Pteronarcys californica…. two words that strike excitement in the minds of avid fly fishers everywhere…. better known as….salmonflies! In our fly fishing adventures, we’d yet to really hit a true salmonfly hatch on any of the rivers we fished. Even before we started our River Ramble, we’d ventured to a couple of Montana Rivers in search of these creatures, but had never quite timed it right. So when our good friends Sue Doss and Dud Lutton invited us to go fishing with them, on the Henry’s Fork, at the very beginning of the salmonfly hatch, we jumped at the opportunity.
Our first stop was TroutHunter Lodge and Fly Shop on the banks of the Henry’s Fork in Island Park (ID). Sue’s dog Solomon, as usual, was greeted warmly by everyone and made his home at the front door, welcoming everyone as the came into the flyshop.
After we’d secured our Idaho fishing license, we met our guide for the day, Chris Andelin. Chris had already picked out an assortment of bugs for us to use for the day and we were thrilled that included in the mix of bead head nymphs and Pat’s rubber legs were an assortment of salmonflies. Game on!
Barb and I loaded into Chris’ truck and headed for our put in spot near Ashton (ID). When we pulled into the lot, there were about 6 other guide boats in various stages of “rigging up” in the lot. While Chris found a spot to park and began getting the boat ready for launch, Barb and I explored the bank and immediately started finding the stars of the day hanging on bushes and blades of grass everywhere. While it was still early, we knew it was going to be a great day fishing using these giant salmonfly patterns on our lines. Chris started Barb on a “dry/dropper” rig with a salmonfly on top and one of the nymphs below…. for me, just the salmonfly.
We started off downstream with Chris explaining various highlights about the Henry’s Fork and forewarning us to “be ready” as you never knew when a big brown or rainbow would rise to eat that big bug off the top. Every so often, Chris would pull over to the side, hop out of the boat, and literally pull us back upstream to fish a certain spot where we’d noticed a rising fish or two. We took a few opportunities to ask Chris questions along the way (edited into the video above) about these amazing bugs, their lifecycle and fishing the Henry’s Fork hatches in general.
As we continued downstream, we’d hit into a few really nice fish, all on the Salmonfly pattern. This caused Chris to take off the “dropper” flies from Barb’s rig and leave her with just the one salmonfly. A moment later, my fly disappeared in a flash… I raised my rod high and what I could only surmise was a very big trout had been tricked by my fly. Several times it took me on a ride, making runs away from the boat. Chris’ advice was “take your time…. we want this one”. Chris even rowed downstream and upstream chasing the trout. Barb even had to put her rod down when it made a run back in front of the boat. When it finally showed itself to us, it was a solid 20+ inch brown trout.
As we continued downstream, a storm looked to be brewing, so, Chris parked us under the Vernon Bridge for protection. All over the concrete wall of the bridge were salmonflies and the shucks of salmonflies. The adult salmonflies were everywhere, on our clothing…. on Barb’s hat…. everywhere. We tried to do a bit more interviewing of Chris, but the wind howling beneath the bridge washed out the audio (although I included some in the video above…. apologies for the sound quality) of our impromptu interview.
After the storm passed, we headed downstream picking off a fish here and there although the storm seemed to put down the number of salmonflies we saw in the air and on the water. We reached the takeout and caught up with Sue and Dud who’d had a very productive day on the water as well.
We made it back to the restaurant at TroutHunter Lodge where anglers from around the world who come here to experience the salmonfly hatch were busy telling tales of the day’s fishing. We did our best as well, enjoying a few cold beers and a burger before jumping in with Sue, Dud and Solomon for the drive back home to Bozeman. And yes, we’re already planning to head back to the Henry’s Fork VERY soon for salmonflies.