Today my favorite tradition lived on, I did my annual Marathon. The “Marathon” is my way of celebrating the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. I’ve been doing it for 25 years. We’re not talking running 26 miles. I could never do that. Basically my Marathon is that I utilize every minute of the longest day of the year for fishing. I (and whoever else wants to join in) walk and fish the Harriman Ranch on the Henry’s Fork from the Last Chance parking lot all the way down to the Osborne Bridge and back. This is a distance of over ten miles and takes nearly fifteen hours.
To really appreciate what I’m about to write, you must read about my 2010 Marathon. Although Marathon 2010 was a magnificent day on the water and memorable to say the least, it was my first fishless Marathon ever. The skunking was tough to absorb not only in the following weeks, but it often had me shaking my head during the long winter.
That’s why today I set out to make 2011 the best Marathon of all time.
Conditions on the Henry’s Fork up through this past weekend indicated another difficult Marathon was in store. Like all rivers in our area, the Henry’s Fork through the Ranch is high and slightly off-color from our massive snowpack. The temperature of the water is nearly ten degrees below normal for this time of year and hatches have been poor. In fact conditions have been so bad that I feared another possible blank could happen!
Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to back off and end a tradition, so I started focusing on the event three days ago. I literally set up my 4-weight Ross rig with leader and fly at the house the other night and carefully packed it up to be ready for today. I made sure everything was perfect from the knots in my leader to the hairs on my fly. Then last night I got mentally prepared. There was no wild night at the TroutHunter Bar but rather a very tame night around the campfire at the gravel pits and a good night sleep.
Granny always comes to the Henry’s Fork with me for the Marathon but she has never done the full deal. She dabbles in it. She leaves the parking lot around 11 and catches up to me later in the day, fishes a few hours then goes in early. She’s done that for all these years. But to my surprise, a few days ago she said she was doing the whole thing with me. Cool!
We broke down camp in the gravel pits at about 5:45 AM then drove up to the Last Chance lot and brewed some coffee. We loaded my Simms backpack with plenty of food and water and a minimal amount of flies. Early season on the Ranch is more about presentation than pattern. If you’re in the ballpark and present the pattern to your rising fish well, you usually get them. For years I have started this the Marathon with a size 18 parachute Adams and today I did the same.
At 6:30 the water in my kettle started to boil and Kelly Oikawa from Canada pulled in the lot. I met Kelly last week at the TroutHunter and somehow my Marathon came into the conversation. Kelly loved the sounds of the adventure. As far as I’m concerned, the more you have to celebrate the solstice the merrier and I invited him along. Honestly, I invite a lot of people to the Marathon but very few make it. I was really happy to see him.
Minutes before 8 AM, Granny, Kelly and I set off. Granny and I opted crossing the high river at the parking lot and Kelly stayed on the east side. We all walked slowly downstream with heavy backpacks and saw nothing in the first mile. Then at about 9, I saw Kelly wade into the Henry’s Fork like a heron ready to thrash a school of shiners. He got into position and stared. Then he began to cast.
It was obvious he was on to a rising fish. By now a few Pale Morning Duns were starting to hatch. Granny and I strolled down to a bank where I frequently find pigs and grabbed a seat in the tall grass. Just as I sunk my teeth into a bite of fried chicken, Kelly hooted and was hooked up. I’m short of fish pics in recent blogs so even though he was far from us, I charged across the river and upstream to him. Just as I got there he landed the first nice Harriman Ranch rainbow of the day. On a river where one nice fish a day is considered good, Kelly was in the money early in the morning.
Granny and I opted to stay on the east bank and meander down to another favorite haunt. Again we got comfy along the bank and finished our fried chicken brunch. Then I heard a fish. I quickly shot a look in the direction of the gulp sound and sure enough, the rings of a rise were fading on the surface. It was five minutes before he rose again, but that’s typical on the Ranch. And that’s the reason fishing on the Ranch can be so difficult. In my brain I marked the exact location of the rise. This is critical as you want to put your fly in this exact spot. Also, when my fly is in this exact spot, I want to be ready for the eat so I can set the hook. If you’re not ready, these fish are easy to screw up.
Naturally I offered the fish (he now rose three times) to Granny. But she was deep in her chicken and moving on to some desert and said she was chillin. Wasting no time, I made my move into position. Just as I got to the spot the rainbow rose again. I stripped my SA DT4F line off the reel and dropped my fly 6-feet above where I knew the trout was looking and fed the fly to him. As expected, he munched my fly. It was a big head and he ate facing towards me. I struck; the trout thrashed, zipped downstream, jumped and came unbuttoned. I couldn’t believe it – trout 1 and Currier 0 – on came a flash back of 2010. At least I hooked him. My presentation was good. My fly was the right choice. The day was still young so there was plenty of time to get a big fish.
Kelly had joined us on the bank and by now another good size trout rose. Granny and I left this one to Kelly and we wandered to the famous part of the Ranch called “Bonefish Flats”. I’d have to say the “Flats” is my favorite ¼ mile piece of trout water on the planet. And when I saw a large fish rising in dead center of the run I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. This fish was for Granny.
Granny is a great angler. She doesn’t think so but she is. Nonetheless, I walked out to the fish with her and stood by her side. This guy was a little tougher as she made a couple good presentations but he wouldn’t eat. The real problem here was that her fish was moving around, a common behavior that makes the “Bonefish Flats” fish more challenging than others.
Meanwhile, another fish rose in my sights and rather than wait for him to move away, I launched my parachute Adams and wham! I had this one on. He leaped immediately and Granny turned my way and playfully called me a scumbag. Minutes later I slipped my barbless hook from the first 18 incher of the day.
That was the beginning of what became my best day ever on the Marathon and one of the best days I have EVER had on the Ranch. I went on to land eight rainbows over 18 inches. And one of these was a monster over 20 inches!
Bringing a monster to hand is always a thrill. But when you catch it like I did this one, it’s even more exciting. It was about 6 PM and we were only half way through the Marathon as far as distance. We’d just left Osborne Bridge and began our five mile upstream back to the parking lot trek. We were going through some gorgeous looking water however it is the deepest and siltiest area of the Ranch. It’s very difficult to wade because your feet stick in the silt and you often sink over the top of your waders – not fun at all. I always expect to see a rising fish here but hardly ever do. Sure enough, today I did.
By now I already had five big fish under my belt. If this trout was out of range or difficult to wade to, passing him up wasn’t a big deal. I knew Granny wasn’t going after him and although I kind of hoped Kelly would, he didn’t. I watched the trout rise several more times. He didn’t appear to be a giant, just a respectable 18 inch rainbow. Then as we all started to pass him up, I got hit with that predator instinct and began the risky wade. Two minutes later I was slipping on the river bottom only an inch from going over the top of my waders. But I had the now aggressively rising fish in range and fired a cast. My drift looked good, but this fish was moving around so I had no idea where his exact location was or if he’d eat my fly. Then when I least expected it, his lips broke the surface and he ate my fly. He was much bigger than I had thought and I panicked and set too soon. I missed him!
The good news however, is that I didn’t sting him at all. I didn’t even feel my fly knick his lips. Regardless, usually all fish on the Henry’s Fork swim for the hills when this event happens. They know the scenario and realize they almost made a major mistake. However, regardless of the fact that they almost always spook after a missed strike, I always fire a cast back their way. I don’t wait to see them rise again and never give up. I just cast. And I have a theory behind this. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that it takes these big fish a minute to sort out there mistake. And if you can present your fly to them again before they sort it out, they drop their train of thought and try to eat it again. On this monster it worked.
None of the three of us could believe this big trout gave me a second chance, but he was on. My first move was to get tight on him then wade to more stable ground. I back tracked towards the bank while in battle. At this point the trout had thrashed on the surface but had not cleared the water to show us his true size. I just knew he was big. Two minutes into the fight he realized what was going on and he smoked me and jumped. Oh yea, this was a good one!
Granny and Kelly didn’t miss this jump. Granny broke out the camera and Kelly waded out to me to net him. There was no messing around as these fish don’t get hooked often. And after a few more good runs and another jump, Kelly made one of the finest net scoopings I’ve ever seen. We waded to the bank to admire the big-boy. His tail was sticking well out of the net. We snapped a few pics then I turned the still very spunky fish into the current and he bolted back to his home.
Granny called it a Marathon at about 8:30 and took a short cut from Cattleman’s Bridge back to the Last Chance parking lot. Kelly and I, although exhausted, got on opposite banks and hunted for risers all the way back till after 10. My day continued to surpass my wildest dreams and I landed three more great fish. The last fish was a bank feeder that ate my fly at 9:30. His last jump silhouetted against sunset of the longest day of the year. And by the time I released him the sun was gone. The greatest Marathon thus far was in the books.
The longest day of the year and my tradition of the Marathon is my favorite event of the year. I love a great day from the boat when 40 fish are caught. My heart pumps when I board an airplane to fly to some exotic location for huge hard fighting fish. But I can’t sleep on the night of June 20th because I’m always so damn excited for the earliest sunrise of the year in Idaho. Remember what I said in the beginning of this blog, “the more the merrier”. If you want to make the next solstice a memorable one, be in the Last Chance parking lot at 7 AM 2012. Bring your own coffee!