Updated: Jan 7
Stone Bridge in January, where fish-of-the-month usually starts.
Decades ago, Henry's Fork Anglers guide Tom Grimes and I started a tradition of catching a fish every month of the year in our home waters. For me, that's a stream or lake within a three hour drive of Ashton. Although I had some great steelhead and saltwater fishing in 2022, those fish don't count. In fact, I headed right out to the Henry's Fork just two days after returning from a successful trip to Louisiana for Redfish to get the December fish. On that day I completed year eight of catching a fish in the home waters, my longest streak in over 50 years of fly fishing.
February brown trout near Marysville--on the rubberlegs.
It's not that catching a fish every month of the year is all that difficult around here, but doing it within the constraints of a full-time job and other things life throws at us can be challenging. And, 2022 threw plenty at me, in the form of a death in the family, resulting relocation of my brother from California to Ashton, a month-long visit from my 94-year old father, and the additional time commitments of serving as President of the Idaho Chapter of the American Fisheries Society. And I should add that the latter resulted in catching and bringing home covid to the whole household from the annual meeting, which was held in Spokane in 2022. Add in other hobbies such as bicycle racing and canning the backyard garden bounty, and I make fish-of-the-month more challenging than it needs to be. But, I do that with everything, and the commitment to catching a fish every month gives me a good excuse to observe the river and the creatures it supports in all conditions and seasons of the year.
Late-winter sunset near Marysville.
Most of you know that I am a mathematician by training, and I keep records and statistics about just about everything I do, from training for bicycle racing to canning the backyard garden bounty to fishing. So, here are the stats for 2022.
Fishing trips: 31 (up from 25 in 2021)
Hours fished: 61 (lowest in the current 8-year streak)
Hours spent showing other people the river: 28.5 (down from 40 last year)
Hours spent doing field research on the river: 85 (down from 115 last year)
I gave up on the fishing-to-meeting ratio years ago because it was always too low; it would have been abysmal in 2022.
First fish of the spring on a dry fly, caught during a late-March midge hatch.
9 Mountain Whitefish
18 Brown Trout
59 Rainbow Trout
Rainy evening at Vernon Bridge in May, a common sight during the spring of 2022.
Catch rate: 1.41 fish/hour (lowest in the current 8-year streak)
Smallest fish: Numerous 6-inch Rainbow Trout caught in the Henry's Fork
Largest fish: 20-inch Rainbow Trout on the Ranch and 20-inch Brown Trout in the Warm River-to-Ashton reach
My brother Joe and our dad at the Fun Farm, mid-June.
The biggest challenge to catching a fish every month for someone with a full-time job and other hobbies is avoiding unforeseen situations--including weather and water conditions--that result in the end of the month rapidly approaching with the month's fish not yet in the net. I've been much better in recent years about avoiding close calls, primarily by making a point of fishing within the first few days of the month. After all, the fishing on the 1st of one month can't be substantially different than on the last day of the previous month. Despite a short-notice trip to California for a family emergency in January, I started the year strong, with the January, February, March, April and May fish in the net no later than the 16th of the month.
Joe with a nice fish just upstream of Ashton Reservoir, July.
However, things got difficult in June. Usually the easiest month of the year in which to catch fish, June of 2022 was an exception to the rule due to a very cold, wet spring. My end-of-year review of climate and water conditions was subtitled Can you say "cold, wet spring"? and provided a lot of data to show how much the cold, wet weather in April, May and June affected every aspect of water supply, water management, water quality, and fishing conditions for the rest of the season. Anyway, my own fishing experience was a victim of my own data in a way, and June turned out to be the month with the closest call. In part, that was due to hosting my father for most of the month and taking him and my brother fishing instead of fishing myself, but cold weather and delayed hatches played a part too.
Joe, Dominique Shore, and HFF colleague Jack McLaren prepare for an Ora to Vernon float on an August morning.
Regardless, I had still not landed a fish in June in five attempts when I floated my dad from Stone Bridge to Jumpoff Canyon on June 26. I needed to take him home a couple of days later, so that was my last chance to catch the June fish. After trying several different dry patterns in several spots along the way while we stopped for breaks and lunch, I was still without a fish in hand when we pulled off into one of the last two riffles above the takeout late in the afternoon. Taking no chances, I switched to a #8 black rubberlegs and lucked into a 15-inch Rainbow. Good enough.
Ranch fish on a Mahogany Dun, September.
After that, the Ranch produced the July, August, September and October fish before the 19th of each month, and black rubberlegs got it done in the lower watershed by the 10th of each of November and December.
The Ranch in early October.
In 2018, bicycle racing and fishing buddy Chuck Collins and I first made a deliberate effort to catch Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Cutthroat Trout, and Mountain whitefish in the Henry's Fork watershed all within the same day. We were successful in 2018, 2019, and 2020, using various combinations of the Henry's Fork, Teton River, Fall River, and smaller tributaries to get the job done. In 2021, I lucked into a nice Cutthroat Trout in Fall River right off the bat and had the slam done within three hours, three streams, and less than 25 miles of total driving from the house. Unfortunately, the Spokane trip in late August and subsequent covid bout--the first and only in our household since the pandemic began--prevented me from pursuing the slam in 2022. Thus, this year's fish count does not include a Brook Trout or a Cutthroat Trout for the first time since 2018.
October clouds on the Ranch.
A rapid "fall" from summer to winter
In 2021, the autumn fishing season seemed endless, as fall conditions lasted well into December. In 2022, the opposite happened, and cold snowy weather arrived during the first week of November, only a few weeks after record-setting warmth in October. I was lucky to get the November fish on one of the last days that could still be considered "fall" from a fishing standpoint.
Tomatoes don't jump in the jars on their own. A distraction from fishing during October.
November whitefish on the rubberlegs.
November Rainbow--yes, on the rubberlegs.
Although I got to spend a week of December in a warmer climate, the month of December here was either really cold or really wet or both. The low temperature on December 22 was the lowest in the Henry's Fork watershed since December 1990. Precipitation in December was well above average, putting us in a good position to possibly emerge from the current drought, which started in July 2020. At this time next year, I hope to report the successful completion of year nine as well as statistics from a year of above-average water supply.
HFF colleague Amber Roseberry installs a stream gage on a cold, snowy day in early November.
Tommy G with a Louisiana Redfish in early December.
The year ends where it began. Stone Bridge in December.