Outdoor Idaho

On the Henry's Fork


                       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

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

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.

Outdoor Idaho takes you to this paradise, the Henry's Fork of the
Snake River.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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. 

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

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.

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.

Meanwhile, others were drawn to the area for a different reason.

Early settlers wrote of finding "grass as deep as a horse's

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

The riparian corridor is fenced right now and it's fenced so that
eventually down the road we can rotate cattle into those

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.

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

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.

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.  

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.

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.  

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.

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.
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.

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

The Henry's Fork still has the raw, physical strength and the
same spiritual power that so captivated Stegner and those who

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.  

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. 

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

Thanks for watching.  

We'll see you next time.