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Fall on the Henry’s Fork

Fall in the Rocky Mountain West arrives early, especially at elevations above 5,000 feet. So it was no surprise to find aspens along the banks of the Henry’s Fork in southern Idaho ablaze with yellow when we arrived in Island Park. It was mid-September. First stop: Henry’s Fork Angler’s to purchase licenses and glean information from the proprietors. We learned that hatches were sparse, with the exception of some mahogany duns and morning tricos.

Trico’s are diminutive mayflies of the genus Tricorythodes, found across America. Despite their small size, Trico’s are eagerly awaited by anglers, as they hatch in large numbers from late summer to early fall, providing excellent fishing.

Immediately across from Henry’s Fork Anglers, there is parking area with an observation deck. It looks over the river and was our next stop. Mist was rising as we accessed the platform to check for rising trout. Looking upstream, I was surprised at the physical characteristics of the river. The Henry’s Fork, in this reach, is about 150 feet wide, a meandering meadow stream with little definition. There are no riffles, just a sweep of long, flat pools. It reminds one of the Test in England’s West country, just much wider.

A variety of rooted aquatic vegetation waved gently in the current, rising almost to the surface. Back at the car, we donned waders, strung rods and headed to the river. I decided to move upstream. About 100 feet from the platform, I saw fish rising mid-stream, taking dark mayflies. I attached a Rusty Spinner to my 5X, waded in a above the fish and began casting. The closest fish took on the second drift. I was fast to my first Henry’s Fork rainbow!

Sadly, the fight didn’t last. As soon as the trout felt the hook, it dove into the weeds. I had to wade in and physically remove it from the elodea (some of the aquatic vegetation) before release. Auspicious beginnings!

Next morning we motored downstream from Island Park to fish a section of the Henry’s Fork known as Osborn Spring. We bumped along a rutted two-track before parking. After suiting up, we crossed a fence to reach the river. I went upstream and found several rainbows rising tight to the bank, feeding on tiny mayflies, which upon later inspection turned out to be Trico duns. I pondered this situation for a few minutes, realizing that there was no way to cast to these trout from the bank, deciding instead to move several feet upstream, wade out and fish down to them. When in position, I chose the closest trout, which was rising about 30 feet downstream. That fish was taking almost every fly that entered its feed lane. I figured two, maybe three casts, and that fish would spook.

The first cast floated in range; no take. On the third cast, a nose appeared, the fly disappeared, and the fish was on. Realizing that it would immediately head for the weeds, I quickly waded ashore and snubbed the trout near the bank. Due to the shallow water, what fight there was didn’t last long, and very quickly a fat, 20-inch rainbow was netted.

Looking back, I’m beginning to understand how lucky I was to rise and land that trout. Due to its location and the fact it was feeding in very shallow water, the situation was difficult; casts had to be perfect. There would be few second chances. Yet somehow, based on my technique and skill, I was able to succeed, a feat treasured to this day. It was my finest few minutes as a fly fisherman; all on a fine fall day on the Henry’s Fork.  


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