I would like to start this off with just a little background information. I grew up back east in Michigan and Kentucky and when I was a boy, I read all of my Dad’s Outdoor Life and Field and Stream magazines like most all other kids who have an interest in the outdoors did. I remember reading about all of these great folks fishing the Henry’s Fork and college educated trout that called this river home.
After Britt and I moved here to Idaho, I got her into fly fishing and shortly thereafter she was invited by a group of Women that she met on Facebook to spend a long weekend fishing the Henry’s Fork with them (see prior blog post ). She went and had a great time.
Fast forward to the fall of 2016. We were on our annual trip to the North Fork of the Clearwater and we hatched the plan to make a 2-week trip to the Henry’s Fork the next fall. Britt contacted one of the ladies she met on her previous trip, that had a cabin at Macks Inn. Dates were set to meet and fish with Holly and some friends of hers, that make an annual trip to the cabin in September. Britt also contacted a friend of ours, Rick Welle that winters near Lewiston, and guides for Madison River Outfitters in West Yellowstone during the fishing season. We booked a float trip with him during the time we would be down there.
As everyone knows- half the fun of a trip is in the planning—and planning we did. We went back and forth with Holly and Rick on what we needed to bring, flies to tie, what to expect, etc. We spent all winter tying up flies for the trip in September.
Well, the weather in Idaho in September can be interesting according to Mike Lawson, in his book titled the “Fly-Fishing Guide to the Henry’s Fork” So we knew there was a really good chance the weather might not be great at some point in our trip, but I sure didn’t expect that we would have to take the southern route to get there! The passes in Montana were partly to mostly shitty with a bunch of wet heavy snow the night before we were set to leave. We decided to take the southern route down to Boise and across southern Idaho and back up to Macks Inn. After a 12-hour drive with few stops other than to refill the gas tank and for Britt to take some pictures at the Craters of the Moon, we were backing our camper in at Holly’s cabin in Macks Inn, just as the sun faded.
The next morning, Holly had to get back home and go to work for the week. She had to be back up to the cabin the next weekend when her friends from Texas and Florida would be flying in. So Britt and I got the camper setup completed, while Holly got her things packed up. We went fishing for a few hours at a spot not far from the cabin, before Holly headed out. A few fish were caught–nothing spectacular, but it did not matter — we were here and had 13 more days to fish.
I will not bore you with a blow by blow of everyday that we were there but will give you some of the highlights.
We woke up and dressed out to meet Rick at Madison River Outfitters in West Yellowstone. We stepped out of the camper and we were met with about 5 inches of wet heavy snow and more falling. I should mention here that it was to be a float trip on the Madison River with Rick. When we got to the shop, Rick asked if we were sure we wanted to float today. His clients the day before quit after an hour of fishing and the next day’s clients had already cancelled. After the three of us talked, we decided not to float but to wade fish instead.
The weather did not disappoint! It went in waves- rain, snow, sleet and cold wind with the rare 5 minutes of sunshine for the whole day. I will say we fished hard for about 9 hours and Rick true to his reputation as the “Godfather of the Madison” put us into fish every place we went that day.
We got an afternoon with a bit of wind and overcast to fish the Ranch for the first time. I could not wait to test myself against these PhD educated trout. The blue wing olives were coming off the water like we had never seen before, the wed mats were literally covered with them. Both Britt and I hooked up to several trout no monsters but none the less it was a great feeling to catch these fish.
On another morning, we got up and headed to a spot on the Firehole River we had scoped out a few days prior. It was a great day. We had the stretch of river to ourselves with only a lone bison that came through, and two ravens that joined us for lunch. We were swinging wet flies as a small hatch was coming off, as the steam from the geo thermals made it look eerie. We caught so many fish that we lost count. After lunch we went to the Firehole proper, up where there were a ton of bison and thermal features. We were supposed to hook up with Holly and the other folks, but man-oh-man, I have never seen so many people in one place at one time-both tourist and fisher alike. The parking areas were completely full, and all kinds of people were walking around gawking at the few hundred bison wandering around the field. We decided to find another spot that wasn’t quite so crowded, but still had that “Firehole” feel to it—thermals and bison and tourists, and a few fisher folk.
One day on the Madison River, we were swinging wet flies for the lake run trout. Britt lost a really nice fish and just a few minutes later I had a take and felt the fish for a few seconds, and then it was gone. I thought he must have broken me off so I reeled in, but to my surprise, my fly was still there-but it was demolished-the hackle was gone and the hook shank was bent. All I could do was tie on another fly and wonder how big and nasty that fish must have been to have bent that hook shank. We weren’t using tiny flies by any means-mostly size 6 soft hackles on 3 wt. tippet.
On another occasion, we went to a spot that lent its self perfectly to nymphing, which is not something Britt and I have done very much. Rick had given us some much appreciated pointers on how to setup a nymph rig and how to fish it, so we gave it a go and had a great and productive time to include the biggest Whitefish I have ever caught.
Once Dunraven Pass in Yellowstone National Park was reopened after the week prior’s snowfall, we decided to run over to the Lamar Valley and see if we could catch some Yellowstone Cutthroats. The Lamar Valley was very different than the rest of Yellowstone that we had been fishing it was more volcanic and when we saw the river it was a whitefish green. The Lamar River was blown out but Soda Butte was fishable so we gave it a try it and wondered if we would connect as it was a watered down milky green as well. It was deep holes with very shallow riffles and deep hole cut thru gravel bars. Both of us managed to catch a nice Yellowstone Cutthroat before we ran into other folks fishing such a beautiful place.
We fished the Ranch one last time before it was time to come home. We walked into the Mailbox spot, but we were greeted with very few rising trout and not much bug activity. We decided to walk back to the rig and go to the other spot we had fished earlier in the week with good luck. Fishing was tougher this time but once we figured out that they were eating the mahoganies and not the Blue Wing Olives, the fishing picked up. Sight casting to rising fish was such a treat and a real skill test! These ones were bigger that the others we had caught. The sun had finally set on our two week trip, and as we approached the parking lot, a lone vehicle was at the take out—and they were blaring Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road… a fitting end to our two week trip of a lifetime.
It really was an awesome trip and one that I cannot wait to take again.
Until next time Tight lines and screaming reels