Fish of the Month: Year Seven


Idaho Power fisheries biologist and American Fisheries Society colleague Jim Chandler with a nice brown caught on a dry caddis pattern, Ora-Chester reach, June 22.


Many years ago, Henry's Fork Anglers guide Tom Grimes and I started a tradition of catching a fish every month from the waters in our home region. For me, those are streams and lakes within a 3-hour drive of Ashton--no steelhead or fish caught in warm-weather winter destinations count. 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. If nothing else, a commitment to catching a fish every month gives me the motivation to be out there all year to observe the seasonal cycles of the river, the fish, and the other creatures that live there. On December 4, I completed the seventh consecutive year of catching a fish every month, the longest fish-of-the-month streak I have pulled off in 50+ years of fly fishing.

Winter at Warm River confluence.

Statistics

If you are new to fish-of-the-month, I always start with statistics, since I am a mathematician/statistician and quantitatively track nearly everything I do. So, with that:

  • Fishing trips: 25

  • Hours fished: 75.5

  • Hours spent showing other people the river: 40

  • Hours spent doing field research on the river: 115

  • I gave up on the fishing-to-meeting ratio years ago because it was always too low.

Chuck Collins enjoys a late-winter afternoon at Stone Bridge.

  • Total catch:

  • 1 Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

  • 2 Brook Trout

  • 13 Mountain Whitefish

  • 43 Brown Trout

  • 109 Rainbow Trout

Winter rainbow.

  • Catch rate: 2.23 fish/hour

  • Smallest fish: 5-inch Brown Trout on lower Henry's Fork

  • Largest fish: 21-inch Rainbow Trout on the Ranch

Late winter at Marysville.


Early-spring brown on the lower Henry's Fork.


First March Brown on the front door--a sure sign of spring.


Fat spring rainbow caught during the first caddis hatch of the season.


June on the lower Henry's Fork.


Idaho State University graduate student and Idaho Chapter American Fisheries Society member Lizzie Jossie with a small-stream brown caught on a dry salmonfly, June 5.


Ranch rainbow on a PMD, late June.


Close calls

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 about avoiding the close calls over the past few years, especially during 2020, when there weren't many other activities competing with my attention. In 2021, some activities returned to somewhat normal schedules, including road bicycle racing, which many of you know is my primary summertime recreational activity and the reason I have so many fall and winter fishing photos. As it turned out, not only did racing take up a few weekends during the spring and summer but it also resulted in a broken right wrist sustained in a big crash during a race in Boise in early July. I'm right-handed, and my wrist wasn't going to be out of the splint by the end of the month. So, July was the close call, but 30-minutes of fishing a dry-dropper left-handed was sufficient to yield three small rainbow trout on Fall River, just a few minutes from home.

Grand slam

In 2018, fishing buddy Chuck Collins and I added grand slam day to fish-of-the-month. The goal there is to catch (and photograph) all five salmonid species present in the watershed in a single day. Using various combinations of the mainstem Henry's Fork, Fall River, Teton River, and some headwater tributaries, we pulled off the grand slam in 2018, 2019, and 2020. In each year, a full 10-12 hour day was needed to complete the grand slam, primarily because of the drive time required between waters with a high probability of catching a cutthroat trout and streams with the other species. On a very lucky day, one could do the whole grand slam on the Teton River or Fall River, but we've always gone with the higher-probability approach. In 2021, Chuck couldn't join me, so the week I got out of the wrist splint I ventured out at noon on August 28 in pursuit of the grand slam. I started on Fall River, hoping to get the rainbow trout and whitefish out of the way quickly. As luck would have it, I did that--plus caught a large cutthroat trout--in the first 30 minutes.


Rainbow trout on grand slam day.


Mountain whitefish on grand slam day.


Yellowstone cutthroat trout on grand slam day.


With that stroke of luck, I was saved the drive to the Teton River, and a quick drive over to Robinson Creek is all it took to get the other two species. I was done by 3:00 p.m., by far the quickest grand slam so far. In my world of statistics and record-keeping, that one will be hard to beat, but I'm sure I will try.


Brown trout, grand slam day.


And, that's a wrap! Brook trout on grand slam day.


Endless autumn

For someone who grew up steelhead fishing in a time and place with plenty of fresh, wild steelhead to be caught on flies fished with a dry line, I lived for the first week of October. Here in Henry's Fork country, October is just as magical--not too hot, not too cold, not too dark, not too bright--and you can catch fish on nymphs, streamers, and dries. As a bonus, the fish are as colorful as the leaves.


October day on the lower Henry's Fork.


In 2020, winter fishing conditions arrived in early November, forcing four consecutive months of winter fishing. However, in 2021, the fall turned out to be nearly endless, due to a long streak of warm weather during November and early December. Ironically, the only interruption to nearly three consecutive months of fall fishing on the Henry's Fork and tributaries was a week--the first week of October--spent steelhead fishing in British Columbia with Tom and two other friends. Unfortunately, weather conditions and steelhead numbers were not in our favor, and six days of fishing among four of us produced only one 20-inch steelhead, and it wasn't on the end of my line. We did, however, catch a lot of ocean-fresh coho.


Tom Grimes and guide Tim with a bright British Columbia coho.


Despite being gone for 10 days on that trip, I still got in plenty of fall fishing on the home waters, ranging from several great days of dry-fly fishing on the Ranch to a glorious afternoon of streamer fishing on the lower Henry's Fork with long-time conservation colleague Scott Yates to several productive days on Fall River. I can only hope for as much in year eight.


Scott's largest fish of the day on the lower Henry's Fork.


Another big fall brown trout on a streamer.


Fat autumn whitefish.


A fat Fall River rainbow closes out the year.







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