Words and Photos Thanks to Mikey Shanahan, guide, Aussie Fly Fisher, Canberra, Australia
I come from A Land Downunder
This year I had the opportunity to head stateside for the summer, something that I’ve been dreaming of since I picked up a fly-rod. Although the trout fishing in Australia is wild, free, and spectacular (look it up if you haven’t already), nothing can really ever compare to making the pilgrimage to rivers like Madison and Yellowstone, or the privilege of being able to catch wild trout in their native environment. That and the local beers (which are delicious) pretty much make Montana a must on most serious trout bum’s lists.
I was lucky enough to be based in West Yellowstone. I had a bunch of irreplaceable and radical experiences there. Here are a few of my impressions and a few tips for any other international or domestic trout bum that is thinking of packing up and heading west, although in my case I actually had to head north-east for several thousand miles.
First World Problems
The main problem confronting any angler arriving in West Yellowstone, a place with seemingly more rivers than roads, more lakes than parking lots, and more fly shops than McDonalds, is where to go first? Well, one of the many fly shops is usually a good option, and I was extremely lucky in this case. My good friend Tom serendipitously introduced me to his good friend Justin Spence, who is a part owner and guide of the best option, Big Sky Anglers.
Luckily for me and everyone else who’s had the pleasure of meeting, fishing, or dancing with Justin, he is, as we would say back home, “an absolute #$%^&ing total legend” and all around ultra stand-up-guy. He is also indicative of the whole BSA crew in my opinion.
Justin not only went out of his way to help me, but he also introduced me to everyone at BSA. That was not only the best possible thing that could’ve happened on my fishing trip, but it was also one of the best things in my life.
Focusing on people so much might seem odd for what is essentially a destination fishing blog post (I can see Matt, the awesome guy who asked me to write this, instantly regretting his decision…). I mean one group of people who fly fish religiously in a town where everyone fly fishes religiously isn’t anything special right? Chances are you go somewhere like that you’re gonna find a group of people who you connect with and help you out to a certain extent, correct? I’m not so sure.
You see, there are fishing trips, and then there are times when the universe plucks you out of the inky, sticky depths of the Great Southern Continent and plunges you into the centre of a group of people who are doing something awesome and exciting at an exact time in an exact place. And when that happens, you just gotta roll with it.
Adapt, or Die #neverforgetyourshell
When travelling to a place that has such varied and excellent fishing as Montana it’s important to have goals to focus your trip. A list of species, rivers, or certain experiences is always a good idea and there’s plenty of info out there too research through before a trip, which is half the fun! However it’s also vital to be adaptable to get most out your fishing.
Weather, hatches (both insect and bikini), along with heaps of other variables, can affect your best made plans, but luckily there’s usually another option. Most of the best fishing I had was a result of being open to whatever happened to be the best fishing on the day.
Listen to advice and act on it, sticking with a plan through thick and thin can come through, but if the guys at the shop who have their finger on the pulse tell you something can wait a week or that you’ve got a better option, go with it, make the most of the short time you have.
One perfect day – Every day of the week
The problem about spending a whole summer in Montana is that you end up with too many good stories. Everybody in Australia (and I mean everyone, I haven’t shut up since I got back) are already pretty sick of me stating sentences with ‘in Montana…’
There was opening day on the Yellowstone, hiking into the back end of River X, sliding down the Madison, or rowing around drowned trees, trying to pull psycho rainbows on big dries. My advice – Go make your own memories and bore your own mates with them.
That being said one of the days that really stood out for me was floating around on Hebgen Lake with my buddies Belen and Miles, shamelessly bobber fishing, eating cheeseburgers, drinking beers and listening to house music. It’s because of the great people I had the privilege of fishing with in Montana that made my trip what it was.
I’m writing this for them now (ya’ll know who you are) as an open invitation to get outta the freezing cold and 100 foot of snow that guys get and to get over here ASAP. Bring your board shorts, thongs [Aussie for flipflops. Maybe], sunnies [Aussie for sunglasses], and stubbies [Aussie for who knows what], and let’s party over in this summer until your next one.
My one piece of advice, though, for folks headed to Yellowstone Country, is to get your butt into BSA the moment you’ve touched down, driven up, or walked into West Yellowstone. Those guys are dinky-die Aussie legends in my book.
The shorter days of winter are upon us here in Montana. The weather is cold, but that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on spending time outdoors. We are still fishing when the conditions are right, but are also shifting attention to hunting, skiing, riding, and other snow sports. The simple fact is, though, that there is a lot fewer hours of daylight in winter, so a person needs some good indoor hobbies to get through. Filling the fly boxes is Job #1. Hanging out by the fire with a good book is another prime winter pastime, though.
We asked some of the guys for suggestions to add to your winter reading list, and here’s what we came up with.
Suggested by Jonathan Heames
- The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane
- The River Why by David James Duncan
- Trouthunter: The Way of an Angler by Rene Harrop
- Spring Creeks by Mike Lawson
Suggested by Joe Moore
- Small Fly Adventures in the West by E Neale Streeks
- The Curtis Creek Manifesto by Sheridan Anderson
- Chasing Rumors – A Season of Fly Fishing in Patagonia by Cameron Chambers
- Bud Lilly’s Guide to Fly Fishing the New West by Bud Lilly and Paul Schullery
Suggested by Justin Spence
- Single Hand Spey Casting by Simon Gawesworth
- Instinctive Fly Fishing by Taylor Streit
- Hatch Guide for Western Streams by Jim Schollmeyer
- Modern Steelhead Flies by Rob Russell and Jay Nicholas (with a cameo by Matt Klara)
Suggested By Matt Klara
- What Trout Want – The Educated Trout and Other Myths by Bob Wyatt
- McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss
- Single Handed Fly Casting by Jason Borger
- Birds of Montana Field Guide by Stan Tekiela
It’s that time of the year again folks. The Holidays! The waders are hung by the chimney with care. Give love first, and then if you want to add a stocking stuffer or two into the mix, we came up with a few ideas for the fishing folks on your “NICE” list. Just call the shop and we’ll set you up. 406-646-7801. And, please do it soon so there is time for Santa to deliver in time.
BSA Ouray Ball Caps You could fish while wearing a Houston Astros hat, but why bother? $24.95
BSA logo RTIC stainless Koozie Ever see a sign advertising warm beer? Yeah, didn’t think so. $19.95
THE NZ Strike Indicator System Deadly when you are nymphing slow, clear water for super spooky fish. A top secret option for running double nymphs in the surface film for fussy risers. $16.95
Mimi Matsuda Art Cards Local artist and legendary fish whisperer puts beautiful art on greeting cards, perfect for any occasion. $4.95
BSA Logo Snowflake Holiday Ornament Sarah and Rachel nailed the design on this one $12
Gamakatsu SL12S Big Game Saltwater Hooks Golden dorado, huge stripers, grande roosterfish, marlin on fly? These are simply the best. $8
Trouthunter Leaders and Tippet This stuff is the ticket. So strong. From the Henry’s Fork to the rivers of Patagonia, this is many of our guides first choice. $4.95 to $21.95
BSA Mega Stickers For the coolest coolers, boats, and fishing rigs. The fish is 16 inches long… bigger than the one your buddy caught last time out. $9.50
BSA logo Fly Boxes They come empty, but we are happy to fill ’em up for you too, if you’d like. $10.95 to $15.95
Hand Warmers Winter fishing and skiing essentials. $2.50
Smith Creek Tippet Tamer Keeps all those loose bits of tippet out of the river. Recommended by Jon “The Professor” Heames $15.95
Fishpond Koozie Already attached to a lanyard to hang from your neck, or a boat seat. Stay hydrated. $29.95
Fishpond Gadgets Headgate Tippet Holder holds all your spools. Swift Current Thermometer so you know what’s up out there. Dry Shake Holder controls your powdered floatant. $19.95, $18.95, $9.95
20/20 Magnetic Tippet Threader 6x tippet, and a #22 trico spinner. Those days are long gone for many of us. $10.95
Hatch Nippers With the BSA Logo, it’s just over the top. These babies will last forever. $100
Simms Stainless Pint Glass I heard there was a keg around here somewhere. $14.95
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! It is hard to believe we are nearing the end of 2017, and we couldn’t be more thankful. Last year at this same time we were close to signing the purchase papers for Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop. So many things have gone on in the last year it is hard to know where to begin. First we would like to sincerely thank everyone for helping make this first season a success. Without all of the support we wouldn’t be where we are today, so, thank you!
Our doors officially opened over Memorial Day weekend and we never looked back. The summer seemed to fly by even faster than usual. We had wonderful fishing in Idaho on the Henry’s Fork, on the Madison and Missouri Rivers in Montana, and throughout Yellowstone Park. Our guide and shop staff did an outstanding job in the shop and on the water. We want to thank all of them for all their hard work and awesome energy!
We celebrated our grand opening Grand Opening for a weekend at the end of June with two days of fun, giveaways, appearances by sales reps, and a party with awesome food from our friends at Beartooth BBQ. So many great folks came out to see the new shop, say hello, and wish us well. The outpouring of love and support we felt from not only the West Yellowstone community but also from so many longtime friends and clients of Big Sky Anglers, Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop, the West Yellowstone Fly Shop, and Jonathan Heames Fly Fishing was truly humbling and overwhelming. We can’t thank everyone enough.
Packed house at the Grand Opening at the end of the night.
Community. We couldn’t do it without your love and support.
We had so much fun at the Grand Opening, we decided to throw another party on that same weekend in 2018! So, please, come join us on Saturday, June 30th, 2018 for a shop party to celebrate the summertime, our friends, families, and the fishing life. It’ll be a great chance to meet and get to know BSA employees and guides, visit with reps from various companies who will be showing product and doing demos, get in on a bunch of sales and giveaways, and also enjoy some great food like last year.
2017 saw great flows on all our rivers here in greater Yellowstone country. The Salmonfly hatch on the upper Madison was one to remember; we fished the big bugs for three full weeks! Big flows on the upper Madison usually provide for a wonderful Salmonfly hatch. The Henry’s Fork had a solid emergence of mayflies throughout the entire season along with Golden Stoneflies that began on the lower river and continued to hatch in the Box later in the season. Those lucky enough to blind cast big dries in the Box should’ve bought a Lotto ticket! Joe came up with a couple of new fly patterns for both Green Drake duns and Grey Drake spinners that rose more than a few big fish. Expect to see those patterns in our bins next season. Yellowstone Park also fished well from open to close. Things kicked off with Millers caddis and PMDs on the Firehole, and the late season terrestrial fishing in the northeast corner seemed above average this year. Hebgen Lake had some wonderful mornings of dry fly angling and when the wind did not come up, those mornings turned into afternoons. The Fall Run of trout from Hebgen Lake brought in anglers from all over the world. It seems like we were catching more rainbows than browns, but by the end of the season the brown trout made their way into the river and some wonderful specimens were brought to hand.
These are just a handful of highlight images from our guided trips this summer. Love all the smiling faces! We think that we guided more kids this year than ever before. It’s such a positive sign for the future of flyfishing.
We are truly fortunate to have so much diverse water right here within an hour’s drive of West Yellowstone. One could spend a lifetime fishing here and never touch all the water, but you can surely try. For those of you wanting to venture out and fish other Montana waters, don’t forget that we have a handful of the best guides available on the Missouri River all season long. These guys are seasoned veterans who know the river in and out. The Missouri River is a fantastic destination filled with large trout, great scenery and good times.
In late September we hosted the first annual West Yellowstone Trout Spey Days both here at the shop and on the Madison River in Custer Gallatin National Forest. Kurt Kruger and the folks at Farbank (Sage, Rio, Redington) helped us get the event up and running this year, and our friend Simon Gawesworth headlined the event for us. Big thanks again to them for all the help! Over 50 people showed up for the on-water portion of the event. It was awesome to see so much excitement about Spey fishing for trout – a type of fishing that some of us here at the shop have been enjoying for over 15 seasons. We plan on growing the event next season and will likely hold it again around the 3rd weekend in September with the support of the National Forest, so please stay tuned for more on that.
At the end of October, after nearly ten years, the construction at Hebgen dam is complete. Going forward from here, the upper Madison will return to having clean and cold water throughout the summer once again. Water will be drawn from almost forty feet down and wearing waders in between the lakes during August will be the norm. Our guess is that the hatches will reset and come back quickly leading to more dry fly opportunities, something that the Madison has always been known for. During the construction period, the insect hatches changed rather significantly with the warmer water. While we still had decent dry fly fishing it was not as consistent as when most of us started fishing this river years ago. While it remains uncertain how quickly the hatches will adjust, Mother Nature will run its course and it always amazes us how quickly she takes control when allowed to do so.
Over the winter we will be working on various shop projects and traveling a bit. Jon, Joe, and Justin will all be in South America, Argentina and Chile during different periods, so keep an eye out for photos and stories from down south! Don’t forget, we’ve been hosting and guiding trips throughout South America for almost fifteen years. We’d love to help you plan your next fishing adventure!
The shop will be open year around so feel free to call or email as you plan your fishing trip or just want to talk fishing.
All the best!
Justin, Joe, Jonathan, and the Big Sky Anglers Crew
Hi, all. We are clearing out a bunch of our lightly used demo rods and reels to make room for next season’s demo fleet. This is an awesome opportunity to score a great price on some top end gear. Winston, and Scott rods, and Hatch reels! All rods are in excellent condition, and handles have been cleaned and sanded like new. Reels have light wear that we’ve tried to show fairly in the photos. Because they are from Hatch, they are still functioning flawlessly after a summer of use. If you see something that interests you on here, please give us a call at the fly shop at 406-646-7801, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prices are firm as posted. Buyer pays shipping. All sales are final.
Thanks for checking out this post. Sorry, but all of the demo gear has been sold.