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Thursday, July 9, 2009
Henry's Fork, a "classy" river

By Gary Giudice
Special to ESPNOutdoors.com

trout giudice
Lifelong angling buddies, Ed Weber of Rochester, N.Y., and Gary Giudice from Norman, Okla., are fly fishing their way up the spine of the Rocky Mountains following mayfly hatches. They started in the White Mountains of Arizona and will end on the Bow River of Alberta, Canada. This blog follows their trip.

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HENRY'S FORK, Idaho — When old Andrew Henry headed out of Missouri, everyone thought he was nuts.
There's plenty of beautiful water to fish on Idaho's Henry's Fork River.
Why in the world would such a wealthy man just drop everything and put together a trapping company? But that he did.

Henry hired about 450 men that included 100 trappers and followed in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark expedition. Up along the Missouri River, over Reynolds Pass and down the other side where he and the rest of the boys discovered a large lake and a beautiful river.

But tough times hit old Andrew. Deep snows and very cold winters for three years running played hard on even the trappers. Many dropped over dead. But he built a heck of a fort and set the groundwork for the wagon route to the Pacific Ocean. He named the lake and the river after himself as a just reward.

Henry's Fork River is as beautiful now as it was back in 1809. A broad shallow river for the most part, it has its share of glides, ripples and pools. Even a couple of major waterfalls add to its beauty.

It also still has an abundance of trout. Now the trout are a bit different then they were in Andrew Henry's time. Then cutthroats made up the entire trout population. Now just a small percentage is the native fish. Rainbows, browns and a few brook trout make up the bulk of the population.

Ed Weber and I fished the river a full day in three different areas and caught only rainbows. Well, Ed did catch the first white fish of the trip. Some of the fish were nice 16-inchers but most of them were small fish in the 10- to 12-inch range. It didn't matter to us. They were all on dry flies, even Ed's white fish!
Gary Giudice catches a fair-sized Henry's Fork rainbow.
No matter where we asked, folks were very generous with information. They told us where to fish, what the hatches were doing and how to get away from other anglers. Lots of great fly shops in the area and all we talked to were very helpful.

We bushwhacked in about a half a mile to the river in the morning and caught lots of small fish and saw only a very few drift boats. Small pale morning duns (PMD's) were coming off on a regular basis. Fun fishing if you could get a good drift.

Spot one feeding and drift a dun to it, bam. It was just that simple. They were forgiving fish as well. Miss the strike on the first drift and the fish might hit it again on the second.

But crosscurrents are killers on the Henry's Fork and getting a good drift is not always a simple task. And when you do there may be a bunch of slack in the line making for bad hook sets. There's enough fish here so when you mess one up there's plenty of others just as gullible.

Clear water, small tippets, small bugs and unfortunately mostly small fish is what the Henry's Fork has to offer despite the stories we've been told. On the other hand, about one out of 20 will surprise you and have some shoulders.

Watch the bugs then watch the fish. The Henry's Fork is not all that hard to figure out. The best bet is just to ask at a shop. There are several up and down the river with those at Island Park (a.k.a. last chance) being some of the best stocked I've ever seen.

Just ask them what to do, where to go and then buy a dozen flies they suggest and you're in business and you won't feel bad about bugging them for free advice.

Broad rivers mean big rods, so a five or six weight is in order here. It's real clear water but 5X tippets will work fine. Expect long casts with bad drifts. It takes a little getting used too or at least it did me.
Ed Weber ties on another PMD in a typical stretch of the Henry's Fork River.
Ed caught on to it rather quickly. Just like every river you'll ever fish, a good mend trumps a long cast. A good drift with the right fly catches more fish than just about anything on the Henry's fork.

Fishing the "Railroad Ranch" is a treat. Years ago, only the wealthy were allowed in. Back about 1900 several well-healed men got together and bought all the land on both sides of the river to form a cattle company. Looks to me like they built a fishing club for rich dudes.

After a while they all passed away and left it to the state of Montana. Now it's a state park, so even guys like you, Ed and me can fish it.

It's classic water with a bunch of history. The park has camping, a fair view of the backside of the Teton Mountains, easy wading and great trout fishing. What more do we need? Life is large on the Henry's Fork!

Lots of rich folks still fish here, but it's still a great place for the rest of us as well.

A guide is by far the best way to go, but Ed and I didn't have one and had a heck of a time. I'm sure their shore lunch was better than our PB and J sandwiches but our fish tugged just as hard and jumped just as high as theirs.

Get a map, ask around and catch some good trout in a great place. The Henry's Fork is famous for a reason. If you've not been there before you should add it to you're list. No, you will not catch 18-inch trout on every drift, but it's still worth the trip.

We're off to Missoula, Mont., for the next leg of our trout journey. We don't know what's happening there, it's just a place we've got to fish. As Norman McClane, (author of the book, A River Runs Through It) once said, it's the center of the trout fishing universe.

Of course, it was his hometown. He was prejudice but both Ed and I have fished it in the past so we are really looking forward to fishing this center of the universe.