Guest Post - 2011 Thanksgiving: A Trout Fishing Excursion To Remember

What happens when your wife and kids leave you alone for Thanksgiving?  Sit on the couch watching football, getting fat on cardboard pizza all weekend?  Guest Poster Bryan Jones, from Moscow, decided that the most respectful thing to do was to head over to the most beautiful fishing spots in the state, and make good use of the free time.  Bryan originally posted this over at Big Fish Tackle.  Thanks Bryan for sharing. ~ J. Bunch

Last week the wife and kids went to visit the grandparents in Ohio. As a consequence I was left unsupervised for the entire week of Thanksgiving so I did what any self-respecting BFT'er would do - I fished!

After dropping the family off at the airport on Monday in Spokane, I made a quick stop at Cabela's to gear up, and Petco to stock up on Meal worms. I then shot 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 crappy ice. That was a bust. I drove home to Moscow and frantically packed and got out of dodge by about 5:00 or 6:00 pm.

I made it over Lolo just fine, then found a church parking lot in Missoula, and slept in my car for the night (which isn't as fun as it sounds considering I drive a 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 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!

I caught probably around 20 or so before the bite slowed way down in the afternoon, so I decided to pack it up and do some exploring. I checked out the Fromme (sp?) boat docks 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 even bring my auger onto the ice, I just walked around to old holes other people had left. I pulled two quick 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. Apparently there are sea monsters in that aquarium because a giant swam by. of course he didn't even notice my jig. Pretty soon a big brookie was eyeing 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. 

I called it a day after that fish, and headed down the hill to St. Anthony to stay with some friends. The big fish for the day were a 19 inch brook and a 20 inch cut with a total of 24 fish.

Bright and early the next morning I was back at it 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 with a sculpin in his mouth and he had what appeared to be some sort of fishy tattoo of an X on his shoulder.

And this one was one of the the prettiest Yellowstone cutthroats I've ever seen.

The next day (Thanksgiving) I couldn't ignore the Henry's Fork calling my name any longer, so I hit some of my old favorite spots around St. Anthony. I went to Del Rio first thing, 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!

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:

At noon I headed back to the house for an amazing Thanksgiving dinner. The bad news though was that their dining room table is right next to a big bay window overlooking one of my all time favorite fishing spots. She kept calling to me. Being the good guest that I am, I helped clean up and do dishes and such, all the while glancing over at the river, which was still calling my name.

At four-thirty I couldn't take it any more. 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 and the fish didn't move! I was pretty ginger in fighting him since I was using 5X tippet. 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. I couldn't have been happier.

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!

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 plan since there was so much slush. We decided to float it anyway.

I threw bigger streamers all day trying for 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!

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, I think 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 he 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 had to ice fish one more time before heading home. I got to the lake before sunrise and the temperature was some obscene figure like -11 or something like that, 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 losing that 29 incher on the Henry's Fork the day before).

I decided to walk a little ways 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 crappy 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 a truck hit it! 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 a big hybrid! He made several runs, and shook his head for what seemed like forever, which prevented me from pulling him 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 over. 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, which was confirmed by the Fish and Game creel surveyor who measured it too.

I caught a couple more 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, and probably 9 or 10 fish 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.

- Thanks goes to Hookedlikeu and gang for taking my picture and sharing advice. 

~ Bryan Jones

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