Travis Rydberg began working for Bud Lilly’s
Trout Shop back in the mid-1990s. Around the turn of the century he migrated to
Last Chance, Idaho, a place he would call home for more than fifteen
years. Working behind the counter and later guiding for TroutHunter,
Travis became one of the most knowledgeable anglers and fishing guides on the
Henry’s Fork. He won’t let on about that fact very often, but rest
assured that once you have spent a little time on the water with him, you’ll know
you’ve fished with a special person, and look back on those days with a smile on
In the spring of 2017, Travis found himself coming back over Targhee Pass to West Yellowstone to work once again at the corner of Madison and Canyon Street, now the home of Big Sky Anglers. We couldn’t have been happier when he joined our guide staff as we knew that all of us, and especially our clients and young staff, would be able to learn a lot from him and greatly benefit from his many years on the water.
As some of you may know, Travis was involved in
a horrible car accident in June of 2018. Travis was hit head on by an
oncoming vehicle along Highway 20. His pickup truck, drift boat, and
trailer were totaled. Travis saw his 2018 guide season come to an abrupt
end with injuries that left him unable to perform any kind of normal duties,
let alone pull on the oars or hike clients into the Harriman Ranch and Yellowstone
National Park. Soon after the accident, Travis moved back to Billings to
be closer to doctors and begin the long process of physical therapy. We
were hoping he would return to our roster late in the 2018 guide season, but
his doctors would not release him to go back to work. Over time, slowly
but surely, and with an unthinkable amount of work, Travis has regained his
strength and is beginning to feel whole again.
Some of you have stayed in touch with the shop,
reaching out to us to inquire about Travis’ health and when he would
return. For most of the summer we didn’t have an answer, but did our best
to keep you all in the loop with his recovery. We always passed along to
Travis the news that people were asking about him. During one of the most difficult times of his
life he appreciated hearing from his friends both far and near. The
struggle for Travis has indescribably difficult, but through all of this he has
come to realize is that he needs the river and misses those good people around
him in the fishing community.
Today, we are more than excited to announce that
in 2019 and for many years to come, Travis Rydberg will be back guiding in 2019
and hopefully for many years to come. Seeing
him out once again, guiding anglers on the Henry’s Fork, Madison, Missouri, and
in Yellowstone Rivers will be a sight for sore eyes! We plan on Travis arriving
back in West sometime in May and couldn’t be happier for him and the recovery
he has made. Welcome back Trav, you have been missed!
Stillwater fishing is just one part of fly fishing that
truly fascinates me, and every year I seem to devote more and more of my water
time to the lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.
And, like most things that I become interested in, I collect literature
on the subject. I love to read and study
different theories and approaches to things like fly fishing. By reading well written works by other
experienced anglers, I feel that I am able to gain experiences that I might not
otherwise have the opportunity to have myself.
I guess the hope is that one day, should I be confronted with a unique
situation in my own angling, that I might be able to recall an obscure passage
in an angling text and apply it with glorious, fishy results. But I also think that I enjoy just reading
different perspectives, opinions, and approaches to similar situations, and
trying to sort out the biases, while throwing it all into my own melting pot
for forming my own (admittedly biased) perspectives, opinions, and approaches.
But I digress.
For a long time, “literature” essentially meant books, magazine
articles, and maybe some VHS tapes. Now,
as more and more information becomes available through electronic means, it
also includes things like DVDs, blog posts, podcasts, e-books, You-tube
channels, and now, smartphone apps. I’m
able to find new material to study everywhere I turn, making the long Montana
winter a bit easier to pass.
I’m a little old school, and I still like books the best, but
it is difficult to argue with the power of a well-organized and presented video
as a teaching an learning tool. Not long
ago I came across Phil Rowley and Brian Chan’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App. As I understand it, this App is the first of
its kind in many ways. What makes this
information source fairly unique is that it is video based, but organized
similar to a cookbook of recipes or fishing tidbits that are hopefully easy to
find at a moment’s notice.
From Phil and Brian:
“Phil and Brian have
combined their 75 years of experience fly fishing for trout and char in lakes
to develop this valuable educational tool. This App will become an essential
tool in the toolbox for anglers of all skill levels.
The app is broken down
into chapters covering such topics as entomology, leaders and knots, techniques
and tactics, equipment and favourite stillwater flies. Each topic is presented
in video format that can be easily downloaded and saved to your mobile device.
Once downloaded, the
video tips can be watched anywhere. No Wi-Fi connection is required to view the
tips once they have been downloaded.”
I personally have found the Stillwater Fly Fishing App to be
a welcome addition to my collection of stillwater angling “literature”. I’ve learned plenty of new things,
particularly about entomology and rigging for stillwaters. I’ll go into the 2019 open water season with
plenty of new ideas to try out. But what
makes the App better, or at least different than a book written by Phil or
Brian? The App format allows for
continuous additions, updates, and modifications as the authors develop and
test new theories and methods. In
theory, this can reduce the built in obsolescence found in some printed media.
When I downloaded and subscribed to the App in early October
2018, I think there were about 105 +/- videos available among these 5 chapters.
Leaders & Knots
Now, just before the start of the New Year, there are 126
videos. At this point, I’ve probably
watched 90% of them. Of course, I
watched the Entomology and Tactics videos first! I’ve been messing around with the App enough
that I feel like I can offer up a list of what I’d call PROs and CONs, for lack
of a better terminology. Remember, you
can download the App for free and check out all the free content, along with
listings of all the content that comes with a paid subscription. So, what have you got to lose?
Content, Content, Content!
I feel very confident saying that, regardless of your experience level
with stillwater fly fishing, you will learn some really interesting new things
from the App. There are some videos
about really clever and sneaky stuff on there!!!
For the newcomer to stillwater fly fishing, dive into videos
like “Essential Tackle”, “Choosing a Fly Rod”, “Choosing Leech Patterns”, “Retrieve Essentials”, and “Simple Chironomid
Techniques” (all available free without
subscription). The basics are all there
for you to build on. Get yourself an
intermediate sinking line to go with the floating line you already have, and go
strip some leeches or hang some chironomids!
If you end up hooked on stillwater fly fishing like me,
you’ll find that every outing will generate more questions in your mind. When that feeding binge happens that you can’t
seem to figure out, you can dive deeper into the App and watch videos like entomology
presentations on “Zooplankton”, “Dragonflies (Crawlers)”, “Dragonflies
(Darners)”, or “Scuds”. When you are
ready to experiment with new ways to move your fly, check out clips like “Strip
Retrieve”, “Hand Twist Retrieve”, “Pinch Strip Retrieve”, “Rolly Polly
Retrieve”, and “Indicator Retrieves”.
When you finally buy that new boat, check out the two videos on boat
setup with stillwater angling in mind.
Fishing tricks. I mean simple
tricks that solve annoying everyday problems in the fishing life that you wish
you’d thought of yourself. Phil and
Brian offer up more than a few of these that they have figured out over their
years of fishing. Some are explicit,
with their own videos, and others are nested within other topics. It pays to watch with an open mind. Using electrical tape to fix a worn out slip
float, and incorporating barrel swivels into rigging are two of my favorites.
Fly Tying Tutorials.
Step-by-step video instruction for piles of proven stillwater
patterns. At least two dozen are
available for free without a subscription to the App! It’s winter in
Montana. Get in there and tie some new
Regular Updates. When I
spoke with Phil about his plans for the App, he mentioned that their goal was to
add 4 or 5 new videos to the App each month.
And, last month they did just that!
Compare that to your average print mag subscription, factor in how
rarely print mags cover detailed stillwater topics, and the $3.99/month (or
less if you sign up for a season or a full year) subscription suddenly seems
like a bargain.
Offline Capability. Once you have downloaded video content to your
smartphone, the App no longer needs any Wi-Fi or other wireless cell coverage
for you to watch the videos. So, you can
download all the videos you’d like at your house on a fast Wi-Fi signal and
then get on the bus to work, or on the airplane to West Yellowstone or Jurassic
Lake, and you’ll be ready with something to do.
You can even download all the videos about fishing Callibaetis and then
watch them in the boat while you wait for the hatch to start out on Hebgen Lake
without dealing with spotty 3G coverage that will gobble up your data
Broad Topic Organization With No Search Function. You have to organize things somehow. The
format of the App, while very clean and based on relatively short, individual
video tips sorted into the categories/chapters listed above, may not be the ideal
format for covering a complex, detailed topic in an orderly, step-by-step
manner. Of course, this is an opinion
based on how my own brain organizes things.
For example, if you are interested specifically in learning about the
ins and outs of, say, Chironomid fishing, you will need to skip around within
the App chapters and watch three Entomology videos, multiple Leader & Knot
rigging videos, and two or three Technique & Tactics videos, before diving
down the rabbit hole of fly pattern selection and tying tutorials. Perhaps in the future, the App could be updated
to include a search function so that a user could search for, say,
“chironomids”, and then be presented with a list of all the relevant videos
from among the five organizational chapters.
Quirky Updating. I’m
running a Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Android version of the App. That said, last time Phil and Brian announced
a new set of video uploads, I had a hard time finding them on the App. I ended up uninstalling the App and
reinstalling it, and the problem was solved.
No biggie, but I’m glad that I follow the guys on social media for the
announcements for new updates.
reached out to Phil and Brian about these CONs after writing this. They were very receptive and responsive to a
little bit of constructive criticism and it sounds like they will be looking
into some improvements that will enhance searching and trouble shooting in the
very near future. In the end, I think
that’s a very good sign to see that they are interested in and committed to not
only adding new content but improving the functionality of the App over
time. As far as I’m concerned, I think
I’ll be renewing my subscription when it comes up later in January. There’s still a lot more winter left!
West Yellowstone is home for Big Sky Anglers. Not because we all happened to end up here on a whim, but because West Yellowstone is located in the heart of what is arguably the greatest fly fishing region on earth. We have chased trout with a fly rod all across this planet, and West Yellowstone is where we choose to live and work. We enjoy easy access to famous and lesser known waters in three states (Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming) as well as throughout Yellowstone National Park. The diversity of waters around here is truly astounding, and finding good or great fishing any day between April and November is usually just a matter of knowing where to look. One lifetime is not enough to explore and learn all of the rivers, streams, spring creeks, lakes, and ponds within a two hour drive. Expand that driving range to three hours, and 10 lifetimes would probably not be enough!
Within this vast area of remarkable fishing there is no more strategic a location to serve as your home base for a fly fishing trip than the town of West Yellowstone. It is truly in the center of all the prime fishing waters giving you maximum options and flexibility. No matter what conditions you have during your trip, or what fishing situations you’re hoping to find, West Yellowstone has options throughout the entire fishing season.
We love nothing more than sharing all that West Yellowstone and the surrounding area has to offer to visiting anglers, but for years we have struggled to find a lodging solution for our guests that allows us to provide the personalized, unique experience that we want. The Golden Stone Inn was born from this desire to provide a customized, unforgettable experience that goes above and beyond our guests’ expectations.
The Golden Stone Inn will come to life in May. It is being built with you, our extended family, in mind. As you walk up to the main lodge, you will notice the outdoor fire pit is inviting you to sit down and relax with a beer and cigar after an invigorating day on the river. Upon entering you are welcomed; we have been expecting you! You notice the incredible selection of our favorite local brews and a variety of wines for any taste. This place is different. You have a warm, comfortable feeling. As you settle in, you notice the patios and chairs outside each of the rooms. Another perfect place for that beer and cigar! Upon entering the cabin, the wader hangers and the rod rack are perfectly situated. You hop on your computer to check out the latest fishing report from Big Sky Anglers as wi-fi internet is available throughout the property.
Peering out of your cabin to the outdoor fire pit and you see them! A few of the Big Sky Anglers fishing guides have dropped by. They are there merely enjoying some time with avid fisherman, swapping stories with their friends. There is no place they would rather be than with their own kind, their extended family.
West Yellowstone is a special place to us, and we know it is to you too. More than just a place to rest your head at the end of the day, we hope the Golden Stone Inn will be a place where we can cater to you, our extended family, and share with you all of the amazing things that make West Yellowstone so special.
Head on over to the new website and take a look at the Golden Stone Inn. It’s a work in progress. So, check back often for updates, and be sure to follow and like the new social media pages to stay current on this exciting project.
The Golden Stone Inn will be open in late May, and we are currently taking reservations for the 2019 season. CLICK HERE for more information or to make a reservation.
We look forward to welcoming you to your new home away from home in West Yellowstone!
As November comes to a close this year in Yellowstone Country we appreciate every single one of those beautiful, windless, crystal clear, and sunny fall days a little more than we did the week before. Years of living here reminds us that a true and deep cold will be here soon enough. This “shoulder season” of sorts also gives us a moment to pause and reflect on this past season and those that come from near and far to visit us. The three of us (Jonathan, Justin and Joe) sat down, and with the help of Hoovie and Klara, tried our best to chronicle the past year at Big Sky Anglers. Turns out we had a lot on our minds, so please sit back, relax, and join us on a journey through the past year in words and pictures.
Our second year with the fly shop open is in the books and we couldn’t be happier about how it went! Operating a fly shop and guide service is no small task and we couldn’t have found a better staff to help us out. Without their hard work and dedication, we would not be where we are today. A huge shout out goes to all of our shop staff and guides – thank you so much! And of course, without you, the fine folks who support Big Sky Anglers, we would be flat on our butts. Thank you for your business, your friendship, and your amazing word of mouth advertising! Your feedback is invaluable to us as we move forward and grow, so please don’t hesitate to tell how us how we can better serve your needs, or what we are doing right. Our commitment to you is to be the friendliest, most knowledgeable, hardest working fly shop that we can be, both on and off the river, every single day.
Somewhere along the way someone took the time to share their knowledge with us and now we are better anglers for it. Of course, by “better” we mean that we are out there having more fun! We love teaching and learning here at Big Sky Anglers, and have chosen to make that a core value of the shop and shop staff. We fully enjoy discovering new methods and ways to approach our fisheries, as well as breaking down all aspects of fly fishing so we can pass that knowledge along to you. Stay tuned in 2019 for more angling, fly tying, and casting clinics as well as technical writing and essays from guys like Robert Van Rensburg, Steve Hoovler, and Matt Klara.
We often ask ourselves, “Where does all the time go?”. It seems like just yesterday that Miles and Joe were shoveling the snow off the front side walk for the umpteenth time during the “endless” winter of 2017-18. Not that we don’t like winter, but last winter was one to remember for sure! January 2018 saw very little snow until the third weekend, and then winter hit us like the Oregon Shortline steaming down Reas Pass back in the 1920’s. Once it began, the snow never stopped and each week another storm would roll in and blanket town. We posted several videos to Instagram documenting the storms, and we hope to continue that along with our snowpack reports this winter as Old Man Winter delivers the goods.
Late January and February were a blur of white and we didn’t get out to fish much due to the harsh climate. Justin and Jonathan would send us photos from Patagonia, often resulting in Joe looking at Miles and rolling his eyes…another big brown trout! Good for them, we boasted! Miles kept his head down and implemented a brand new Point of Sales system for the shop, and we traded off answering the phones to book trips for the coming season and fill orders as they came in. Nancy, our Office Manager and all things Accounting, kept us sane through it all. She is now more like a big sister to us than an employee, and we don’t know where we’d be without her.
Joe’s main job last winter was planning the construction of our new lodging project here in town – The Golden Stone Inn. Stay tuned for more on this exciting project through the winter! The sheer amount of forward thinking that goes into planning something like this felt almost insurmountable at times, but Joe managed to get through with the help of Nancy, Eddie, and Earl. Jonathan checked in regularly from his remote locale on Isla Monita in Patagonia, Chile, as he had a much better idea of the big picture of construction going into this. Saying that we have learned a lot from this process would be an understatement! But, we broke ground this spring, built through the summer, got her buttoned up before the snow started flying, and are thrilled with the progress so far. It looks as though we’re on track to have the doors open this coming May at the Golden Stone Inn!
March brought on more snow, building glorious snowpack across the region. March also brought some time away from the Great White North (aka West Yellowstone) for Molly and Joe. They headed to Placencia, Belize for a week of fishing with Eworth Garbutt, along with some incredible snorkeling, and plenty of time on the beach with a cocktail and book in hand. Fishing was pretty darn good down there – lots of jumping tarpon, a few bonefish, and the first permit on the fly for Joe.
Also in March, Jonathan returned from the Chilean Patagonia with a better tan than everybody in the shop had combined. Ten days after Jonathan returned, Joe was on a plane to Argentina to host a fine group of anglers at El Encuentro, Estancia Tecka, and the Golden Dorado River Cruiser. What a trip that was! When Joe hit the ground in Patagonia he was greeted at the El Encuentro Fly Fishing lodge by our very own Steve Hoovler who had been there with Benjamin Beale for a couple weeks. Steve was there consulting on their up-and-coming bird hunting operation, and also assisting Benjamin with their top-notch fishing programs. El Encuentro is an amazing place and for those of you who dream of fishing Argentina with us, put this spot on the list! And don’t forget to stick around for the dorado fishing on the return trip to Buenos Aires.
At some point during the winter and spring, we found time to remodel the old downstairs art gallery and transformed it into the new BSA Travel Lounge. The lounge is a great place to hang out, talk shop and plan your next travel adventure. It is also our in-shop classroom. We hosted several Spey and Euro Nymphing presentations down there this past summer and the space also doubled as our Orvis 101 classroom. We plan to bring in a library of fishing books this winter so folks can slip away and get lost in all things fishing – print is not dead!
Justin arrived home from his Argentina guide season in mid-April, about the same time that new products for the 2018 season started rolling into the fly shop. This year we really upped the game on the retail side of things and added Arc’teryx, Orvis, and Thomas & Thomas, tripled the size of our fly tying department, developed a true camping section with all the essentials, added a huge fleet of demo rods, and almost doubled the inventory in our fly bins. Our wives stepped up to the plate in a big way and helped us dial in our women’s section, which includes both wading gear and cool technical and great looking apparel. Women’s specific BSA logo wear, as well as quality gear and clothing from Simms, Arc’teryx, Orvis, Fishe Wear, and Kavu now fill the entire southeast “Ladies’ Corner” of the fly shop.
Even though winter can be long and harsh, our fishing season really never ends here. We have fishing opportunities all year long on the Madison, Henry’s Fork, and Missouri rivers. Sure, there are always those sub-zero stretches that one should spend tying flies instead of fishing, but the truth of the matter is, we fish year around. Matt usually phones us from the Missouri sometime in mid-January or early February with news of his first Trout Spey fish of the new year. It happens earlier or later each year depending on how good the skiing is!
The main season for us begins when Yellowstone National Park opens on the third Friday in April. Fishing season doesn’t open in the Park until the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend but that doesn’t stop the folks who are dying to get a glimpse of what winter in the Park was like from heading in with binoculars and cameras instead of waders and fishing rods. We began the 2018 season here with a very good snowpack locally and a larger than normal snowpack in the rest of the state of Montana. The resulting reliable flows were a welcome relief from the low water years of the past, we are now 2 years into solid winter and summer flows in the area, with another good winter in the forecast.
West Yellowstone sits at 6666 ft above sea level, but once you get off the volcanic plateau and head down towards Ashton, ID or into the Madison Valley, things warm up and the fishing is pretty darn good in April. So it was in 2018! Donovan Best, one of our up-and-coming guides, finished up his season on Big Sky Resort’s Ski Patrol and jumped right into the guide season fishing the Gallatin, Henry’s Fork, and Madison throughout April. April is actually a great month to combine some great skiing with some fun fishing if you are like us and love both of those activities!
Joe was on the Mo for late April and most of May, teaming up with Greg Falls and our guide crew up there for a few weeks of guided trips. They had excellent early season fishing and even managed to find a few morel mushrooms and asparagus which pop at that time of the year. Don’t ask them where they find ‘em though… if you’re lucky they’ll give you a few to snack on! Overall, May found us dealing with higher flows than normal. When the snow finally stopped, it started to rain in the valleys. The rivers around Montana and Idaho swelled, and when Joe left the Missouri in late May she was flowing at 17,000 cfs, and still climbing. We actually like high water. It is typically good for the rivers, and high flows really help the trout out through the middle of summer. But anglers (us included) don’t always like the big water when it gets in the way of their fishing plans. It helps if you enjoy stillwater angling as well as the river game, or don’t mind the necessary adjustment to working slow and deep along the margins with big nasty stuff. The one thing we can’t control is Mother Nature. She rules the roost when it comes to the pursuit of outdoor endeavors. We choose to adjust our own approach to the outdoors, and enjoy whatever conditions come our way in the spring.
While Joe was up on the Mo, our guides here in West Yellowstone were floating the Madison when the weather was cool enough to keep it clear and fishing the Henry’s Fork chasing march browns, spring Baetis, and a pretty solid Mother’s Day Caddis hatch. These early hatches provide a little dry fly fun in the middle of a day of good nymph fishing and are short but sometimes very intense. The Henry’s Fork always maintains some clear fishable water at this time of year, regardless of what the flows are doing elsewhere during runoff.
When Yellowstone’s fishing season opened on Memorial Day weekend, the water was high but fishing was pretty good. The rain had melted off most of the low elevation snow and the Firehole produced some quality days, as swinging softies and fishing streamers fooled plenty of fish. This was the first year that Yellowstone Perk banned felt-soled wading boots, and we heard from lots of anglers about the trials and tribulations of wading without felt for the first time. Without question, felt works…rubber soles can be slick… and one must be careful. But, as we do with barbless hooks, we choose to accept the challenges that come with rubber soles because it helps protect our resources. Hands down, the bestselling boot/sole for us this season was the Korker’s Alumatrax sole. These soles flat out grip the bottom of the river like Spiderman sticks to the walls in Stan Lee’s (RIP Stan) comic books.
Our strong snowpack manifested into very good stonefly hatches on most of our region’s waters, starting with the first of them to fire off – the Henry’s Fork, around the third week in May. Just about the same time, Hebgen Lake was producing heavy midge hatches and the big rainbows and browns went on their usual post-winter feeding binge. Good nymph fishing prevailed throughout the early portion of the month on both the Madison and the Henry’s Fork. Much of our guided fishing concentrated on the Henry’s Fork later in May as the Madison went through a much-needed flushing phase. From the middle of the month on, Salmonflies were the main fare, and nymphing and dries both produced some great days on the Fork.
Summer seemed to arrive during the first week of June here in the mountains, and our first really dependable dry fly fishing of the year, outside of the big stoneflies, began in earnest about the middle of June on both the waters of western Yellowstone National Park and the Henry’s Fork. PMDs, caddis, green drakes, grey drakes, flavs, yellow sallies and western olive stones all began to hatch in overlaying sequences as is the norm. Salmonflies began to show themselves on the Madison near Ennis around the 21st of June, and then provided us with three weeks of entertaining big bug fishing as the rest of the waters in the area began to drop and clear, by the middle of July we were enjoying great fishing all around Yellowstone National Park, on the Madison, and on much of the Henry’s Fork.
June might be one of the most anticipated months of the year on the Henry’s Fork in Idaho. This year the higher than average flows pushed into the later part of the month, which made some of the early hatch dry fly fishing more challenging than usual, but by mid-month it had hit its stride. On the Fork, this pattern has the effect of keeping the lower river fishing well longer through the end of June and into the beginning of July. Flows never spiked very high through the system as the irrigation demands of farmers downstream were met by good snowpack elsewhere. Consistency in flows was a treat that lasted through much of the season. High water years like this produce great stonefly hatches and fishing, and this year we were throwing golden stones on the Henry’s Fork from the third week in May on the lower river well into July on the upper.
The last weekend of June marked our “Second Annual Grand Opening Celebration”, with lots of sales, kids art with our great friend Mimi Matsuda, dealer reps, fly casting in the Park, rod giveaways, an awesome hosted BBQ at the shop, and more. It’s so much fun to see everyone out having a good time! Not to get ahead of ourselves, but please save the date for our THIRD ANNUAL GRAND OPENING CELEBRATION this summer – Saturday, June 29th 2019!
July and August provided us with the longest stretch of stable and sunny weather that the summer had yet seen. Fishing stayed consistently good throughout the area, with favorable flows in much of the region. The Henry’s Fork once again solidified its role as an all-season fishery in its own rite, the Madison reclaimed its throne as the king of summertime fisheries with some stellar fishing, and the freestone rivers and creeks of Yellowstone National Park remained at historically comfortable flows throughout the heat of summer. Hebgen lake began to produce serious Callibaetis around the middle of June and the production didn’t stop until almost the middle of September. Jonathan took a pack trip with llamas (this was a first!) and a small group of anglers into the backcountry of Yellowstone. They had a great time float tubing some remote stillwaters and fishing around some of the small high country streams. Next year they’re heading back into another quadrant of the park, outfitted with float tubes and a string of llamas again. What a fun way to get into the backcountry! Please get in touch with us if a Yellowstone Park pack trip sounds like it might be up your alley! We currently work with both a mule pack outfitter for a more extensive trip, and a llama outfitter that provides a more flexible and lighter weight option for those willing to hike in while having their gear sherpa’d and their camp fully staffed.
The Madison fished well through the summer, with good hatches lasting throughout the month of July. We entered this season knowing that, after 9 long years, we finally had a repaired Hebgen Dam. Having cold water throughout the summer resulted in not only prolonged hatches during July, but also some of the best hopper fishing we have seen in YEARS. It was fun to see the incredible summertime fishing of the Madison return so quickly!
September rolled in and summertime continued until the last week of the month. This was the warmest and driest September we can remember with relatively little moisture recorded during the month. There were a few days of snowcapped mountains down in the Madison Valley which paired nicely with the fall foliage and on those sunny days, this was an amazing sight to behold. The hopper bite continued into the middle of September and dropping a tungsten bead pheasant tail was key on some days. Not exactly breaking news, but nymphing with black rubber legged stone fly nymphs and small serendipities also worked quite nicely towards the end of September. Henry’s Lake came into it’s own in September with multiple weeks of exceptional angling for truly jumbo trout. While numbers remain lower than some locals remember, the size of the fish we saw this year more than made up for the longer time in between grabs. What is jumbo, you ask? Well, if the locals are talking in pounds rather than inches, you know that’s probably a good indication!
On September 21 and 22 we held our second annual West Yellowstone Trout Spey Days. Weather was perfect, and those who came out were able to learn more about Spey casting and Trout Spey fishing from a great group of presenters that included our own Matt Klara as well as Kurt Kruger (Far Bank), Alice Owsley (local guide and owner of Riverside Anglers), and Jake Zirkle (G. Loomis). We also had a ton of gear and sales reps on hand from companies including Sage, Rio, Redington, Thomas & Thomas, Echo, Airflo, Winston, Scientific Anglers, Orvis, C.F. Burkheimer, and G. Loomis. Attendees were able to try out just about every trout Spey kit on the market. The event finished off with a fun cookout back at the shop and planning for how to make the event even better next year. Speaking of next year, stay tuned for dates for the 3rd annual Trout Spey Days!
Late September through the month of October found our guide staff splitting their time between Yellowstone Country and the Missouri River. For almost 25 years, Jonathan, Joe and Steve have been spending their Fall in and around Cascade, Montana. They show up and hang out with fellow BSA guide Greg Falls who lives on the river every single day of the season. Greg loves to fish the upper river with different nymphing techniques and knows where all the large, rising brown trout live as well. While there are always great days of nymphing to be had on the Missouri, we really try and concentrate our efforts on the dry fly and streamer games, just because we think it’s more fun. Rods are rigged with floating and sinking lines for streamer fishing and there are always a smattering of dry fly rods rigged up with caddis, BWO and pseudo imitations. If a fish rises, we drop the anchor and prepare to catch it with a properly placed dry, a reach cast, and some stack mends.
Back home in West Yellowstone, late September and October found our shop staff and guides swinging flies in the Park on the Madison, poking around the Henry’s Fork on those perfect days looking for heads, and of course spending plenty of time down in the Madison Valley. This Fall, in the Park specifically, the run of lake fish was off just a little bit. Most of that, we think, was due to the lack of rainfall in September and the sunny days that made for an everlasting Indian Summer. Towards the end of October we were treated to some scuzzy days and the brown trout came out in full force.
In late October and through November, several members of our crew took the opportunity to travel and explore some different land and water. Joe ventured to the east to chase birds with Stella. Justin headed to British Columbia for his annual steelhead trip and found some real beauties on the swing. Donovan visited our friend Capt. Greg Moon in Louisiana to try his hand at wrangling the giant redfish down in the Marsh. Miles was back in New York chasing Stripers for a few days, and Said ventured south to Mexico on his first bonefish adventure. Matt was in So Cal for Thanksgiving and had a great turnout for his presentation at the Pasadena Casting Club, which he followed up with some great fishing off the coast with Capt. Vaughn Podmore for bonito, calico bass, barracuda, and more.
And so, we have come full circle on 2018. We wish everyone a happy, healthy, and save winter season, filled with joy and fishing. Remember, we are open all winter, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you are looking for tying materials, or anything for an upcoming trip. We are also here and happy to talk fishing if you have questions about our area or any of the fisheries we visit, or technical aspects of the game like Euro Nymphing, Spey, or local hatch matching. Stay tuned for more news, technical content, and updates from our fishing in Patagonia!
Joe Moore, Jonathan Heames, Justin Spence, and the BSA Crew
It’s now December here in MT. Well, everywhere really. But here, that means we’ve gone way past the tipping point between Autumn and winter conditions. Big game hunting season has ended, and the stillwaters are freezing over. We have many rivers that are open to year round fishing, though. So, that is what I’m starting to think about these days.
The real tricks to successful and enjoyable winter fishing for me can be easily summarized into three bullet points:
Pick good times to go winter fishing.
Find where the trout are and fish there.
Slow down the presentation.
To me, picking good days means going out when the weather is less wintery. Warmer, sunnier, less windy. Simple. Not only am I happier when I’m not freezing my butt and fingers off, but the fish are typically more active when conditions allow for even a slight increase in water temps. I used to drift nymphs between the spaces in the drifting slush and ice, but now if you catch me doing that it’s probably because the weather report was really wrong.
Slowing down the presentation is another simple one. Nymphing, dead drift, right near the bottom rules the day. With streamers, the quick strips and run and gun of summer must be altered to accommodate to colder, less aggressive fish. A deep, slow strip, smooth steady swing with subtle additions of action, or even a dead drift usually wins in winter. Dries are certainly not the norm, and quickly searching with dries for eager fish isn’t a winter tactic. If you see fish rising, by all means, go dry, but otherwise, stick subsurface.
So that just leaves finding where the trout are. You’ve got your warm gear on. It’s a nice winter day. You have made it out to your favorite river. Your rod is rigged with some nice nymphs (or maybe you have a streamer rod and a nymph rod along). The first thing that many anglers do in this situation is float or walk to their favorite spring-summer-fall honey-hole, and start casting. The next thing that many anglers do in this situation is wonder why they aren’t catching any fish. In my experience, the issue isn’t the presentation as much as the fact that the fish just aren’t there. Fish hang out in different places in the winter. They hang out in the “Winter Water”.
What the heck does that mean? Well, each river is a little different in my experience, but, I’ve found that there are some similarities that stretch across the board. Because most anglers are familiar with where to find fish in summer, AKA “Summer Water”, I’ll refer to that as a point of comparison.
First, note that winter is colder than summer. Yeah. I know you are thinking, “Thanks, Master of the Obvious.” OK fine. But what does that mean? The air is colder. The water is colder. Sun arrives at a lower angle, for a shorter time each day. Cold water hold more dissolved oxygen than warm water. Also, remember that fish are cold blooded, and their energy and metabolic rate is directly tied to water temperature. Fish are more sluggish in very cold water, and they need to eat less food to maintain themselves. Water temps also relate to insect activity. Bug hatches are few and far between. Food sources may not only be reduced, but they may also change completely from summer.
So, if the fish are colder, more sluggish, need less food, and the food producing areas may have shifted from where they are in summer, it’s no surprise that the fish will be hanging out in different places than they do in summer. But where?
The quick riffles, pockets, and shallows that are highly oxygenated bug factories all summer long may still be producing some bugs, but not nearly as many. The cold water has the fish sluggish, and not interested in fighting that faster current, given the reduced food availability and metabolic need. Also, dissolved oxygen is likely not an issue in winter, so the fish can breathe easy about anywhere in the system. Lastly, at least when still or very slowly moving, the warmest water will actually be on the bottom in the dead of winter, thanks to water/ice’s unique density vs. temperature relationship. So, from the fish’s perspective, it’s easier and better to stay in water that is DEEPER and SLOWER than preferred in summer. On some rivers that means 5-10 ft deep or more, and dang near still water. On other rivers, the available winter water might only be 3 ft deep and moving at a walking speed pace. As a general tip, I’d say start with the slowest, darkest, deepest spots that you can find that are still fishable and then adjust accordingly until you find fish.
Does that mean riffles and other quicker water are pointless to fish in winter? No. Not all of them at least. I think that there are fish that will happily move into quicker water to feed in response to some sort of environmental conditions, sun warmed water, or a pulse of insect activity like a midge hatch. But, they probably won’t move a mile just for an hour of feeding. So, in my own mind, it seems like quicker water that is immediately adjacent to really good winter water is far better than quicker water which is surrounded by only more quick water.
The more you really get to thinking about water temperature, the more you may start exploring your own fisheries in a new way. Are there springs that run cold in summer but relatively warm in winter? Is there a dam that releases water from the bottom/middle/top? Are there other natural or human caused factors at play? It’s worth some thought and research at the very least.
Lastly, don’t be disheartened if you don’t catch a fish from a really likely looking spot, or a spot that you know is a good winter spot based on prior experience. The fish don’t need to eat as much to maintain themselves in the cold, so winter feeding windows can be dreadfully short. Today’s feeding window might be 2 hours from now. Or maybe you missed it. Or maybe there isn’t one today. It pays to fish as many good spots, slowly and thoroughly, that you can in an outing in hopes that your location, presentation, and the fish activity overlap at least a little bit. How do you ever really figure out if a spot is good in the winter? Fish it a bunch of times, along with the other likely looking spots, and over time, the pattern will emerge. The knowledge is there for those who put in the time.
Yellowstone National Park will close to fishing this coming Sunday, November 4th marking the unofficial end to the 2018 season for us in Yellowstone Country. That also means that this will be the last of our weekly fishing report emails for 2018. Thank you so much to all of you out there who have read our reports. Remember, you can get these reports, along with other content emailed to you before it goes live on the blog. All you need to do is sign up for the email HERE. We’ve had some really good feedback from many folks about what they like/don’t like and about ways we might improve content for next year. Please keep that coming! Of course, we will be sending out a few newsletters over the winter with updates from South America an other travels as well as the goings on here in West Yellowstone.
It’s late fall now, and we’ve both seen and heard reports of active spawning activity among brown trout, brook trout, bull trout, and mountain whitefish occurring on waters across western Montana. Please leave these spawning fish alone! They are the future of fish and fishing. We hope that there will come a day where we no longer feel compelled to make these posts, but sadly there are anglers (and even some guides) out there who continue to target actively spawning fish. If you aren’t familiar with spawning activity among salmonids, please take some time to educate yourself. If you find big trout in shallow water that seem to not spook from your presence, that is a sure sign of spawning activity. But a lack of fish in the shallows doesn’t mean it’s all clear. If you see redds (fish nests) it is critical to avoid the area while wading or dropping anchor. Redds appear as patches of clean, shining gravel among otherwise algae covered areas of stream bed. Fish and fish eggs may or may not be present. It’s best to avoid these areas as damage to redds can kill eggs or cause spawning trout to abandon an area. If possible, we try to even avoid fishing the pools adjacent to active redds, as many brown trout will spend the day resting and hiding there and then reoccupy the redds in the low light or dark hours. Thanks, everyone!
Read on to see our take on this week’s fishing, and check out the links below to stay current on area forecasts and flows. Stay tuned as we report each week on hatches, flows, weather, and more. For the most up to date info stop by the shop, give us a call, or drop us a line.
The Final Four, 4 days, 96 hours, 5,760 minutes, no matter how you look at it the 2018 fishing season in Yellowstone Park has wound down to less time than an adult October Caddis has to mate, lay eggs and die. There are hot dogs turning under heat lamps at the Econo-mart in West Yellowstone that will last longer than we have to fish in the Park this year.
If you have been waiting for the right fall conditions, now is the time. As we have said all season, scuzzy weather is the best for late-season fishing, and this final weekend looks to be ideal. Pack your puffy layers, warm hats, gloves, and gore-tex. It’s going to be a cold, wet one, and we couldn’t be more excited about it!
With these dark, gloomy conditions expect to see good migratory fish activity throughout the day, chiefly on the Madison system. It’s time to throw some bright colors like chartreuse and yellow into your streamer and soft hackle rotation as these fish will be at their peak of aggression for the season. Please remember, to pay extra close attention to avoid spawning habitat while you are wading and fishing.
The Firehole should be prime for the Final Four as well. It looks like daytime high temps will struggle to get out of the 30’s, especially up in the caldera. So, don’t expect to see much before early afternoon, and don’t be surprised if it takes until as late as 4:00pm for Baetis mayflies to emerge. The Firehole River has dozens of small micro-environments along it’s 14 plus miles of water between Old Faithful and Madison Junction. A myriad of thermal discharges influence water temps drastically from spot to spot, and correspondingly affects the timing of hatches. More so than ever, it pays off to be flexible when it’s cold. Don’t get stuck waiting out the hatch in an area that doesn’t have bugs. If conditions are right, and it looks like they will be, Baetis will be hatching somewhere and fish will be rising to them. If it’s not happening where you are, think about a change of venue.
If you’re looking for an option during the Final Four with a lower risk-reward ratio that just might produce huge dividends of the cutthroat variety, then consider a trip up to the Yellowstone River in the caldera between Chittenden Bridge and the fishing boundary downstream of Fishing Bridge. Big, beautiful Yellowstone Cutts occupy this stretch all summer after migrating out of Yellowstone Lake to spawn in the spring. Many years the majority of fish have made their way back to the lake by this point in the season. However, this has been a great water year. Huge runoff and healthy summer rains have kept flows higher than average for most of the season keeping many of the largest fish in the river longer. This is in no way a slam dunk option! But, if you are looking for a little adventure during these final days of the 2018 season, and you’re comfortable with some risk, consider hunting for one of those trophy Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. If you can find some, they will likely be rising to afternoon hatches of Baetis mayflies. Although, a well-presented foam hopper with rubber-legs just might do the trick, even in the snow…they are cutthroat after all!
If the crowds in YNP have you down, you might find some solace on the Madison River outside of Yellowstone Park. For the majority of the season the walk-wade section downstream from Earthquake Lake is the last place you would want to go to avoid crowds. By November, though, it’s a different story. You will still see a few die hard anglers at usual spots like Raynolds Pass and Three Dollar Bridge, but if you are up for a little walk and enjoy head hunting for subtle risers then this could be the spot for you.
Cold, gray conditions will make this an afternoon event as well. All the usual fall suspects will be present like Baetis mayflies and midges. Work slowly, examine each piece of slow, glassy water carefully, and be prepared with a good slackline reach cast. These won’t be easy fish to fool, but they may be some of the most memorable rises of the entire season.
As we slide ever closer towards the dark, frozen abyss that is winter in Yellowstone Country our team of resident Missouri River guides are enjoying far more comfortable conditions. It’s not exactly flip-flop weather in Cascade and Craig, but it’s 10-15 degrees warmer than West Yellowstone, and the boys are making the most out of late season on the MO.
There’s still some great dry fly fishing to be had in spots with Baetis, Pseudo’s, and caddis. Streamer fishing continues to produce good results. And, the nymph game…well, you know.
If you’re in the area, and you’re looking for some quality late-season fishing, don’t forget about the MO.
Another great option for late season angling after the season ends in Yellowstone is the Henry’s Fork. Up in the caldera around Last Chance you can expect to see similar conditions to those on the Firehole and Madison. Afternoon highs look to be in the cold 30’s and 40’s. Baetis mayfly activity should continue here, but as with the other fisheries, most of the activity will be concentrated to a few hours during the warmest part of the afternoon.
The lower river around Ashton will see slightly warmer temps, and a slightly larger bite window during the day. Baetis mayflies will continue to drive the dry fly fishing here, and browns will respond aggressively to streamers. Tread lightly on these browns as we move on through the remainder of the late season on the lower Henry’s Fork. Spawning season is in full swing here, and we need every last one of those big browns to be healthy for next season.
If you are a fan of stillwater angling, the final countdown has definitely begun. We see ice beginning to form later in November on many lakes, and by then the weather is often nasty enough to keep even the most dedicated lake anglers home. But, late autumn is an often overlooked time of year to target stillwaters. Stillwaters can be moody at this time of year, with passing storm fronts changing conditions from day to day. But the trout know that a long winter is coming, and they are feeding HARD when conditions are suitable. Think bigger in terms of fly selection, as leeches and baitfish have replaced the small mayflies of summer as a main food source. As vegetation dies back, scuds are also left homeless and wandering, making for an easy snack for the fish. Water temps are dropping down below the range where trout are most aggressive, so don’t be afraid to SLOW DOWN your presentation even more than usual. Look to the shallows first and fish during the warmest part of the day. Trout should be most active when things warm a bit.