Dispatches from my better half….

Many of you think I spend my free time ironing Joe’s fishing shirts and making guide lunches. Hardly. My home is the home of Big Sky Anglers, and its stuffed to capacity with rods, reels, flies, a shop’s worth of fly tying materials, boots, waders, hunting gear, and bird dogs. My worldly goods consist of a tiny, tiny closet, one coffee mug, and shelf of books. Can’t live without my books. I spend my mornings reading, mug in hand, with a variety of titles, from classics to contemporary fiction.

Recently, my good friend and West Yellowstone librarian Steve encouraged me to try a new release, The Royal Wulff Murders, by Montana author Keith McCafferty. Skeptical of reading a book about fly fishing (seems like I experience lots of it firsthand), I found myself quickly immersed in this book. Centered around the lower Madison, from Quake Lake to Ennis, McCafferty’s murder mystery is cast with fisherman. Main character Sean Stranahan is a divorced artist, avid angler, and semi-private investigator who gets involved with a dead body found just above Lyon’s Bridge. Sheriff Martha Ettinger determines this man died of foul play, partially because his eyeball is impaled on a stick downstream of the body, and a Royal Wulff is stuck in his lip. Stranahan and Ettinger are joined by a motley crew of Montana’s best locals: Rainbow Sam, a smelly fishing guide famous for exploits on and off the river; Vareda, a hot Southern redhead who literally tangles with Stranahan; and Doris, the sassy manager of the local bar. Locals will recognize lots of places, including the Grizzly Bar, the Sheep Creek trailhead, Ennis Cafe, and the Gallatin Gateway Inn. Stranahan even takes a jaunt up to the Missouri and catches a twenty-five inch brown near the Wolf Creek bridge. The plot thickens with details like whirling disease, cranky nonresident landowners, and of course, just a bit of sexual tension. Stranahan is quite a player.

I know just enough about fly fishing to get my line tangled, yet still found this book quite readable. He imparts a true sense of the conservation and profound love of the environment I see from so many in the angling community. A few lines stuck with me, like “Trout are the ghosts of moving waters, gone like the dreams one longs to remember.” I like the investment McCafferty makes in each character, detailing just enough about the personalities and physical appearances.  Vareda’s sultry southern belle-ness grew a little tiresome after awhile, but what crusty old fisherman isn’t a sucker for deep cleavage and impractical female fishing attire (both scenarios do appear in the book). I laughed in a few spots as well, such as Stranahan and Rainbow Sam’s favorite drive-thru espresso stand, staffed by ladies in bikinis and lingerie, called “Lattes & Lookers.” Can’t wait until that place shows up at Four Corners.

So, give this book a few afternoons in the hammock. I bet you will like it.

– Molly Moore

YNP, the Fam and fishing the Madison

YNP continues take up most of my time these days.  Running around Yellowstone in a vintage Bombardier is a fabulous way to get a paycheck, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

The shot above didn’t turn out as good as the real thing.   If you tilt your screen the shot gets better……

My folks are in town visiting for a week.  They spent some time in Missoula with my sister and are now here in West Yellowstone for a trip through YNP, some fishing, skiing and a litte quality time with the family.  Dad and I took a few hours yesterday and fished the Madison…….yes it was good.  I wore the Rock Grippers once again and continue to be surprised at just how bad ass they are.

Patagonia’s New Rock Grip Wading Boots

Patagonia's Rock Grip Boots

Awhile back I saw a pair of crampons with metal bars screwed into them.  They were being tested for wade fishing, as an alternative to felt, as states like Alaska and Missouri don’t allow felt anymore.  One look at these new wading boots from Patagonia made me think……really? 

Aluminum bars? 

Screwed into the soles? 


Not in my boat was my first thought……or on the wood floor at home….or to the grocery store……these are for wading rivers.  Now, Patagonia will say they are fine in the boat, but I haven’t tried it yet and it doesn’t sound like a good idea.  Maybe a carpeted deck in a jet boat, but a fiberglass driftboat?  The jury is still out……

So, a few days ago, I laced them up and took off walking upstream over the snow and down to the Madison.  There was some slickness of the sole in the snow, but overall,  that was not a big problem.  When I got in the river, I expected to slip right away.  The bars tripped me up a couple times, but once I got used to it, I could wade anywhere and wasn’t slipping.  No shit, I didn’t slip and the grip was as good as felt.  Waste deep in the river, shallow fast riffles……no slippin’.  The bars do mark the rocks, but all spiked wading boots will do that.  These work and are the first none felt boots to do so. 

Patagonia is on to something with these new boots.   A set of bars should last 80-100 days.   The true test will be to see if they hold up over time to hiking and fishing.  All in all, I am impressed thus far after one day of wade fishing.

The bars are replaceable for around $25. 

The boots will retail for $239. 

The River Crampons will retail for $199. 

Freestone Rod Review – 865 & 906

Find one. Cast it....better yet...fish it.

Freestone Rod Shop is based in Montrose, Colorado.  Bernard, Sam and Len run the show.   They build grass and graphite and are not new to the scene….not one bit.  Combined, they have 89 years of rod making and design behind their craft.  Thomas & Thomas, Scott and Winston were all blessed with their abilities over the years.  Gary Loomis made the blanks to their exact specifications, working together to make the perfect rod.  New ideas have come about and now they are sharing them with us.  Yeah, it’s another high end rod company entering the market in toughest of times.  But they don’t care.  These fellas have something figured out.  This rod expresses itself – even when just sitting in your hand.  Cast it, or better yet, fish with it , and you will see for yourself what I mean – if you can find one.  Freestone Rod Shop only builds a small number of rods per year, thus making them all to perfection and already highly sought after.  From what Bernard says, they are flying off the shelves at a rapid pace and they are already taking orders for 2012.

I first saw a graphite prototype during the summer of 2010, handed to me by my buddy Jonathon Heames.  “This rod might change your life,”  he noted.  That rod was an 8″6′  5 wt.  It was super sexy, but I didnt get to actually fish it right away.   One random day in early July of 2011, after our clients had to hit the airport sending us to the boat ramp early, we turned right around, splashed the boat again and floated until dark fishing dry flies on the Henry’s Fork.  The Freestone 865 loaded up at all distances and it’s accuracy was pinpoint.   There is a smoothness that I have yet to find in any other rod.  Energy transfers effortlessly and the rod will almost cast itself – if you let it.  To me, a fly rod is yet another tool to get the job done – the right way.   The first part of the job is delivering the line and fly.  The second is mending, if needed, and the third is how the rod fights the fish.  Sure, there are lots of different rods that get the job done, but I want to feel the rod, or maybe the line and fish, at all times while angling.  Freestone fly rods make the experience more intimate, if you will, elevating the anglers awareness at all times.    

A sweet Rod indeed.

I could just quote their web site and sound really smart.  Check it out for yourself.  Read the text, then read it again and then maybe once more tomorrow at work.  What these guys have figured out is that there is a way to build the best rod ever, to date, before they actually make the rod.  I am a huge fan of slow action rods for trout fishing, especially when teaching someone how to cast, mend and fight a trout.  Smooth flexing flyrods will get more trout to the net.  They will take longer to learn to cast, but once the timing is there, it’s like riding a bike.  Sit down and hold on.  At first glance, Freestone fly rods look simple and incomplete.  Look a little closer, read what they have to say about finish work, and you will begin to understand why simple is better.    


Prepping the 906 at Wolf Creek Bridge

 About a month ago, the 906 Freestone showed up at my doorstep.  I was headed to the Missouri for my last stint of the 2011 guide season and had two days of pre-fishing prior to the clients arriving.  It had been quite some time since I was excited about fishing a new rod.  I normally fancy my late nineties Winston IM6 9ft 5 WT for dries and the 6 for nymphing and streamer fishing.  Both of these rods are smooth and fight fish extremely well.  Once rigged, I set up fishing in the Prickly Pear run on the Missouri…..you know the one…if you don’t, you should.  Anyway, I swung streamers at first and quickly noticed that while this rod felt like it was going to fold in half,  it actually delivered in sweet style, launching all the line at my feet across the river – into the backing.  I made about forty of those casts, because I could….. and it felt really good.  Awhile later, rigged with a bobber and two flies, I stepped out of the boat and started nymphing the run.  When nymping, on foot, I can tell a lot about how a rod is going to function.  Wade fishing the Missouri sets one up for long drifts and shooting line way upstream.  The 906 out performed my BIIX 6wt (which was rigged as well) by a long shot.  Managing one’s drift, mending, is probably the most important part of nymph fishing (besides setting the hook).  I was not let down with the rod’s capabilities.  I tried to break a fish off, but the rod kept bending, protecting the tippet every time.  Later in the week, while guiding, I re-rigged the 906 for dry flies.  Droppping anchor a little close to the risers, Ken and myself,  were about 20 feet from a small pod.  Ken had not fished dry flies on the Missouri……ever.   I kept seated and cast short, with a reach and taught him the basics.  Ken took the rod, noticed it’s unique vibe and quickly caught a nice 10 incher on a #20 Parachute Adams.  Then another.  And another after that.   The 906 passed the short cast test with flying colors.

Freestone Rods are custom built from top to bottom by two very smart and fishy dudes.   These boys designed the entire rod – from the mandrills to the finish work.  Art and science have met……this is not your daddy’s fly rod from 1980.  I have yet to find anything wrong with either of these two fly rods and will continue to fish with the 906 throughout the winter on the Madison River.  I have fallen in love, again.  Will my 9 ft 5 IM6 Winston ever forgive me?  At this point, I could care less………

Patagonia’s SST Jacket….review

A. Menzter...the perfect model

This past spring, the fine folks at Patagonia, sent out the new SST Jacket for me to test all season long.  How kind of them, I thought to myself….I needed a new rain jacket and their gear tends to be as good as anyone elses…..even Simms.    My buddy Drew, above, wore this jacket this spring while his was on order and I was on crutches.  It got the “Drew Approval” right away.  

First I want to talk about fit and functionality.  When thinking about fit, I need something that not only works when fishing, but also when rowing the boat, since that is where I am at most of the time.  The SST Jacket is comfy in all regards – fishing and rowing.  There are no pockets to get hung up on as the side pockets are zippered.  The hood is super sweet and there is a great fleece liner which protects the H2No from becoming soiled from dirty hair….yes I need a hair cut, but nobody asked you….the hood pull is bad-ass and helps to see everything I need when it’s raining cats and dogs.  The reverse StretchCoat cuffs are lovely and have yet to catch line – even when fishing streamers.  Last year, the SST Jacket did not have a waist pull, which was a mistake.  This year that has been remedied.  Overall, this jacket is very light, which might make some folks see it as “cheap” item which won’t last.  Thus far, it has held its own.  Plus, it packets up nicely for my guide trips/day hikes in Yellowstone.   

Staying Dry.  Back in June, I wore the SST on the Missouri for 3 days straight – ramp to ramp.  It rained so hard that I had to pump the boat out before and after lunch each day.  I stayed dry, my boat did not.  This jacket breathes well and I never get sweaty when rowing the boat or hiking through Yellowstone in the rain.   

Bomb proof zippers.

Pockets & Zippers.  This should have been addressed in the paragraph about function, but I feel that pockets and zippers need their own section.  I was a little skeptical of the pockets at first glance.  Were they big enough for guide boxes, tippet, floatant and such?  Yep, they are.  However, impressed I was not with the handwarmer pockets.  While they can hold more stuff, they are not lined and the zippers are little rough on the hands in cold weather.  I do like the idea of closeable handwarmer pockets, as my Simms coat is always catching on the oars, resulting in torn pockets and frustration when rowing.   Maybe some type of magnets could be used to keep the pockets closed instead of hardy zippers…..hmmm.  The inside left breast pocket, in my humble opinoin, could have been deeper……I like deep pockets.  The key clip probably should have been concealed inside the breast pocket out of the way of boxes and fishing tackle.  On some garmets, Patagonia has had some problems with their zippers –  while trying to use the lightest zippers known to man theses zippers fail quite often.  Lightweight works great for alpine climbers, but anglers could give a shit about lightweight zippers – we want it to last and be useful in cold climates.  The new zippers are friendly to anglers and the zipper pull is very helpful when wearing gloves or mitts.

Grade:  B+  Why not a solid A  you ask?  Well, the handwarmer pockets need to be fleece lined and while the zippered pockets are great for someone rowing, not that many anglers spend a whole lot of time behind the oars. 


Stayed tuned for another gear review.  Up Next – the Rio Gallegos Waders.  Once the weather really cools off and I am able to wade fish on the Madison in these, I will have more insight. 

Patagonia Fly Fishing  – check it out……..

A piece of art…. for your belly.

Hand-made Belt Buckles. Crafted in Montana


We have a friend in Big Sky who is a metalsmith, it is her trade and this is one way she pays the bills.  I find the origin of the word “smith” facinating.  It basically boils down to mean someone who has a specialized trade working with metal, using a forge.  Dating back to Germanic cultures of the 16th Century, Smiths made tools for farming and warfare and were held in high regards in early social structures.  Tools were simple in those times, but without the means to make them your society was not as advanced as others.  Shields, swords, armor, the plow, the wheel, pulleys, horseshoes, mugs for beer, knives, ….you get the idea….tools of the trades.

Nowadays metalsmiths make highend jewelry, knifes and even fly reels.  Yes, those super pricey reels are machined out of a solid piece of aluminum using CNC Machining.  CNC – computer numerical control, is the most advanced practice of metalsmithing.   Personally, I like hand made items and when Ariane asked me about belt buckles, I jumped on the idea.  Ariane Ogburn Coleman is a pro and makes some of the finest hand crafted jewelry in Montana.   It has taken some time, but my custom made BSA Trout Belt Buckle has been completed.  The fish on the buckle above is the exact trout from my logo which was originally designed by Kielly Yates.   If you look closely, you can see the mountain range inside the trout – Sphinx Mountain to be exact.   This buckle is crafted in Montana from beginning to end.

You want one………………………………?    Contact me: joe@bigskyanglers.com