The longest day of the year shouldn’t be wasted. A great way to spend it is fishing. For more than 25 years I’ve managed to spend it walking more than 12 miles over a 14 hour period through the planets most fabled and beautiful dry fly water, the Railroad Ranch (Harriman) of the Henry’s Fork.
My long day of fishing has taken on the name “The Henry’s Fork Marathon” (Marathon 2016) and gradually old friends and new friends have started joining me. This year we had twelve of us including photographer Nick Kelley. Nick was here not only to enjoy the day but shoot a photo essay for Yeti, a company I’m very proud to be an ambassador for.
For me my Marathon starts waking with Granny from the back of my Explorer at around 5 AM in the gravel pits on the lower reaches of the Ranch. Some of the recognizable peaks are catching the first rays of sun and the birds are going off like an orchestra.
It takes Granny and I a few minutes to right ourselves after the evenings campfire party but once organized we migrate to the Last Chance parking lot for coffee and breakfast. That first hour of daylight from 6 till 7 is relaxing. Also, a reunion takes place as friends I haven’t seen in a while arrive to do the same.
We used to leave the Last Chance lot at 7 AM sharp. Now that my life is in the second half, I have a much more relaxed approach. After visiting with friends and today, even a morning beer to celebrate the start, we didn’t leave for the river until almost 8.
It’s a busy time in the Ranch and this year more so than others. We had massive snow pack in the Yellowstone Country and most rivers aren’t ready to fish yet. The Henry’s Fork is one of the largest spring creeks and its clear water is ready. Despite the crowd, everyone respects one another and their space.
The Ranch opened less than a week ago. This was my first trip in. Things are green here and the flowers are overwhelming. I get as excited for this day as I do chasing exotic fish anywhere in the world.
It didn’t take long to find rising fish. In fact we skipped a few at the top of the Ranch near the parking lot simply to put some miles down. A true Henry’s Fork Marathon entails walking all the way to the Osborne Bridge on Highway 20.
There were lots of Pale Morning Duns on the water. Mixed in were caddis and the occasional Green Drake. There were all forms from duns to spinners to cripples. I like to force feed fish with a good presentation and a parachute Adams. Most of the others match the hatch while a couple veterans go right for the juggler with an ant or beetle.
Everyone’s strategy worked. During that first hour nearly all of us hooked up. These big rainbows aren’t easy to land so despite the hook ups only three came to hand. This was a nice one by Josh (Sicket) Gallivan.
Things got slow after the short morning hatch. It was a hot one on the Ranch. Temperatures were predicted for 83° but it felt hotter to all of us. Not a problem though. We all had cold beers in our backpacks.
And this day isn’t just about the fishing. It’s a get together with friends. We had more than one beer session on the banks of the Henry’s Fork. I smoked a cigar. At 2 PM it was so hot we all submerged in the river to the top of our waders to cool off.
Even when it’s hot and there are few bugs on the water you keep a watchful eye for the nose of a rising rainbow. Trout are like people. If a good snack finds its way on to a plate we’re going to eat it. On the Ranch there’s always the likelihood that some type of insect will float by and the trout is going to eat it. If you’re watching the water it’s an opportunity to locate a fish. Jack, our New Zealand guest for the Marathon, spotted this beautiful rainbow while sipping an IPA.
Most of us tagged the Osborne Bridge at 3 PM. I say most because not everyone that started the Marathon made it here. It’s the halfway point and it’s already 6 miles of walking and fishing. It may not sound like a feat but the terrain is rugged. Many of us hadn’t landed a decent fish yet at this time. We joked that it was time to get serious and off we went.
Mother Nature tossed us a hurdle between 4 and 6 PM. It had been not only hot but also a relatively calm day. Calmness in the afternoon is an unusual circumstance on the Ranch and we cherished it. But ominous clouds moved in and brought some heavy wind and threats of rain.
The rain came on hard at 4:30. There were rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightening. Granny and I are well armed with Simms rain jackets but lightening scares me. Fortunately this storm never grew to this size they often do on the Henry’s Fork.
By 8 PM, 12 hours into the longest fishing day of the year, a rainbow reflected on Bonefish Flats of the Ranch. If you’re a serious angler but never experienced fishing sunset on Harriman’s then you’re missing out. Its nights like tonight that will have me coming here till the day I can’t.
Sure enough with the tremendous evening light came the caddis hatch and a spattering of brown drakes. The insects were enough to bring up the rainbows. The river was dead calm and rings from rises could be seen in every direction. It took me some time but eventually I landed a fish.
I didn’t exactly tear up the fish tonight despite risers in every direction. The one I caught was only about 16”. That’s a great trout most places but on the Henry’s the bar is high. I went from this trout on a hunt for a monster for Nick’s camera. I hooked one and had eats from two others but didn’t get the job done. I guess I used up my fish god credits in Portugal last week!
The 2017 Marathon is in the books. The day took place exactly on the Solstice making this one special. The days started getting shorter at exactly 10:24 PM. I was just getting out of my waders while enjoying the after sunset lightshow that we get nearly every night on the Henry’s Fork.
I’m exhausted but it’s been a great one. Today will probably be my best trout fishing day of the year. If you enjoyed reading this then perhaps you should join me next year. I’ll announce the date by April 2018. It’s usually the Tuesday either on the Solstice or after. Everyone is invited.
Time for the final event – burgers and beer at the TroutHunter! Life is tough!