between the lakes can be very good in March and April. Remember, you’ll need a Montana fishing license to fish the Madison

Area Lakes

All of the lakes are frozen. Henry’s Lake is now closed to all fishing until the Saturday prior to Memorial Day. Island Park Reservoir and Hebgen Lake are open year round and are popular for ice fishing. I don’t know much about ice fishing since I’ve never done it and have no intention of trying.

South Fork of the Snake

The worst thing about late March and April is there are so many great places to fish and so little time. It’s hard to drive an hour from the Henry’s Fork when the fishing is so good here. Yet the South Fork is a completely different experience. Anglers who visit in the summer would never believe it is the same river. Typical stream flow in the summer months is about 10,000 cfs. It is currently less than 1000 cfs allowing anglers to wade places they could never go in the summer. Another attraction of the South Fork is that if you want to catch a trout to eat, you can legally kill some rainbows. In fact, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is offering a cash incentive of $50 - $1000 for rainbows. Tags are invisible but you can turn the head in at the regional office in Idaho Falls to see if your rainbow is worth cash. I like to eat fish but I’ve never been very fond of trout. Yet, a nice rainbow caught from cold water in the spring can be delicious.

Yellowstone National Park

Closed to fishing. Will open on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.