Ask the Experts On Henry's Fork: Rene Harrop

Ask the Experts On Henry's Fork: Rene Harrop

  • By: Greg Thomas
  • Photography by: James Anderson
  • and Greg Thomas
Rene Harrop

René Harrop has lived and breathed the Henry’s Fork fishery for decades. His company, House of Harrop, produces some of the leading flies for the area; he was a founding partner of Trouthunter, a top fly shop on the river; and his artwork, writing and overall philosophy of fishing have inspired and enlightened countless fly-fishers, on the Henry’s Fork and elsewhere. Harrop lives in Last Chance, Idaho. We caught up with him there.

The Henry’s Fork went downhill in the 2000s, but now it seems to be making a recovery. Where does the Henry’s Fork stand this year compared to other years and even previous decades?
The fishing has been really good this year and business is good, too. Most of us are convinced that the river is turning in the right direction and I can say that in full confidence. We’ve had much-improved winter flows. We’re seeing a proportional improvement in trout numbers. And we’re seeing better hatches, too, including the green drake. I’m not going to tell you that it’s the greatest fishing we’ve ever seen, but we are seeing indicators for continued improvement.

How much of a change have the biologists reported?
We’re looking at a forty-percent increase in the trout population over last year. That won’t translate into really big fish right away because those are year-class-one fish. But I expect a lot of those fish to survive. The last time we’d seen such good recruitment was in the late-1990s. So I give things a pretty good appraisal right now.

On a yearly basis, which hatch do you most anticipate on the Henry’s Fork?
The green drake hatch has, historically, been the main attraction here. But that hatch has really suffered in recent years. Now it’s back and I had forgotten how exciting a full-blown green drake hatch could be. So, that rediscovery is exciting, but we’re also seeing other drakes. The gray drake started in late-May this year and I’m still seeing good numbers of size 12 spinners around. I think there’s an intimidation factor on the Henry’s Fork and the bigger flies definitely bring better opportunity for the less-skilled anglers. So, it’s nice to see the drakes again.

When I recently fished the Henry’s Fork, the fish ignored green-drake duns. That was cruel and unusual punishment. Those fish were eating little size 18 spinners! How could they let a size 10 green-drake dun pass in exchange for those little bugs?
It’s all a question of availability. The result for the effort is where a trout focuses its attention. That doesn’t mean the largest fly all the time; it’s more about the easiest to collect and those spinners were probably abundant. What your experience tells us is that you have to be prepared for things that aren’t the way they appear when fishing the Henry’s Fork. Your experience is not uncommon. This is a difficult river, but it’s particularly satisfying when you have success here versus some of the easier waters.

Do you feel like the Henry’s Fork is flying under the radar right now and that people are missing out on some good fishing?
People have discovered that the Henry’s Fork is gradually coming back and there seem to be more people here this year than last year. And I don’t know if secrets are secure anymore because of all the modern communication. But we have seen a nice bump of trout here and they can live six or seven years on the Henry’s Fork so I do expect that the fishing is going to be very good for at least the next four or five years. It’s not assured, but the likelihood is strong. I wouldn’t expect the river to be overly crowded based on what is happening right now, but when most of these fish get into the 16- and 17-inch range and guys start catching them regularly, that could change things.

You’ve been married to your wife, Bonnie, for 44 years, you’re driving a ’79 Chevy with 300,000 miles on it and you’ve fished the Henry’s Fork for 65 years. You don’t give up on things, do you?
I call that truck the Old Horse. And an old horse is like an old dog; you do what you can, you show patience and you try to keep them going for as long as you can.