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
406 449 8333

 

Travis Horton MT FWP 406 994 3155406 994 3155

406 449 806

Madison River Regulation Changes in the air

Statewide, there are fishing regulation changes that are coming down the pipe and frankly, I don’t really care for all of them.  I will not go into any other regulation changes other than those here on the Madison River.  First off, I am not a fisheries biologist, however, the amount of time I have spent on river over the past 23 years of my life as an angler, guide and outfitter gives me some insight on the topic.

Throughout the Rocky Mountain West, fishery managers are on a path to “simplify” regulations.  Folks, if you can read, then you can follow the regulations as they stand right now.  Ever try to draw an hunting tag in the West?  Wading through those regulations takes time, energy and a complete understanding of entire mountain ranges that are broken apart into zones – it gets confusing to say the least.  These “proposed”  fishing regulation changes are a huge swing in the other direction from what we’ve had for a VERY long time.

Why is this?  There are many rivers in the State of Montana that are open year round (the Missouri and the Big Horn to name two notable ones) and fishing these rivers in the spring has not lead to a downfall in fish populations.  However, these rivers are busy places and getting busier all the time – especially the Missouri.  The Madison is the busiest river in the State, period. Opening it up year round will put more pressure on the fish at a time period when they are vulnerable.  I can tell you that as soon as the river is open, more anglers will come here to fish.  Will it hurt the fishery?  That remains to be seen and fisheries biologists will tell you that no, it does not hurt the fishery to fish over spawning fish.  This is where ethics comes in to play a part.  Personally, I don’t fish directly over redds (spawning nests) as I have an overwhelming feeling to leave them alone.  However, I do fish and guide rivers in the springtime and it can be difficult to avoid the redds – in some rivers redds are almost everywhere.  Avoiding the shallow gravel bars and the shallow channels is a solid choice in the months of April, May and early June.  The Madison is a shallow river and a majority of the trout spawn in the river itself.  Do we need more anglers walking on redds and hooking spawning trout?  Will that have a negative impact for the years to come?  I want to say yes, but I can’t say that it will either.  In my opinion, the Madison River needs a break during the springtime.

Below, in black ink, is what’s in store for the Madison River.  I would suggest that most of these changes will happen.  In my experience, once FWP gets this far, it’s imminent.  Your comments matter though, so speak up.  What’s alarming, is that hardly anyone knows about it and not many of us have heard a word about this from FWP.  Just this morning, the outfitters on the river received a note about the proposed changes and now that the public meetings have come and gone, all we can do it write in our comments or make a phone call.  There was not a public meeting in West Yellowstone or Ennis.

MADISON RIVER

Yellowstone National Park boundary to Hebgen Reservoir
• Catch-and-Release for rainbow trout, except anglers 14 years of age and younger may take 1 rainbow trout daily and in possession, any size.
• Combined Trout: 5 brown trout daily and in possession, only 1 over 18 inches. 

Hebgen Dam to Ennis Reservoir
• Artificial lures only.
• Combined Trout: 1 Daily and in possession, any size. .

Quake Lake outlet to Lyons Bridge
• Closed to fishing from boats/vessels

Ennis Bridge to Ennis Lake
• Closed to fishing from boats/vessels

Ennis Dam to the mouth

• Northern Pike: No limit.
RATIONALE: These regulation changes greatly simplify the Madison River fishing regulations.

What’s changed you ask?  Well, quite a bit.

For as along as I can remember the Madison from Quake’s out flow to Mac has been open from the 3rd Saturday in May till the end of February.   That was to protect spawning trout.  If these reg changes happen, then the entire river from Hebgen Dam to Ennis Lake will be open year round.

As it stands right now, anglers can fish bait from Hebgen Dam through Quake Lake. This is a change I can get behind.  I have no problems with anglers who like to fish bait, by all means, go right ahead.  But this is a gem of a river and fishing bait normally means you’re gonna keep the fish.  This leads to the next proposed change.  Anglers inbetween the lakes will no longer be able to keep 5 trout per day, per person.  I hardly ever notice anglers keeping fish except for the spring time inbetween the lakes.  This stretch of river is plum full of spawning trout in the spring time and I have seen, on more than one occasion, stringers full of big rainbows which are full of eggs.  Hopefully they do get eaten and not freezer burned.  In the past ten years, I have hardly wet a line in between the lakes during the spawn….for me, it’s a choice to leave the rainbows alone.

The final proposed change is anglers will now be able to keep 1 fish per day per person on the entire river. For what seems like an eternity, the Madison River has largely been a catch and release fishery.  My personal beliefs are that a trout is worth catching more than just one time.  Catch and release angling does in fact kill fish.  Like it or not, those of us who put em’ back actually kill a percentage of the fish.  A barbless hook regulation would help with this as barbed hook extraction take much longer than a barbless hook.   If a fish is out of the water for a couple minutes while an angler extracts a barbed hook, the fish may swim off, but will probably die a short time later.  Fish barbless folks!

So….make those comments to:  fwpfish@mt.gov    The comment period is open till September 12th, 2015.
Click here for an article on the reg changes and to read a little more about it.  I called and talked with Joel Tohtz this morning for over an hour to express my thoughts.  You can too:  406 444 1230.  Joel is the Fisheries Management Bureau Chief for Montana.


Something else for you to ponder…..

Since 2008 Hebgen Dam has not been functioning.  Hot water has been running right off the top of the lake and into the river all summer long.  Water temps have been way too high during the summer months which was not the case prior to the debacle at Hebgen Dam.  There have been quite a few years where we have seen fish die in the river due to warm water temperatures.  Are rainbows more susceptible to warm water than brown trout?  Yep, they are.  Most of us thought we would see a Hoot Owl closure on the upper Madison River this summer (and past summers) – that did not happen. Most of us altered our fishing hours accordingly to not stress out fish even more.  If you read this site very often, I have been outspoken about Hebgen Dam.  I believe the river needs a couple years, if not more, to see how things (insects and trout) react to a properly functioning, bottom draw dam before we get a sweeping regulation change like the proposal facing us right now.  The Madison will not change overnight with respect to insect hatches and trout behavior.  At this point, the water is coming from around 17 feet below the surface…better late than never.  By November, hopefully, the river be drawing from 37 feet (or around there) below the surface.  Will the hatches go back to the way they were?  Will the consistent fishing on the Madison return?  I say yes…but all in due time.  Why not wait for a couple years to see what happens with the river before we change the regulations?



Hello there…we’ve been busy fishing…..

Flows and the damn Dam

River flows in the Madison Valley, from Hebgen Dam to Ennis lake, are sitting pretty good right now as we shift from summer to fall.  At the Kirby Gage, she’s registering at 994 cfs.  Over the past few weeks, the heat and high sun have been minimal and river temps are hanging in there on most days.  However, there have been some super hot days once in while and the river temps can still hit the high 60’s and low 70’s.  Once 68 degrees hits the river, you might as well reel up, sit back and take a boat ride.  Recently, we have been experiencing some very cold over night air temperatures and several mornings here on Horse Butte the thermometer has read 28-30 degrees.  That folks, has been the saving grace for the Madison River, well, that and decent flows from Hebgen.  This past week, Hebgen Dam began to pull from roughly seventeen feet below the surface.  This is NOT the point where we celebrate just yet. Apparently, this will only drop the river temp a couple degrees, but that’s better than top releases any day of the week.  Sometime in November (cross your fingers), Hebgen will hopefully be completed and the river will pull from 37 feet below the surface.  Right now, I am holding my breath and really won’t believe its fixed until it actually is.   This project has stretched out for way too long and we are all completely over it.


Madison River Fishing Report 08.25.2015

Inconsistent…to say the least.  Really though, I’ve had a bunch of great days on the Madison River this summer.  However, if you are gonna roll the dice and fish the river only one day while you’re in the neighborhood, you had better be on the good side of the trout gods…..or be a little lucky.  It also helps to bring your A-game and let the fish eat your fly.  Your day could be a dink fest, but please remember to pay attention as there are some really nice fish eating the fly and just when you think it’s a dink and you don’t set the hook, you’re hating life and wondering out loud where that big brown trout came from.  My only answer to that question is, “they live here too”.  The nymphing crowd is pounding rocks and mid river runs with various flies like: shelia sculpin, trevor’s sculpin, rubber legs, zonkers, midge larva, $3 Dips, olive dips, crystal dips, shop vacs and the traditional no bead pheasant tail.  The rest of us are fishing dry flies whenever possible with hoppers, ants, wulffs, beetles, trudes, small royal stimis and pretty much any reddish attractor  pattern.  I like fishing a single fly this time of the year as most of us, myself included, tend to get a better drift with just one fly on the end of the line.  It’s late August and the trout are not dumb, so tighten up that skill set and pay attention.

Hebgen Lake Fishing Report

I will never claim to know everything about Hebgen Lake, it’s almost impossible.  However, I’ve been playing around the lake this August and Hebgen has shown us some really good days with calibaetis spinners, duns and ants.  Slow stripping mayfly nymphs is a great way to spend any early morning in an unnamed bay on the south shore of Hebgen Lake.  I absolutely love watching the lake come alive from 8 am till noon.  Some days, like today, there was glass all over the lake till almost 3pm, but making the fish eat was a little difficult.  My best bug here lately has been a #14 Missing Link fished on 5X.

Writing and this blog

I would like to reach out and thank those folks who have asked me to keep writing and posting my random thoughts here on the site.  Running the business…aka…. full time guiding/outfitting, tying flies for what may be your trip tomorrow, answering emails and phone calls along with mowing the yard and running the bird dog has gotten in the way of writing.  Writing is hard, and while I don’t claim to be very good at it, writing is time consuming and after some 600 posts on the blog, I got tired.  With any luck, I’ll continue to find some time as I really do enjoy writing, but sometime it’s just hard to find the energy.  Thanks for reading!   If you enjoy social media, please check us out on Instagram, that folks, is the easiest way to get your fix without sitting in the boat with us on a river here in the great state of Montana.

FLA, Bahamas Bound and the General Season Opener in Montana

Headed for the beach….

In just a few hours I will be hoping in the truck with Jonathan Heames and heading north to Bozeman.  Tomorrow morning, the two of us depart for Miami, where, once we land, we’ll rent a car and drive south to the Keys and Captain Greco’s house.  Hanging out in the Keys is a precursor  to our four day run on South Andros at Bair’s Lodge, a trip that our buddy Steve Hoovler is coming on as well.

I’ve been tying bonefish, tarpon and permit flies since February and reading up on what to expect.  To a dozen or more guides and anglers, who I know have fished all over the saltwater world, I asked for their favorite fly patterns and their best piece of advise.

Tony V, from L-Town, told me to, and I quote, “set with the strip and not the tip, but since you’re a trout guide, you are screwed on that front….good luck with the trip, you will be addicted for sure and your wife will want to kill you since you’ll be trying to spend every last dime on the next saltwater trip.”

It’s been almost ten years since I was in Florida and I fully expect to blow many a shot while standing in the bow of Brett’s skiff.  I’ve never been down to the Bahamas and my brain is ripe with excitement. Expect a full report upon my return and if you’re on Instagram, check us out as I will be posting from Florida and South Andros.


Montana’s General Season Opener

For the past sixteen years, I have not missed one opening day on the Madison River.  The upper Madison, from the outlet of Quake Lake down to MacAtee Bridge will open on Saturday, May 16.  Both Cabin and Beaver Creeks are tossing in mud, but Quake is filtering some that making for a bitch creek green Madison River.  If you are venturing out this weekend, expect to see a few folks on the river.  The current flow out of Hebgen is 552 cfs with a flow of 799 at Kirby.  Yep, that’s pretty low for this time of the year.  Hebgen Lake is filling up and with any luck, we’ll start seeing a rise in flows sometime in early June….don’t count it, but keep up the rain dances as we need every drop we can get.  Last night it rained on and off and today we had showers as well.  The river above Ennis has been fishing quite well this spring, but it’s boney down there as well.

Good luck and enjoy the coming weekend!

PAST RAMBLINGS

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