On Wednesday July 20th I headed south, boat in tow, for Island Park, Idaho. I was looking forward to a stillwater school with Lynn Scott from BS Flies based out of Lakeside Lodge on the shores of Island Park Reservoir. The drive was long, roughly 14 hours. I took my time to enjoy the sights of this scenic drive down the eastern side of the continental divide. The drive takes you across and along some of the most famous trout waters in the west such as the Missouri and Madison Rivers.
|Lakeside Lodge, located on the shore of Island Park Reservoir
As the seminar didn’t start until the evening of July 21st I had time to fish a lake I have long wanted to fish, Henry’s Lake. Henry’s Lake is steeped in history and known for producing large Yellowstone cutthroat, brook trout and hefty cutthroat/rainbow hybrids. As we prepared the night before, Lynn informed me we would have to be on the water early. Now I have been up early many times before but we were up and on our way by 4:15am heading to the boat launch at Henry’s Lake State Park. The temperature gauge read a brisk 49F! It was definitely cold and dark.
|Henry's Lake at dawn
The boat launch area was deceivingly quiet. I thought for a moment we might have Henry’s somewhat to ourselves. I was mistaken. Henry’s was starting to warm so the outflow at Targhee Creek was our first stopping point. As we motored into position I could see were late as in the early morning light I could count over 20 boats had beat us to the punch. The ‘boat hatch’ as Lynn referred to peaked at 32 boats! Not to worry, we found a suitable spot, anchoring in roughly 8-10 feet of water. I began with my Rio CamoLux line and a black Balanced Leech. The new CamoLux is a fantastic line, I can’t believe how well this line has performed this season. After letting the fly sink for roughly 10 seconds I began a steady 4-6 inch strip retrieve with prolonged pauses. About halfway through my retrieve I felt a snagging sensation and decided to set the hook. My rod bounced to life and I soon landed my first Henry’s Lake trout, a two pound Yellowstone cutthroat. A fish on my first cast, this could be the start of a great day or a dark omen. I have taken fish on my first cast in the past only to struggle for the remainder of the day. On this day it was to be the former as we all began to hook trout. After a while I tried hanging a Balanced Leech under an indicator with limited success. On this day the Henry’s Lake trout wanted motion to their flies. Throat pump analysis revealed no active feeding at all. We figured that the somewhat brisk retrieve appealed more to the trout’s aggressive predatory nature than a feeding impulse on this day. We didn’t mind.
|Henry's Lake cutthroat
We fished until just after noon. I had over seven hours on the water catching predominantly cutthroat and few hybrids. No one in the boat crossed path with any brookies. After fishing Targhee for a couple of hours we moved once the sun was above the horizon. Lynn toured me to some of Henry’s more famous spots including Pintail Point, Staley Springs and Duck Creek.
I took a good fish on a Cruncher at Pintail point as I ‘hung’ the flies at the surface prior to recasting. The 20 plush inch hybrid rocketed from the depths as my Cruncher dangled just beneath the surface. After every retrieve always get in the habit of hanging the flies prior to casting. Any fish following pounce on the flies as they change both direction and speed as they angle up towards the boat.
In the afternoon we wanted to launch my boat on Sheridan and give it a bit of a pre fish as this would be the featured lake for our stillwater school. Sheridan is a private lake located just west of Island Park noted for its trophy rainbows.
As we prepared the boats we were smothered in a swarm damselflies. Nymphs were gathering in the shallows and clambering up the cattails and emerging all around us. Needless to say we hastened our pace to get on the water. We found the largest concentration of fish in the inlet bay taking advantage of the cool oxygenated water from a small feeder stream. Lynn and his guide Chris were using clear intermediate lines. As we were fishing in skinny water, at times only two feet, I opted for my Midge Tip line. Callibaetis shucks and spinners also greeted us on the water so I opted for a #12 Gold Bead Pheasant Tail (GBPT) on the point and a light olive #12 PearlyDamsel on the dropper. On this day the Pearly Damsel outperformed the GBPT by a considerable margin. My best fish came in less than two feet of water and weighed an estimated nine pounds!
|Damsels were emerging everywhere!
The stillwater school went well. Students were provided over eight hours of classroom instruction and on the water instruction and assistance with both Lynn and I. Everyone caught fish, in both good numbers and size. Jim Fawcett caught and released a beautiful 6.5 pound fish while he was with me. Clay Hash had a great couple of days using a clear intermediate line and Denny Rickards Callibaetis nymph. For a student’s perspective on the seminar please visit Clay’s blog. It also includes a step by step tying sequence for the Rickards Callibaetis Nymph Clay put to such good use.
|Jim's 6.5 pound rainbow
Even though damsels were still present in good numbers Callibaetis nymphs was the preferred choice. Throat analysis on some of the fish we caught revealed feeding on leeches, small chironomids, damsel nymphs, snails and Callibaetis nymphs, duns and spinners. Of all the prey items I sampled Callibaetis nymphs were the least common but the trout seemed to want more! I did well with a tan version of my Herl May from my Stillwater Solutions Recipes book.
|One of our students Clay holds a good Sheridan Lake rainbow
Student feedback from the course was excellent and Lynn and I are already planning another event for 2012. We hope to build on the success of this inaugural event perhaps including time on Island Park for focused chironomid fishing and Henry’s Lake in addition to the trophy opportunities on Sheridan.
|Sherdian Lake rainbow returned for next season
I delayed my return by a day for the opportunity to spend a day on the water with Rio’s Simon Gawesworth. As one of Rio’s Advisory Team members I was looking forward to catching up with Simon to catch up and talk a little ‘shop’. Simon and I had talked on a number of occasions about getting on the water together but we could never seem to pull it together until now.
|Simon enjoying himself on Hebgen
Simon and I had a wonderful day drifting Hebgen Lake ‘loch style’ working nymphs and teams of dries to fishing fish. It was one of the most enjoyable days I have had on the water in recent memory. Simon’s casting prowess was humbling. He casts equally well either left or right handed. If a fish rose within casting distance Simon switched hands in the blink of any to present his fly quickly and efficiently, often at a staggering distance.
In the near shore shallows brown trout cruised and sipped Callibaetis spinners that blanketed the water. In the calm clear conditions these trout proved both challenging and frustrating but we did manage to coax a few to our flies. As the day wore on the breeze increased and we were able to get in some great drifts working our team of dries into the long slicks that formed. Believe it or not Simon and I were hoping the wind would pick up. Using a team of three flies our goal would be to place the point fly in the slick the middle dropper on the seam and the bob fly in the adjacent ripple. Just about every slick held trout. Once the fly landed I would retrieve the dry using a super slow hand-twist. The small movement this produced turned trout consistently.
I began my journey home thoroughly satisfied with my experience, particularly my day on the water with Simon.
I left the boat launch at Hebgen at 7pm and got as far as Great Falls, Montana. I checked into a hotel just after 11pm and was up and on my way again by 6:30am. I made it home just after 4pm on Monday the 25th. Yes I was tired but I can’t wait to go again!
Be sure to check out my complete photo album from this trip on my Facebook page