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Hidden in the far north corner of Eastern Idaho, just over the border from both Montana and Wyoming, Henrys Lake attracts thousands of visitors every year. At approximately 6500 acres, Henrys Lake is a natural lake formed by glaciers and fed by several inflowing streams and springs. Less than 10 miles from the Continental Divide, Henrys Lake is the headwaters of Henrys Fork - famed tributary to the Snake River. It is also home to some of the best trout fishing in the West. A dam built for irrigation purposes across the outlet in 1923 enlarged Henrys Lake a little, but the same excellent fishing and spectacular mountain vistas have existed since long before Missouri Fur Company explorer Major Andrew Henry first saw the lake. Several Native American tribes predated him in their enjoyment of the lake, but the high altitude and winter snows likely made the site only a seasonal camping ground. Only 15 miles west of Yellowstone National Park, Henrys Lake is a common stop for park visitors who want to get in some trout fishing before the end of vacation.
Henrys Lake averages 12 feet in depth, which is unusual for a lake of this size. The lake produces a healthy crop of vegetation each summer, making for ideal habitat for a number of fish. Lying across a large flat valley, Henrys Lake is surrounded by majestic mountains such as Black Mountain, Mount Jefferson and Sawtell Peak in the Centennial and Henrys Lake ranges. Views from the lakeshore are spectacular from nearly every vantage point. Much of the lakeshore is in private hands,but several campgrounds, RV parks and private ranch resorts dot the shoreline. Both a state park and a county park offer boat launch access, although water skiing and power boating don't seem to be the norm here. Several wetland areas along the shores shelter a wide variety of birds, waterfowl and wildlife. A few developments hold much of the private housing, and isolated lodge-style homes occupy a few of the points jutting into the lake. The atmosphere at Henrys Lake therefore remains serene, and local groups are determined to protect its pristine nature.
Henrys Lake State Park on the south side extends along the Henry's Fork outflow, still a shallow trout stream this far upriver. Forty-four campsites are offered here, with a few more available at the Frome County Park on the northwest bank. There is no organized swim area; more visitors engage in canoeing, kayaking and small boating than anything else. And much of that boating involves getting to the hottest trout fishing spots, the lake's most famous draw. Boat permits and invasive species stickers are required for most boats. The stickers pay for the several boat wash stations around the lake as protection against invasive species. Henrys Lake holds a native population of the endangered Yellowstone species of cutthroat trout, a population jealously guarded from possible extinction by judicious fishery management. Henrys Lake Fish Hatchery and Fish Management Station, the oldest hatchery in the state, breeds hybrid trout along the northeast shore to plant both in Henrys Lake and in other lakes in the area. By making the sterile hybrids available in the lake, fishing pressure on the native Yellowstone cutthroat is reduced.
As a trout fishery, Henrys Lake is world-famous. Trout spawn in the many inlet streams and grow rapidly fat in the productive lake. Catching trout above five pounds is the norm here. Besides the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, brook trout, rainbow trout and rainbow hybrid trout are often caught via fly-fishing. There was once a population of mountain whitefish in the lake, but these fish have not been observed in several years. Along with the introduced rainbow and brook trout, the Rocky Mountain sculpin, red-sided shiner and a few other non-native species have been found to inhabit the lake. The Henrys Lake Foundation works with the Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game to improve habitat for the trout. Recently, they have installed appropriate screening at the irrigation inlets of the tributary streams where the trout spawn to prevent them from ending up in the irrigation systems. Although Henrys Lake isn't in danger of too much water loss, the out-flowing Henry's Fork must be carefully managed to assure adequate water during all seasons to facilitate trout spawning along the waterway. Because of the system of water rights, nearly all of the water in Henry's Fork is allocated to irrigation; in dry years, very little is left for natural habitat. This is a problem the State of Idaho and conservation groups are actively working on to assure enough water for every need.
Fishing isn't the only attraction at Henrys Lake. The 585-acre state park holds several trails for hiking. The 350-acre Bureau of Land Management Wildlife Study Area provides protected habitat for black bear, elk, moose, deer, and a variety of birds. Management of grizzly bear is given priority over other uses. The Henrys Lake area's open grasslands and wetlands are critical habitat for peregrine falcons, gray wolves and bald eagles, and crucial habitat for large numbers of big game, waterfowl and sandhill cranes. White spruce, rare in Idaho, grows on soils believed to be remnants of floating islands recorded by early trappers who worked the area. Designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, the Bureau of Land Management manages 2415 acres near the lake. Henrys Lake is open for ice fishing in the winter, and snowmobile trails assure winter sports enthusiasts have plenty to keep them interested. Henrys Lake is surrounded by Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Along with Yellowstone National Park, the public lands nearby provide hundreds of miles of groomed trails for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and hiking.
The tiny settlement of Lake lies along the highway on the east side of Henrys Lake, The lake is considered to be in the municipality of Island Park, further south on Henry's Fork. Island Park lies next to the Island Park Reservoir, where Henry's Fork is once again impounded. The town of only a few hundred people is actually measured as 33 miles long, mostly because of Idaho liquor laws which only allow liquor to be sold within city limits. So Island Park stretches to encompass the fishing resorts along Henrys Lake as a convenience for the tourism business. There is a regular chain hotel in Island Park for those who wish to fish both lakes, and several businesses that cater to campers and hikers with supplies, groceries and bait. The town of West Yellowstone is only 13 miles from Henrys Lake and offers more in the way of city amenities. West Yellowstone is the western gateway into Yellowstone National Park and is thus well-equipped with lodgings, restaurants, stores and services.
The area around Henrys Lake is filled with campgrounds, resorts and private rentals. All types of lodgings can be found to meet nearly every budget. Henrys Lake is located a hundred miles north of Idaho Falls and nearly the same distance south of Bozeman, MT; a small air strip also serves the area. One visit - and one monster trout in the landing net - and many visitors start looking for real estate in the area: some can usually be found not far from Henrys Lake. Won't you come and try the fishing? It'll be the trip of a lifetime!
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