A memorable day on the iconic river cost our Idaho field rep his gear, his cell phone, and his dignity, but it was still a day on the water
Sometimes a day in the woods is all about fighting through the challenges. Thrilled to be free from chores on a recent Sunday, I decided to go fishing. I had no inkling I was in for a memorable day, for something other than trout.
Green drakes hatch each June on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho. Anglers from around the world descend on the famed river, hoping for a chance to see huge fish cruise the clear water and destroy unsuspecting bugs. I am lucky to live within an hour of this public jewel, and as I drove north I planned my attack: I’d start at Seeley’s and visit the backwaters before returning home for dinner. It was the perfect plan for a fishing addict. As always, expectations were high and thoughts centered on success. Sure, there is always a chance that Mother Nature will rule the day, but optimism always reigns.
The day, however, quickly took a troubling turn.
My first three fishing spots were filled with people. Seeley’s was choked with four anglers in a section of river built for two. On the backwaters, fishermen looked like picket fences on both sides of the river. Undaunted, I headed upriver in search of a solitary spot, laughing at my optimistic belief that I’d have the river to myself. Upon reflection, I should have returned home to fish another day, but I was too gripped by the fly-fishing fever.
The beauty of fishing public water? I can go anywhere, anytime. The challenge, at times? So can everyone else.
It wasn’t a good start, but I have spent more than 25 years on the Henry’s Fork and I had backup plans for my backup plans. I decided to hike about a mile downstream to a little reach that is too far to venture for most foot-bound anglers.
As I dropped off the sagebrush flat, I rejoiced because it appeared my spot was empty. My excitement was brief. As I went to step on a riverside rock, I noticed a guide boat and two anglers tucked into a back eddy, largely hidden from view. Maybe I was rushing. Maybe it was the sight of other anglers. Whatever the case, at that time I stepped on a wobbly rock, which lurched to the left and bucked me face first into a mud bog dotted with cow patties.
As I spit muck from my mouth, the anglers watched in bemusement. An older lady started to offer help, but her husband chided her for leaving rising fish to help some stranger. The guide just shook his head.
Undaunted, but a tad embarrassed, I washed off in the river and listened to the woman’s advice on safe wading. I didn’t have the courage to point out that I fell walking, not wading.
As I scooped mud from my waders, I moved to my fifth choice for fishing and finally found a spot to myself. I caught fish and generally had a ball. My troubles seemed to be resolved.
On my return to the truck, I spied a nice fish feeding near the bank, not 20 yards from my earlier dive into the muck. But I rushed my cast and hooked the highest branch on a tree behind me. To retrieve my bug, I had to scramble up a rather large boulder and lean into the tree, stretching awkwardly over another rock. At exactly the wrong time, a branch broke and I tumbled. I bounced off two rocks and fell face first again, this time into the river.
To the applause of downstream anglers—who again wouldn’t leave rising fish to bother with me—I did an almost perfect belly flop.
Having already broken one rod this spring, my four-piece loaner rod was now a seven-piece. My hat floated downstream and snagged on a rock. My glasses sunk quickly to the bottom. My phone went swimming too. Actually, it seemed to float like a feather to the river’s bottom. After resting the phone in rice for 24 hours, in the hopes that it would miraculously pull through, I had to replace it.
My attempt to rescue a $1.78 fly caused more than $1,000 in damage, plus my humility.
Bemused by the arc of the day, I spilled water out of my waders and hung my shirt in the tree to dry. I didn’t know what to do, worried that given the clear course of the day I’d take myself out of gene pool with any sudden movement.
Still, the fish that kicked off the whole belly flop escapade kept rising, taunting me. I stomached the urge to throw all my gear at the trout and used six of the seven broken rod pieces to MacGyver myself a new rig. What was once nine feet now stood at a little less than seven.
I tied on my second best fly—the first remained lost in the riverside bramble—and made a cast at the lunker. And, as if launched out of a cannon, the fish devoured my imitation. I set the hook and then promptly broke the 5x tippet.
We all love the outdoors and dream of the days when it all comes together, whether it is a deer within range or a fish on the line. On this particular outing, however, I got nothing but scrapes, bruises, and an uncontrollable urge to brush my teeth.
Defeated, I headed home. Yet another memorable trip into the woods was under my belt.