What if someone told you that much of what we think we know about the Henry's Fork is based on myth? And what if that person were a respected biologist?
Dr.Rob Van Kirk is the Research Director for the Henry's Fork Foundation. OUTDOOR IDAHO interviewed him in the summer of 1996.
OUTDOOR IDAHO: What is it that most people don't realize about the Henry's Fork?
Once they turned that water on in the winter, survival of the fish went way up and habitat conditions improved. Around that time the Harrimans donated the land to the state, so it became public for the first time in eighty years.
Flyfishing was just beginning its modern rennaissance in this country, and the flyfishing writers came to the Henry's Fork. It was the first time they were able to walk down to some of this water to fish it.There were huge rainbow trout and tons of insects, and the next thing you know there were articles in the national magazines that the Henry's Fork was THE place; and it really was, from 1976 til about 1983.
I came here in 1977, and started working with Mike Lawson, and the fishing was better than anything I'd ever seen. But a bunch of things happened in the late seventies that in retrospect we can say were responsible for a decline in the trout population.
But they still had problems getting young fish to survive the winter, and limiting that input of fish from the hatchery caused the fish numbers to go down.
If you look at the population trends over the last twenty years, they just go down, down, down, until it hits rock bottom in 1992. And then we had the sediment incident in 1992.
It was kind of a mixed blessing, I guess. It compromised some features in the river -- there were undoubtedly some places in the river where the sediment filled in a lot of spaces along the banks where the young fish seek cover -- but on the other hand, fishing would have been pretty lousy in 1993,'94 and '95. Unfortunately, what we're seeing is that, from that peak, we've seen a steady decline year by year since then.
This reinforces what our research has been showing us: that the limiting factor in this river is recruitment of young fish into the population, and we're sort of heading back down to what the river can sustain naturally without any input from the hatchery or the reservoir.
If that doesn't work, I don't know what we'll do. But we need to increase the recruitment of young fish into the river. The adults do great. There's a lot of food for them, but the young fish have a hard time in here.
We're also thinking that one hundred years of intensive cattle grazing has resulted in the loss of riparian vegetation all along the river. Young fish utilize overhanging willows, so one of the things that could significantly help us out is to revegetate all these banks. At some point you may see us planting willows.
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