A Big Winter

It is no secret that the upper Snake River plain is not immune to serious winter. In a typical year, the lower Henry’s Fork will experience at least three months when fishing opportunity is disrupted by accumulating snow and prohibitive temperatures. However, signs of relief from winter’s suppression generally begin to appear as February transitions into March.
By early March, increasing hours of daylight are usually accompanied by a shift away from severe temperatures that can lock the river in ice while preserving snow depth that allows only minimal access to the water. This moderating of winter’s ability to apply extreme disruption to outdoor activities has traditionally justified an annual relocation from Island Park to St. Anthony for half the year.
At roughly two thousand feet lower in elevation, our winter home is not subjected to the length or intensity of an Island Park winter that can extend through April and beyond in some years. At St. Anthony, golfers expect to be playing the local course nearly two months earlier than in Island Park where the greens can remain snow covered through much of May.
It is rare that family picnics on the lower Fork will be delayed beyond mid-March, and most public access is available by that time as well. These aspects of early spring comfort are in total contrast to Last Chance where the river remains isolated by tall snow banks and temperature averaging at least ten degrees cooler during the same period.
A winter two months shorter in length is the justification for leaving Island Park and it is seldom that St. Anthony does not deliver at least that much seasonal advantage. However, the final week of February gave little evidence that winter will be leaving the lower river anytime soon.
With temperatures producing windchill of minus twenty degrees ushering in the year’s biggest snowstorm, St. Anthony remains locked in the conditions of deep winter with no sign of weakening in the forecast. Ice on the river is not a common feature of March nor is the snow that crowds the top of the four-foot fence in the backyard. And it cannot be a good sign that the snow shovel is finding my hands far more often than the fly rod.
While winter in excess taunts low elevation residents accustomed to associating March with deliverance from deep snow and frigid temperature, thirty-five miles north it is business as usual. No one living in Island Park expects March to be much more than an extension of January and February with regard to weather.
Snow totals in the upper drainage measure somewhat above average while Henry’s Lake and Island Park Reservoir are nearing full storage capacity. Winter flows at Island Park Dam have stayed well above 500 cfs throughout the coldest months, which is a figure associated with minimal mortality of trout in the Henry’s Fork.
The big winter on the lower river only contributes a positive outlook when positioned in the big picture of a healthy fishery. Rather than any sacrifice, waiting an extra month or so for spring’s arrival is only minor inconvenience when all benefits are measured against temporary comfort.