The Ranch Experience

More than five decades separate my first float through the Harriman Ranch and a pleasant July morning in 2008. An invitation to join my TroutHunter partner
Rich Paini and his fellow Henry’s Fork Foundation Board member Robert Dotson was too tempting to refuse given recent reports of exceptional fishing deep within the interior of the State Park. It was also an opportunity to observe first hand the status of trout habitat, a subject that has been on the minds of many who share concern for what appears to be a declining fishery in this world renowned water.

What originally was planned to be a six or seven hour float turned out to be an all day affair of nearly twice that length of time as the usual stout breezes failed to make their midday appearance. Insect activity began at about ten a.m. with an amazing array of mayfly spinners including Flav, PMD, Callibaetis, along with a sprinkling of Green and Brown Drakes. Good numbers of Yellow Sallies and a few caddis contributed to the early mix, and we separated in Bonefish Flats to pursue individual cruising trout in water never more than knee deep. The near complete absence of aquatic vegetation made close approach an impossibility thus necessitating many presentations that stretched to near maximum casting range. While low in number, our hook ups were all impressive with most fish being eighteen inches or longer.


By early afternoon, the action switched to a strong emergence of Flavs which seemed to increase the number of available targets. A light breeze brought a beneficial riffle to the surface which allowed a significantly closer approach. Still, the trout were not easily fooled and however minor, every success was fully earned.


Six p.m. arrived with a sparse appearance of the big brown drakes near the bottom of the Avenue of the Giants. It was at this point that Rich landed his best fish of the day on a Flav Emerger. Well in excess of twenty inches, the bright hen was as beautifully conditioned as any I have ever seen landed in this part of the Ranch.


Robert received a good soaking in the front of the skiff as Rich selected the slot beneath the

that delivered the most bounce in the heavy water directly downstream. Otherwise, we settled back to enjoy virtually the same splendid scenery that I remember from boyhood as we drifted with full intention of completing the float without interruption. A sizable flock of several dozen Pelican watched almost menacingly from a large fir snag as we approached the Millionaire’s Pool near park headquarters.


The volume of emerging Brown Drakes began to intensify as the water slowed and widened but we were successful in resisting the tempting rises that began to appear with greater frequency. However, that would change when the Ranch buildings loomed near as we reached the islands above the water best known as being the favorite of the Harriman family.


The sight of a half dozen extremely impressive rise forms on river right in upper Millionaires was all that was required to shatter our collective resolve. Rich anchored the boat at a small island, and we again separated to stalk big cruising trout under the lowering sun. With familiar anticipation, I crept into a position that would allow a few shots at the upstream fish as it fed into range. The plan worked to perfection as the big ‘bow inhaled the Brown Drake Cripple on the first drift. Another fat hen, it was a near match to Rich’s earlier fish. No better ending could be scripted and I called it a day on that note. Fastening the soggy fly to a rod guide, I settled back to watch Rich and Robert work the remaining risers and to enjoy the spectacular view that will never fail to move me. An hour or so later with daylight fading rapidly, Rich was expertly maneuvering the skiff through the boulder strewn rapids above the take out at

. Beers and sharing stories with TroutHunter guides Brad Miller and Travis Smith took us to sunset on a very special day for us all.


While concern for the Ranch and its struggling wild rainbow population was not diminished, our drift through this historic water left us with a renewed sense of gratitude for an experience that is seldom if ever equaled in terms of its ability to bring joy to the heart of an angler. Anyone who desires enlightenment to the realities of the Ranch fishery and its status as a wild life sanctuary should make this float.


Although different in numerous ways from its peak years as world class trout water, the Ranch experience continues as an incomparable source of spiritual vitality, and this is worth protecting.



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