Only the craziest hardcore dry fly anglers in the world would fish the Harriman Ranch of the Henry’s Fork on a day like today. Winds were steady at 25 mph with gusts up to 40 mph. There were times when your 16 foot leader and dry fly would lift off the water. For ten hours of the day the Fork was completely covered in whitecaps. Yet at the same time, today was my 26th annual Henry’s Fork Marathon. My longest fishing day of the year. My favorite fishing day of the year. The day when me, Granny and many friends leave the Last Chance parking lot on the Henry’s Fork before 8 AM and fish through a major portion of the Harriman Ranch all the way to Osborne Bridge and back. No one stops fishing for more than the occasional beer or cigar until after 9 PM. Then we end the great fishing day with beers and a feast at the TroutHunter.
Granny and I did our first Henry’s Fork Marathon on June 21, 1986. I thought it would be cool to fish from sunrise to sunset on the longest day of the year. Around 1992 it occurred that every year we did the same thing and soon we had a tradition. Over the years friends have joined us on the fun day. As we got older and more sensible sunrise gave way to a 6 AM parking lot departure, then 7 and now we leave just before 8. The start time won’t get any later because to keep calling this the Marathon we must fish at least 14 hours straight.
These days the exact Marathon day is not necessarily the longest day of the year but rather the Tuesday closest to the summer solstice. That’s Granny’s day off. We pick the date way in advance and no matter what the weather we go for it and have a great time. Anyone who wants to join us is welcome.
When you do something for 26 years straight you see all kinds of fishing and all kinds of weather (See blogs for 2010 & 2011). Today’s forecast of gale force winds with clear sunny skies was as bad as a weather prediction can be for fishing the Ranch of the Henry’s Fork. It was obvious to the 11 of us “Marathoners” that fishing would stink. But none of us chickened out and we left the parking lot at 7:45. By 7:50 it was windy. And by 9 it was an Idaho hurricane!
At 9 AM several of us were about two miles deep in the Ranch, just hitting the famous area called Bonefish Flats. The minute we arrived the already strong winds went from about 20 mph to 30. If you stuck around a minute you were bound to experience one of the 40 mph gusts – they were awesome. The Henry’s Fork turned into an ocean of whitecaps and during some big gusts the crests of the waves literally left the river and flew off and watered the bordering forest. If this makes any sense at all, it was so impressively windy that it was actually kind of fun to watch.
The actual fishing wasn’t fun. No insect could possibly float down the river for a fish to eat and you could hardly cast. This led to a lot of down time sitting in the tall grass on the banks of the Fork sharing time with friends. I must say this can be as fun as the fishing itself – smoking cigars and drinking with pals.
After nearly 12 hours of howling wind, at 8 PM the wind dropped to about 10 mph. This actually seemed calm in comparison to our day, not only to us, but every other living thing on the Henry’s Fork. This is about when the first brown drake mayfly hatched in a small channel Granny and I were prowling in search of at least one big rainbow we could catch to avoid a skunk on the Marathon. Ten minutes after that first drake we had thousands fluttering around us and drifting down the river. It didn’t take the trout long to start feeding and soon I was coaching Granny into position to cast to a respectable rainbow.
Granny is good with the dry fly rod. The only thing she had going against her was there were so many natural brown drakes that she had to make a bunch of repetitive cast until finally this scrappy 17 incher took her fly and then ripped her up and down the river on my Ross 4-weight.
For the next hour Granny and I took turns casting to some fantastic rising rainbows. Although we both were a little sloppy and missed a few, we also caught a few. We also enjoyed the brown drakes. The drakes are the largest mayflies of the Yellowstone Region and they will last less than a week here on the Henry’s Fork. The patience through the brutal windy day finally paid off and the Henry’s Fork Marathon 2012 will be one for the memory banks!