Magazine article Sunset

Rainbows Rise Again on the Henry's Fork

Magazine article Sunset

Rainbows Rise Again on the Henry's Fork

Article excerpt

One of the West's classic fly-fishing streams stages a comeback

DUSK IS RAPIDLY fading to dark as I zigzag my way through the stubby sage and head upstream along the bank. In less than 20 minutes the trout will stop rising, but for now, massive ripples regularly break the river's even flow as several big trout gulp down insects floating on the surface.

I ease out into the river until water almost seeps over the top of my waders, strip 30 feet of line off my fly reel, and cast an imitation caddis fly slightly upstream of one of the fish. Three casts later, the water erupts beneath the fly, and line begins to shriek off the reel. Soon a hefty 19-inch rainbow comes to hand, and before dark I release two more good-size fish.

These were only a sampling of the big, muscular rainbows that fly-fishers landed last year on the 6-mile Railroad Ranch section of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, in southeast Idaho.

Until the past season, the Henry's Fork--one of the West's premier trout streams--had been in serious decline for more than a decade. Gradual loss of habitat for juvenile trout, combined with six years of drought, had left both anglers and conservationists wondering if the river would ever return to its former glory.

Then in 1992, in an effort to deliver water for irrigation and to eradicate the trash fish in Island Park Reservoir (above Railroad Ranch), the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (with the blessing of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game) drew reservoir levels down to record lows, sending more than 50,000 tons of sediment into the river. It's too soon to tell if that sediment will have a long-term impact on the fishery.

HOW THE TROUT GOT OUT

When the reservoir was drawn down, thousands of healthy, oversize rainbows from the reservoir went along for the ride. Based on a sample count, the fish population in Box Canyon alone (the 3-mile section below the reservoir) jumped from 3,000 in the spring of 1991 to 11,000 in the summer of 1993.

River-watchers consider the influx of fish a stroke of pure dumb luck, but there's no denying that last year the Henry's Fork fished better than it had in the previous 15 years. Anglers--many of them novice fly-fishers--typically caught 12 or more fish per day, several more than 20 inches, according to Mike Lawson, owner of Henry's Fork Anglers fly shop. …

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