Words and Photos Thanks to Mikey Shanahan, guide, Aussie Fly Fisher, Canberra, Australia
I come from A Land Downunder
This year I had the opportunity to head stateside for the summer, something that I’ve been dreaming of since I picked up a fly-rod. Although the trout fishing in Australia is wild, free, and spectacular (look it up if you haven’t already), nothing can really ever compare to making the pilgrimage to rivers like Madison and Yellowstone, or the privilege of being able to catch wild trout in their native environment. That and the local beers (which are delicious) pretty much make Montana a must on most serious trout bum’s lists.
I was lucky enough to be based in West Yellowstone. I had a bunch of irreplaceable and radical experiences there. Here are a few of my impressions and a few tips for any other international or domestic trout bum that is thinking of packing up and heading west, although in my case I actually had to head north-east for several thousand miles.
First World Problems
The main problem confronting any angler arriving in West Yellowstone, a place with seemingly more rivers than roads, more lakes than parking lots, and more fly shops than McDonalds, is where to go first? Well, one of the many fly shops is usually a good option, and I was extremely lucky in this case. My good friend Tom serendipitously introduced me to his good friend Justin Spence, who is a part owner and guide of the best option, Big Sky Anglers.
Luckily for me and everyone else who’s had the pleasure of meeting, fishing, or dancing with Justin, he is, as we would say back home, “an absolute #$%^&ing total legend” and all around ultra stand-up-guy. He is also indicative of the whole BSA crew in my opinion.
Justin not only went out of his way to help me, but he also introduced me to everyone at BSA. That was not only the best possible thing that could’ve happened on my fishing trip, but it was also one of the best things in my life.
Focusing on people so much might seem odd for what is essentially a destination fishing blog post (I can see Matt, the awesome guy who asked me to write this, instantly regretting his decision…). I mean one group of people who fly fish religiously in a town where everyone fly fishes religiously isn’t anything special right? Chances are you go somewhere like that you’re gonna find a group of people who you connect with and help you out to a certain extent, correct? I’m not so sure.
You see, there are fishing trips, and then there are times when the universe plucks you out of the inky, sticky depths of the Great Southern Continent and plunges you into the centre of a group of people who are doing something awesome and exciting at an exact time in an exact place. And when that happens, you just gotta roll with it.
Adapt, or Die #neverforgetyourshell
When travelling to a place that has such varied and excellent fishing as Montana it’s important to have goals to focus your trip. A list of species, rivers, or certain experiences is always a good idea and there’s plenty of info out there too research through before a trip, which is half the fun! However it’s also vital to be adaptable to get most out your fishing.
Weather, hatches (both insect and bikini), along with heaps of other variables, can affect your best made plans, but luckily there’s usually another option. Most of the best fishing I had was a result of being open to whatever happened to be the best fishing on the day.
Listen to advice and act on it, sticking with a plan through thick and thin can come through, but if the guys at the shop who have their finger on the pulse tell you something can wait a week or that you’ve got a better option, go with it, make the most of the short time you have.
One perfect day – Every day of the week
The problem about spending a whole summer in Montana is that you end up with too many good stories. Everybody in Australia (and I mean everyone, I haven’t shut up since I got back) are already pretty sick of me stating sentences with ‘in Montana…’
There was opening day on the Yellowstone, hiking into the back end of River X, sliding down the Madison, or rowing around drowned trees, trying to pull psycho rainbows on big dries. My advice – Go make your own memories and bore your own mates with them.
That being said one of the days that really stood out for me was floating around on Hebgen Lake with my buddies Belen and Miles, shamelessly bobber fishing, eating cheeseburgers, drinking beers and listening to house music. It’s because of the great people I had the privilege of fishing with in Montana that made my trip what it was.
I’m writing this for them now (ya’ll know who you are) as an open invitation to get outta the freezing cold and 100 foot of snow that guys get and to get over here ASAP. Bring your board shorts, thongs [Aussie for flipflops. Maybe], sunnies [Aussie for sunglasses], and stubbies [Aussie for who knows what], and let’s party over in this summer until your next one.
My one piece of advice, though, for folks headed to Yellowstone Country, is to get your butt into BSA the moment you’ve touched down, driven up, or walked into West Yellowstone. Those guys are dinky-die Aussie legends in my book.
The shorter days of winter are upon us here in Montana. The weather is cold, but that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on spending time outdoors. We are still fishing when the conditions are right, but are also shifting attention to hunting, skiing, riding, and other snow sports. The simple fact is, though, that there is a lot fewer hours of daylight in winter, so a person needs some good indoor hobbies to get through. Filling the fly boxes is Job #1. Hanging out by the fire with a good book is another prime winter pastime, though.
We asked some of the guys for suggestions to add to your winter reading list, and here’s what we came up with.
Suggested by Jonathan Heames
- The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane
- The River Why by David James Duncan
- Trouthunter: The Way of an Angler by Rene Harrop
- Spring Creeks by Mike Lawson
Suggested by Joe Moore
- Small Fly Adventures in the West by E Neale Streeks
- The Curtis Creek Manifesto by Sheridan Anderson
- Chasing Rumors – A Season of Fly Fishing in Patagonia by Cameron Chambers
- Bud Lilly’s Guide to Fly Fishing the New West by Bud Lilly and Paul Schullery
Suggested by Justin Spence
- Single Hand Spey Casting by Simon Gawesworth
- Instinctive Fly Fishing by Taylor Streit
- Hatch Guide for Western Streams by Jim Schollmeyer
- Modern Steelhead Flies by Rob Russell and Jay Nicholas (with a cameo by Matt Klara)
Suggested By Matt Klara
- What Trout Want – The Educated Trout and Other Myths by Bob Wyatt
- McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss
- Single Handed Fly Casting by Jason Borger
- Birds of Montana Field Guide by Stan Tekiela
It’s that time of the year again folks. The Holidays! The waders are hung by the chimney with care. Give love first, and then if you want to add a stocking stuffer or two into the mix, we came up with a few ideas for the fishing folks on your “NICE” list. Just call the shop and we’ll set you up. 406-646-7801. And, please do it soon so there is time for Santa to deliver in time.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! It is hard to believe we are nearing the end of 2017, and we couldn’t be more thankful. Last year at this same time we were close to signing the purchase papers for Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop. So many things have gone on in the last year it is hard to know where to begin. First we would like to sincerely thank everyone for helping make this first season a success. Without all of the support we wouldn’t be where we are today, so, thank you!
Our doors officially opened over Memorial Day weekend and we never looked back. The summer seemed to fly by even faster than usual. We had wonderful fishing in Idaho on the Henry’s Fork, on the Madison and Missouri Rivers in Montana, and throughout Yellowstone Park. Our guide and shop staff did an outstanding job in the shop and on the water. We want to thank all of them for all their hard work and awesome energy!
We celebrated our grand opening Grand Opening for a weekend at the end of June with two days of fun, giveaways, appearances by sales reps, and a party with awesome food from our friends at Beartooth BBQ. So many great folks came out to see the new shop, say hello, and wish us well. The outpouring of love and support we felt from not only the West Yellowstone community but also from so many longtime friends and clients of Big Sky Anglers, Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop, the West Yellowstone Fly Shop, and Jonathan Heames Fly Fishing was truly humbling and overwhelming. We can’t thank everyone enough.
We had so much fun at the Grand Opening, we decided to throw another party on that same weekend in 2018! So, please, come join us on Saturday, June 30th, 2018 for a shop party to celebrate the summertime, our friends, families, and the fishing life. It’ll be a great chance to meet and get to know BSA employees and guides, visit with reps from various companies who will be showing product and doing demos, get in on a bunch of sales and giveaways, and also enjoy some great food like last year.
2017 saw great flows on all our rivers here in greater Yellowstone country. The Salmonfly hatch on the upper Madison was one to remember; we fished the big bugs for three full weeks! Big flows on the upper Madison usually provide for a wonderful Salmonfly hatch. The Henry’s Fork had a solid emergence of mayflies throughout the entire season along with Golden Stoneflies that began on the lower river and continued to hatch in the Box later in the season. Those lucky enough to blind cast big dries in the Box should’ve bought a Lotto ticket! Joe came up with a couple of new fly patterns for both Green Drake duns and Grey Drake spinners that rose more than a few big fish. Expect to see those patterns in our bins next season. Yellowstone Park also fished well from open to close. Things kicked off with Millers caddis and PMDs on the Firehole, and the late season terrestrial fishing in the northeast corner seemed above average this year. Hebgen Lake had some wonderful mornings of dry fly angling and when the wind did not come up, those mornings turned into afternoons. The Fall Run of trout from Hebgen Lake brought in anglers from all over the world. It seems like we were catching more rainbows than browns, but by the end of the season the brown trout made their way into the river and some wonderful specimens were brought to hand.
These are just a handful of highlight images from our guided trips this summer. Love all the smiling faces! We think that we guided more kids this year than ever before. It’s such a positive sign for the future of flyfishing.
We are truly fortunate to have so much diverse water right here within an hour’s drive of West Yellowstone. One could spend a lifetime fishing here and never touch all the water, but you can surely try. For those of you wanting to venture out and fish other Montana waters, don’t forget that we have a handful of the best guides available on the Missouri River all season long. These guys are seasoned veterans who know the river in and out. The Missouri River is a fantastic destination filled with large trout, great scenery and good times.
In late September we hosted the first annual West Yellowstone Trout Spey Days both here at the shop and on the Madison River in Custer Gallatin National Forest. Kurt Kruger and the folks at Farbank (Sage, Rio, Redington) helped us get the event up and running this year, and our friend Simon Gawesworth headlined the event for us. Big thanks again to them for all the help! Over 50 people showed up for the on-water portion of the event. It was awesome to see so much excitement about Spey fishing for trout – a type of fishing that some of us here at the shop have been enjoying for over 15 seasons. We plan on growing the event next season and will likely hold it again around the 3rd weekend in September with the support of the National Forest, so please stay tuned for more on that.
At the end of October, after nearly ten years, the construction at Hebgen dam is complete. Going forward from here, the upper Madison will return to having clean and cold water throughout the summer once again. Water will be drawn from almost forty feet down and wearing waders in between the lakes during August will be the norm. Our guess is that the hatches will reset and come back quickly leading to more dry fly opportunities, something that the Madison has always been known for. During the construction period, the insect hatches changed rather significantly with the warmer water. While we still had decent dry fly fishing it was not as consistent as when most of us started fishing this river years ago. While it remains uncertain how quickly the hatches will adjust, Mother Nature will run its course and it always amazes us how quickly she takes control when allowed to do so.
Over the winter we will be working on various shop projects and traveling a bit. Jon, Joe, and Justin will all be in South America, Argentina and Chile during different periods, so keep an eye out for photos and stories from down south! Don’t forget, we’ve been hosting and guiding trips throughout South America for almost fifteen years. We’d love to help you plan your next fishing adventure!
The shop will be open year around so feel free to call or email as you plan your fishing trip or just want to talk fishing.
All the best!
Justin, Joe, Jonathan, and the Big Sky Anglers Crew
Hi, all. We are clearing out a bunch of our lightly used demo rods and reels to make room for next season’s demo fleet. This is an awesome opportunity to score a great price on some top end gear. Winston, and Scott rods, and Hatch reels! All rods are in excellent condition, and handles have been cleaned and sanded like new. Reels have light wear that we’ve tried to show fairly in the photos. Because they are from Hatch, they are still functioning flawlessly after a summer of use. If you see something that interests you on here, please give us a call at the fly shop at 406-646-7801, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prices are firm as posted. Buyer pays shipping. All sales are final.
- Winston AIR, 9′ 5wt, MSRP $950, SALE PRICE $570
- Winston AIR, 9′ 6wt, MSRP $950, SALE PRICE $570
- Winston B3LS, 9′ 5wt, MSRP $795, SALE PRICE $477
- Scott Radian 905/4, 9′ 5wt, MSRP $795, SALE PRICE $477
- Scott L2h 1105/4, 11′ 5wt 2-handed rod, MSRP $545, SALE PRICE $327
- Scott Flex 905/4, 9′ 5wt, MSRP $475, SALE PRICE $285 (no photo)
- Hatch Gen 1 Finatic 4-Plus LA, Black, MSRP $450, SALE PRICE $200 (Includes approximately 100 yards of dacron backing on spool)
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.
Hi folks. We are closing out a number of reels from Hatch, Abel, and Ross that have been discontinued for the 2018 season. That includes Hatch Generation 1 Finatic reels, which have been an industry standard for years. The Gen 2 Finatic includes upgraded components, that can be retrofitted into the Gen 1 reels if there is ever an issue with them. In addition, all of the spools/frames are compatible between Gen 1 and 2 reels. If you’ve wanted to get into a Hatch but shied away from the price, this is your chance! Whether Hatch, Abel, or Ross all these reels and spools are brand new, in box. If you see something that interests you on here, please give us a call at the fly shop at 406-646-7801, or email us at email@example.com. Prices are firm as posted. Buyer pays shipping. All sales are final. We’d be happy to spool a reel up for you with backing and flyline. Just let us know when you get in touch.
- Hatch Gen 1 Finatic 4-Plus MidArbor SPOOL, Silver/Blue highlights, MSRP $190, SALE PRICE $114
- Hatch Gen 1 Finatic 4-Plus MidArbor SPOOL, Black/Silver highlights, MSRP $190, SALE PRICE $114
- Hatch Gen 1 Finatic 5-Plus MidArbor SPOOL, Silver/Blue highlights, MSRP $205, SALE PRICE $123
- Abel Quick Change Super 7/8 Tim Borski Bonefish #51/100, MSRP $2000, SALE PRICE $1200
- Abel Creek Series #1 Large Arbor SPOOL, HG Black, MSRP $150, SALE PRICE $90
- Abel Super 3N SPOOL, HG Black, MSRP $200, SALE PRICE $120
- Ross Evolution LT 1.5, Black, MSRP $295, SALE PRICE $177
- Ross Evolution LT 2, Platinum, MSRP $315, SALE PRICE $189
We received the following press release from FWP and Northwest Energy this week, and though many of you would be interested. Looking forward to things getting back to the old version of normal on the Madi!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
NorthWestern Nearly Done With Hebgen Dam Project; Madison River Basin Water Conditions Hold Steady
Butte, Mont. – October 18, 2017 – September precipitation in the Madison River basin was 264 percent of the 30 -year average. This was a welcome change from July and August which were 44 percent and 63 percent of average, respectively.
As a result of the higher inflow, Hebgen Dam outflow and elevation are slightly higher than normal for this time of year. Currently, outflow is 960 cubic feet per second (cfs) and is expected to remain near this level through the end of the month. Hebgen elevation is 6532.35 feet, which is 2.52 feet below full pool. By month end, the lake is anticipated to draft to about 6532 feet.
The Climate Prediction Center’s forecast for the remainder of October indicates a higher probability for temperatures to be above normal and precipitation to be below normal.
Construction crews completed the installation of the new concrete lining in the Hebgen Dam outlet pipe by the end of September, significantly ahead of schedule. NorthWestern Energy was very happy with the quality of work on the concrete, and all test results show the work is in compliance with specifications.
The first week in October the crews ground and patched any surface irregularities, and installed and welded the steel transition section near the intake. During the second week of October the transition steel was grouted into place and work began on removing the materials in the tailrace used for access, as well as cleaning up the site and demobilizing. NorthWestern plans to transition flows from the spillway back to the intake in the coming weeks.
In 2009, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) required safety repairs to the Hebgen Dam intake, spillway and outlet pipeline to meet current dam-safety standards and reflect advances in earthquake seismology. The approximately $40 million project is expected to be mostly complete by the end of 2017, with some minor non-structural work to be done in 2018.
NorthWestern Energy will hold a celebration of the completion of the Hebgen Dam Rehabilitation Project from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2017, at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Ennis. Feel free to join us. Please RSVP to Kristen Dawes, Kristen.Dawes@northwestern.com, or by leaving a message at (406) 497-2456.
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.