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Staying on the Railroad Ranch: Harriman State Park

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Elk, moose, griz, swans, loons, wildflowers, and  alpine vistas barely begin to describe Harriman State Park, several miles south of Island Park, Idaho.  Also known as the Railroad Ranch, this eleven thousand acre property surrounds the Henry’s Fork of the Snake and the adjacent countryside for miles on either side of the river.  Owned in the early nineteen hundreds by railroad investors, this retired ranch is now a designated state park and vacation destination for those seeking solitude and world famous trout fishing.

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Now, fortunately us weary travellers find ourselves in the finest company with an invitation to stay at the historic Harriman ranch for a couple evenings.  We give a big thank you to Garth; Stuart; Trouty; and Doug who made this all possible, hosting a weekend getaway of old time college compadres and allowing us youngsters to tag along and drink all their beer.   And fish.  Fish our asses off.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaRailroad Ranch was still closed to fishing, seen in the upper photo meandering towards the front of the ranch where we stayed.  Poking around on public roads downstream of Osborne bridge, we found some classic dry fly water to test our 6X skills on wary risers.  Smooth wide water with Osprey working above, we found one fish rising cautiously on about a two minute cycle.  Thinking I’ve got this, I slip down way above him through the sage and sneak out on the shoreline.  Without a cast, the wake at 100 ft tells it all… Fail.  Not wanting to waste the day on pissed off impossible fish, we roll downstream past upper and lower Mesa Falls to check out the Warm River, some fifteen miles downstream.  From the campground at the bottom we stroll upstream to find beautiful dry fly runs, compliment with much more cooperative rising fish.  Mostly little browns ate our caddis bugs, and occasionally a better fish would sip here and there only to vanish at the feel of our drifts.  Mending drifts into the dark, we finally hiked our way back to the rig and dodged elk for the twenty miles back to the Ranch.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaOur final day of fishing takes us back downstream to the Warm river access on the Henry’s Fork, where those two rivers join forces.  Headed down to Ashton for the day, we set off to figure this thing out.  I’m going with the bobber. Screw it.  Throwing streamers burns up too much water, and even though there are ten million caddisflies in the air, not one fish can I see eating them.  Slow but steady, we nymphed up fish throughout the float with mostly little guys shaking the rod tip.  The dry fly bite came on in the afternoon, and we started picking up hot rainbows that ripped pretty good for their size.  Eventually we came into Aston and had to wrap this journey up.  With six hours of driving and four mountain passes to get behind us, we turn her north and head home to Montana after three killer days of chasing wild trout on the road.

Henry’s Fork of the Snake: Box Canyon

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaWith the Madison in the rearview and perfectly good pavement leading south, our early season journey continues onward towards West Yellowstone and eventually the Henry’s Fork of the Snake in Idaho.  Sharing the same stretch of river with us on the Madison, Dan Delekta, old school outfitter and longtime friend of mine, invited Chris and I to his almighty flyshop on our way south, Beartooth Flyfishing.  Until you witness it, you’ve never seen so much fly fishing gear arranged per square foot of space.  Fourteen thousand items without counting a single fly!  We’re talking the whole frigging enchilada fly fishing extravaganza: lines, leaders, reels, flies out the wazoo, tying materials, every bead and hook known to man, rods, custom rods, custom bamboo rods (I held a $4000 bamboo), waders, etc…. Definitely check this place out if you find yourself in Cameron, Montana.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaNext stop Island Park, Idaho, home of the world renound flyshops Mike Lawson’s Henry’s Fork Anglers andTroutHunter.  We stopped into TH to get the scoop on the box canyon, and we must tip our hats to the precise report we received from these boys.  Hooked up right off the bat, Rockhold and I sought redemption from last years ass whoopin we received from the wiley old box.  Dropping all sense of pride and ethics, we bobbered up and nymphed the bottom out of that baby from the dam below Island Park reservoir all the way to the takeout near town.  What a difference a year and a little closer look at a piece of water can make.  We crept our way down the canyon, fishing anything and everything that had any depth or hold.  First the fish were eating Missouri style midgey stuff for us near the dam, but we soon discovered they would absolutely inhale Chris’s West Fork stonefly patterns on 3x.  Simple choice there.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaLedges and mid river boulders played the best for us, with sturdy rainbows hanging in all the choice water.  Jumping and running like mad, these fish could straight get after it in the heavy currents of the box.  Most everything was around fifteen or sixteen inches and fought like a fish much bigger than their stature.  Solid takes and predictible lies, the box treated us kindly with a hell of a days catch of colored up bows.  Wrapping up the day in Island Park, we cruised a few miles down the road to our final destination of this road trip, Harriman State Park and the lower Henry’s Fork.