This river was discovered by white men
in 1810 when a trappers' brigade led by Andrew Henry camped at Three
Forks, where the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson meet to form the Missouri,
and were forced out by Blackfeet Indians. Henry led his brigade up the
Madison, over Raynolds Pass near present Quake Lake Slide, past Henry's
Lake and down along the river which was to bear his name. Henry was
either the unluckiest or most incompetent trappers' brigade leader in
history but the lake and river he discovered may just be the best trout
stream and lake in the forty-eight lower states.
The lake, which is the source of the
river, lies in a loop of the continental divide, which here is part
of the wall of the Island Park Caldera, perhaps the largest collapsed
volcanic caldera in the world. It is some twenty by thirty miles across,
and the river meanders the entire length. The lake is fed by seven mostly
snow- and rain-supplied creeks, and by icy springs in its bottom. It
is very rich water for trout, loaded with weeds and insects. An idea
of its quality may be gained from two facts: Trout of over 18 pounds
have been caught there; and in the 1890s about 90,000 pounds of trout
a year were harvested from the lake and sold commercially.
The river flowing from the outlet dam
(which was put in in the early 1920s to raise the lake level for downstream
irrigation) is just as rich as the lake. It winds across the grassy,
often flower-blanketed meadows of Henry's Lake Flat, amongst the grazing
cattle and sheep. This is a section of quiet runs and deep pools with
often marshy or boggy banks and many spring-fed tributary creeks. The
fish do not have many holding spots due to an almost featureless bottom,
and tend to gather in the deeper pools. They are difficult to lure from
these clear-water depths and are very much a stalking proposition. There
are about six miles of this meadow-marsh water and then about two miles
of dense willow swamp before the river meets the 480 million-gallon
daily flow of 52 degree water from Big Springs.
From Big Springs confluence down to the
U.S. Highway 191 bridge at Mack's Inn the river is a deep swamp-marsh
stream of very large pools with a mostly silt-covered bottom. There
is gravel underneath the silt, and it shows in some places, but in others
the silt is deep enough to be very troublesome.
The land surrounding the stream here
is all private; part of the Island Park Summer Home area, and of several
fishing clubs. The status of the river has never been established as
navigable, therefore one wants to be careful not to trespass. You will
find the people friendly if you yourself are courteous and considerate
of property rights.
It is six or eight miles downstream to
the head of Island Park Reservoir. The distance varies with the lake
level. This is riffle-and-run water for the most part. There is a short,
steep canyon between Upper and Lower Coffee Pot rapids. This canyon
is called Cardiac Canyon by some, but the true Cardiac Canyon is miles
downstream at the upper-lower Mesa Falls area. At times there will be
huge rainbows in the deep water of the canyon, at other times only smaller
fish will be taken.
This upper section, from McRae's Bridge
at the head of the reservoir to the section at Mack's Inn, is regularly
stocked with hatchery catchable trout for the tourist trade. This has
disturbed the wild trout; in some cases they have been forced by the
sheer weight of numbers to retreat to the reservoir. But now and then
you can find a pod of sizable wild fish in the deeps between Mack's
Inn and the confluence of Big Springs, and in the Upper and Lower Coffee
Above the confluence of Big Springs and
on to the lake outlet is all wild trout. This section is the least fished
of any part of the river. This is largely because it is approached by
roads only at the Highway 191 bridge just below the outlet and by the
road that cuts left off Highway 191 (going south) just at the edge of
Henry's Lake Flat, past Island Park Lodge.
This six-mile meadow section is one of
the most beautiful areas in the world. Here one fishes alone in a pastoral
meadow flat ten miles across, flanked on three sides by mountain ranges
in excess of 10,000 feet, with wild animals, birds and waterfowl all
around. In the clear air the mountains appear so close that one might
toss a rock and hit them, yet there is a wonderful feeling of airy openness.
Fishing the dragonfly nymph here will
produce only spotty success, though the fish run large, seldom less
than two pounds. But the better fishing is with terrestrials: hoppers,
ants, cricket and beetle patterns. One must seek concealment or kneel
while casting and keep low until the fish are hooked. Though not much
fished for, if at all, by human anglers, the trout are preyed on constantly
by ospreys, eagles and herons. So they are wary. But they can be taken,
and for the angler who hates crowds and loves solitude in lovely surroundings,
Henry's Lake Flat is the place.
The long, deep section between the Big
Springs confluence and Mack's Inn can and does produce good hatches
and rises and generally fish over a pound. If one"can find an approach
to the stream while avoiding trespass, this is truly excellent water.
The hatches can be exasperating, for the silt bottom produces midge
and blackfly by the millions and the trout feed lustily on these minute
creatures. During these periods, which are the most common, a fly larger
than size 20 is useless. Color or pattern is not important, but neutral
colors do work best.
This section of the river has rainbow,
some cutthroat and many small brookies during the summer. At Island
Park Dam begins some twenty miles of the best fly-fishing for trout
that can be found anywhere. The fish are in this stretch by the countless
thousands and some will top twenty pounds. They are now all wild
trout, no stocking is currently being done in this stretch and hasn't
been for several years.
The spillway or tailrace of the dam feeds
into the head of Box Canyon, the best fast-water stretch of trout fishing
water in the country. There are about three miles of this fast, boulder-filled
channel and pocket water and for the stouthearted angler it is a veritable
cornucopia of riches and opportunities. The entire stretch is loaded
with stone fly nymphs, at least three and perhaps five, species. There
are a dozen species of caddis, several mayfly types, some crane fly
larvae, and there are sculpins to fatten the huge, almost grossly fat
rainbows that live here.
The canyon is entered most easily by
the road turning into the reservoir just above (north of) Pond's Lodge,
then turning off just short of the dam down to the boat launching spot
about a half-mile downstream from the tailrace. Both up and down stream
of this access point is good fishing for larger than average fish and
this section is more easily waded than the rest of the canyon downstream
of the tributary Buffalo, which enters just below the boat launching
spot. Stone fly nymphs are the best choice of fly 80 percent of the
time. Big floaters and terrestrials, or streamers-Dark Spruce, Marabou
Muddier or a sculpin pattern-take care of the other 20 percent.
There are several entry spots below here,
none easy. One comes from Highway 191 to the bank just below the juncture
with the Buffalo River. Then this road (dirt) proceeds downstream along
and back from the edge of the canyon, where turnoffs and parking spots
appear several times in the next three miles. One parks, gathers up
his gear, hoists his wader belt, takes a deep breath and clambers down
into the canyon, about 300 vertical feet in most places.
Once into the canyon, your troubles just
begin. Now, you have to find a spot where you can wade out far
enough from the canyon wall to make any kind of a cast. Trees and smaller
growth push right down to the water. In the edge of the water, and throughout,
are boulders. Some are just ankle high, some knee high, some crotch
high, and there are bigger ones and smaller ones passim. But
it is the ankle- and knee-high rocks that cause the problem. All intent
on your lawful occasions, you will turn to step here, or there, or move
straight ahead, your foot will catch a slippery boulder in midstep,
shoot off at the speed of light and hurl you headlong into the stream.
You do not wade and fish. First, you wade. Then you fish. Then
you wade some more. And fish some more. And so on. Try wading and fishing
and you'll wind up wet, gasping for breath after an icy dunking or maybe
being plastered against a huge boulder thirty feet downstream after
being tumbled around like a twig.
The big stone fly nymph is the first
choice of fly and used most of the time. Streamers and big floaters
come into play when the nymph unaccountably doesn't work. And in early
June, the dry imitation of the salmon fly can produce a bewildering
number of sizes of trout. But in salmonfly time everything is crazy-the
trout, the insect, the anglers, the weather, even the tourists.
Most of the canyon's three miles is very
similar. Choice of location is by hunch, and usually one place is as
good as the next. But the very mouth, where the water spills out from
the walls of tumbled and broken rock and shoots down into the mile-long
deep glide to Last Chance, is a special place.
The deep, channeled, rocky-bottomed glide
curving from the mouth of the canyon down to beyond Last Chance is flanked
by summer homes and is full of nice trout. It is mostly wadable and
a joy to fish with either nymph or dry fly. In order not to trespass,
most anglers move up the broken blacktop road along the river and stop
at a parking area near the first of the streamside cabins. Then they
wade across and go up the trail along the far bank to where they wish
to fish. The mouth of the canyon can be reached by this trail. ^
The lower end of the Last Chance Run
ends at the upper end of Harriman State Park, the famed Railroad Ranch.
Something more than five miles of water is included in the Park but
the water just above and below Osborne Bridge is not usually meant when
fishermen speak of the Ranch. The Ranch water is as good as any trout
Almost any day from late May (fishing
in Harriman Park does not open till June 15 as of 1982) through November
there will be several species of flies on the water at the same time.
Some of these will invariably be midge and blackfly. And the fish seen
feeding may not all be taking the same insect, and some may be taking
the emerging nymph or larvae and not the winged adult. This kind of
thing is frequent and will drive you right out of your mind. Also, to
add to your frustration, the larger fish seem to prefer the smaller
Below Osborne Bridge on down to the little
rural subdivision of Pinehaven, about three miles of water, there are
some nice glides, a riffle or two, then the long, curving
smooth-water stretch athwart Pinehaven. You will find private property
signs on the trees and by the roads of the subdivision. Like any such
zoned area, the land is private, the roads and streets public. And this
is fortunate, for the half or three-quarters of a mile of water just
above and below Pinehaven is a truly fine stretch of water with almost
as many insects as the Ranch.
The trout are not as plentiful, but there
are quite enough, and some exceed twenty-four inches. The place is seldom
fished, though boats launched at Osborne Bridge do float through the
stretch. Of an evening, the dry fly fishing can be unbeatable.
Below here is a section of broken water,
riffles and runs, some glides and some almost-rapids, all the way to
Riverside Campground, where our coverage ends. This varied water calls
for varied fishing methods, wet fly, dry fly, nymph and streamer. It
is perhaps best reached by floating and stopping to fish the likely
or more appealing places, of which there are many. It is something more
than ten miles by river from Osborne Bridge to Riverside, and if you
do your work well and cover only the water that appeals to you, it is
a very full day's fishing. It is varied and challenging and often very
rewarding-and that's true of all of Henry's Fork.
Fishing Yellowstone Waters -