Just Another Fish Story

What I Lost & Found on the Coffeepot Rapids Trail

Published online: Jun 29, 2017 Articles, East Idaho Outdoors, Family Fun Guide, Photography, Road Trips Steve Smede
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Snap. Crackle. Pop. That's not the sweet sound of my morning cereal. That's my fly line breaking on a recent trip up the Henry's Fork.

Aside from the image-oriented workload of my day job, I also happen to be an avid recreational photographer. DSLR, medium-format roll film, iPhone -- I love the craft (and the gadgetry) in all its guises. 

Usually with camera in hand, I love to go trail-hiking and stream fishing. Unless the fishing is just awesome or the lighting downright terrible, what usually starts as an angling adventure ends up as a photo safari. That's fine most of the time. Good exercise, anyway.

Last weekend, I took a day trip up to the Coffeepot Rapids Trail on the Upper Henry's Fork (just a mile or so downstream of the Highway 20 river crossing at Mack's Inn). Mid to late June is a special time on this stretch of water. While the hoards of traveling flyfishers bump elbows on the hallowed riffles of Harriman State Park, I usually opt for the shallower, gentler and (IMO) far more scenic trail section.

Coffeepot's rapids are a few miles down from the trailhead (N 44.49575 and W -111.39551), but the upper trail follows the river through a beautiful and quiet woodland setting. You can hoof it all the way across in most places. Unless, of course, you're tripping over yourself and cussing up a storm because you just lost the fish of a lifetime. (I'll get to that.)

I hope you'll find that the photos in this gallery do some justice to the visual treats of this area. Evenings are especially beautiful here. The only downside is the disparity between highlights (like the water sparkling against the setting sun) and the deep shadows of the surrounding forest. The perfect solution is subtle use of HDR, or High Dynamic Range photography. This basically means taking multiple photos (each exposed for different parts of the scene) and meshing them together for an overall effect that is just as good or better than what we perceive via our own natural peepers.

Perfect Light Camera and Supply has at least one class totally dedicated to this type of photography. I highly recommend it. For more information, check out

East Idaho has a number of phenomenal streamside trails that serve this combination of hook, line and shutter. A few examples:

Palisades Creek: Most people march up this scenic cliff-flanked corridor with the singular goal of reaching a pair of high-mountain lakes. I like to bush-whack into the pocket water just below the lower lake. Snags are common, but the cutthroat are plentiful and easy to catch.

Sheep Falls: This overlooked water feature on the Henry's Fork is just a short hike off of Highway 20 south of Island Park. I usually don't bother with a tripod because there are so many convenient boulders and volcanic outcrops on which to steady a camera. The fishing is sometimes spotty, but there are some lunkers in there.

Box Canyon: I took my wife on this trail one year right when the Salmon Flies were hatching. She thought we were caught in a scene from The Land Before Time. And that was before one of those three-inch-long monstrosities landed on the bridge of her nose. Good times. The insects are so huge, you won't even need a macro lens to photograph them.

If you should be so lucky to time it just right, the dry-fly fishing on any of these trailside waters will provide the angling experience of a lifetime. Whether you can divide your time between fantastic fishing and fantastic photo ops is the big question.

For me, the answer to that question is no.

So there I was, casting about on the Coffeepot stretch of the Henry's Fork, assuming I'd catch nothing but sub-pan-size rainbows that had migrated down from Mack's Inn. I never dreamed I'd hook into a monster trout. That's why my camera was sitting in a backpack 500 yards away. That's why I was caught so off guard when The Big One finally hit my fly.

It – we’ll call it a he – was huge. Monstrous. He might have been 14 inches long, but I'm thinking closer to 20. I say 20 partly because I have no photo of the fish that would say otherwise. He had the girth of a football. Teeth like a hacksaw. And here's the kicker: He's still in there. I worked the line as best I could, coaxing him back toward my backpack. I reached down to the zipper to fetch the camera. Just then, as I gripped tight with my other hand, the line snapped.

Losing a fish like that is akin to grappling with the stages of death:

Silence. Sadness. Rage. Acceptance. That's how it happens.

Fishing and photography are actually strange bedfellows because each can be so immersive. Doing both at the same time can make your head spin.

I've given serious thought to mounting a GoPro camera to my hat, (people do it all the time) or perhaps paying my daughter to photograph me while I cast and cuss. More likely, I'll just keep going back, trying my luck on the scenic waters along the Coffeepot Rapids Trail.

Interested in seeing it for yourself? Here's how you get there:

The trail is located at Upper Coffee Pot Campground six miles north of Island Park Ranger Station. From Highway 20, turn west on Flatrock Road for one mile then turn off on Coffee Pot Road and travel one-half mile to the campground entrance road. Total length of the trail is about 2.5 miles.

Update: This article was originally published in our September/October 2013 issue. Since then, I've had ample time to obsess over the one that got away. This past Sunday (June 25, 2017 at 8:30 p.m., to be exact), I finally landed a trout that could be in the same length/size ballpark. Now I'm more intent than ever to find one even bigger. File that under "good problem to have."




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