Welcome to the first edition of Dispatches, a new series which reports on the Big Sky Anglers crew as they travel the globe in search of angling adventures. Each edition of Dispatches will feature an interview with one of our angling pros while they are on assignment or travelling for fun. Our crew might be hosting anglers in a remote destination, guiding clients on our home waters, or exploring new fishing territory at home and abroad.
This edition features BSA co-owner and head guide Jonathan Heames who is reporting from a remote island in Chilean Patagonia. Jonathan has been fly fishing in Chile for nearly 20 years, and his perspective and knowledge are impressive. Give a listen to what Jonathan has been up to, and stay tuned for more reports from the BSA crew.
“Where are you right now? How did you get there? Where are you off to next?”
“What is your target species? Why did you pick this location and time for that species?”
“How are you targeting these fish?”
“What’s one thing that’s happened on your trip so far that you didn’t expect?”
“What are the conditions like?”
“What’s been your favorite piece of gear on this trip so far, and why?”
“What’s the best thing you’ve had to eat?”
“Have you learned any new words or phrases?”
“What’s your playlist been on this trip…what tunes are you listening to?”
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
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 email@example.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.
Joe Moore, Justin Spence, and Jonathan Heames – Owners, Big Sky Anglers
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.
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.
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.