Henry’s Fork

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About a month ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit with some of TU’s most important donors at the Henry’s Fork Lodge in Idaho. Ah, the famed Henry’s Fork. The stuff of fly fishing dreams, and nightmares if you’re a nube on Harriman’s Ranch. Our trip, brilliant calculated, ran just a week or so before the Harriman State Park opened and so thankfully we were spared the hordes of anglers who regularly make the pilgrimage to the state park’s opening. I was fortunate enough to float the box canyon stretch of the north fork of the Snake River twice, once with the famed Mike Lawson’s Henry’s Fork Anglers, and again with the young upstarts from TroutHunter.

Two great floats, two very different trips. The first float with a Lawson’s guide name Smitty was on a bluebird day requiring going deep with a two nymph rig, small flies and carefully fishing the slots. The second float was a race against a big front that produced fewer fish but more drama.  And later on my trip I hiked into a lower stretch of the Henry’s Fork below Mesa Falls for a long and grueling afternoon of hike/fish/hike action.The hike was worth it (even the sprained ankle) to get the sense of isolation and beautiful wild rainbows.

Perhaps the best part about the trip, was the chance to fish mammoth dry flies as the famed salmonfly hatch was slowly progressing up the river. Low flows may have had some of the guides grumbling, but for a relatively new to the West angler, casting size 8 and 10 salmonflies to big willing rainbows was pretty much the pinnacle of my fly fishing career to date.

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The Opener

A lot of anglers like to start the season opener by chasing after the stocking truck. Hit the stream hard, take a way a limit. A lot of folks (folks you’re not likely to see that often) wait a few weeks after the season opener to go fishing when the hullabaloo has died down and the stocked trout have acclimated themselves. And still another group of anglers like to start the season more quietly, chasing wild and native fish far off the beaten path.

These folks are likely to stop in the middle of a good cast because they can feel the warmth of a sunbeam, a feeling almost forgotten, buried beneath the doldrums of a long gray winter. The same folks are also likely to relish in the fact that they no longer are trying to stick the biggest fish, the most fish, even the best fish in the most remote places. They are just happy to be on the water again. They bask in the comfort of the return of yet another season full of promise and hope that this year’s fishing will be better than the last. Maybe they’ll finally take the back country hike to the headwaters they’ve planning for what must be a decade. Maybe they’ll take their nephew (he’s old enough now) to that bend in the river where you know Charlie has been holding out beneath the root ball all winter. Maybe they’ll attend that TU meeting that they’ve back burnered because there will be a presentation on brookies in Maine.

For me, the season opener is a time of hope. And nothing fills your chest with more hope for the season than having a six inch jewel of a brookie dancing on your 6x before the canopy has filled in, but just as the blue quills are coming off.

 

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Mr. Fugly Brown

The water temp was 40 degrees. I was after stockie rainbows I’d helped float-stock two weeks earlier. I knew they’d put some browns in the previous week, but I wasn’t expecting to tangle with Mr. Fugly Brown. He kept his nose down, was pretty sluggish due to the temps and probably because he was new to the whole thing. Not new perhaps to the idea of being fished out of a comfortable hole, but perhaps new to the idea of living free. I hoped that perhaps he was a holdover, and had been in this hole for at least a year or more, but I knew otherwise. Though the little tailwater I fished on had just received some serious love (a repair to create a bottom draw on the reservoir a mile upstream), up until very recently, this brown had spent probably four, maybe five years in a holding tank, probably as brood stock, endlessly swimming in circles. His pectoral and caudal fins were a misshapen mess, nubs or worn down. Though he had a nice kype, he certainly didn’t fight the way a wild trout could.

Patuxent Brown

 

I looked him in the eye, and took a picture. It was bittersweet. No, at first glance he wasn’t a very desirable kind of trophy. This was no bright and shining wild trout with clear-eyes, white-tipped fins, born free. He looked a bit world-weary. But as I held him I wondered…maybe he would live out his last days at least knowing the taste of caddis nymphs or a big juicing hopper instead of trout pellets. Maybe he’d enjoy the ability to wander, and swim down to the reservoir below and back upstream to cool water when the summer doldrums crept in. And maybe he’ll learn to chase sculpin and fall fish, to experience the hunt so long denied him. Maybe he’ll holdover now that the dam was working again. As I snapped one more picture and released him (and I may be reading into this a bit) he seemed to linger at this once-more encounter with man, and then dart away with some pep in his step.

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Putting in Some Time

Ok, I’ve been meaning to find a way to put some time in volunteering in 2014 and found a sweet opportunity to start. The other day I took a “voluteer” day off work (i.e. one of my vacay-days) to help my local TU chapter float stock a nearby river’s trout management area. They dropped the water-level at the dam, the weather was 50 degrees and sunny, and the company was outstanding!

I’ve put a lot of hours on this river so setting up other fly rodders to enjoy the fishing is a nice way to give back. 625 rainbows went in, and a mess of browns are next. If you’re a DC fly rodder, email Jay Sheppard at JMSheppar@AOL.com for time and location if you want to participate in a float stocking this Friday the 20th. Its a great way to meet folk who care about the water and trout as much as you do!

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TU veteran and stream champion Nick Weber after a release at “Nick’s Hole” on the river.

 

Of course it ain’t always about the fishing. The chapter has planted dozens of trees in key areas to stabilize the banks of this river, and recently worked with the MD DNR to conduct repairs on this tailwater’s reservoir dam to enable cold water releases to flow from the bottom of the dam to stabilize temperatures year-round. That’ll be good for the trout, and more holdovers mean more opportunities for anglers.

Too Bad

There is a #12 black winter stonefly hatch going on in Georgetown on the Potomac River right now in DC.

Too bad the ‘Mac has no trout.

Too bad the river is high, swollen and brown so doubt even the Smallies are active.

Too bad I can”t leave work early because I’m betting stones are popping off right now on the Patuxent and Gunpowder!

Potomac Black Stonefly
Potomac Black Stonefly