Whatever type of trout water you like to fish, the Henry's Fork is
likely to have it, in abundance. Henry's Lake and Island Park
Reservoir both have trophy trout possibilities for fish over 10
pounds. The river has gentle meadow waters, swift, weedy flats,
riffles, rapids, run, pools and pocket water that has produced trout
to over 20 pounds. Dry fly fishing here is world famous but there
are also many almost overlooked nymphing and streamer fishing
opportunities. [For the FLIES for the Henry's Fork, click
The Henry's Fork has also gained fame from being on the forefront
of fly fishing techniques and conservation. It was one of the first
trout streams in the West to adopt special regulations aimed at
preserving the wild trout the river harbors. Controversy over
proper management and conservation of the river is ongoing
and organizations like the Henry's Fork Foundation are watching,
studying, improving and preserving the river for the future.
In case you heard the river is too crowded, forget it, its not a
major concern now. The river is crowded only at brief places
and times. You can almost always find solitude if that appeals
to you. In fact, much of the Henry's Fork is lightly fished or
even under fished. Even the popular stretches are almost
devoid of pressure if your trip is timed right.
No discussion of the Henry's Fork River would be complete
without mentioning Henry's Lake. Besides being part of the
headwaters, few lakes have such a renowned reputation among
fly fishermen. This lake is legendary because of its large trout
and fine stillwater fishing opportunities. Seldom are these waters
devoid of anglers seeking a trophy trout with fly, spin or trolling
tackle. The trout average 13 to 24 inches and occasionally top
The cutthroat trout often top 20 inches and are the most plentiful
trout due to a large stocking program located right on the lake, as
much as 50 percent of the lake's trout are natural spawners. The
largest trout are usually the hard fighting, rainbow/cutthroat hybrids
[called cutbows locally], they are fewer in number but are highly
sought after. Every year there are a few fish over 10 pounds taken
and sometimes much bigger. Brook trout also occasionally reach
trophy proportions (close to the 8 pound state record) and 2 to 4
pounders are regularly caught. Very few brown trout exist here.
The lake is easily accessed from a number of points around its
perimeter. Since it does not often lend itself to very good bank
or wade fishing (except in early summer), most anglers opt for
float tubes, kick boats or small boats and bass style boats. Most
any craft is usable when conditions are calm but Henry's Lake is
infamous for its fast moving storms that pack heavy winds. Float
tubers have been known to get blown across the lake, sometimes
suffering hypothermia. It is generally a safe place as long as you
don't go where bad weather could get you in trouble.
Some of the best stillwater fishing I have ever seen has come
from this great lake. I can recall having 80+ fish days when
trout populations were at their highest. Trout numbers are not
as high now but their size and growth rates are excellent. If
you do anything right, you are likely to have some fine fishing.
It's not uncommon to catch a dozen or more fish in a day,
with several being 20 inches or better.
Headwater to Island Park Reservoir
The stream between Henry's Lake and the Big Spring confluence
is a beautiful stretch of water that is heavily willow lined but flows
through a large meadow known as Henry's Lake Flat. The meadow
and stream is a favorite haunt for moose, sandhill cranes and
pronghorn as well as many birds of prey.
It has been lightly fished in the past because much of it was a
private cattle ranch and access was difficult except the section
from the highway to Henry's Lake Dam. Much of the stream
is shallow and the trout concentrate in the deeper holes. It has
the potential to become a first class trout stream if river flows
are moderated, simulating the spring fed flows that once existed
here (before the dam). I was recently told that the Nature
Conservancy as acquired much of Henry's Lake Flat, so
management of this fragile ecosystem should improve. It
is a piece of water to keep an eye on.
Henry's Lake Outlet meets Big Spring and then becomes Henry's
Fork at that point. The Henry's Fork was name after Andrew
Henry, a trapper who came to this area in 1810. Other trappers
came and they took an estimated 75,000 beaver pelts from this
region between 1818 and 1840. Jim Bridger and Jedediah
Smith were among them. The first white settler was Gilman
Sawtell who came in 1868. Sawtell Peak was name after him.
Naturally, the area was often used by the many American
Indian tribes that frequented this part of the Rockies. The
Shoshone, Bannock, Lemhis and Tukarikas (Sheepeaters)
all spent time in the area and other tribes such as the Blackfeet,
Crow, Flathead and Nez Perce' traveled through. The Henry's
Fork is also known as the North Fork of the Snake River
because it is one of the main tributaries of the Snake River.
Big Springs gushes from some rock formations at Johnny Sacks's
Cabin, east of Mack's Inn. It is a popular tourist attraction but no
fishing is allowed in the entire stretch, down to the confluence.
Some tame trout can be fed from the bridge.
The confluence is known as the bathtub and is locally known for
its population of trout that reside there but are hard to catch.
Evening hatches always bring many fish to the surface, but try
small nymphs during the day.
From the confluence downstream the Henry's Fork flows through
mostly private property where bank access is limited but it is a very
popular stretch of water for family float trips. The float starts at
Big Springs Water Trail boat launch and goes 3 or 4 miles to the
Highway 20 bridge at Mack's Inn. Make sure you don't fish until
you reach the confluence with Henry's Lake Outlet. Almost any
watercraft is good for this stretch. Canoes, rafts, kick boats,
inner tubes and flat bottom boats are all acceptable.
Weed beds and gentle, shallow water typifies this beautiful
piece of river lined with rustic cabins, many dating to the
early 1900s. Most of the trout are small but some surprisingly
large fish are caught here regularly, especially in the deeper
water that exists in a few spots. The historical North Fork
Club is located on this stretch.
In September and October, kokanee (landlocked sockeye)
salmon can sometimes be seen on their spawning run out
of the Island Park Reservoir. Large trout often follow them
up and feed on the eggs, just like Alaskan rainbows. Fall
fishing is worth a try.
Island Park Reservoir
This large reservoir is created by a dam on the river at the top
of Box Canyon. The river channel it flooded is only a few miles
long but it has backed up into a long meadow valley between
Thurman Ridge and Shotgun Valley and created a great fishery.
It has the potential to be one of the best stillwater fisheries in
Depending on the water level, the West End can be one of the
best trout waters you've ever seen or it could be completely dry.
This huge shallow flat is a fish factory similar to Henry's Lake.
It boasts some excellent dry fly fishing in June and early July
when the mayflies are hatching. It is much like the famous
"gulper" hatch on Hebgen Lake in Montana. It is one place
where 10 pounders have been hooked on dry flies.
The West End is spring fed and rich in aquatic life. It is often
excellent leech, streamer and nymph water. You never know
if the next fish is going to be 10 inches or 10 pounds. I've
had large trout straighten size 6 hooks or break 1X tippet
on the strike. Their strength can be compared to the famous
Henry's Lake hybrids (for naturalized holdover). It was
drained dry in 1992 but is coming back very well as of the
1994 season. The next few years should see some excellent
fishing as long as water levels can be moderated.
An access point for the reservoir is located at Island Park Dam.
The bays and fingers near the dam are best in June. The trout
are also sometimes concentrated in the main lake body when
the water is low.
If I had to choose one section of river that has been my best
and most consistent produced, it would have to be Box Canyon.
When I guided on the river, it was my specialty and I always
have to hit it regardless of the other river sections I fish. It has
a deserved reputation for eating anglers. Few anglers that fish
it regularly have not been properly baptized. It is a shallow
box-like canyon about 4 miles long that is full of rapids,
pocket water, swift, rocky flats and fast, boulder-filled runs.
The canyon rim is heavily wooded and harbors many osprey,
marmot, occasional bald eagles and moose.
Unless you consider yourself an aggressive and skilled wader,
you'd best not attempt this stretch without a drift boat and
preferably a guide. Any skilled oarsman can run the Box
Canyon in a raft, drift boat or larger kick boat but you must
keep on your toes to avoid the many rocks and occasional
Harriman State Park: The Ranch
No piece of Henry's Fork water captures the imagination of the
a large number of anglers more than "the ranch." Once commonly
called "the Railroad Ranch," it was given to the state by the
Harrimans in 1977 and is now called Harriman State Park. The
gift had conditions attached. It was to be managed so there
was harmony between man and wildlife. Fishing would be
allowed but only after the birds had completed nesting, which
is why the ranch is closed until mid-June.
It has been written about by many outdoor writers and it is
legendary. Its hatches can be so prolific that one wonders
how the fish could ever find your fly in the continuous raft
of living and spent aquatic and terrestrial insects. Perhaps its
challenging fishing has also created a lure for experienced
anglers wanting to test their mettle against some of the most
selective trout anywhere. Some of the fly fishing techniques
and fly patterns used all over the world were originally
perfected here. Inexperienced anglers figure that if they
can learn to catch trout here, they can fish anywhere but
it can even frustrate experts at times.
At first glance, the river looks sluggish and flat but a million
currents, from fast to still, tear at attempts to get a drag-free
drift. The weed beds, rocks and substrate variances all enter
into the factoring. The trout has many food choices and
even when you are able to imitate their foods exactly, they
often frustrate you by feeding in a rhythm all their own or
by cruising as they feed, not coming up at the same place
twice. This piece of water has many subtle clues to trout
feeding activity and is a game of finesse, not the masculine
tromping that Box Canyon anglers endure.
As the river begins to cut its way through the plateau toward
lower elevations, it picks up considerable speed and roughness.
Access is limited to a few old logging roads and sometimes
requires a hike. It can be floated but the oarsman must be
competent at maneuvering through numerous rocks in fast
water. This is a scenic and wild section of water that sees
few anglers in a year. If you want to get away from it all,
this might be your place.
Depending on who you talk to, Cardiac Canyon refers to the
whole canyon from Pinehaven to the mouth of the Warm River
or it refers just to the river between Upper and Lower Mesa
Falls. Since the canyon is full of fast, difficult to wade,
stressful water, I refer to the whole canyon as Cardiac
The river is full of rocks and rapids and there is also one small
(6 foot) falls that must be navigated not too far below the put in
(use the chute toward the right bank). Dry fly fishing is often
fast and furious for smaller trout. Try streamers and stonefly
nymphs for larger trout. Fish over 10 pounds have come from
here but the average fish is 6 - 14 inches. It is not a piece of
river for floating every day but makes a memorable adventure,
if that is what you're after. You may see moose or a bear.
As the river canyon opens up, the Warm River enters from
the left. The take out is at the bridge across the Henry's
Fork just below the confluence.
Warm River to Ashton
The river can be waded in a number of access spots but
floating is the most popular way to fish. The Warm River
to Ashton Reservoir float is popular for guide services and
a few locals, but few others fish here. Most anglers are
headed to the more famous parts upstream. Their loss.
Mid-summer fishing can be good for rainbow trout, brown
trout and whitefish. From here down, browns are doing
fairly well. They have been in the river a long time but are
now making a gradual comeback. The biggest Henry's
Fork trout I have heard of was a 26 pound brown that
came from the river above Ashton Reservoir a number
of years ago. From Riverside to St. Anthony, special
regulations (slot limits) have begun to help trout populations
recover from years of drought and over-harvesting of the
The river here has gentle and fast flows, riffles, deep holes
and long runs. A couple of rapids require caution but most
of the float is easily accomplished in a drift boat, raft or larger
kick boat. There are interesting rock formations in the canyon
and occasional log jams to watch for. Many of the trout are
in the deeper, swifter runs and shelves and along the banks.
Casting to the banks with dry flies can be productive but
nymphing with Prince Nymphs, G.R. Hare's Ears, Golden
Stone, etc. often outproduces dries for larger fish. The
biggest trout are caught on big, dark Leeches, Sculpins
and Wiggle Bugs. Evening caddis hatches are often worth
waiting for and wading above the Highway 20 bridge is
The Henry's Fork is a remarkable river and truly one of this
nation's treasures. I believe the conditions of the waters we
rely on are an indication of the overall health of our ecosystem
and our world. There are physical, mental, economical and
spiritual considerations for which rivers play a part in each
of our lives. Negative things do occur but if good people do
nothing but stand idly by, just lamenting, they are part of the
problem, not the solution. Which is why I'd like to see you
visit the Henry's Fork. It's difficult to calculate a treasure
you have not experienced. ~ Larry Tullis
For a MAP of the Henry's Fork, click
For the FLIES for the Henry's Fork, click
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Credits: From theHenry's Fork, part of the River
Journal series, published by
Frank Amato Publications.
We greatly appreciate use permission.