New Snow and New Water For a New Year

Words by René Harrop. Photos by Bonnie Harrop.

In the rugged Northern Rockies, you learn that while change may be subtle, no two years are ever the same.

In many respects, I am resistant to change but when a real winter gives possibility for an end to a three year drought pattern, that change is more than welcome. 

With a mountain snowpack below 70% of average and only a few inches of accumulation at Last chance in mid-December, optimism was hard to find in the Henry’s Fork community. Winter flows dependent upon the early arrival of substantial snow were not likely to increase without a shift away from the relatively dry weather trend that had dominated since early November. 

Perhaps mild temperatures could have softened the sense of negativity by extending fishing opportunity during that period of extreme concern, but that did not happen. A prevalence of below normal temperatures through that period kept the air and water too cold on most days to make fishing even a remotely attractive idea. But as can happen in this part of the world, the weather can make an abrupt change literally overnight. 

On a Sunday about two weeks ago, the ground was bare when snow began to fall. On Monday morning, we awoke to more than a half foot of snow on our yard at St. Anthony and in Island Park, that amount was more than doubled. From that point, it snowed virtually every day through the Christmas holiday and in the minds of most residents, this was the greatest gift that could have been received. In speaking with Jon Stiehl at TroutHunter by phone, I learned that Last Chance is now loaded with nearly four feet of snow. Published reports show the Henry’s Fork Basin snowpack to be well in excess of 100% of average and Island Park Reservoir at 60% of capacity with only a few days left in 2015.

Despite knowing that reversing the impact of consecutive dry years is dependent upon getting more of what has already been received, a hopeful community has something extra to celebrate in the New Year. 

New water in the form of fishing opportunity also highlights the arrival of 2016. In recently released regulations covering 2016 through 2018, Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced the opening of two prominent sections of the Henry’s Fork to year around fishing.

The section from Riverside Campground upstream to the lower Harriman State Park Boundary will continue to require that all trout must be released. No bait is allowed and barbless hooks are required. This section includes the popular Wood Road 16 and Pine Haven water. 

On the lower river, the section from Vernon Bridge upstream to Ashton Dam will be open with a catch and release requirement applying to all trout from December 1 through Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. From Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend through November 30 there is a 2 trout limit with no harvest of cutthroat trout. This change will greatly improve opportunity to fish spring hatches that occur before Memorial Day, including the Salmon Flies. 

With a rather promising outlook for more stable flows and the removal of seasonal closures on several miles of prime fly water, it is reasonable to expect some excellent fishing in 2016. Happy New Year. 


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