On The Henry's Fork Outdoor Idaho Rene Harrop: There's no way to separate my fishing from the rest of my life. It is a way of life. To visit here is wonderful, and to live here is, it's ecstacy. It's paradise. Bruce Reichert, Host: It's a paradise where fishing is king, the Henry's Fork of the Snake River. Since early this century, trophy trout have lured anglers. Today they come from around the world for the ultimate angling challenge. Andre Puyans: Dumb fish in here have their Ph.D's and then the smart ones, I'm sure, teach at M.I.T. or some university like that in the off season. Reichert: Homesteaders, lured by grass "as deep as a horse's belly," dammed the river to irrigate fields, starting a century long battle over river management. But love of the river prompted opponents to put aside their differences, and form the Henry's Fork Watershed Council. Jan Brown: You know, this project is probably the best small example, you know now the Council's the larger example of what can be done when we all work together and put our heads together. Dale Swensen: We thought that if we could talk to the environmental groups and they could talk to us, that maybe we could do something constructive on the river. Reichert: Outdoor Idaho takes you to this paradise, the Henry's Fork of the Snake River. Reichert: Among anglers, there are certain rivers that are legendary: the Beaverkill in New York, the Madison in Montana, and here in Idaho, it's the Henry's Fork of the Snake River. Hi, I'm Bruce Reichert, and welcome to Outdoor Idaho. You know, the clear water, the abundant hatches, the trophy trout; they've prompted many anglers to call the Henry's Fork a fishing mecca. The Henry's Fork drains the vast Island Park caldera, a remnant of the great volcanic upheaval that created Yellowstone National Park. Just a few miles from its source at Henry's Lake, the river triples in size. Nearly 500,000 gallons a day pour from the vast underground aquifer at big springs. At 52 degrees Fahrenheit, it's ideal trout habitat. Further downstream, the Henry's Fork carves deep canyons through rhyolite flows, a reminder of the area's volcanic past, including one violent eruption that would have killed everything within 6,000 square miles. At Mesa Falls, the river crashes over the top of one of those ancient volcanic flows. The display of raw power prompted author Wallace Stegner to recall his first visit to the area. "I gave my heart to the mountains the minute I stood beside this river with its spray in my face and watched it thunder into foam, smooth to green glass over sunken rocks, shatter to foam again. I was fascinated by how it sped by and yet was always there; its roar shook both the earth and me." Stegner wasn't alone in his love for the river. Since early this century, the Henry's Fork has been a favorite haunt of many, usually lured by the fishing. Fishing so fabulous that one man told of catching more than 1000 fish in a single night. Word spread. And soon rich and powerful sportsmen began making the pilgrimage to the Henry's Fork. President Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, and wealthy businessmen, who bought local ranches for summer retreats. Of the Henry's Fork, railroad magnate Roland Harriman wrote, "It was a matter of love at first sight." It was a love affair that lasted nearly 70 summers. Ed Brashiers, Harriman State Park: They led very hectic, busy lives with all their business dealings, and it was just a place to get away from it all, and you know, kind of kick back and relax. Reichert: In 1977, the Harriman family gave their beloved `Railroad Ranch' to the State of Idaho saying they didn't want it to become an "uncontrolled real estate development with hot dog stands and cheap honky tonks." Today, flyfishermen from around the world come to the "ranch" for the ultimate angling challenge. Andre Puyans, Flyfishing Instructor: Dumb fish in here have their ph.D's and then the smart ones, I'm sure, teach at M.I.T. or some university like that in the off season. They're impressive. They're impressive. Reichert: Andre Puyans runs an exclusive fly fishing school. Anglers pay up to $2,000 each to learn how to outsmart the selective trout on the Henry's Fork. Puyans: It's the greatest challenge, I think, angling challenge, probably in the world. I mean, you've got to do everything right. There are no gift fish, and they have a brain about as big as a pea, but they're very wary. They know all the tricks. They've seen everything from the fly shop, too. So, we have to think up secret solutions in flytying every winter. And very often, it's greeted with overt apathy. Reichert: For some anglers, rejection is depressing. For flytier Rene Harrop, it's a challenge. Rene Harrop, Flytier/Angler: The last time I was on the river in this place that we're going to be fishing, I encountered this situation that I just couldn't solve. I just didn't have the fly in the box that would accurately imitate what was going on. And, the result was, that I didn't catch any fish. As I observed what was happening on the water, the behavior of the trout and the behavior of the insects, I concluded that I needed to redesign one of the flies I was trying to use. Even though it appeared to be the right fly, it wasn't. So using essentially the same designs, altering the colors just a little bit in the wing, the basic difference is, my observation brought me to the conclusion that the trout were keying on the insects while they were still struggling to free themself from the nymphal shuck. And I'm theorizing that by making that correction, we can go back and maybe have some success, where failure was what really produced the effort here at the vice today. It may sound absolutely, almost bizarre to think that those trout could be selective between this fly, this fly, or even this fly. But, you know, 40 plus years of fishing this river tells me that there are times when this is what I have to do. We have to go at times to this extent to even have a hope of catching a fish. Just the sheer number of insects is a, you know, that's an obstacle, trying to convince him he should eat this phony fly when he's got a few hundred naturals. In other waters where a trout lives to a certain point in his life, maybe a year or two years and during that period of time will feed on small insects and then move on to larger prey, small fish, larger nymphs and insects. But here, for some unknown reason, and this is the true phenomena of the river, is that for many of these fish that live as many as seven, eight, nine years, they continue throughout that span of time feeding on these tiny flies. So, in the course of many years of feeding on these insects, they develop an uncanny ability to separate those living organisms from the imitations that are cast by the flyfisherman. It's a very common thing to take something that maybe worked the day before, or the week before, or the year before and think that's going to do the job because everything else seems to be very close to the same. And when it isn't, then we have to start all over again. Not the guy we were after. There he goes. To tie a new fly, or to modify or improve an older pattern, and then to have it succeed is a, it's really the thing that brings the satisfaction. It's almost honoring the insect in its accuracy, to know that when the trout takes that fly that I have tied, that I have succeeded in convincing that fish that it's a living creature. And that's saying quite a bit. When it all comes together the things that make it what it is, is the perfect fly, and a perfect cast, the perfect trout and a perfect river. Reichert: The silver roof of a cabin. The third pine tree along the shoreline. Anglers fishing Henry's Lake have a whole different way of finding fish, and outfitter Bill Schiess knows them all. He's written the book on what is arguably the best trout fishing lake in the nation. Schiess has mapped it out. He knows where the fish are, and he knows how to catch them. What more could you want in a guide? Bill Schiess, Outfitter: Okay, right here, since we're going 12 feet, I'm going to let this sink approximately 25 seconds. I'm using wet cell 3 line. Wet cell 3 line goes down approximately 3 1/2 inches per second. I want to bring that fly right across the bottom of this hole, within a foot of the bottom. There's a fish right there. A small cutthroat. Most people that are unsuccessful fishing lakes are not getting down to the fish. They're fishing above them. When you have a lake that is this rich in aquatic insects, and it is very, very rich, those fish are not going to move 2 or 3 inches up or down for a fly. You've got to be down to them. Okay, Morrell just got one. It looks like he got a little nicer fish there. Yeah, he's got a hybrid on. There he goes. He's a screamer. Okay, you've got that net up there Morrell, you'll have to use a net on him. It's a good day to fish. We're getting hits almost on every cast. There are some days that you'll miss 20 bites for every one you hook just simply because they're not grabbing it deep enough to take the hook. Oh, there he is. A little scud. I will cast a fly five times. If I don't get a hit, it comes off and I go to another one. I take probably 5,000 flies with me, but I will basically only use 7 or 8 patterns. Another 14 inch fish. Okay, you notice how fat they are compared to their size. That's from all the food that they have in the lake. He hit it fairly hard, right in the corner of his mouth. The other one had the adipose fin missing because he was one that was counted. Okay, there you go little guy. Thank you, appreciate it. Reichert: Bill Schiess, Rene Harrop and Andre Puyans are the latest in a long line of anglers lured to the area. Around the turn of the century, the river was discovered. And tourists flocked to the Henry's Fork. Wealthy businessmen established private fly fishing camps, like the North Fork Club, formed in 1902. James Sturdevant, North Fork Club: They were mostly businessmen in Salt Lake, some physicians and doctors who knew each other socially in Salt Lake and decided that they all liked fly fishing and they came up to the island park area. Reichert: Meanwhile, others were drawn to the area for a different reason. Early settlers wrote of finding "grass as deep as a horse's belly." Before long, dams were built, and the Henry's Fork was diverted to irrigate crops. It started a battle between sportsmen and irrigators that continued for nearly a century. Then in 1992, a series of mishaps sent 50,000 tons of sediment from the Island Park dam coursing through the legendary Henry's Fork. It had become painfully obvious that irrigators and anglers and the handful of agencies with jurisdiction on the Henry's Fork were not talking to each other. Jan Brown, Henry's Fork Foundation: Everyone came together here at Elk Creek Ranch and had kind of just a soul searching session. It came to everyone's attention pretty well at that one point that we had to start doing business differently. The same characters, the same players, no one needed to change their missions, but we needed to have some vehicle, some entity, some forum that we could come together and talk with one another on a regular basis. Reichert: And so out of a sense of frustration, distrust, and even fear, the Henry's Fork Watershed Council was born. The smart money gave it 12 months, but years later people are still talking to each other. In fact, the Council has become the moral authority of the region. People are still attending the voluntary meetings, still listening to each other's concerns, as evidenced by this Watershed Council field trip. Louise Kellogg, Nature Conservancy: By us trying to work with the ranchers and learn more about what's going on, I think it's going to benefit other groups too and other people trying to do the same thing. Trent Stumph, Nature Conservancy: This is one small parcel within the whole watershed. But we have four and a half miles of stream channel plus tributary channel that runs through our property that we can get direct protection on. And so, it's a big boost for the overall protection of the water quality and the fish and wildlife resource for the whole upper river. Reichert: Today, folks are getting a first hand look at what various agencies and groups have been doing to improve the productivity of the watershed. Like this high-tech rotating fish screen on one of the larger ditches near Henry's Lake. Division of Environmental Quality Spokesman: The bottom line is that it keeps the fry and the adults in the stream. When you consider the number of fish that this screen alone has probably saved and taken to the lake, it probably paid for itself in real short order. Reichert: This single wire electric fence, it's solar powered and can be easily moved, thus allowing ranchers to establish rotation systems for cattle. Don Salisbury, Rancher: If the cows first come to the land, they are curious and they'll go up and touch it and somehow, two or three of them, you'll see them jump and the rest of them just pay attention. Reichert: A state of the art water quality monitoring system at the Island Park Hydro Plant which provides a constant record of water quality for the Henry's Fork. The spillway collar, or rubber dam, allows the plant to generate more electricity, while at the same time maintaining the ideal water temperature for the fish downstream. Brown: You know, this project is probably the best small example, you know, now the Council's the larger example of what can be done when we all work together and put our heads together. And here we have a project that really is, you know, meeting multiple needs and hopefully avoiding some of the worst water management problems we've had in the past. Reichert: The success of the Watershed Council has been due in part because early on two people, one representing irrigators, the other anglers, decided to take a chance at that first organizational meeting. Dale Swensen, Fremont-Madison Irrigation District: That's what we had to do as irrigators, is let down our guard, try to realize that the Henry's Fork Foundation and other groups like them were looking out for the good of the river. At least we had to trust that that's what they were there for. Brown: And we always joke about how we all thought that the irrigators should all be rednecks and they thought we'd all have ponytails. You know, I mean, everyone had stereotypes of the other side. And once we got acquainted and realized that, I'd say largely, well maybe 80 percent of all the issues we could agree on. Kellogg: The riparian corridor is fenced right now and it's fenced so that eventually down the road we can rotate cattle into those pastures. Salisbury: I think it's an outstanding thing that has been going on. What Jan Brown has done and the cooperation of the people in ashton, as well as around here. It's just been, it's really nice to see it happen. Brown: I think the Watershed Council is going to find new ways of doing things that no one ever saw on their own before. Because when you have everybody saying, "Well, I can do this," or, "I have money for this program," or whatever, all of a sudden the, you know, the Red Sea parts kind of thing, and we can see our way through. Reichert: Attitudes are also changing in the Targhee National Forest. Reminders are everywhere of the Targhee's longstanding policy of clearcutting dead and dying lodgepole pine. Today, the consequences of that policy are being felt. Jerry Reese, Targhee National Forest: With the amount of harvest that occurred during the salvage years, we have several watersheds that are near what we call a hydrologic disturbance constraint. Generally, we use a guideline that not more than 30 percent of a watershed should be in young stands or disturbed at any point in time. If you get above about 30 percent, you can start seeing problems with the watershed. And of course, we have some, we're standing on one of the premier watersheds in Idaho. Reichert: The Targhee wants to significantly reduce the amount of timber taken from the forest. Once, as much as 80 million board feet was cut each year. Until the forest recovers, harvest will be reduced to less than 4 million board feet a year. Kent Fisher, Fisher Logging: 3.7 million is not enough to sustain my operation. And there's several people bidding for that 3.7 million, so it artificially inflates the price of timber. When you go in and pay more money for the timber than it's worth, probably the fortunate one is the guy that don't buy the timber. He might be able to get out of the business with a little bit of assets. Reichert: Recreation is expected to offset some of the losses from decreased logging. But locals argue that tourism alone won't sustain the economy, especially if the forest service closes several miles of roads and trails and restricts off-road use. Fisher: In the same breath they're saying recreation is going to bring in jobs and money to the area, they're going to herd us all together into a small portion of the Targhee and close the rest of it. And people won't recreate here after it gets so congested. And the jobs are going to go from 15 dollars an hour jobs to minimum wage jobs. Reichert: Environmentalists support the proposed road closures saying they're necessary to protect big game habitat. Marv Hoyt, Greater Yellowstone Coalition: This is the most heavily roaded forest in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. If you looked at the motorized trails and roads that are open right now and that will remain open, there are 3,000 plus miles, which is more than we have interstate miles, and more than we have interstate miles and primary highways in the state of Idaho. Reichert: The Henry's Fork area is changing. And with new demands being put on the forest, the Forest Service says timber can no longer be the highest priority. While that may disturb some, the Forest Service says it would be irresponsible not to change the way the Targhee is managed. Reese: We see recreation use continuing to grow and expand. And if we don't get some reasonable restrictions out there, and some reasonable rules of the road, so to speak, it could get to the point where it would be so crowded and the experience would change so much you might not like it. Reichert: When author Wallace Stegner visited the Henry's Fork in the 1920's, it touched him deeply. Years later, he wrote "By such a river, it is impossible to believe that one will ever be tired or old. Every sense applauds it. Taste it, feel its chill on the teeth: it is purity absolute." The Henry's Fork still has the raw, physical strength and the same spiritual power that so captivated Stegner and those who followed. Puyans: The Henry's Fork of the Snake is kind of a love affair with me. Home of probably the toughest fish in the world. Probably the greatest angling challenge there is. And I get emotional talking about it. It's a place to get humbled. And it's hard to get humbled by a fish with the brain the size of a pea, you know. But it's a fact. It will humble the finest fisherman and it will teach the beginner more than any river in the world. Harrop: If you talk to any fisherman who had spent any time here at all, they would explain to you how this river can hold you captive, how this land can hold you captive. And to be fortunate enough to call this place home is something that I can say that I'm truly grateful to recognize. I think life is about finding joy, and for me there is no greater joy than a day on this river. It's as good as it gets. Reichert: While the management of the Henry's Fork area may change, and different methods may be found for resolving conflicts, there is one constant on the Henry's Fork, and that's its attraction for anglers who want to match their wits with these sophisticated trout. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.
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