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.

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