What’s In A Name, Anyway?

In the Fall of 2015, an opportunity arose and found Jon, Justin and myself (J3) contemplating the purchase of Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop.  Truth be told, this scared the shit out of all three of us and I’d be lying if I said I never lost any sleep over this decision.  Booze will help one manage crazy periods in life and as long as it doesn’t become a crutch and throw a wrench into the process, there’s nothing like bourbon to help solve a problem or two. Life was going to change as we knew it, that is of course if we pulled the trigger and made the jump to the Premiere League of the fly fishing world. Owning and operating a fly shop is something Jon and I never thought we’d venture into; we enjoyed the nomadic lifestyle of guiding year around with enough time off for hunting, fishing, traveling and family. Justin however, had been running his fly shop (West Yellowstone Fly Shop) here in town for about ten years; splitting his time between Argentina and West Yellowstone taking the girls along with him for the ride.  Guides are notoriously independent folks who have a hard time committing to just about everything except the guide season and their precious time away from guiding.  How are the three of us supposed to pull this off?  While communication and accountability are the key points, we are not completely sure just yet what lies ahead.  We’ve almost made it through our first season, are paying the bills and have come up for air. Think of it like a tarpon, when it comes up for a gulp and then gives the angler another run for their money. We are in planning mode for 2018 and beyond and this time of our lives is exciting to say the least.

We pulled the trigger and bought Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop, closing on the business November 30th, 2016.  At some point over the Winter of 2015-16 we made the decision to change the name of the most iconic fly shop in the Rocky Mountain West.  Mind you, this was no easy task and we’ve taken a fair amount of grief over it. The shop had gone through three different owners when we came along.  Bud hadn’t owned the place since the mid 80’s, after buying it back from the two fishing guides he’d sold it to in 1982, then selling it to Jim and Ann Criner.  Dick and Barb were next and along came J3 last fall.  To us, this hadn’t been Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop since the day he sold the place and moved back to Three Forks. Bud was a legend and touched thousands of lives from the roughly 30 years he owned the place. Even after he sold his fly shop, Bud continued to educate anglers from all walks of life; he was a huge supporter of Veterans and teaching anglers was just one of his many passions.  Conservation was a close second and he was known as a “Trout’s Best Friend” for good reason.  The history surrounding Bud Lilly’s is storied to say the least.  Most of the well known names in western fly fishing got their start while working for Bud Lilly on this very corner. We were fortunate to spend time with Bud last December at his place in Three Forks.  Those four hours are something I’ll never forget, the same goes for Jon and Justin.  Bud didn’t beat around the bush and asked us what the name of the shop would before anyone could get comfortable.  He was sitting in a easy chair in the corner of the old hotel, donning sunglasses and long white goat tee when he asked the question, “so, what are you gonna run it as, what are you gonna call it?”.  I stumbled on my words for a moment, uneasy with telling the man that we had a different name in mind, but quickly came to my senses and told Bud that we were changing the name to Big Sky Anglers. He sat there for a moment, rocking back and forth, then said “good, you call me with anything you need and I’ll do everything I can to help you boys out.  The name of the game is relationships and if you build them, you will succeed.”  He also mentioned that it was “about damn time my name came off the side of that building”.  The name change always felt right with us, but having Bud’s blessing made it even better.  Bud passed away on January 6, 2017.  That morning, Bob Jacklin called me at the shop and gave me the sad news.  Bud’s wife, Esther, had mentioned to Bob to make sure that he called the three of us regarding Bud’s passing. There I sat, in Bud’s old fly shop, chill after chill running down my spine as I thought about all the history between these walls; most of which I’m not even aware of. I’m not sure how long I sat there, but I do remember the phone ringing several times and I never once got up to answer it; lost in thoughts and not really wanting to discuss much with anyone.  Later that day, Bob called and invited me down to his shop for tea.  We discussed many things, but Bud’s life was the main topic. Bob told me story after story and I wished I could’ve recorded it all.

We’ve got plans to honor Bud here in the shop, while we aren’t exactly sure how, it will happen sooner than later. Mostly, we will honor him in the way we treat others; with respect, in hopes that we build a business similar to that of the late Bud Lilly.

Big Sky Anglers was created in the Fall of 2004 after I got my outfitter’s license in Helena.  I had a name, but no logo or web site to market my new business. Kielly Yates, a long time friend and graphic designer, saw my passion for the business and made it his MO to help me out.  The trout above is what he came up with, but originally, instead of the Sphinx Mountain inside the trout, he had the Teton Range.  Look above at the photo and you’ll see Sphinx Mountain and the Helmet, the two most prominent peaks in the Madison Valley, inside the body of the trout along with the stars above the mountains.  When Justin, Jonathan and myself became partners, Kielly made another change to the logo incorporating Orion’s Belt into the scenery(it’s in the tail).  STARS ALL ALIGNING  This constellation can be seen from both North and South America at the same time; down south, they call the Tres Marias.  With all of us splitting time between these two continents and the fact that there’s three of us, Orion’s Belt was very fitting. Over the years, I’ve had folks get confused and ask me if the business is in Big Sky, Montana. The term Big Sky Country is a nick name given to Montana years ago and back in 2004 I thought it was fitting to name the business with this in mind.  Whether you’re fishing in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South America or even the wide open salt flats, the sky always seems endless.  Jon, Justin and myself have been guiding and fishing throughout the entire Western United States for over 25 years.  We all have deep ties to the mountains, rivers, lakes throughout the world, but we call West Yellowstone home.

 

 

Snowy cold, watching silver turn to gold

At some point here in the last week, Summer slipped away from us and Fall arrived in fashion with dumping snow, chilly wind, bugling elk and overcast blue-grey skies with quiet a bit of rain mixed in to boot.  All of the rivers in YNP bumped up from the much needed moisture and then the clouds broke free revealing snow capped mountains.  Not to worry, the sunshine didn’t last too long as more snow blanketed the Hebgen Basin and YNP; closing both Dunraven Pass and Craig Pass yesterday and last night. (Check with YNP online for up to date road closures.)  A chilly wind is upon us today, so layer up and bring that thermos of coffee! The next couple of days will bring in more moisture but the weekend forecast might just bring back some sunshine and warmer temps.

This past week, Blue Winged Olives hatched in full force throughout the local watersheds on rivers like the Henry’s Fork, Firehole and Madison Rivers.  If one was brave enough to make the jaunt to the NE Corner of YNP, he/she, would’ve been rewarded with Drake Mackerels drifting quietly down the Soda Butte and Lamar River.  Anglers from all walks of life are descending on our local rivers to swing flies, Czech nymph the Madison and strip streamers; all in hopes of wrangling up a fish or three each day.  By now, we have seen a fair push of fish up from Hebgen Lake and anglers are having some success.  As with all fishing, some days are better than others and if you arrived as the rivers were on the rise, angling was a little tough.  For those folks who made the trip to the Madison Valley, they were rewarded with solid hatches of BWOs and rising trout.  The Henry’s Fork game is still going and our guides have been fishing from the Box Canyon all the way down to Ashton; finding plenty of rising fish on some days, ripping streamers on other days and nymphing em’ when appropriate.  Stop by the shop for the most up to date fishing report, we are open from 7am until 830pm.

More thoughts on winter

MT_SWE_17Feb16

The image above shows current snow water equivalent by river basin.  Notice the dates range, 1981-2010.  These percentages would actually be lower if the data included the 1970’s as Montana received more snow back then.  Earlier today, it was raining.  Yes, raining in mid-February at 6666 feet of elevation. Sure, it was snowing in the high country, but rain at this time of the year is a little alarming to most folks who call this place home.  In the early afternoon, the temperature started to drop and snowing began to fall once again around West Yellowstone.   in the matter of a few minutes, winter returned.  With any luck, we’ll continue to see moisture build up in the form of snow and not rain.  Most of us wold like to see the snowpack sitting around 110% right now, but we’ll take this as compared to a year ago.

Rain and warm temps make the snow pack form a crusty layer on top, thus providing a hard living for those animals needing to get down to the food below the surface. This layer will not simply go away, but will stay there as more snow falls on top over the course of winter.  While out in Hayden Valley yesterday, I watched a fox make several leaps into the air trying to break down through the snow and get the rodent it was after.  The fox succeeded, but only after busting the hard layer, digging with it’s paws through the icy snow and then pouncing once again.  It was a ton of work for the fox for such a small reward.  It got me thinking about this winter and the warm weather we’ve all been witnessing during “winter”.  The day time highs all around Montana have been very warm over the past couple of weeks and most, if not all, the snow at lower elevation is gone.  While this can happen and isn’t something to freak out about, it’s not normal what so ever.  There is plenty of time for more snow to fall, we just need the daytime temps to stay below freezing so that we don’t keep loosing the precious moisture that’s already accumulated this season. For those of you who are thinking about spring time fishing, pay attention to how warm the temps are over the next couple of months.  If things stay warm like this through February and March, fishing is gonna be very good in April and May.  If this season is anything like the past few years, spring angling opportunities  in Montana and eastern Idaho should be plentiful.

Pray for more snow!


Argentina bound in 2016; you should come next time

The fish gods must be looking out for me, as I have managed to convince another group of anglers to travel down to the Argentina for a visit with the good folks at Pesca Patagonia.  Some of you know my buddy Justin Spence from his famed fly shop here in West Yellowstone – The West Yellowstone Fly Shop and some of you know Justin from our trips together here in Montana.  He also operates a top shelf outfitting company in and around Junin de los Andes.  Justin, his wife Rachel and their lovely little girls spend the entire winter and spring in Junin.  Half of the year in Montana and half of the year in Patagonia, what an amazing life!

In early April, five of us will make the big trip from North America to South America. We’ll all meet up in BA, take a ride across the city and jump a airplane to Bariloche.  From there we’ll meet up with Justin and head towards San Martin.  We’ll fish the Malleo, possibly the Chimehuin or Alumine, the Collen Cura for a couple and then who knows where we’ll end up for last couple of days.

Some folks give me a hard time about traveling that far for trout, especially when it’s a solid time frame for chasing salt water species, but Argentina gets in one’s blood and its hard to shake.  Their rivers are like our rivers, only different.  There are moments when when I wake up from day dreaming of fight with a big brown trout that had just tossed the hooked.  Those are memories from my time down south in 2013 and some of those fish were true giants.  But it’s not just the quality angling that makes me want to return; the fishing culture is more laid back, it’s the “let it happen” attitude when you’re submersed in fishing and everything is right in the world.  Getting after it and putting in day after day on the water is like Spring Training in the MLB.  Everyday spent on the river gets you prepped for the next day, if you’ve got the time, stay as long as possible.  And then there’s the locality of where you are fishing.  Argentine Patagonia is remote and not populous at all.  Some folks like to compare it to stepping back in time, to the old days of fishing out West when hardly a soul actually could point out the Missouri and it’s tributaries on a map of the United States.

Right now, I’ve got a busy couple of months ahead.  There will be late nights at the tying bench, picking over lines for the trip and the lovely little process of laying out all your gear as you prep for a world class fishing trip.  I’m excited about heading back down to Argentina.

Pondering Mid-winter

Yellowstone’s winter season in the Interior is now a month from shutting down.  Where does all the time go?  I have been guiding five days a week again this season for Yellowstone Alpen Guides, making this my 9th year and never have I enjoyed guiding as much as this winter.  Luckily, this season, we have decent snow.  Truth be told, after last years bleak winter, I was not looking forward to guiding in YNP.  Mother Nature was providing us with almost weekly snow storms, but now that February has hit, she’s as dry as dirt.  And it’s unseasonably warm to boot.  The past few days have seen the snow melting from my roof and piling up as ice on the ground, then running into our garage as I frantically try to chip away the glacial mound in front of the door.

Is this the new norm?  Currently, its 33 degrees at 11am…it’s not even noon yet!  A week or so ago, the morning temp was -33 degrees.  I took a break for a couple hours and tended to our roof and the melting snow, now the temps are reading almost 45 degrees.  I should be fishing but adulting is getting in the way.   The roads in West Yellowstone are showing signs of spring and spring in these parts is normally a couple months away.

Overall, there has been plenty of wildlife along way to Old Faithful and of course the scenery never gets old.  The Canyon runs have been little void of life from time to time, but recently there have been bison on the move in the Gibbon Canyon, which means that coyotes and foxes are making an appearance as well.  Wolves have not had much of a presence this season along the Madison, Gibbon and Firehole. There’s been a few sightings, but overall they have been non existent.  I would say that has something do with the 94% snow pack and the fact that there are more elk around Big Sky, Gardiner and in the Madison Valley around Cameron, MT.  Wolves chase elk and the elk population is down to just a couple dozen, if that, animals on the west side of the park along the Madison drainage.  There are two small bull elk and one giant bull living along the Madison River around 7 Mile bridge.  So far, they look very healthy. While winter is not over just yet, this break from the cold is nice for every single living thing in these parts.

I’m off to town for a while, with any luck it will be nice enough to drink a beer outside this evening.   Pray for snow.