Great years on great rivers happen when a number of factors align. In 2021, we benefitted from a long run of good water years and favorable management that have collectively led to a fishery in a very healthy state from top to bottom. In a year when much of the west was suffering from lack of snowpack, high temperatures, and river closures, the Henry’s Fork started off with a fair snowpack and benefitted from cool water temperatures, high flows during the heat of mid-summer, and a strong population of trout in both the upper and lower river.
May kicked off the season with unusually fair weather and relatively low flows due to a high priority placed on water storage in Island Park Reservoir for pending irrigation demand. The high flows of spring runoff never really materialized. Stable flows combined with good weather resulted in good caddis hatches throughout the system, most notably in the lower river. The same combination of factors led to good stonefly hatches by the end of May and an early start to the dry fly season. Indicator nymphing rigs were quickly replaced with dry/dropper rigs and the trout moved out of their “winter water” earlier than in most years.
June followed in the same vein and trout were looking up for food early in the month in the upper and lower river. After the explosive green drake season we experienced in 2020, this year’s drake hatches were more normal, but we had plenty of great days and fooled some terrific trout on the big mayflies. The stable weather and flows provided us with consistent PMD activity, good Flavs, golden stones, and solid caddis. Day after day of fair mornings led to very good and reliable PMD and Flav spinner falls, and afternoons were punctuated with good emergences of both. The lower river stopped fishing well earlier than usual as water temps quickly warmed and flows reduced before the end of the month.
The Railroad Ranch fished well at the opener, with low flows and consistent mayfly and caddis hatches providing anglers with excellent opportunities through much of July. Thankfully, the rising flows in the last week of June and into July weren’t so drastic as to shut down some of the
most consistent action of the year. Ranch anglers were generally able to find solid targets through much of July. Spinner falls happened like clockwork due to stable and fair weather. Combined with a very healthy upper river fishery, they provided excellent sport. The Ranch continued to fish very well through the end of the season. This pleasant surprise was the result of what we have been calling “Spinnerpalooza”.This activity began in August with heavy hatches of tricos, and continued on into October with strong hatches of pseudos, baetis, and mahoganies. Good numbers of quality fish could be found on the feed most days, providing excellent angling through a period that is typically more sparse in hatches and targets.
The Box Canyon, arguably the workhorse of the river, boasting a very solid population of 15”- 17” rainbow trout in 2021, gave us a terrific showing and shared her wealth generously with anglers throughout the season, from May through October. Population estimates show that we have excellent age classes in the river for the coming seasons, this was a great year and the future is bright!
One of the unique characters of the Henry’s Fork is its flow management in the heat of summer. When many of the rivers in the west are dropping in flow, the upper Henry’s Fork begins to rise due to irrigation demand downstream. This leads to a high water situation in the middle of summer that can affect dry fly fishing but in general, is favorable to the trout residing in these sections. Often some of the best nymph fishing of the year is during the hottest months of summer on the Henry’s Fork. This doesn’t come without its risks, however, as irrigation demand can lead to a reservoir that can be dangerously low come winter. The Henry’s Fork Foundation stays tuned into this and carefully monitors inflows and outflows with a long-term view focused on having enough water for the critical winter months ahead. For those of you that receive Rob Van Kirk’s invaluable daily water update, you know exactly what I mean.
I won’t be so bold as to make a forecast for next year’s fishing here, but I can say with certainty the following: if we are able to navigate the difficulties of this year’s water management and emerge with a fishery in 2022 that is as healthy as 2021, it will be due in large part to the Henry’s Fork Foundation’s efforts. These are the types of years when careful management of our river resources are the most necessary to ensure quality angling in the seasons to come.