Winter on the Hank

Highway 32 is one of my favorite roads in America. It makes alternating northern and western runs toward Ashton, Idaho from its origin just west of Tetonia. It crosses over Bitch Creek, and passes through various grain and potato fields whose colors change seasonally. Punctuating the horizon are the Teton and Big Hole ranges. Gorgeous scenery notwithstanding, perhaps the principal reason I like this road is that it leads to the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, and the massive brown and rainbow trout that swim there.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

I don’t have plans to leave this area anytime soon. As in any lasting relationship, western Wyoming/eastern Idaho is the kind of place with whom one continually falls in love. And if one is smart, one will remind oneself frequently of the features that cause the attraction, and not wait for the perfect conditions to arise to do something about it. Biding time is a fool’s errand and few things are more regrettable than opportunities squandered. Symptomatic of cabin fever perhaps, these were some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head on the drive up yesterday, and fish or no fish, I was glad to be going fishing.

Winter snows left the farms and rolling hills blanketed in white matching the skies full of frozen precipitation forecast to fall the rest of the day. Only the road, a gravelly grey, offered a contrasting color in the foreground, though that would likely cease being the case by nightfall.

Once in Ashton, we cruised down the main street to find about as little going on as there had been at any other time of year. Of note, however, was work being done to one of the area’s primary landmarks, the Frosty Top, a diner of varying repute. Their sign, shaped as a three-dimensional root beer mug, was being taken down by crane. Hopefully repair, not removal was in order, but we didn’t stick around long enough to find out. A small collection of bystanders was gathered out in the cold, interested enough to record the goings-on with a variety of cameras for posterity. Like I said, not too much happens in Ashton, but that’s probably a good thing, and appreciated, since the same absence of activity was evident in the parking area of the spot we chose to fish.

Just north of the town of Ashton is the reservoir that serves the town’s water and irrigation needs. The several miles flowing downstream from the Ashton dam to Vernon bridge are closed to fishing this time of year as it will be prime spawn habitat for the rainbow trout as winter expires and spring begins. Soon enough the time will come to fish that area and its dense hatches of various drakes and stoneflies, but for now Vernon was the place and we found it in pretty good shape.

Another big bow

CG holds one of several, big rainbow trout nymphed up on the Henry’s Fork

Good friend and WorldCast Anglers Outfitting Manager, CG Sipe and I rigged up to fish a productive, if not well-known run in close proximity to the boat ramp at Vernon. One could certainly find more remote fishing, but sometimes all that amounts to is excess effort. With that in mind, CG set up a nymph rig and hit the water. Not long behind him, I made my way down to the river to see him grinning, trout in hand. The temperatures hovered in the mid to low twenties, but the fishing prospects, such as they were, made it seem a bit warmer.

CG hooked up with a big Henry's Fork rainbow

CG hooked up with another big Henry’s Fork rainbow

On the day, CG took several quality fish, all lengthy as well as girthy; traits which endear the Hank to anglers given its preponderance of food items available to trout year-round. After nymphing a bit myself at first, I made the switch to streamers, a common inclination of mine, and hooked up with a few browns.

Why I like to fish streamers

Why I like to fish streamers

Cold as it was, it was good getting out on the water and after an upcoming steelheading trip up to British Columbia, I have every intention of finding myself back on the Hank. More than just the proverbial stitch in time, if Heaven-forbid, I ever leave this place, this little slice of winter-time fishing precludes one more would-be regret.

For more photos, please click here.

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