Dec 6, 2011

Ol' Hank

     My family has a little Thanksgiving tradition in the making: the little lady and the two littler ladies headed to Ohio again this year, leaving me once again, unsupervised (see Give Thanks for Chrome for last year's turkey day excursions). I thought about possible things to do; steelhead was fun last year, but who knew if it would be any good again this time, the whitetail rut would be in full swing but I made sure to shoot my deer early so I wouldn't me tempted to go hunting and waste valuable fishing time. I dreamed up a crazy plan. I would take a whirlwind tour of Southeast Idaho and go ice fishing on Henry’s Lake! I had to sell some stuff to scrape together gas money, but it was oh so worth it.
     After dropping the family off at the airport on Monday in Spokane I made a quick stop at Cabella's to gear up, and Petco to stock up on meal worms. I couldn't resist the urge to shoot over to my favorite pike spot (where my buddy had just caught a 15 pounder the week before) with high hopes, only to find it covered with one inch of bad ice. Pike fishing was a bust so I drove home to Moscow and frantically packed. I got out of Dodge by about 5:00 pm.
     I made my way up the Lochsa and over Lolo Pass just fine, then found a church parking lot in Misoula and slept in my car for the night (which isn't as much fun as it sounds considering I drive a little Toyota Camry and I'm not a petite fellow). I woke up at about 05:00 and continued on. I got to Henry's Lake at around 10:00 or 11:00 hoping that the morning bite would continue a little longer.
     Not really knowing too many access points at the lake, I decided to explore. I found what looked like a spot where my car wouldn't get stuck, and it wasn't even too crowded so I decided to give it a try. I got my holes drilled and my jigger totters set up and started fishing in about 5 or 6 feet of water and sure enough it wasn't long before the bite was on!
Jigger-Totters ready for action!
Pretty cutthroat
Fat brookie
     I caught about 20 or so before the bite slowed way down in the afternoon. I decided to pack it up and do some exploring. I had heard a lot of good reports (although it sounded very crowded) about the county boat docks so I went and checked those out to see what all the hubub was about. The ice was a little more sketchy there, only about 4 inches, but I continued on gingerly. I didn't bring my auger onto the ice, I just walked around to old holes other people had left. It was very shallow, only about three feet deep. I pulled two fish out of one hole, then decided to walk around some more. I found a spot where there was a few inches of water on top of perfectly clear ice. It was like fishing in a three foot deep aquarium. Seeing as we're talking about Henry's Lake, there are sea monsters in that aquarium, and I saw a giant swim by my hole, but of course he didn't even notice my jig. Pretty soon though, a big brookie was eying the jig so I tried to act cool. I twitched it a couple of times and managed not to jump the gun when she bit.
19 inch brookie in my aquarium!

19 inch brookie!
     I called it a day after that fish and headed down the hill to St. Anthony to stay with some friends. My big fish for the day were a 19 inch brook trout and a 20 inch cutthroat with a total of 24 fish caught.
     Bright and early the next morning I was back at it and catching more fish. I iced 29 fish that day but they seemed to have a maximum size and try as I might I couldn't beat my big fish from the day before. Though there were a couple of interesting catches. This guy for example came up chewing on a sculpin like it was a cigar and had what appeared to be some sort of fishy tattoo of an X on his shoulder:
Hardcore cutthroat
     And this one was one of the the prettiest Yellowstone cutthroats I've ever seen:
I think this is my favorite picture of the trip
Beautiful 20 inch buck!
     The next day (Thanksgiving) I couldn't ignore the Henry's Fork calling my name any longer so I got out the fly rod and hit some of my old favorite spots around St. Anthony. I went to Del Rio Bridge first, but all I caught was a bunch of ice in my guides. I headed down stream to the next spot and started stripping small wooly buggers and started hammering fish! This picture is of my first brown trout in one year, 11 months, and two weeks. I was starting to develop a twitch it had been so long!
My first brown in almost 2 years!
     He wasn't big but to me he was beautiful.
     For the rest of the morning I don't think I went three casts without a bite! This pretty 17 inch fish was the biggest of the morning:
17 inch brown
     At noon I headed back to the house for an amazing thanksgiving dinner with my friends. The bad news was that their dining room table is right next to a big bay window overlooking one of my all time favorite fishing spots. Being the good guest that I am I tried to help clean up and do dishes and such, all the while glancing over at the river, which was frantically calling my name. At four thirty I couldn't take it anymore. I slipped my waders back on and slipped out the door. I only had about a half hour of daylight left, but it was better than nothing. I soon caught another little guy. Then I made one of the few really good casts of the trip. I used a reach cast and put the little streamer about two or three inches from the bank and it drifted under a bush in a little eddy on the side of an island. Sure enough, the fly stopped dead. I set the hook into something that I couldn't budge! I was pretty ginger in fighting him since I was using 5X tippet but I soon won out. After our brief tug of war I pulled him up onto the grass. While he wasn't the two footer I had hoped for he was 19 inches of angry brown trout and I couldn't have been happier.
They're getting bigger! This one measured 19 inches!
     Friday brought more of the same though I didn't catch quite as many. I rounded out the day with 7 fish landed.
     Saturday I arranged to meet a buddy and float from Warm River to Ashton. I got there early so I could nymph another favorite spot. Unfortunately the slush monster was out in force that day. But not being one to give up that easily I fished between the slush-bergs and lo and behold the fish were still there!
Don't let the slush monster get you down!
     The slush monster was nice enough to give up 5 fish but they were all pretty small. When my buddy got there with his boat we debated whether or not to go through with our float since there was so much slush. We decided to try it anyway.
     I threw bigger streamers all day in an attempt to tie into something a little bigger. The slush subsided about 45 minutes into the float, which made things much easier. I only caught two fish but they were both really pretty. One was a 16 inch cut-bow, and the other was a 20 inch brown with the brightest orange spots I've seen!
Football of a cutbow!
Biggest brown of the trip!
     Having broken the 20 inch mark, I was pretty happy, but we kept on fishing. Just above the Hwy. 20 Bridge I set the hook into a solid fish. He immediately surfaced and shook his head to show us how big and bad he was, and in doing so promptly spit the hook. I cried a little. We guessed that he was at least 22 or 23 inches - what the heck, this is my story - we guessed that he was at least 26 or 27 inches - ya that sounds better.
     At any rate I ended the day having caught 7 fish again.
     That brings us to Sunday morning. I just had to ice fish one more time before heading home. I got to the lake before sunrise and the temperature was an obscene -11°F, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do right?
     I was very happy with the results of my trip so far. I had caught some really cool fish, and quite a few to boot, but in the back of my mind there was still that tiny twinge of disappointment that I hadn't got anything big from Henry's Lake (and I was still a little upset from loosing that 29 incher on the Henry's Fork the day before).
     I decided to walk a little farther from the car to try to fish a little bit deeper and find fish that hadn't been fished so heavily. This was a decision that paid off nicely. The ice was noticeably thicker by this point. I was getting a work out drilling holes with my dull hand auger, and setting up rods as I got holes drilled. By the time I was on my fourth hole I had "jigger-tottered" up three fish including another 19 inch brookie. Then the rod in the hole closest to me dipped once then stopped. I walked over and watched it - nothing. I picked it up and jigged it a little and right away I got hit by a big fish! My jig started out seven feet down so the fish had a little bit of room to get his tail behind him and fight properly. It was obvious that this was a different caliber of fish. I caught a glimpse of the tail as it passed under my hole and I saw that it was the big hybrid I was hoping for! He made several runs, and shook his head for what seemed like forever preventing me from pulling him up through the hole.
     I finally got him up in the hole and tried to grab him, but I missed and he sank back down and we started the process over again. On the third time up in the hole I managed to get a finger under his gill plate and slide him up onto the ice! I did a little back flip in my mind and tried to celebrate in a calm, manly way, just in case somebody was watching. He ended up stretching the tape to 25 inches, my biggest Henry’s Lake fish ever!
     I caught a couple more fish before packing it up at 11:00, for a total of 7 fish for the day again. That made a trip total of 6 days fished, 97 fish landed, probably 9 or 10 of which were 20 inches long, and one much bigger! But I couldn't have asked for a more perfect ending to my trip than getting a beautiful Henry's Lake hybrid.
25 inch Henry's Lake hybrid! My biggest ice fishing fish ever!

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