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.
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.
The Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is one of the most diverse fisheries in the western US. With over 70 miles of fishable water, each section has such a unique character that it is like having eight rivers rolled into one. Water types on the Fork range from tailwater canyons to flat, technical spring creek water, with freestone canyons and low gradient riffle-run sections as a nice bonus. The Fork also has great diversity in elevation above sea level, with its headwaters at Henry’s Lake located 6472 feet, and the lower reaches of the river down around 5000 feet. In times of extreme weather here in the high country surrounding West Yellowstone (elevation 6666 ft), it is possible to head down to the lower elevation “banana belt” where you can find nicer weather and water conditions that make the fish and fly fisher both a bit happier. Nearly the entire river is sourced from natural groundwater springs, the largest of which forms the river’s headwaters and is aptly named Big Springs. Due to the strong influence of groundwater, the Fork experiences a very minimal runoff by local standards, and almost always has several fishable sections in the early season (April through the month of June).
All of us here at Big Sky Anglers are excited to have an outfitting license for the Henry’s Fork. We are now the only fly shop in West Yellowstone with this license, and we are among only eight outfitters total that are license holders for the river. Guiding on the Henry’s Fork allows us to treat our customers to great fishing opportunities at times when many other local waters are blown out, closed to fishing, still frozen or otherwise unfishable. And, all of this exists within a 35 minute to 1 hour drive from the shop here in West Yellowstone.
The lower elevation reaches of the Henry’s Fork in particular exhibit great diversity of geology, gradient, scenery, and fishing. Each section has its own unique character, ranging from sections with large average sizes of trout that offer chances at true bruisers on dry flies, to other sections that are home to larger populations of smaller fish that offer the an angler the chance to relax a bit, learn a lot, and bring a few fish to hand. The beauty of the Fork is that there is something for every angler regardless of skill levels. We feel that it has been a misconception for years that the Fork is an experts-only river, and while there are sections where even the most experienced can test their skills and wits, there are other areas where newer anglers can still have a good time.
Though it is legal to fish year round on many of the sections of the Henry’s Fork, the fishing really begins to shape up in April, with good baetis hatches and some March brown activity occurring in several sections. Stable water conditions, a rarity in the mountain west in April, make for reliable angling conditions, even if the weather is still a bit unpredictable. Nymph fishing usually dominates during April. While hatches can be prolific, they are typically short lived. There is also some good streamer fishing when water temps are warm enough.
The fishing during the beginning of May can be considered an extension of April conditions… until the salmonflies begin to hatch. This usually happens around the middle of the month. Because the Fork has numerous tributaries and springs that change water temperature between river sections, the big bugs begin hatching and reach their peak in each section at different times. Often the hatch will appear in a section upstream on the river and a few days later will begin to happen in a downstream stretch. Fishing with a guide who has been on the water every day affords visiting anglers a HUGE advantage for this very reason. While targeting the salmonflies can be a bit tricky because of unstable weather in May, there are typically 5-7 great dry fly days with salmonflies . And when the dry fly action isn’t perfect, the nymphing with big stonefly imitations can be outstanding.
Nymph fishing and dry/dropper fishing gets us through the end of May and into the beginning of June when the most exciting hatches of the year begin. Usually we start with golden stones, PMDs, and caddis, which overlap with small olive stones and yellow sallies. Next come the flavs and green drakes, followed by gray drakes, which create some of the most exceptional match-the-hatch dry fly fishing of the year. This is often a mix of blind fishing with dries while looking for targets. For the angler who prefers to target and cast to rising fish, the combination of a reliable spinner fall in the morning, blending into a PMD hatch in the afternoon, followed by a flav emergence in the early evening, this is absolute paradise. These hatches offer a real chance at some very large trout in some sections of the Henry’s Fork, and for those who are willing to trade quantity of smaller fish for overall size of fish taken using extrememly visual methods early June is tough to beat.
And remember, all of this happens before the Madison is even done clearing up from runoff for the year. Once the fishing begins to wane at the end of June on the lower Henry’s Fork due to rising water temps, the salmonflies will have just begun to establish themselves on Montana’s Madison and the upper Henry’s Fork gets into full swing with a repeat of many of the same hatches described above. We’ll be there and hope you’ll be there with us!
Jonathan Heames, Co- Owner and Head Guide
Big Sky Anglers Co-Owner and Senior Guide Jonathan Heames looks forward to early season on the Fork all winter long.
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
Big Sky Anglers, 39 Madison Ave, West Yellowstone, Montana 59758
Wade fishing is one of my favorite past times. Why? Because it’s just you and the river – intimacy with a river is hard to come by unless one gets out of the boat and stalks trout. When wading, all your skills come into play: stalking, reach casts, managing slack line, mending, feeding slack line and of course, setting the hook.
You watch and wait.
Patience is key and without it one will never really get it.
Timing is everything. Okay, maybe not everything as a good reach cast will bring home the bacon, but timing is damn near everything. That’s why one must go fishing, cause if you don’t go you won’t know…….just how good it was.
For me, when the big mayflies emerge on the Henry’s Fork, there is really no other place I want to be. Sure, salmon flies and evening caddis on the Madison ranks right up there, but watching a large trout pick off your drake from a skinny water riffle is priceless. These are the days that I stick away and remember when I have been guiding twenty-five straight in July or when sitting at the bench in the dead of winter at 30 below.
Big fish slide into the skinny stuff and love to eat these flies with reckless abandon. When hooked in shallow water, fish rip line and test your skills. This is “drop everything and go” kind of trout fishing. Luckily, my wife understands this addiction and realizes that without this time on the river, I become a pain in the ass.
Drew and I stopped on the way down and get a twelve pack and some fried chicken as there will be no time to leave the river. We stay as long as they rise and then a little longer. We soak everything in.
Summer is here. Enjoy it.
There are Big Bugs throughout southwest Montana and parts of YNP. I caught my first trout of the season on Jacklin’s Salmon fly not too far from West Yellowstone…..love this pattern and Bob still ties them. There are not cheap, but this fly is hands down, one of the best patterns ever. Go by and visit Bob and buy some of his Salmonflies. Take one home and never fish with it.
Rumor has it that there are Big Bugs in Bear Trap Canyon. The Madison above Ennis lake has dropped some and has been a little on the tough side the past few days – that happens when the river bumps up. So be it.
June is flying by……are you coming out? You should. Next week is gonna be stellar and so will the rest of June on through July. June just might be the month this season. Like last year, the Madison has been really good thus far. With the recent rains (keep praying for more) and hot daytime temps, the tributaries bumped up and put the Madison off for a few days. It’s still pretty good but it’s quite as good as it was. That’s fishing for ya. For those of you who like to wait till the last minute, we do have some openings during the rest of June.
The Henry’s Fork is also an option as we run trips through Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop. I will be down there later this week as the green drakes are on the cusp of popping!