Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two Old Pros Humbled on the Fork

Long time friend Derek Mitchell and I spent yesterday on the Harriman Ranch of the Henry’s Fork. Derek is the sales manager for Mountain Hardware and lives in the Bay area in California. The last time he and I fished was August 2010 on Quake and Hebgen Lake in Montana.

Derek and I go way back to 1988 when he joined our team in the fly shop. He went through the normal cycle of shop dude, to fly fishing instructor and then on to guide the Snake, South Fork and Green Rivers as well as Yellowstone Park for over ten years. We became great friends and fished together all the time and mostly on the Henry’s Fork. That’s why this reunion on the Fork was special.

I picked Derek up at the Jackson Hole Airport at 9:30 Tuesday night and we drove straight to the Henry’s Fork and camped in the gravel pits. Naturally we hadn’t caught up enough in the two hour drive so even though it was nearly midnight we tossed out the camp chairs and popped a couple beers under the stars and stayed up until 1.

You would think morning came too soon for us but really it wasn’t soon enough. The night was absolutely freezing. I’m still using my summer bag and climbed in bed in shorts and a t-shirt and all I can tell you is that by 3 AM I was shivering. I couldn’t wait to see the sunrise. And sure enough we awoke to the first frost of late summer!

After nice breakfast at TroutHunter we geared up in the Last Chance parking lot and began our walk into the Ranch. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and temps were rising so fast it was unreal. When we began our hike it was already 75° and in no time it was over 80. It’s an unbelievable time of year here in the Yellowstone area where the temperatures can fluctuate 50 degrees in a matter of hours.

There weren’t many people fishing. I think most were heading out later in the day because typically when we have a frost, particularly the first, hatches don’t start till afternoon. Regardless, Derek and I don’t get to fish together much and we were anxious to get on the water. You often sit and wait around on the Henry’s Fork anyhow so why not start sooner than later. Plus we had good beer in our backpacks and even better cigars.

Well, it’s a good thing we headed out early because to our delight, we found a few rising trout right away. We barely even cracked our first beers and before we counted five nice rainbows feeding on top. While many anglers would dump the beer and pounce on the opportunities, we opted to drink our beers and watch. Patience is of utmost important when fishing the Fork. The fish weren’t going anywhere and by observing for the time it takes to drink a beer we were able to see what they were eating.

When the beers were gone we each waded out to our happy feeding trout. Once there it only took me two casts to screw mine up. My first cast was a little too far right and the fish didn’t move for my size 16 thorax mahogany dun. My second cast was perfect and when the trout of perhaps 19 inches wrapped his lips around my fly, I set and missed him. Of course the trout knew exactly what happened and exploded out of the area like a bomb went off. Meanwhile Derek was already wading away from his fish. His didn’t eat his fly but rather stopped rising after his first presentation. Yikes!

Our luck didn’t get much (ANY) better all day. We each had one more quality opportunity. Once again I flossed a fish rather than hook him, and Derek’s opportunity was even more frustrating. He cast to a fish that was feeding voraciously on top. The large rainbow was eating everything in sight and literally rising every five seconds. Everything but Derek’s fly that is. After nearly an hour of changing flies and casting to this feeder without an eat, Derek’s rainbow was finally full and swam his little fat butt back to his undercut bank.

By 4 the wind kicked up and temps felt to be about a scorching 90 degrees, two ingredients to put a halt to all feeding trout. Derek and I settled into what I named “Headquarters” a quarter of a century ago. It’s basically the highest point in the Ranch and from there you can see the entire Henry’s Fork through the Ranch and 60 miles away the Tetons scraping the sky. It’s an awesome place; in fact I think it’s my favorite piece of earth. Derek and I consumed several beers and each smoked a fine cigar. Mine was one of the best cigars I’ve smoked all year!

The fishing never improved. We kept waiting for an evening hatch but this is the unpredictable Henry’s Fork and the bugs get active when they want, not when you want. They didn’t want to get active. At 9 PM we reeled in and walked back to my truck.

Derek and I are both experienced anglers. We weren’t bummed at being skunked. We were stoked. The fish won. They won again that is. They rarely do and when they do you must give them credit. Yesterday was awesome just being out there with a great friend.

After wings and burgers at the TroutHunter last night, we camped on the banks of the Fork again. Luckily last night wasn’t as cold. We got up early, scored some coffee and cruised back to my house. Fishing is over for me for a few days as tonight I am presently on my way to New Orleans for the Fly Tackle Dealer Show. Hmm, I wonder if I’ll be the only one in New Orleans tonight that woke up on the banks of the Henry’s Fork today.

Expect a post from the show!


  1. Great post. Glad to hear that the Fork hasn't changed that much. Great place for a dose of humility.