Read Mike’s assessment of last year’s fishing, stream conditions and weather, including the Railroad Ranch, Box Canyon, Upper Madison, YNP and other waters. Check out his archived blog entries at his Henry’s Fork Anglers site: https://www.henrysforkanglers.com/
2022 Season Report
Feb 22, 2023 | Mike Lawson
I always try to put a positive spin on my season rundown but this past season wasn’t exactly stellar. Most of the waters in our region had a good year including the Teton, Madison, and the South Fork of the Snake. For the most part, Henry’s Lake and Hebgen Lake also produced good fishing. Our weather had a significant impact on all of the waters in the Yellowstone region. 2022 was one of the driest years on record. Our snow water equivalent was one of the lowest on record. We had a very cool, wet spring with below normal temperature which helped preserve our snowpack. We had so much rain in early June it rained so much that it caused flooding. Most people are aware of the floods Yellowstone Park. It was also significant on the Upper Madison. It had a lesser impact on the Henry’s Fork but the flows doubled from the Island Park Dam over about a week. A week later the air temperature shot up dramatically. This increased water demand and impacted all of our waters. The hot, dry weather persisted throughout much of the summer. Not good. Most aquatic insects don’t like clear, hot, dry weather. From my point of view I’d rate the overall fishing last season at a C-. Here’s a more detail synopsis of the 2022 season from my point of view.
Upper Henry’s Fork
Box Canyon and the ranch suffered severely from high water, significant sediment load, diminished hatches of aquatic insects, warm water temperatures and a very heavy load of aquatic plants.
The trout population in the Box Canyon was near normal. Water conditions made the fishing challenging. High stream flows made spending time fishing the runs difficult. For that reason our guides were not able to spend many full-days fishing the “Box.” Wading anglers really had a challenge. The water was not only high but, for the most part, it was pretty murky. Some of my favorite water is from the A-Bar upstream to the Box Canyon boat ramp. I fished there several times last summer and there wasn’t much going on.
The ranch produced not only very poor fishing but also concern for the future of this magnificent stretch of dry fly water. Reports from customers were dismal. I don’t fish this water until after the middle of July. My experience wasn’t good. In more than 60 years fishing this wonderful place I had never seen it dirty and off-color as bad as it was last season. I caught a couple of nice trout but like most other anglers who fished there last season, they were few and far between. Some anglers and guides did well blind fishing hoppers but that isn’t my game. For a more detailed report of the ranch in 2022 check out John McDaniel’s report on the ranch in 2022. I think John is spot on.
Some of my favorite water to fish later in the season is the Upper Henry’s Fork from Osborne Bridge to Pinehaven. When the river gets warm upstream trout congregate below cold water springs. I didn’t have too much trouble finding trout but the hatches were very inconsistent. By September drifting aquatic vegetation made fishing difficult. You had to clean off your fly every cast and if you hooked a nice trout, the junk in the water made it almost impossible to land a fish.
Lower Henry’s Fork
The lower river also suffered from murky water but it wasn’t as bad as the upper river. I think a lot of sediment and suspended particles were filtered out as the river flowed through the canyon above Warm River. In fact the section from Warm River to Ashton produced some of our best fishing on the entire Henry’s Fork in 2022.
The best fishing on the lower river is from the Ashton Dam downstream to St. Anthony. 2022 was no exception but this stretch of the river had problems of its own. Over the past few years crowding has become a major problem. Many anglers like to blame it on guides. It is important to realize that the number of guide boats have been restricted since before we started our business in 1976. For that reason most Henry’s Fork outfitters cannot put any more boats on this stretch of the river than they did 20 years ago. While the number of guides have remained relatively constant, the number of do-it-yourself float boaters has increased substantially. Drive around Ashton, St. Anthony, Idaho Falls, Bozeman and other fishing towns and you’ll see lots of parked drift boats and rafts. Along with that there are several places that rent drift boats. We are very sensitive about this because, as outfitters we are restricted to not more than 3 boats in any given stretch which cannot exceed 8 boats total. Yet there is no restriction on rented boats which is also a commercial venture.
Overall our salmonfly hatch was average due to water and weather conditions. The best salmonfly fishing occurs in late May and early June when the water is high enabling trout to hold on the banks. This year the water was pretty low and combined with heavy boat traffic, bank fishing was pretty tough. Later in June we had decent hatches of PMDs, Green Drakes, Flavs, and caddis but the dry fly fishing was short lived. This section of the Henry’s Fork starts to fish well again later in the season. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The air temperature was unseasonably hot in September through October knocking out the usually reliable hatches of BWOs.
Overall fishing went as expected on the Madison. March and April are great months to fish this river and 2022 was no exception. If you’re in our area in the spring during pre-runoff you should plan to give the Madison a go. Normally the Madison carries a lot of runoff in late May and early June. Hebgen Lake was drawn down very low by the end of the 2021 season. That limited runoff to some of the tributary streams like Cabin Creek and the West Fork. The result was the Madison was very fishable several weeks before normal. Then it started to rain and it rained and snowed for the next two weeks. Some waters in Yellowstone Park and the lower Yellowstone experienced significant flooding. It had had an influence on the Madison River below Hebgen Lake. The flow from the dam was around 450 cfs until June 13th when it shot up to 650 cfs. By the 15th of June it was over 3000 cfs. The amazing thing was that the water stayed relatively clear in spite of the high water. After that everything was pretty normal on the Madison.
We started getting some good caddis hatches after the water receded later in June. After that the salmonfly hatch was on time, moving up the Madison a few miles a day in late June. It wasn’t a banner salmonfly year but wasn’t bad. Hot dry weather didn’t help the situation. Late summer terrestrial fishing was hit and miss. There was a lot of great vegetation on the bank resulting in lots of hoppers. The problem was cloudy wet weather prevailed during the peak of hopper season in August. It wasn’t consistent enough to get the trout really focused on them.
Our erratic weather was favorable on the Teton. This wonderful watershed was severely impacted during the 2021 season. By the later part of the season the flow was well below normal. Even though the snowpack was dismal during the 2022, cool wet weather kept it in the mountains until the latter part of June. This produced some very good dry fly fishing with PMDs and BWOs. The hot dry weather later on put the kibosh on the great fishing. Everything stabilized later in July and the remainder of the year turned out pretty good. We had some great fishing on the upper Teton in September with good hatches of BWOs and a few large Gray Drakes.
The weather conditions impacted the South Fork. Palisades Reservoir was drawn way down in 2021. Last winter the snowpack was well below average. The result comparatively low flows compared the normal high runoff. The fishing was very good early in the period with nymphs and streamers. Then the weather turned hot and dry. The air temperature was over 100F for several days which really shut down the fishing. Everything settled down in time for the salmonfly hatch the first of July. It was a very good salmonfly hatch. Streamside bushes and grasses were bent down from the weight of the large aquatic insects.
Our greatest disappointment was there didn’t seem to be many fish in the riffles even when there were some pretty good hatches coming off. This is still a bit of a mystery to us because fishing the banks was productive throughout the season. By August we had good hopper fishing. In late August and September some of the most exciting dry fly fishing occurred during the early morning hours. That’s the period when late season brown stoneflies, locally called Mutant Stones, hatch on the river. These big stoneflies are nocturnal. You need to be on the water early so you’re ready to fish by sunrise. For about two hours fishing is very explosive. Hopper fishing held up until mid-September. All in all it was a good year but it was difficult to find rising trout in the riffles. That’s the name of the game for me on this river.
Fishing in Yellowstone was tough for a number of reasons. Flooding in June was disastrous in the northeastern part of the park making the roads impassable and shutting down travel. By mid-July everything was pretty much back to normal. Fishing on the Yellowstone River was pretty good. There were good hatches of Golden Stones, caddisflies and PMDs. The main issue was it was pretty crowded and traffic was terrible. Your best option is to leave as early as you can in the morning before the traffic ramps up. After fishing plan on a long, slow drive home.
Some of our lakes produced great fishing at specific times of the year. Henry’s Lake, for example, was very good in late May and again in September. Gulper fishing was very productive on Hebgen Lake in July and August. Last year the lake was drawn down so low and the fishing suffered.
As of this writing I’m snowed in. I live on a lane about a half mile from the county road. It snowed again yesterday followed by 40 mph winds. When the wind stops I’ll get us plowed out but it won’t last because there is more snow forecast for this weekend. It’s hard to envision warm summer days and rising trout. Here at my home have about 20 inches of snow on the ground. In Island Park Highway 20 was closed as well as Highway 87 from Island Park to Reynold’s Pass. There is a lot of snow at our shop. It’s hard to believe that even with all the snow, our snowpack water content is only slightly above normal. We need to realize that average is a grade “C.” Last year was one of the driest on record. We need to be well above normal to get back where we should be. Hopefully we’ll get there. We’re really thankful for the moisture we have received. Another year like last year would be catastrophic. I’ll wait until I see where we stand at the end of this snow year in April before I write a new fishing forecast for 2023. Look for my thoughts on what has happened and what is happening on the Harriman Ranch in my next blog.