Sunday, September 26, 2010

Henry's Fork: Second Day

Click on photos for full size image.
We felt more acclimated that second night. It also wasn't as cold. We got up bright and early and ran into Last Chance for some quick supplies.

I found these at the checkout: Idaho Spuds! I haven't seen these since I was a kid in Nampa running across the street to "The Little Store" to spend my allowance dime on one. I remembered them as being more tasty than this one was. Still, nostalgia has a good taste all its own.

We had talked over plans the night before, and we had one: Bonefish Flats. We wadered up at the observation deck parking area and headed on down the trail for the mile and a half or so hike to the Flats.

It was a gorgeous morning, and we were in no big hurry. We took our time and watched for risers. This stretch is famous for its bank feeders, big fish that tuck up against the bank and settle into a steady feeding pattern. You usually find them after a hatch, as they settle into a current seam on the inside of a bend and mop up on the bugs concentrated there. But you can find them anytime. When you do find them, you get to engage in a truly specialized fishing experience, and often a supremely frustrating one, as the trout are locked on to one thing and one thing only, and simply won't give you a break.

I remember a bank riser one evening many years ago that slowly but surely drove me temporarily insane. Everything blacked out except that fish, oblivious to me, and rising, rising, rising, rising as I obsessively--and compulsively--threw one fly after another at it.

Since then I have learned: Be the Pelican.

We found a few fish working out a ways from the bank, like this one. You can just see its riseform flowing off at the top left of the photo. I cast a few times to it, but it moved out farther, and then dropped down out of casting range, a behavior I, at least, would see many times that day.

The Tricos had been swarming, and tiny little black Caddis were crawling all over us. A good buggy day that promised good fishing.

We split up at the Flats. John crossed to the other side and I wended my way around the bend to a long, wide, shallow glide that has held many fish in the past. And they were there.

They appeared to be on the Trico spinners, so I tied on my #20 and went to work. There were pods of good fish out in the wide open flats, and I got a few good floats, and a couple of takes, but no hookups. The fish knew I was there, and they were skittish. They would drift away from me, still rising and feeding. So it was cast and wade and cast again.

These fish are famous for being spooky, and for good reason. This section got the name "Bonefish Flats" because it's flat and shallow, and the fish have precious few places to hide. So they're extremely vigilant and don't hesitate to move away from any threat.

I spent all morning chasing big fish without success. At one point I decided to tie on a soft hackle and see if a big wide swing might pick up something. But just then a big flying ant hit me in the forehead. I looked at the water again, and big cinnamon ants were dotting the surface.

I tied on an ant.

Someone has called these big ants "trout candy." The trout love 'em. A good ant fall is something much to be desired, by trout and fishers, and our best years here have been when the ants were on the water.

The fish were really up now, good fish, big fish. Pods of five or six or more were rising every which way, often poking their heads out of the water as they enthusiastically gulped the ants. I saw one head--I'm not kidding you--as big as an anvil, and tried to get close enough to cast to it, but one thing I've learned here is, the bigger the fish, the quicker they'll go down until you go away.

I fished hard, and got a few takes, and a couple of hookups, but one was a small fish, and the other came undone for some reason.

And always, the best fish were just out of reach and moving away. Such is fishing on Bonefish Flats.

Then the wind came up, and the fish went down. By then John had worked his way around the small islands scattered along the flats, and we waded to shore for a break as the Tetons appeared through a break in the clouds. It's nice to catch no fish with the Tetons as a backdrop.

It turned out that John had outfished me, netting three good fish and losing two. (Good fish, but under twenty inches.) He spent some time reviewing video of the morning's successes.

The wind built in intensity, and there was a heavy chop on the flats. The sky, meanwhile, was putting on an amazing show.

We decided to start working our way back upstream, and found some fish working, too, in the sheltered water along the lee bank. John caught a couple more, and I continued to get rises to the ant, but still didn't bring anything to net.

It was right about here that we heard a single elk call, way off in the distance. It brought back memories of one year when we had stayed late at the Flats and were hiking back along this section in the dark. We had heard elk all afternoon, and now, in the dark, we heard a loud, clear bugle on the opposite bank. We stopped, and heard the bull and an unknown number of cows splash noisily across the river and come out on our side.

We held our breath as the band began moving off into the grass and sage, not sure whether the bull knew we were there. He did. He bugled, and it sounded like he was only ten feet away and looking right at us. The message seemed eminently clear to us, and we didn't move a muscle. Finally, after a suspenseful silence, we heard him follow after the cows.

We waited until he was far away before we dared move down the trail again.

Back at the Last Chance stretch John waded across to look for bank feeders. He found one. I could tell because he very uncharacteristically stayed in one place for a long time. I waded over to see how he was doing, and to see if there might be a bank feeder for me. But the fish had refused everything he threw at it, then dropped down out of casting range, and finally stopped rising. To John's credit, he took it very well.

Clouds were building in the west as we patrolled the far bank looking for more bank feeders.

We stayed with it for awhile, but didn't find any fish, along the banks or anyplace else.

Then we simply sat down to rest and watch the clouds build and roll toward us.

When lightning began to bloom all along the base of this cloud, and we heard the first long, low rumbles of thunder, we waded back across and headed for the car.

We were able to get our waders off and settle into the car just as the wind and rain hit.

We drove into Last Chance and ran through the rain to buy a bag of ice. By the time we came back out of the store the sun was peeking out from under the storm cloud as it moved off to the east, and as we turned onto the road and started for camp a huge double rainbow appeared over us.

By the time we got to camp the rain was done, and by the time we were finished with supper and ready to hit the sack the stars were out.

We slept well.

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