My Two Hours on Henry's Lake

Twice a year I take a road trip through Idaho and Montana to check in on my LakeStream Studio art retailers and restock any art that has sold. This time, I added an extra day to the trip to do some personal fishing. After all, that’s what it’s all about, right? So, I set my alarm for 4:30 AM to be up and on the road driving from Island Park to Henry’s Lake so I could be on the water fishing before sunrise.

As I pulled up to the lake, it was gusting wind and raining lightly. I inflated my kick boat and was ready to fish by 6:00 AM. I was the only one there until a tall guy in a black pickup rolled up next to me and started to pull out an inflatable kayak. I said, “Morning, I hope this wind dies down soon!” He replied, “Yeah it should die down by sunrise”, speaking as if he was an experienced local from the area. Turns out his name was Mark, and he had a few hours to fish before his shift at the nearby RV Park where he was spending the summer as a campsite host.

Henry’s Lake, at 6,500 feet in northern Idaho, is a fly fisherman’s dream. It is a relatively shallow lake with an average depth of only 12 to 14 feet. This creates an environment rich with freshwater shrimp, leeches, and a diversity of other aquatic life. This abundant variety of food allows trout to grow to gigantic proportions, attracting fishermen from far and wide for a chance to catch a double-digit trophy.

Henry’s Lake is also home to more than just one kind of trout. A few years back, while fishing with my brother-in-law Pete, we caught four species in one day; Rainbow, Yellowstone Cutthroat, Brook, and Cutbow (a rainbow/cutthroat hybrid). I used a photo of that beautiful Yellowstone Cut as reference for a drawing which is now offered as a fine art print on my website:

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout used for reference for LakeStream Studio Art


Prints of the Yellowstone Cutthroat can be purchased here.

In this lake, Cutbows grow larger than the other species in Henry’s and put up a fierce fight when hooked. It is not uncommon for anglers to catch these hybrids in the 10-to-15-pound range!

Sunrise was just breaking through the clouds as I eased my kick boat into the water and, luckily, the rain had stopped.

Henry's Fork Lake

When selecting flies to imitate bottom-dwelling food sources, I have always tried to choose colors which match the stream or lake bed to imitate the naturals, so I tied a loop knot to a green, double-bead-headed Last Chance Leech.

Last Chance Leech Fly

The double bead head would get the fly down to the bottom quickly. I knew from experience that this shade of Arctic Fox fur matched the exact color of the aquatic vegetation in Henry’s and other nutrient-rich lakes. This was re-confirmed by the numerous plant parts I yanked up while snagging the bottom. I know most freshwater leeches are dark brown, black or darker olive green, but I was going to give my theory of “matching the weeds” a try.

Green Last Chance Leech matching Green Weeds

I must have snagged those plants a dozen times that morning, which necessitates cleaning off the hook each time and re-casting - an essential annoyance which ensures your fly is swimming near the bottom, where the fish are.

The technique I chose to start out with that day was to fish the leech near the bottom, in and around the weeds. The design of this fly allows it to “swim” with the natural pitching motion of a real, swimming leech. I would cast out, count to five, then strip the fly in with four-inch strips, randomly pausing and stripping again, always controlling and eliminating slack in the type 3 level sink line.

This technique was the ticket, because at about 6:30 AM I got a solid hit between strips and knew immediately that it was not an average 15 to 18-inch fish. It took the leech and ran, screaming WF7S line off my reel, and pulled me around the lake for 15 minutes. Twice, it buried itself in the weeds but my tippet held, and I finally netted the brute. I measured it, took a few photos, then released it. The Cutbow hybrid measured 25 inches. I felt lucky to have landed it.

Henry's Lake Cutbow Trout

Once again, the Last Chance Leech saved the day. I was off the water by 8:00 AM and I will never forget those two hours on Henry’s Lake. I will be back.

Paul Laemmlen is a fly fisherman and wildlife artist from Cedar Hills, Utah. His artwork can be found at

Information on the Last Chance Leech along with written instructions on how to tie it, can be found at: