Monday, August 31, 2015

Henry's Fork Report: The Last Day

It was the seventh and last day of the trip. God rested on the seventh day. I went fishing.

It had been a cold night. There was frost everywhere when I crawled out of the tent. When I arrived at the Back Channel I was not too surprised to glimpse snow up in the high country.

Down here, though, it was pretty nice. There was no wind, and the sun soon melted the frost and warmed the air. I shed my jacket.

I had high hopes for the Back Channel. It would be a sign of cosmic favor to revisit halcyon days of yore and catch a good fish here on the holy water. I looked carefully for rises, walking along the bank to cover the water. Nothing happening--yet.

I sat down on the bank and had a cup of coffee. Soon little black caddis danced around me. Harbingers, I thought. I walked the bank, came back, sat down, and had another cup of coffee.

I waited for a long time. Then it happened as it should happen. First I noticed PMD's drifting through my reflection in the water--not a lot, but enough. Then I heard the first rise. Then I saw a rise. Then I saw several fish rising together. Finally I waded out. Time to begin.

I waded carefully and quietly. Of the rises I saw, most were erratic. Then I identified two fish who were now working steadily in place. One was to my left, and fairly close; the other was to my right and farther away, over in front of a little island.

I went right. This has been a propitious island in years past. More than once we have caught big fish here by targeting little rises.

I made my way to within ten feet of the rise, slightly behind the fish. I had the Harrop PMD on, and began to cast. I got a good drift, then another, the fish rising steadily. Then another...maybe I need to go a little bit farther... And the fish sipped in the fly.

He took off downstream to my left. It was a lovely dance we made, as he would zing line off the reel, and I would slowly regain it, all the time bringing him closer.

I forgot to tell you that I didn't have a net. The evening before, right after I had hooked the fish that shot out of the river like a rocket, the net was dangling in the current on my casting side. So I had grabbed it and tossed it around my back to the other side. Imagine my surprise when it came floating past me and headed downriver toward the Snake. I cast my line over it, and the fly ticked it but couldn't stop it. Later I checked the lanyard and nothing was broken or had come loose. A case of the river twisting and turning and picking my pocket.

So now I had some concern about landing this fish. I brought it in close for a photo in case I wouldn't be able to take another.

When I finally put my hand under him, though, he had decided to be stoic about the whole thing. Another beautiful Henry's Fork rainbow.

I released him and watched him swim away, then stood up and looked around for my next target. The river was quiet. I couldn't see a single rise, and the insects on the surface had thinned. I waded back to the bank and had another cup of coffee. By the time I screwed the cup back onto the old Stanley it was clear the morning on the Back Channel was over.

It was also clear what a perfect morning it had been.

I hiked out and drove back to the Last Chance stretch that had given me so much pleasure the afternoon before. There was nothing happening when I arrived, so I had some lunch while enjoying the un-summerlike view.

Then it was time for a stroll. I geared up and walked upstream along the bank.

I was delighted to find just what I was looking for. In the riffle behind this rock I found a steady riser. I watched him for awhile to make sure he was determined, and he was.

So I walked downstream a ways, waded in, and carefully made my way to a casting position ten feet or so to the left of and behind the fish. I showed him that lucky PMD, and on the fourth cast he took it, and I hooked him. He was a heavy fish. I can't say he was the biggest I had hooked, but he fought like it. He was determined, alright.

I still didn't have a net, so I was trying to work him into the soft water behind the rock. Still, I was nervous when I got him close enough to try to land him. Maybe that was the fatal flaw: I hesitated just long enough for him to lunge into the current and separate himself from the hook.

But what an exhilarating lunch hour.

I walked back to the van looking for more risers, but there were none. I resumed my routine of the day before, waiting and walking the bank.

A hatch began; caddis were coming off in waves. But they were in the trees and grass--they would billow out when you brushed past--and not on the water.

It was a long afternoon of waiting for the fish to show themselves. They never did.

As evening fell, I geared up again and waded out in one more effort to make something happen, or at least to be there if something happened of its own accord. I threw a variety of flies: bead head nymphs, soft hackles, and, of course caddis, dry and wet. I caught the smallest fish of the trip--of the year, I expect.

And I caught one more small fish. I felt as though I was holding the shining future in my hand.

Then I watched the day come to an end.

Back at the campground I lit the ritual Mark Memorial Campfire.

Then sat by the fire for a long time, gazing into the embers, then the moonlight, then the embers, until I finally found myself drifting off in the tent, watching as another Henry's Fork experience faded to black.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Henry's Fork Report: Sixth Day

I woke up early. The sixth day of fishing lay before me. I had remarked to John on the second day that four days was not long enough for a fishing trip. At our age it takes four days just to get warmed up. Now, six days in, I was feeling good, and I was eager to return to the Henry's.

I drove the fifty miles to the campground, reserved our site for the night, and went to the Ranch. I was back on the Back Channel, and everything looked in fine shape. It had been a cold night--there had been frost on the van when I awoke--and it was still cool and breezy. But the sun seemed to be working its way out of the clouds, and I anticipated a good morning.

I watched and waited and waded, and then did it all over again. The hatch was not happening. The water was at the perfect level again after the dam release, flowing at the perfect rate, but it was devoid of insects--and rises.

While I waited, the wind picked up, and the clouds thickened. Instead of getting warmer, it got colder. I was wearing layers, but I was getting cold. In my optimism, I had left my rain jacket back in the van. So I gave up on the Back Channel and hiked out. It was time for a change of plans.

I drove to the Last Chance stretch. I pulled up to a section upstream from the observation platform. It gave me a good view of the river from the van. Nothing happening here, either. Except for the weather. In the time I had taken to get here the clouds had socked in the valley and started spitting rain.

And then it opened up: wind, thunder and lightning, and sleet.

It stopped after awhile, but soon another squall blew through. Then more. I was snug and dry in the van. Now and then I'd get out and walk up and down the bank to see if I could detect any rises. Nothing happening.

I dozed off for awhile. When I woke up I took a long look at the river. I thought I was seeing rises. I got out of the van and took a closer look. The river was covered with PMD's. And fish were rising all over the place.

I waded out. The current on this stretch is much faster and stronger than on the Back Channel. It seemed like everything began to happen at super speed. I began to target risers with a little PMD dry. The casts were short and into the wind, and the drift was fast, with furious mending and stripping of line to get longer drifts.

Amazingly, I got a hook up. I never cease to be amazed how a fish can find your fly in the midst of so many fast-moving naturals. This was a small fish. I wondered if they were all small fish.

Then I looked again and began to see big heads coming up, and big fish porpoising. I don't think you can see them in this photo, but trust me, they're there.

I went for one of the porpoisers, and after a few drifts got another hook up. Amazing. This one took longer to get to the net, using the current expertly to avoid capture. What a beauty. I wanted to take time to admire it, but the fever was building in me. There were fish rising all around. No time to waste.

I targeted another riser, and hooked up again, This was a heavier fish. It took longer to get to the net. But before I could scoop it up the fly popped out. So it goes. No time to grieve. Get that next cast out.

It seemed that the fish were now aware of my presence. They would be rising in a pod, holding their positions, until I began to cast to one. That would put them down for a few seconds while they moved upstream, or drifted downstream. I would dutifully follow them, trying to sneak up on them before they knew I was there.

I hooked up again, another good fish, and again, after a long struggle, I got him close only to have the fly pop out. I wondered if I was rushing the play--easy to do when there are still so many fish rising all around you waiting to be caught.

I checked the fly--still good. It's a little CDC PMD pattern tied by Rene Harrop. Killer.

I kept fishing but kept my eye on the weather. Another storm was blowing in on the cold wind. Lightning flashed and thunder grumbled. I finally gave in, waded out, and sought refuge in the van. I started it up and turned the heater on high.

The storm blew over and I waded through the puddles and back into the river.

My fears were relieved when I saw the river was still covered with PMD's. I went back to work.

I found a steady riser and began to show him the fly. The light was lower now, and I couldn't see the fly as well as before. Each time I saw the fish rise I raised up on the rod. That happened two or three times. And then I raised up and hooked him. Amazing!

This was a nice fish. I took my time with him, trying not to horse him, and trying to work the angles to lessen the pull of the current. It took me two harrowing tries before I got him in the net.

I was lucky. I got him literally by the skin of his teeth. The fly fell out in my hand when I went to unhook him.

The sun came out then, to salute my good luck, or as a benediction to the afternoon.

I was feeling good, even with the cold wind blowing. That was the fish that made the whole trip. Even if I didn't catch another, I was content. But that's when I decided for sure to stay around for one more day on the Henry's.

I kept fishing. I missed some takes, and it seemed I was having to chase the fish farther. Then I thought I began seeing Callibaetis mixed in with the PMD's.

I clipped the PMD off and tied on a big, bushy Adams left over from previous years.I crept up on a pod of good fish and cast to the lead fish. I could see this fly, and it drifted past the first fish, and a second fish came up on it. I raised up and hooked him. He ran sideways for a few feet, then with a deft roll threw the fly.

I targeted another fish that I had watched porpoise in place for awhile. It took five drifts, but I finally put it over him, and he came up and grabbed the Adams. As soon as he felt the hook he came straight up out of the water. I had to look up to see him, and I can see him still, hanging there in the evening light. When he came down with a big splash the fly had come out.

Things slowed down then. I was cold and tired and happy. I went back to the van to warm up. I stayed around, and got out a couple of times to walk the bank, hoping for one more riser. But the event was over.

And what an event. It's what you hope for, and what you feel privileged to have been a part of for one brief moment of magic on the Henry's Fork.