The Henry's Fork of the Snake River in Idaho
another guided trip with Bud Lilly's Trout Shop
West Yellowstone, Montana
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Yesterday I fished on the Madison River in Montana. Today, JR, my guide of choice with Bud Lilly's in West Yellowstone, recommended we float a section of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River. It's in Idaho, but a short drive from West. It's a bit different in character to say the least. For one thing it's a shorter drift. But as we babble along on this page, I'm sure you might understand just how different the two waters are.

JR1.jpg (888303 bytes)We started our day like most. We meet at the shop, JR talks with Dick Green about where he will be putting in and taking out, load the gear and head to the launch location. It all happens so early in the morning, I'm amazed that I remember any of the conversation. I'm really not a morning person. I'm very thankful that the trout are not all that morning oriented either (for the most part in this neck of the woods anyway).

We have a family cabin just outside of West Yellowstone...on Hebgen Lake actually. We spend some time each year up there and I like to fish. Until I started the guided trips through Bud Lilly's, my success rate was...well...let's be honest for a bit...it sucked. Or maybe I would term it spotty. In any event it was not very consistent and while I really am one of those fishermen who likes to be out on the water with or without fish, I have found that with fish is better than without. Better yet, since I have been fishing with JR as my guide, I have found out why my other solo trips might not have worked very well (wrong time of year for one thing).

As I have written in the first part of this particular web page set, the weather in  West Yellowstone, Montana...is well...unpredictable. We had been along this route to the Box just a few days ago. We were going to Bozeman at the time and as we were driving   through Last Chance (the take out site for the Box drift) and then Island Park we had seen some light slushy snow on the windshield. Now, for all purposes that mattered the weather was fabulous. So in  less than a week we went from possible snow to definite sunshine. What is even more interesting, but didn't play a role in this trip, is that weather that muddy water North or West of  Yellowstone and make the fishing iffy for a day or two, may not effect the Box Canyon habitat at all (and vice versa of course). So in many ways, fishing in the region is excellent in a large part because of the many micro-climates created by topography. 

smudge.jpg (840668 bytes)Walking into Bud Lilly's is a pretty cool thing. It's a friendly place anytime, but here you get greeted either by Smudge (a Springer Spaniel with birds on here mind), or Trico (a small black Cocker Spaniel who loves love). Smudge is the morning greeter...so as you walk up to the shop be prepared to see her head poking out the door.

The drive down to the Box is about the same length of time as it would be to get to the Madison launch sites. The launch routine is much the same...I stand there and JR does the rest. I suppose I could do something, but it would probably slow him down. I have learned to put my rod together...well duh...right? Oh...and I put the line through the guides. Since all of the decisions for the flies and leader are done by JR, I stop there and stay our of the way.

The actual launch area for the Box is much smaller than Lyons on the Madison. Where there is very little room for folks to screw around and be rude on the Madison sites...there is absolutely NO room for the same lack of courtesy a the launch at the Island Park Dam. JR is a first class kind of guy and sets up the boat and rods (read plural here...it comes into play later) at the rest area at the top of the launch site and is ready to drop the boat as he takes the boat to the ramp...he is in the water and driving off to park the rig in perhaps 5 minutes.

Sort of a cool place. There are osprey nesting in the area (one nest right along side Highway 20 hold young every year)...and people come to the site to watch the birds. There were several parties of bird watchers while were were putting in.

One thing I like about JR is that he takes the time to do a little more work so that I have a unique opportunity to fish in better water. He told me that he was going to spend most of this day out of the boat and was going to "walk" me down the river. Huh? But before we headed "down" the river..he walked the boat upstream. Now I appreciate the concept of bucking odds, going against the grain, swimming up stream, battling the current...bla bla and so-forth...but today we were literally doing what no one else was. While other folks dropped their boats into the water and headed downstream, JR was walking the boat up against the current.

Of course, he was in the eddies more near the bank. We were safe enough and he was not killing himself to do all this, but still, I really appreciated the effort so that I could hook a monster fish.

Well I did hook the monster fish. I was hooked into a Rainbow that was in that 24 inch range and we did get a great battle out of him until he broke the leader, took the flies and went back to sulk in the deep water. I would really like to go back and hook that fish again, but in this case I would play it the same way and probably with the same result (maybe not). Where in the past I have made errors that resulted in lost fish, this time it was the fish (JR and I talked about it a bit). We think I fought that fish for more that 5 minutes. It was big, the current was swift and the water was big...it was a blast. I'll probably remember that 5 minutes for the rest of my life...even without landing the fish.

The day was rather unusual. JR had thought that I would not see anything other than larger Bows...nothing in the sub-16 inch size...no Browns, no Cutts...and certainly not the 11 inch Brookie that I landed...nor the the Whitefish. Yesterday had some unexplained dodiddies...and so did today. But we did catch some pretty nice fish. The wind was not too bad, but enough that JR switched me to an 8 weight rod...mercy...after the day on Monday (all right, I was a little under-prepared for the trip...physically)...my arm was killing me. It had not recovered going into today and half way down the water, JR hands me an 8 instead of my 5. I thought I would die...right after the arm fell into the water.

But I have to admit, once I got more used to the 8, I understood it's value and purpose. But I still think I was a little out of shape and worn out from the fishing two days ago (also in the wind and cast big bugs).

Box Canyon was flowing with about 1 1/2 times as much water as the Madison was on Monday. The deep pools were very deep...perhaps because the river was not as wide and the volume was so much greater? Duh, once again. Getting the nymphs down to the bottom in dead drifts took some work, the mends had to be from the top and not half way up the line. JR had told me that he would be walking the boat most of the day and that he did. He would sometimes hold us in one spot so that I would have the opportunity to fish a hole or a run from side to side.

We didn't have to work the edges too much. Unlike the Madison where you might find some monster fish pretty close to the bank (Browns mostly), this water was big boulders in deep water with fish holding in the deepest holes. Now, at a different time of the year (like two weeks earlier when the Salmonflies were in mid-hatch) you might find yourself using a different set of skills and tools...but for us on this day, it was nymphing through the holes that produced the fish.

This section of the river is set down into a canyon created by two vertical basalt set of cliffs. There are few breaks in the cliffs and there are a number of places where the cliffs are collapsing into slides. The soil along side of the river is thinly covering slabs of basalt also...so the vegetation holds on tight to what it can...which is almost nothing. The river bottom is a jumble of material, mostly rough edged basaltic material as opposed to smooth and rounded material (as in the Madison). The environment was excellent for growing food for the fish...rocks, clean water in more-or-less constant flow conditions.

There is some vegetation in the water, but mostly towards the end of the run when the water widens and flattens.

If you drive through Last Chance on your way either to or from West Yellowstone you will drive by and over the Henry's Fork of the Snake River. That is the river that also flows through Box Canyon. What you see as you drive by and over the river is a fairly shallow, spring-like river. Most often you will see fisherpeople in the water sight casting to rising fish. The Box is not a very wadible section of water...it's really nothing like the sections of Harriman that you see from the road.

Once you are out of the canyon the water widens and flattens...calming down as it does and you leave the basalt cliffs behind...the tall timber is gone and summer homes pop up along side of the water. For a few hours you think you are in wilderness and far from civilization. In some ways you probably are in a different world. If you are reading this, the chances are you are a fly fishing person and know what I'm talking about. When the fishing is decent and the environment is grand, you really don't feel the pressures of civilization...even on the drive back to West Yellowstone, the day was almost surreal. I didn't really loose the feeling until a couple of weeks later when I finally arrived back home.

Dick Greene, who along with Barbara Klesel, owns Bud Lilly's Trout Shop booBud Lilly's Trout Shopked my trips a couple of months before my actual arrival. It was easy to do over the phone ( 1-800-854-9559 ).

The take out is just North of Last Chance. Normally JR will take this float twice in a day. Because of the walking the boat he did, one pass took all the time in the day. Well almost. We did have a few minutes to spare so he took me to see the headwaters of the Henry's Fork. It's a set of springs East of Highway 20...monster fish in the Spring (no fishing of course, but that is fine with me...my history of landing large fish is not good anyway)...absolutely clear water. The last three photos below are take through the water surface. A wonderful way to end another great day of fishing...this time in Idaho.

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Madison River, MT
July 2006 (first day)

Madison River, MT
July 2006 (second day)

Upper Sacramento River, CA
September 2007

Madison River, MT
June 2007

Box Canyon
Henry's Fork Snake River, ID
June 2007


Madison River, MT
August 2007

Copyrighted 2007, J. Atchison, Spotted Dog Productions