Join Us to Celebrate the Shop GRAND OPENING – June 30 through July 2

Big Sky Anglers
Hi, friends.  Please join us Friday, June 30th through Sunday July 2nd to celebrate the Big Sky Anglers shop grand opening.  We are super excited to see everyone and share our new vision with you. We’ve got a number of things planned for the weekend, so be sure to check out the schedule later in this email.  Stop by the shop any time to get in on store-wide sales, giveaways, fly tying demos, fly casting, and more.  We are loaded up with new Big Sky Anglers hats, shirts, and other logo gear, and still have some classic Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop gear hanging around if you are looking for a collectors item or two.
Friday will be a meet and greet during the day for the most part, with tons of sales and giveaways.  We’ll have sales reps in the shop Friday evening, and be hanging out talking rods and lines, and maybe casting a bit over at the park.
Saturday will be the biggest day, with sales reps on site in the evening along with catered BBQ, spirits from Willie’s Distillery in Ennis, and live art from Mimi Matsuda during the day.
Things will wind down on Sunday with more time to meet and greet with us and our staff, more sales, giveaways, and possibly a few surprises.
Best,
Joe Moore, Justin Spence, and Jonathan Heames
Owners, Big Sky Anglers
39 Madison Avenue, West Yellowstone, MT 59758
Special Guests and Events Schedule
Friday June 30
  • 9am – 9pm  Meet and Greet with Staff
  • 9am – 9pm  Sales and giveaways. Tying demos, fly casting, and more.
  • 4pm – 9pm  Winston Rods and Scientific Anglers Rep Travis Morris will be at the shop. Product and casting demos.  SA Line trade in program. Flyline specials.
  • 4pm – 9pm  Montana Fly Company’s Jake Chutz and Kris Keller will be on site talking fly design, bugs, and showing off their awesome fly tying tools and fly boxes.
Saturday, July 1
  • 9am – 9pm  Meet and Greet with Staff
  • 9am – 9pm  Sales and giveaways. Tying demos, fly casting, and more.
  • 10am – 6pm  Artist Mimi Matusda will be in the shop painting live!
  • 1pm on –  RO Drift Boats will be here with a boat full of beer and laughs
  • 4pm – 9pm Simms Rep Nick English will be at the shop talking gear, fishing, and trail running.  He’ll have a full Women’s Waders “Fit Kit” on hand for ladies looking for a way to get dialed in.
  • 4pm – 9pm  Montana Fly Company’s Jake Chutz and Kris Keller will be on site talking fly design, bugs, and showing off their awesome fly tying tools and fly boxes.
  • 4pm – 9pm  SAGE/Rio Rep Kurt Kruger will be in the shop.
  • 4pm – 9pm  Winston Rods and Scientific Anglers Rep Travis Morris will be at the shop. Product and casting demos.  SA Line trade in program. Flyline specials.
  • 6pm – 9pm  Echo/Airflo and Hatch Reels Rep Brandon Prince will be in the shop.
  • 6pm – 9pm  Catered BBQ from Beartooth BBQ of West Yellowstone, MT
  • 6pm – 9pm  Spirits from Willie’s Distillery in Ennis, MT
Sunday, July 2
  •  9am – 9pm  Meet and Greet with Staff
  • 9am – 9pm  Sales and giveaways. Tying demos, fly casting, and more.

Early Season on the Henry’s Fork

The Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is one of the most diverse fisheries in the western US.  With over 70 miles of fishable water, each section has such a unique character that it is like having eight rivers rolled into one.  Water types on the Fork range from tailwater canyons to flat, technical spring creek water, with freestone canyons and low gradient riffle-run sections as a nice bonus.  The Fork also has great diversity in elevation above sea level, with its headwaters at Henry’s Lake located 6472 feet, and the lower reaches of the river down around 5000 feet.  In times of extreme weather here in the high country surrounding West Yellowstone (elevation 6666 ft), it is possible to head down to the lower elevation “banana belt” where you can find nicer weather and water conditions that make the fish and fly fisher both a bit happier.  Nearly the entire river is sourced from natural groundwater springs, the largest of which forms the river’s headwaters and is aptly named Big Springs.  Due to the strong influence of groundwater, the Fork experiences a very minimal runoff by local standards, and almost always has several fishable sections in the early season (April through the month of June).

All of us here at Big Sky Anglers are excited to have an outfitting license for the Henry’s Fork.  We are now the only fly shop in West Yellowstone with this license, and we are among only eight outfitters total that are license holders for the river.  Guiding on the Henry’s Fork allows us to treat our customers to great fishing opportunities at times when many other local waters are blown out, closed to fishing, still frozen or otherwise unfishable. And, all of this exists within a 35 minute to 1 hour drive from the shop here in West Yellowstone.

The lower elevation reaches of the Henry’s Fork in particular exhibit great diversity of geology, gradient, scenery, and fishing. Each section has its own unique character, ranging from sections with large average sizes of trout that offer chances at true bruisers on dry flies, to other sections that are home to larger populations of smaller fish that offer the an angler the chance to relax a bit, learn a lot, and bring a few fish to hand.  The beauty of the Fork is that there is something for every angler regardless of skill levels.  We feel that it has been a misconception for years that the Fork is an experts-only river, and while there are sections where even the most experienced can test their skills and wits, there are other areas where newer anglers can still have a good time.

Though it is legal to fish year round on many of the sections of the Henry’s Fork, the fishing really begins to shape up in April, with good baetis hatches and some March brown activity occurring in several sections.  Stable water conditions, a rarity in the mountain west in April, make for reliable angling conditions, even if the weather is still a bit unpredictable.  Nymph fishing usually dominates during April.  While hatches can be prolific, they are typically short lived.  There is also some good streamer fishing when water temps are warm enough.

The fishing during the beginning of May can be considered an extension of April conditions… until the salmonflies begin to hatch.  This usually happens around the middle of the month.  Because the Fork has numerous tributaries and springs that change water temperature between river sections, the big bugs begin hatching and reach their peak in each section at different times.  Often the hatch will appear in a section upstream on the river and a few days later will begin to happen in a downstream stretch.  Fishing with a guide who has been on the water every day affords visiting anglers a HUGE advantage for this very reason.   While targeting the salmonflies can be a bit tricky because of  unstable weather in May, there are typically 5-7 great dry fly days with salmonflies .  And when the dry fly action isn’t perfect, the nymphing with big stonefly imitations can be outstanding.

Nymph fishing and dry/dropper fishing gets us through the end of May and into the beginning of June when the most exciting hatches of the year begin.  Usually we start with golden stones, PMDs, and caddis, which overlap with small olive stones and yellow sallies.  Next come the flavs and green drakes, followed by gray drakes, which create some of the most exceptional match-the-hatch dry fly fishing of the year.  This is often a mix of blind fishing with dries while looking for targets.  For the angler who prefers to target and cast to rising fish, the combination of a reliable spinner fall in the morning, blending into a PMD hatch in the afternoon, followed by a flav emergence in the early evening, this is absolute paradise.  These hatches offer a real chance at some very large trout in some sections of the Henry’s Fork, and for those who are willing to trade quantity of smaller fish for overall size of fish taken using extrememly visual methods early June is tough to beat.

And remember, all of this happens before the Madison is even done clearing up from runoff for the year.  Once the fishing begins to wane at the end of June on the lower Henry’s Fork due to rising water temps, the salmonflies will have just begun to establish themselves on Montana’s Madison and the upper Henry’s Fork gets into full swing with a repeat of many of the same hatches described above.  We’ll be there and hope you’ll be there with us!

Best,

Jonathan Heames, Co- Owner and Head Guide

Big Sky Anglers Co-Owner and Senior Guide Jonathan Heames looks forward to early season on the Fork all winter long.

 

Callibaetis and Chironomids – The Trap

By now you’d think I could not be fooled.  You’d think that I’d know better after so many seasons fishing stillwaters.  But I still fall into the trap nearly every time.  And it happened again just the other day.

My fishing partner and I arrived at the lake around mid-morning and found the surface glass calm, save for the boils, swirls, and gulps of more than a few rising trout.  Nothing like the sight of that to motivate you to rig and launch the boat in record time!  A quick survey of the scene revealed plenty of adult chironomids flying over the bushes, and chironomid shucks on the water.  There were also a very heathy number of Callibaetis mayfly emergers and adults all over the surface, drifting helplessly like speckled sailboats.

Now, the Callibaetis is the sexiest mayfly of all in my opinion.  Its striking mottled wings, good (highly visible) size, bankers hatch hours, and ability to bring quality trout to the surface on stillwaters are what make it so appealing.  In the western US, it is by far the most important stillwater mayfly.

And so, when I see a bunch of Callibaetis mayflies on the surface, and I see trout feeding aggressively near the surface, I tend to scramble for my flybox and start deciding which of the numerous Callibaetis imitations that I should tie on.  Often, seeing what I have explained above does in fact mean the trout are eating Callibaetis.  But not when there is an invisible, underwater blizzard of chironomid pupae.

The trap was set.  And we fell for it.  After 20 or 30 minutes of fishing among numerous (extremely numerous, actually) feeding fish, using multiple Callibaetis tactics (slow intermediate and nymph, floating line and nymphs, dry fly and emerger on top, dry fly with emerging nymph dropper, etc), we only had a couple of hookups to show for our effort.  I knew we had been duped by the chironomids yet again.  Small, a bit ugly, and decidedly un-sexy insects – their abundance was essentially overwhelming the beautiful Callibaetis in the eyes of the trout.  And still, another 20 minutes went by before I switched to chironomid pupa tactics.  Each cast that wasn’t intercepted by a trout was punctuated by a comment along the lines of, “they must be on the chironomids”.   I didn’t want to believe that the trout would ignore all those beautiful mayflies.

But they did just that.  The rest of this story is fairly boring.  We finally switched to chironomid tactics, dialed in the pattern and depths, and caught fish after fish until we had to get back to town.  Fooled, but not totally foiled, we still had a great time, shared some good laughs, and reminded ourselves of the Callibaetis and chironomid trap.  Maybe we will actually remember it next time, or at least acknowledge it as we are tying on our Callibaetis imitations.

Take Care and Fish On,

Matt

PS – Today’s post is also appearing at Sexyloops.com

Big Sky Anglers, The West Yellowstone Fly Shop, and Jonathan Heames Fly Fishing Have Merged and Acquired Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop

This is the post we’ve all been waiting for folks.  We are thrilled to OFFICIALLY announce the launch of the all new Big Sky Anglers.

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Montana (April, 2017) –  Longtime local guides/outfitters Joe Moore (Big Sky Anglers), Justin Spence (The West Yellowstone Fly Shop),  and Jonathan Heames (Jonathan Heames Fly Fishing & Trouthunter) have merged and acquired Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop.

The entire operation, including outfitting and the fly shop, will move forward as BIG SKY ANGLERS, based here in West Yellowstone, MT.  The merger expands Big Sky Anglers’ prior outfitting territory to include the waters of Gallatin National Forest and the legendary Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho, and adds an awesome retail fly fishing space to the business.

With over 55 years of combined guiding and fly shop experience in West Yellowstone, Joe, Justin, and Jonathan are excited to continue the tradition started by Bud Lilly over 65 years ago, while adding our own unique voice and vision to the business. We have some great ideas planned for the shop and will incorporate all the wonderful things that have made each of us successful in our own businesses.  As always, customer service is our top priority.

We are on the web at www.bigskyanglers.com and can be reached via email at info@bigskyanglers.com and by phone at 406-646-7801.  We can also be found and reached on Facebook at facebook.com/bigskyanglers/ and on Instagram @bigskyanglers.

The fly shop doors will be open full time starting in the Spring of 2017, following completion of renovations.  We are currently available via phone if you’d like to talk fishing or book trips.  We also have plenty of gear available so don’t hesitate to contact us if you need anything.  Our multi-day grand opening event is scheduled for June 30 through July 2, 2017.  We’ll have lots of surprises in store, along with great guests, discounts, giveaways, and more.  We look forward to seeing everyone then!

With any change brings uncertainty to the customers of any established business, but there are a few important things we’d like everyone to know at this time:

We will maintain our commitment to providing the best guided fishing experience available.  Our staff will include Justin Spence, Joe Moore, and Jonathan Heames as senior guides and owners, along with veteran guides Travis Rydberg and Steve Hoovler, plus your favorite guides who formerly worked for Big Sky Anglers, the West Yellowstone Fly Shop, and Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop.  So, if you love fishing with Greg Falls, Jared Cady, Chris Herpin, Earl James, Donovan Best, Miles Marquez, or Mike Swanson, just give us a call!

Our home base will be in the classic location made famous by Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop at the corner of Canyon and Madison in West Yellowstone.  Stop in and see us this coming season.  We are excited to get to know so many more great folks who share our love for Yellowstone Country!  Our inventory will include: rods from Echo, Sage, Scott, and Winston; reels from Abel, Galvan, Hatch, Waterworks-Lamson, and Ross;  flylines and leaders from Airflo, Maxima, Rio, Scientific Anglers, and Trouthunter; flies from Fulling Mill, Solitude, Umpqua, and local custom tiers; waders and boots from Simms and Korkers, apparel from Simms and Columbia; nets and packs from Fishpond; and sunglasses from Costa del Mar and Smith.

We were able to meet with Bud Lilly in December of 2016 at his home in Three Forks, before he passed away.  We were honored when he asked us to share our stories with him, and explain our plans for moving forward.  He shared a few stories of his own, and graciously offered us his support and well wishes moving forward.

The legacy of Bud Lilly will live on here at Big Sky Anglers.  Bud is a legendary angler and advocate for conservation and protection of wild trout and their habitat in southwest Montana, Yellowstone Park and beyond.  His messages to fellow anglers rings as true today as they did when he started all of this over 65 years ago. We believe that the most profound of Bud’s ideals is that of being a well-rounded angler and participating in fishing for what he calls “The Total Experience”.  It’s not only catching fish that draws us to angling.  It’s the love of the fish and the rivers.   Enjoying our natural surroundings and unique geology, experiencing the local birds and wildlife, participating in our western culture, and doing it all in chosen solitude or in the company of friends and loved ones, is what completes the angling experience and keeps our passion strong.

 

Contact:

Joe Moore, Justin Spence, and Jonathan Heames – Owners, Big Sky Anglers

406-646-7801

info@bigskyanglers.com

Big Sky Anglers, 39 Madison Ave, West Yellowstone, Montana 59758

We Fish Everywhere Vol. 1 – NYC Stripers

Blog post author Miles Marquez with a beautiful bass from Jamaica Bay.

There’s nothing like the signs of spring in New York City to get my excitement up. For the last five months of winter, the hard, cold concrete of the City has been intertwined with a grey sky, and the shrugging masses drenched in overcoats dominate the streets. It’s not a Rocky Mountain cold – there is hardly any snow and some months are sprinkled with surprise warmer days. However the nights remain cold and keep the fish, whatever and wherever they might be, down and away from human contact.

Not even basketball is a suitable cure to the madness between tying flies for both a summer in Montana and a short spring run of striped bass. The Knicks have let me down season after season since I was a young kid in the 90s glory days. I’m too old to skate more than once a week. Everything seems pointless and slow.

With the only warning being the end of spring training baseball, consistent warmer days string together and life suddenly takes form and you begin to think with a purpose. Noreast is updated with daily reports, the harbor temps start to rise. You pick a decent day and ride the train just far enough outside the hustle and bustle of the city and begin to prospect. Bang! Fish on. The air is warmer but the water is still cold.

The tidal waterways in and around New York City stretching from the Battery to the western mouth of the Long Island Sound comprise a diverse and plentiful fishery for the salt water angler. It is home to various species of fish including flounder, false albacore (in the fall), and aggressive bluefish. However the most sought after species is of course the striped bass. Native to the North East coast, “Stripers” are bull dogs of a game fish and have been commonly caught upwards of 50lbs. Often over looked behind more popular species of salt water game fish like bonefish and tarpon, striped bass are beautiful and hard fighting in their own right. Chrome silvers mixed with purplish and olive hues all blend behind a foreground of pronounced black bars.

Striped Bass Closeup

The striped bass population is comprised of larger migratory adults as well as resident “schoolies.” The schoolies are what their name implies – smaller fish (ranging from 4″ to 28″) that cruise their naive inter coastal homes through the winter and until they reach the size needed to migrate with their older relatives in the open ocean. Even a modestly sized striper, especially in the cold spring water can feel like your fly has been hit by a subway car on the express track.

Going out and finding stripers in the spring requires a lot of searching. They move around following the first bait that arrives. That, combined with warming waters and moving tides, is a great start. Striped bass are ambush predators just like freshwater bass. Structure and deeper waters close by are always a good bet. However, sometimes they will chase and trap bait in the shallowest coves. A good early season bet is to keep your eyes peeled for areas with muddy bottoms as they tend to warm faster than sandy bottom areas that could be productive in the summer and fall. Tides, tides, tides!!! Visually learn how the incoming, slack, and outgoing tides affect a specific spot you are targeting to fish. Observe the structure exposed during low tide so you know how to fish it and walk around in it during the incoming, slack, and outgoing tides. Blind casting only works if you know a spot has already produced fish. Look for signs like nervous water caused by rushing baitfish, diving birds, actual top water slashes and eats.

Tying flies for striped bass is as simple and fun as fly tying can be. The flies are big and bright and typically don’t require many steps. Early in the season you don’t really need to match the bait hatch, these fish are hungry and will readily take a 1/0 fly that you can easily throw with an 8 weight rod. Clouser Minnows and Lefty’s Deceivers tied in Chartreuse over white are the most common flies you’ll use on foot.

A selection of flies for NYC Striped bass tied by Edwin Valentin

As the water temps rise to the mid 50s, more areas of water become fishable. Jamaica Bay, for example, is a massive salt water estuary located on the southern coasts of Brooklyn and Queens…Yes you heard me right Brooklyn and Queens! Jamaica Bay is best fished from a boat and many famous North Eastern guides have made their living on skiffs and small boats for over twenty years. Imagine standing on the bow of a boat minutes from central New York City strip setting a fly on a huge striper beneath jets making their final approach to John F. Kennedy Airport. The guided fly fishing in Jamaica Bay could rival your most fun trip to Andros or any other saltwater destination. When you’re out on the boat, a 10 weight rod and 350 grain sink tip can be vital to getting the hefty 10” – 12” flies into the fray of a bait blitz. Make sure to have a floating line handy as well to throw big gaudy gurglers for some exciting top water action!

The prime time to fish New York City’s tidal waters is between April and June and then again in September through November. The waters tend to warm up and fish become less active during mid-summer. The fall fun of striped bass is when the biggest fish tend to be caught as they start their migration back south along the Atlantic Coast. In September you have a shot at some exhilarating fishing when false albacore run close to the shores like little bullets. Not very large, a small football “Albie” will spool your 9 weight very quickly. Soon thereafter, the winter creeps back in as quickly as it left, leaving behind fisherman with itches that a fly tying vice can only scratch for so long before cabin fever sets in.

Never in my life have I experienced such a diverse fishery as the greater New York City area. From the fabled Catskill trout streams where classic dry fly patterns were developed to chuck and ducking massive Hollow Fleyes to a thrashing and turbid bunker blitz. Only in New York can you can wake up amongst towering skyscrapers, fight the aggressive striped bass in beautiful flats, and be walking through Gate 6 of Yankee Stadium by 7:05 to catch the Bronx Bombers don their own pinstripes.

Take me out to the ball game… after just a few more casts.

Two Casts

From time to time my daily schedule takes me along the river.  I don’t necessarily get to pick what time of day I’m driving past, or what the weather will be like when I’m there, so fishing conditions aren’t always optimal.  But I do always try to stop at a few turnouts along the way to see if there are any fish rising.

So it was one fine day last summer.  Mid afternoon, high and bright sun, little-to-no wind.  An absolute glorious day in Montana.  One of those days where a person can feel content just sitting on the river bank starting at the water and the sky, watching the fluffy white clouds, or their reflections, drift past.  The morning hatch was long gone, the water’s surface glassy and still, and the fish clearly back down looking for drifting nymphs.  First turnout – nothing.  Second turnout – nothing. Third turnout – nothing.  After about 5 minutes surveying the river at each spot, I was about to be on my merry way, but a subtle bulge and rings spreading on the surface well downstream caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve fallen for this trap before: gearing up to fish after seeing a single rise, only to have it turn out to be another “one-and-done” riser.  So I just stood there and waited.  Another rise.  And another.  Not in rapid succession, but enough to convince me to string up the rod.  Besides, I could tell it was a good fish, in a very challenging situation.  Well worth the effort.

Fishing is all about process.  I knew from experience that there was a very good chance that I would spook this fish before ever making a cast, so I decided to take my time with the approach, and soak up the simple joy that is watching a good fish rise on a sunny afternoon.  I took the long way down the bank, making sure to steer clear of the poison ivy and the electric fence that keeps the cows out of the river.  I found a good approach angle with a nice clear back cast.  A fat muskrat swam down to investigate what I was up to, and my fish stopped rising.  So I waited.

While I waited, I lengthened my leader and added a long piece of tippet.  The only bugs on the water were the dregs of the morning hatch and spinner fall.  My gut told me to go with “trusty rusty”.  A rusty spinner…  when you don’t know what they are eating, or when all else fails.

The fish came up again.  Closer this time.  In the high sun and clear water I could clearly see the entire fish, hovering a foot under the surface in the slow, gin-clear flow.  Oh, man.  Tricky.  Exciting.  I had a feeling this was going to be one cast for the championship.  There would be only two possible grades on this test – either  A+ or F.  Another rise in full view and I slowly pulled line off my reel.

I was feeling good as I made that first cast, until an unexpected gust of breeze came out of nowhere.  Oh, no!  The leader landed in a heap in the floating vegetation that divided me from the fish.  The cast was so bad that the fish didn’t even know it had been attempted!  Ha!  I retrieved the fly, cleaned the algae from the hook, regained my composure, and went for it again.

The fly landed with a light plop about 5 feet upstream of the fish.  Right on line.  It floated two feet and then fell through the surface tension, out of sight to me, but not the trout.  The fish pushed forward and up in a subtle, smooth, and confident stroke, and ate the fly.   Fish on!

A short run and a jump and the fly pulled free.  Silence and stillness reclaimed the river.  I looked at my watch to discover that forty-five minutes had past since I saw the first rise.  Two casts would be plenty for today.  I reeled up and drove home, grinning to myself the whole way.

NOTE:  Matt Klara is a good friend and our Social Media guy here at Big Sky Anglers.  He was kind enough to share this piece, which was originally drafted for his Front Page post on sexyloops.com.

 

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.

Hebgen Dam – Far from fixed

I finished up guiding a little over two weeks ago, but there’s still plenty of paperwork piled high that needs some attention prior to the arrival of the new year.  As of late,  my time has been spent walking the rolling hills of eastern Montana behind the German engineered Draht better known as Stella.  We hunt alone, or with one other hunter/dog combo which allows my brain and body to decompress from a long season behind the oars.  I don’t want to worry about someone else, I want to be selfish for this short span of time and watch my dog work the CRP.  This time alone also allows me to get my thoughts together and recently, I’ve had too much stress in my life due to things beyond my control. There was a death in our fly fishing family here in West Yellowstone that rocked us, I’ve got a side project that is chaotic to say the least, I really just want go bird hunting again and there’s the debacle at Hebgen Dam that just won’t stop.

Hebgen Dam and the on going construction project has proven to be a large pain in the a$$.  Back in early October, October 7th, to be exact, Northwestern Energy (NWE) sent out a press release which stated, that once again the completion date will be pushed back to Dec. 31, 2015.  Mind you, a year ago they promised that it would be finished up in July 2015.  Then it got pushed to August, then October and now we sit at Dec 31, 2015.  Surprise, surprise surprise…the fat lady is not singing what so ever, she’s not even warming up her voice.  In fact, I doubt they will “finish”  on Dec 31 as their tract record is so poor. Why would anyone trust what NWE is saying now?  Most of what they say as far as completion is concerned has NEVER come true.  Then, to top it all off, NWE surprised everyone, and by everyone, I mean every single person including NWE’s own biologist, by stating this lovely gem:

 

“The last construction project at Hebgen will be the relining of the existing wood pipeline from the new intake tower through the dam that discharges to the Madison River. This work is planned for the spring of 2017. Flows will temporarily be changed to the new spillway structure while this work is performed. This construction will begin in May, 2017, dependent on runoff flows, and will have a duration of approximately four months.”

 

This was never and I mean not one time, disclosed at any of their meaningless public meetings and I’ve been to darn near every single one of them.  For NWE to slip these statements into a press release, at the bottom of the page, is sneaky to say the least.  This is a huge issue that deserves it’s own press release.  Let’s break down the above statement.  First off, if NWE is finished up on December 31 (why they give an exact date is beyond me at this point), then the Madison River will once again have cold water from roughly 40 feet beneath the surface of the lake for 2016.  Great news! However, this will only be for a single season as this “relining of the wood pipeline” apparently hasn’t been done according to the engineers approval the first time around.  My question is this – why wasn’t this accomplished over the past seven years while the entire structure was dried in with a coffer dam?  I guarantee you that every single engineer at NWE has walked that wooden pipeline more than a few times and this never came up until now?  Really?  So, we get one season of cold water and then bam!, we get an 8th season of water that comes off the top of Hebgen Lake?  This is planned to start in May so that when the prime fishing season gets here we are set up with hot water for late June, July and August?  They say “approximately four months” and we are supposed to believe NWE?

 

I’m done daydreaming that this project will ever finish up without folks like you and me stepping up and making some noise.  And by noise I mean, actually making several phone calls to the deciders at NWE and those at Montana FWP who can help our cause.  Recently, I spent over an hour talking with John Hines a VP at NWE and spoke my mind.  I never hold much back with regards to this issue and I hope you will do the same.  Mister Hines, phone number below, needs to hear from each and every angler, outfitter and guide on why this new project absolutely can not happen in the summer months. This is, hands down, more important than the fishing regulations that may or may not be coming our way.  Folks spoke loudly about that and this needs the same attention.  NWE is throwing biology out the window and their primary objective, according to their FERC license is to take care of the river first and foremost.406 449 833

 

According to Brent Mabbot, NWE’s biologist and friend of mine, this project could begin in September of 2017, giving NWE September, October, November and December to complete.  If they run into problems, then they could even stretch it out to March, April and be finished up by May 2018.  Apparently, there is no way around this relining of the wood pipeline.  It must be done.  Ok, fine, but someone needs to be accountable for why it wasn’t done already and most importantly, this project needs to be done in the months where it will hurt the river the least.

 

There are many issues that lots of local anglers have with NWE.  The biggest one is this:  NWE is doing whatever they want, whenever they want, with total disregard for the resource and secondly, the communities who rely on the Madison River for economic and recreational opportunities are being told to deal with it.  Well, I’m tired of dealing with it and I want the Madison, the river that made me move to Montana in the first place almost twenty years ago, to get back to it’s old self once again.

 

Speak up, would ya?!

 

John Hines NWE VP 406 449 8333
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Travis Horton MT FWP 406 994 3155406 994 3155

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