Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report – September 26, 2019

Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report – September 26, 2019

September is scooching right along, much like the rest of this season we are not sure where all the time goes! All in all, there may be no life better spent than on the river watching the seasons change year in and year out while chasing trout with a flyrod. Before too long, the snow will fly like it does here every winter and you’ll be wishing for just one more day on the river. Standing up on Horse Butte, near the Lookout Tower peering over Hebgen Basin, one can only think of all the trout down below. Add in the Madison Valley and Henry’s Fork drainage and one quickly realizes there is truly no better place to live and fish. Our time here is short, make the most of it and get outside this Fall. Your better half will love you more if you do.

There is more snow in the high country after last week’s storm and the Aspen leaves are now shades of yellow, green, orange and even red. One drive along the Madison River in YNP tells us Old Man Winter is walking down the street a few miles away. Wintery weather is right around the corner and this weekend’s outlook looks to be a bit on the snappy side, that’s for sure. The forecast daytime temps have risen so we might just see more rain than snow here on the level, but the high country will receive another layer of the white stuff. Parts of Montana are calling for 12-24 inches of snow! Keep an eye on the forecast folks, fishy weather is upon us.

Bring your Gore-Tex, an extra layer, some hand warmers, a thermos of coffee, flask of wizzle and your stocking hat. Don’t forget your BWOs, streamers, 5x and some 8lb Maxima. Read on to see our take on this week’s fishing and check out the links below to stay current on area forecasts and flows. Stay tuned as we report each week on hatches, flows, weather, and more. For the most up to date info stop by the shop, give us a call, or drop us a line.

West Yellowstone Forecast

MT Streamflows

ID Streamflows


Madison River

I’ll break this down into two sections this week; the Wade Stretch and Float Stretch. These two sections are fishing quite differently it seems. For the angler on foot, the Wade Stretch has been producing some solid days. We aren’t saying you’ll catch fish all day long in here, no sir. But for those willing to switch tactics and fish different techniques over the entire day, one will be rewarded. There are fish in the skinny water eating Caddis and BWOs. The streamer bite can be good at times and nymphing will produce as well. There have been periods of the day that seem to shut off and we find that when things do get slow, changing your game is the best idea. The Float Stretch has been a little fickle with the weather patterns changing all the time over the past few weeks. This week we still found a few really nice fish eating hoppers, hard to believe. Floating the Madison is always a fantastic day, but recently some have been better than others. The next five days could be pretty darn good down there with the consistently fishy weather headed our way. A snowy north wind on the Madison in a drift boat can be a cold one, dress appropriately!

Henry’s Fork

Cool, scuzzy weather is coming back again this weekend and next week. From the Lower River up onto the flat water stretches in the caldera, fall hatches are providing some great fishing.  Baetis, Pseudo’s, and Mahogany Dun mayflies are all active throughout the Ranch waters now. Cloudy days will provide the best concentrations of emerging mayflies and rising fish. Fall Baetis and Pseudo hatches can bring seemingly every fish in the river to the surface big and small, making it more difficult to isolate a “good” target. Conversely, these can be great opportunities for anglers who are looking to get their feet wet on the Ranch, and get a taste for how the game is played with an abundance of targets. The streamer bit in the Lower River could prove to be quite good over the next week as well.

Henry’s & Hebgen Lake

If the weather forecasters are right, you might want to stick to the rivers this weekend, but once this storm system passes and conditions stabilize, the lake fishing should be in prime shape to really fire off next week.  Weeds will continue to die back, revealing the tastiest of food items that have been hiding for the trout for a while – leeches and scuds.  Fall is baitfish time as well, so don’t be afraid to fish those suggestive patterns like Seal Buggers along the margins when light is low.  Look for fish in shallow, along receding weed margins, and near creek and river mouths as those are all seasonal hot spots, and move into deeper water as the day brightens.  While the game shifts to the subsurface presentations in fall, what the fishing might lack in visual stimulation may very well be overshadowed by pounds of trout in the net.

Yellowstone National Park

Firehole River

Blue Winged Olives will be on the menu this weekend and early next week. Swing by and grab Joe’s new BWO pattern and give it a whirl. If things get too dicey for ya, strip a Thin Mint, or black Bouface in search of one of the larger resident Brown Trout that are generally as elusive as Big Foot in the Upper Geyser Basin.

Madison River(in YNP)

Yes, there are fish in the system. However, we have no idea how many there are. Anglers are hanging out swapping stories at the Barns Holes and if you’ve never experienced this behavior, we recommend doing it at least twice. The usual spots are producing here and there, weather has a lot to do with how things are faring on the Madison in the Park. Our best advice is to go fishing, you don’t know if you don’t go! Want us to pick out some flies for ya? Swing by, we’d love to.

The Northeast Corner

Continuing on from last week things haven’t changed much. Stormy days will bring great hatches of fall Baetis and Hecuba Drakes to this part of the park, but they will also bring muddy water and higher flows to the Lamar River and Yellowstone Canyon. Keep a close eye on flows here and consider Slough Creek as an alternative if you’re hoping to fish the Lamar and clarity is prohibitive.

Keep in mind, now more than ever, there is no need to get out on the water early in this part of the park. The early bird does not get the worm here. Rather he and/or she freezes their ass off until late morning waiting for both their toes and the Cutthroat Trout to warm up.

Yellowstone River 

Again, things aren’t changing much from last week. Day by day there are fewer and fewer fish remaining in the Caldera section of the Yellowstone River (between Chittenden Bridge and Fishing Bridge). Naturally, each fall the Cutthroat migrate back to Yellowstone Lake where they over-winter and rest before making a return trip back into the river to spawn again next spring. While numbers of fish are dwindling, some remarkable Cutthroat remain in the river, and fall hatches of Baetis and Heptagenia mayflies create an opportunity for technical dry fly fishing. These fish are spread out far and wide. You have to be prepared to cover some ground hunting for your targets, but when you find them, they will be some of the best dry fly targets of the entire season.

Big Spring Creek – Lewistown, MT

This weekend finds our very own Steve Hoolver getting married to his lovely finance Kari. Kari grew up in central Montana and most of the shop and guides are headed north for the party. Rest assured, the fly shop will be open this weekend! I suspect a few of us will be poking around to see what this little gem has to offer, though. There are rumors of big trout, we’ll see what happens. With the weather forecast, stripping streamers is definitely on the docket. Saturday and Sunday could be filled with Bloody Mary’s and BWOs. Cheers to Kari and Steve!!!

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Jojo’s Para Shuck Flav

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Jojo’s Para Shuck Flav

Originator:  Joe Moore, BSA Co-owner

Hook: MFC 7000, Barbless MFC 7000KBL, or equivalent.  Size 14

Thread: Danville 6/0 Rusty Brown or your choice

Tail/Trailing Shuck: Sparkle Emerger Yarn – Brown

Abdomen: Superfine Dry Fly Dubbing, Olive

Thorax: Olive Goose Biot, tied flat side up

Wing post: Calf tail, white.  Try using a synthetic like tan or grey Widows Web as a “cheat” if you are tying these on your own!

Hackle: Grizzly, tied parachute style.  Whiting 100 packs are a great way to get the perfect feathers for parachutes.

Notes: My Para-shuck series of dries, tied by MFC, is a variation of the classic parachute style and has worked well for us all over Yellowstone Country. The Flav Para-shuck in particular works great on Hebgen Lake during the Callibaetis hatch, in the NE Corner of the Park for drake mackerel emergers, and on the Madison and Henry’s Fork for its original purpose as a Flav imitation.

Finding the Rhythm in the Motherland of Steelhead

Finding the Rhythm in the Motherland of Steelhead

I hadn’t caught a steelhead since 2001. Maybe 2002.  While the memories of the fish are still vivid and clear, what year it was doesn’t really matter anymore.  At the time, I was fishing a two-piece, single hand, Winston IM6 eight weight, swinging flies in Idaho with sink tips in search of migratory fish several hundred miles from the salt.  Black egg-sucking leaches worked just fine, so did a Sparrow nymph. My first and only steelhead was a 26-inch buck from the Salmon River in Idaho.  We all drove beater rigs back then (still do really), crammed with plenty of gear, a few buddies, and a cooler within reaching distance.  This old school, late 80’s, red suburban with tinted windows sticks out in my memory more than the rest.  It belonged to our buddy Brian.  Johnny C, Brian and I camped out for several nights, cooking on a Coleman two burner and by most accounts drinking too many beers.  Spring in the Rockies is cold and inevitably some of those chilly nights would drive us into the local bar searching for warmth and a pool table. There was no need to walk outside for a cigarette back then, one could smoke in the bar while eating a bacon cheeseburger.

Those were also my first years living in West Yellowstone year-round, and we generally made it a practice to get out of town sometime in March and April to get off the volcano. Winter at 6667 feet can be brutal; heading for lower altitude to see some grass for the first time in five months is good for anyone’s state of mind.  I never got into chasing steelhead during October and November. Rather, I’d trade out rods and waders for shot guns and bird dogs.  For me, it was a choice to take a break from the six-month fishing season and walk through the sage brush, wheat stubble and grasslands of the high plains.  I had caught enough fish, rowed countless river miles, stumbled on enough slick Madison cobblestones and by the time early October rolled around, I was ready for change.

On a random day off in late August of ’99, Doug Pope took Brian and I into the Barns Pools for our first Spey lesson.  Pope pulled out this incredibly long Sage flyrod and riffle hitched a #2 Dave’s Hopper to the leader.  He stepped out into the Madison bare footed, stripped off a pile of line and with zero effort shot to the far bank and skated the magnum fly through Number Two. Pope cracked another Old Mil, handed over the rod, found his seat on the picnic table and proceeded to smash a few more beers as we learned the Snap T.  My next Spey lesson was seven or eight years later, with my buddy Kunhert on the Missouri River. Nine-foot rods still suited my needs and I really wasn’t convinced just yet that Spey rods needed to work their way in to my collection of graphite sticks. Matt and Justin taught me a few more things the past few years and as my exposure increased, I’ve slowly gained an understanding of the long rods and confusing fly lines. Presenting the fly is more important than the fly itself, but even then, everyone has a fly they believe in.  That definitely counts for something when you find yourself in the Motherland of Steelhead country, a place they call British Columbia, for the first time, like I did in April of 2019, while hosting a trip for a group of a few of my long-time fishing clients.  I didn’t really have faith in any flies, so I tied on a blue, pink, or red intruder and got to work swinging.

Travel angling is always a bit of a gamble, but that’s really part of the fun of it.  Fishing for only a few days in a distant land means that you must do all you can to take advantage of every single opportunity that comes your way.  Or you must be incredibly lucky.  As we learned, Springtime in BC isn’t for the faint of heart, but the fish are fresh, and some are giants.  You never know how things will fish in the end; you just go with the flow and roll with it. Steelhead themselves are a tough bunch of characters and some anglers will tell you these fish don’t eat flies.  I tend to believe that migratory fish are moody and eat for the love of being picky or ornery; but in the end, all fish eat flies. They also pluck the fly, peck the fly, follow the fly, and sometimes, every so often, they rip the line out of your hand crushing the fly and take off for a 100 plus yard electric stroll back towards the Ocean as your backing screams off the reel. You didn’t even have to set the hook – how wonderful is that?

There is a rhythm that I always try to find whether guiding or fishing on my own. For me, fishing is coveted time, I like to do things a particular way and don’t want to be rushed whatsoever.  Anymore, guiding and fishing are one in the same for me. It’s a process that happens without thinking about it; because thinking about it means that it’s not natural. In the beginning, to find your rhythm, you have to train your mind to relax and create muscle memory.  You must learn to let go.  For me, it starts the night (or weeks before depending on the trip) before a fishing trip or guide trip and begins with preparation of the actual trip. Setting out rods, lines, flies and other essential tackle sets the brain into motion. If you haven’t had the luxury of spending your entire adult life working on the river, this doesn’t come easily, but in due time it will.  Ever notice how guides at the boat ramp have a certain way of doing things to get ready?  Most fishing guides use the exact same process each and every day; disrupting this is a bad idea.  Allow yourself to enjoy this process as you will learn there is a method to the madness. Listening to the river and observing the natural world is the next part, and possibly the most important.  It’s noticing the pair of Kingfishers downstream chattering about and getting lost in the sound of running water. It’s sitting in the gravel next to a river in BC which you’ve never stepped foot in and hoping a 15 pounder is out there waiting to blow your mind. Once I’m in the rhythm, time slows down and I forget about everything else; these days that happens more often during guide trips as I don’t have as much time to fish.  I employed these tactics while in BC and began to decompress from a crazy, busy, stupidly snowy winter in West Yellowstone.

Fortunately, I’ve got a group of fellas who, for some wonderful reason, love to travel with me.  I’ve been guiding one of these guys since 1999.  He’s more of a father figure than a client and he’s introduced me to some of the most loyal anglers a guide can have. On hosted trips it’s not about me, but I do like to influence anglers in a way that has helped make my days on the water more successful. On hosted trips, we fish alongside our anglers and experience the trip as they are.  I find this to be rewarding in so many ways as it builds the bond between myself and anglers whom I’ve guided and never been able to just fish with.  Long time professional fishing guides have a certain amount of fishiness we bring along no matter if we’re rowing the boat or not. It’s a time on the water type of thing that does rub off.  Hosted trips are a combination of guiding, fishing, and taking care of anglers who are traveling with us.  Depending on the group, you must teach them to find their own rhythm; the earlier the better.  This process normally starts off at the airport with a cocktail of some sort to blow off some steam.  Some of these folks might have come off a super stressful month or two of work and letting go just isn’t that easy.  Self-employed business folks never stop working, they…we, can’t turn it off.  One has to learn to turn it off, because, when I do return to the shop after a hiatus, I find that I am much more in tune with everything going on in my business.  Fly fishing, in general, will release the mind. This is so incredibly important, and I must admit that I forget this from time to time.  Steelheading is an even different sort of fly fishing, I believe that you just can’t care about catching one.  You might go all day or even three days without a grab.  Keeping one’s head in the game for when that moment creeps in and something hangs on to your fly long enough for the hook to slip in the corner of it jaws is no easy task. This is where the rhythm of doing things the right way every single time pays off. I found this to be even more important with the Spey rod. On this trip to BC, for the most part, I fished a two handed Burkheimer 8 weight,  lined up with a 600 grain shooting head, twelve feet of T11, and a Hatch 9+ reel. I rarely changed flies and concentrated on presenting the fly with a slow swing across the run. That started out, most of the time anyway, with a smooth but deliberate casting stoke which resulted in the coils of line in my hand shooting across the river and turning the fly over completely. Next, maybe, was a mend to slow things down and drop the fly in the zone and once the line was tight the swing began.  I must say, there is something terribly addictive about this process and the hope one feels when it’s done right is amazing.  Three different days, out of the five, I caught a fish on my last cast. I never once stopped believing that something just might eat my fly. That reminded me of a very serious lesson, one that I have known for years, but forget from time to time – never give up, not once all day long.  Anything can happen at any time in the sporting world.  I am, by no means a steelheader.  However, I am a professional fisherman who observes the natural world and adjusts to the conditions set forth by Mother Nature. Pay attention to these things and you might find yourself on the business end of a giant migratory fish that has never looked an angler in the eyes.

Rydberg Returns

Rydberg Returns

Travis Rydberg began working for Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop back in the mid-1990s. Around the turn of the century he migrated to Last Chance, Idaho, a place he would call home for more than fifteen years.  Working behind the counter and later guiding for TroutHunter, Travis became one of the most knowledgeable anglers and fishing guides on the Henry’s Fork.  He won’t let on about that fact very often, but rest assured that once you have spent a little time on the water with him, you’ll know you’ve fished with a special person, and look back on those days with a smile on your face. 

In the spring of 2017, Travis found himself coming back over Targhee Pass to West Yellowstone to work once again at the corner of Madison and Canyon Street, now the home of Big Sky Anglers.  We couldn’t have been happier when he joined our guide staff as we knew that all of us, and especially our clients and young staff, would be able to learn a lot from him and greatly benefit from his many years on the water.

As some of you may know, Travis was involved in a horrible car accident in June of 2018.  Travis was hit head on by an oncoming vehicle along Highway 20.  His pickup truck, drift boat, and trailer were totaled.  Travis saw his 2018 guide season come to an abrupt end with injuries that left him unable to perform any kind of normal duties, let alone pull on the oars or hike clients into the Harriman Ranch and Yellowstone National Park.  Soon after the accident, Travis moved back to Billings to be closer to doctors and begin the long process of physical therapy.  We were hoping he would return to our roster late in the 2018 guide season, but his doctors would not release him to go back to work.  Over time, slowly but surely, and with an unthinkable amount of work, Travis has regained his strength and is beginning to feel whole again.    

Some of you have stayed in touch with the shop, reaching out to us to inquire about Travis’ health and when he would return.  For most of the summer we didn’t have an answer, but did our best to keep you all in the loop with his recovery.  We always passed along to Travis the news that people were asking about him.  During one of the most difficult times of his life he appreciated hearing from his friends both far and near.  The struggle for Travis has indescribably difficult, but through all of this he has come to realize is that he needs the river and misses those good people around him in the fishing community.

Today, we are more than excited to announce that in 2019 and for many years to come, Travis Rydberg will be back guiding in 2019 and hopefully for many years to come.  Seeing him out once again, guiding anglers on the Henry’s Fork, Madison, Missouri, and in Yellowstone Rivers will be a sight for sore eyes!  We plan on Travis arriving back in West sometime in May and couldn’t be happier for him and the recovery he has made.   Welcome back Trav, you have been missed!

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – JoJo’s Ant, Royal

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – JoJo’s Ant, Royal

  • Originator:  Joe Moore, BSA Co-owner
  • Hook: TMC 100 or equivalent, #12, 14, or 16
  • Thread: 8/0 Uni, Rusty dun
  • Tail: Widows Web, Black
  • Abdomen: Ice Dub, Red
  • Thorax: Ice Dub, Black
  • Wing: Widows Web, Light Tan
  • Legs: MFC Barred Sexi Floss, Golden Yellow
  • Foam: Razor Foam, Tan

At some point during the summer of 2005, while living at Howard Creek Ranch, I came up with this ant pattern out of necessity.  I needed a pattern that not only anglers in my boat could see but could also float a nymph from time to time. The dubbing balls covered by foam and then dressed with the Widow’s Web wing make this pattern a perfect choice. I have fished this fly all over Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and South America; it works everywhere.

– Joe