A Winter Visit to TroutHunter

One of the most enjoyable aspects of living half the year in Island Park is the time spent with special friends at TroutHunter. From May through October, few days pass without a stop at this prominent gathering place and a visit with who ever happens to be on duty at the time. 

Whether with the owners, the fly shop crew, or guide staff, conversation is certain to be lively and entertaining during the busy season when the area is filled with fly fishers.

Leaving in the fall just ahead of a long Island Park winter creates a social void that will be filled only periodically during the six months I spend in St. Anthony. Normally, I will make the drive from St. Anthony to Island Park about once a month to check on our cabin and catch up with those who stay on the mountain year around. This winter, however, it was nearly February before I made my way back up into the high country. 

With what locals refer to as a “real winter” underway, the drive up Ashton hill took me to a world where snow depth along U.S. 20 was more than double the 18 inches left behind at St. Anthony and snowmobiles challenge wheeled vehicles as the preferred mode of transportation. 

With a substantial storm in the immediate forecast, TroutHunter owners, Rich Paini and Jon Stiehl, were joined by managers Tom Watkins and Doug Winnicky as the only people in the fly shop. And despite being early afternoon, beers in the bar and grill seemed the appropriate accompaniment for an hour long visit with friends I had not seen in three months.

Joined by Millie and Ella Paini, I heard stories from a recent trip to Cuba and of plans for exotic trips to Mexico and the Indian Ocean in the coming months. The big news, however, was that Rich has begun serving a term on the Island Park City Council, and it was fitting that Mayor Tom Jewel would show up at just that time. 

Naturally, local issues became the topic of conversation during the brief chat with Mayor Jewel, and it was not surprising to learn that he holds similar confidence in Rich Paini as a community leader as those of us who have known him for a much longer time. Rich is sure to do a fine job. 

With Jon leaving for a business matter and the arrival of the predicted snow storm, getting off the mountain before sunset made good sense. I left Island Park feeling invigorated by the stimulating conversation and encouraged by the progress of winter as it applies to providing water for the new season.

It is always a good sign when the snow level reaches the top rail of the jack fence along the boundary of Harriman Park. Another positive in the current water picture is that Island Park Reservoir stands at 70% of capacity as of late January. With at least two months remaining to build additional water supply and maintain or increase a snow pack standing right at average for this point in the year, the Henry’s Fork could see improved stability with respect to summer flows.

Despite conditions which, in my opinion, could justify an increase, winter flows continue to be significantly lower than what would be considered ideal for the fishery. However, the river appears to be in good shape and mostly ice free below Island Park Dam.

Temperatures will have to warm considerably before I am ready to wade the waters of Last Chance Run, and that could be awhile if current weather trends continue. However, I enjoy the company of my friends at TroutHunter far too much to wait another three months for a visit. After all, they are less than an hour away.