The Henry's Fork: The Box

Part 2 of a 3-part series on fly fishing's Valhalla
henry's fork - box canyon
Photo: Bryan Gregson

The Henry's Fork is Valhalla, the place you visit when you've reached your pinnacle as an angler. The Fork, more than any other river, transcends numbers, size, and every other form of tyrannical quantitative analysis; it is a star in the angling sky, a fly fishing temple where the only thing that truly matters is your next cast. I can't tell you "The Truth, The Whole Truth, The Nothing But The Truth" about the Henry's Fork. Nobody can. I can, however, offer a few personal glimpses, snapshots that stand out from the thousands of hours I've spent on this incredible stream, and maybe a small taste of my experience will whet your appetite for a more tangible introduction.

Part two.

The Box

True story. I was guiding a fellow in the Box Canyon on the Henry’s Fork back in the early 90s. He was fishing a streamer and he tangled his fly and leader into a real mess. It took me a couple of minutes to straighten things out and when I was finally done I leaned over the side of the boat and dropped his fly—a Zonker, if memory serves—back into the water. The current, which was pretty strong where we were anchored, swept the fly underneath a nearby log and a five pound rainbow almost took my client's rod right out of his hands. Later, when we were back at Firehole Ranch, I heard him tell another guest about the great cast he'd made to hook that fish.

The Box is like that. It will take an average angler and make him (or her) believe, truly believe, that he's the fly fishing equivalent of Steph Curry; a natural born, hot-shit stick with a dead-on eye and the timing of Kipling's Riki Tiki Tavi. Which, unfortunately, is usually not the case. But the Box is still a great place to fish, especially if you like fast water, big rocks, and oversized rainbows.

To tell the truth, though, most of the best anglers on the Henry's Fork steer clear of the Canyon. Surprisingly, it's not that the fishing isn't good. It's just a little too easy. The heavy currents dictate that the trout, even the truly large ones, don't have much time to make up their minds. It's pretty much eat it now or let it go buy, without any of the "Hmmm, this crippled mayfly has two tails and a rusty brown abdomen, whereas the other bugs I've eaten in the last hour had three tails and a brownish red abdomen. I’m not sure this one is kosher ...” stuff that goes on downstream on the flat water.

However, when the big bugs are around, all that can change. I've seen the best anglers on the river stow their three and four weights when the salmon-flies hit town and grab a six weight rod that they ordinarily wouldn't use for anything other than a wading staff. They tie on a fly that looks suspiciously like Mothra from one those old Japanese monster flicks - you can almost hear Blue Oyster Cult singing, "Oh, no. There goes Tokyo. Go, go, Godzilla!" in the background - and then these Zen Master anglers start slinging sixty foot casts to the banks and pounding up fish that could swallow your fist if they were so inclined.

Which makes for some extremely interesting stories at the local bars, and for a fair number of guided trips where the clients, who have no idea who they're actually watching, say to each other, "Holy shit! Did you see that guy cast?"

So should you make a pilgrimage to the Henry’s Fork just to fish the Canyon? No, not unless you love crazy-ass wading amid the lava rocks and the lichen-tinged cliffs. But when you do decide to visit the Henry’s Fork, you should definitely devote a day to fishing the Box. Sneak in early, before the armada of drift boats fills the river from bank to bank, and hit one of those deep slots where the truly big fish live. If you do everything just right, you might hook the bottom ... and then have the bottom shake it’s head and swim off upstream.

Read part 1, The Lower River or continue to part 3, The Ranch.

Comments

The picture says a thousand words. My wife and I stayed in Last Chance for a season, and fished, from the bank, Box Canyon maybe 10 times and Henry's Fork for most of the other days. It was an eye opener to have a guide wading, and holding a drift boat, right through the middle of my run. And, he would encourage his sports to keep casting all the while. To their credit a few of the fisherfolk refused until "out of range." I rowed a drift boat for 30 years in Oregon, where nobody would cast while passing a "banky," and one did their best to move to the side so as not to drift over his/her lie. This wading maneuver by the guides in Box Canyon was/is the rudest bit of guiding I have ever seen.

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