Big Sky Anglers, The West Yellowstone Fly Shop, and Jonathan Heames Fly Fishing Have Merged and Acquired Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop

Big Sky Anglers, The West Yellowstone Fly Shop, and Jonathan Heames Fly Fishing Have Merged and Acquired Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop

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 and can be reached via email at and by phone at 406-646-7801.  We can also be found and reached on Facebook at 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.

Big Bugs

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… 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!

Why even try…..

….to look into the future?  Just go fishing.  That’s what I’d do.

What I mean by this, is can one really say what the summer angling season will actually look like?  Educated guesses are popping up all over the Web and some of them are quite good.  I pay attention to a couple of them, just to compare with my own thinking.  Even then, some of the best fishing is when one just heads out, with no expectations and fishes.  This could be in January or during the dead heat of late August.

Here are the facts:

1.  Run-off has started.  Yes, indeed it has.  We normally see some pushes of low level snow melt in mid May, but we are full on into run off and it’s two weeks early, maybe three.  The low level snow pack is gone.  The mid level snow pack is almost gone.

2.  Snow pack is light.  While it looked great a few weeks ago; the lack of rain combined with warm weather and wind evaporated the snow pack.  I have been up in the high country, hiking around to check it out.  What is left up there, will soak into the ground and may not hit the river like years past.

3.  Mud…..rivers around West Yellowstone are a bit off color, but from reports in Ennis, there is 12 inches of visibility down there.  Of course, there is always more mud to come out from the West Fork of the Madison, so this will change.  Cabin and Beaver Creeks are up and muddy, but I have yet to check out Quake Lake or the Slide – that will come later today.  It looks like the Dearborn River (Missouri tributary) has peaked so the lower reaches of the Mighty Mo’ should stay clear barring any freak snowstorms.

4.  Rain showers passed through SW Montana yesterday afternoon. Water fell from the clouds for most of last night, it poured from time to time, but the ground soaked most of it up and puddles are rare outside my door on Horse Butte.  More rain is forecasted for through Monday, so if you’re planning a trip to Madison for the Opener, bring a rain jacket – it’s gonna be a wet one.

5.  Snowfall is still a factor.  It’s only May 17th and I have seen 2.5 feet fall in the yard as late as June 23.  What I’m getting at is that the next six weeks can be VERY wet, and honestly, the tri-State area needs more moisture or it’s gonna be a smokey summer.

6.  The lakes have to fill before the rivers bump up.  There are a few exceptions; like the Big Hole and Yellowstone, but overall, the lake systems will fill up and then the water cometh.

7.  Early is a solid bet.  Anglers are shy about June because of the past several years of big water.  In 2012, the Madison was fishing really well by the 17th of June and not a soul was here. Hatches of insects will be early as well.  I remember guiding the Missouri in early June about 10 years ago and PMDs popped.  The river was empty for a few days and then the word go out.  2013 is reminiscent of the early 2000’s.   2013 Salmonflies?  Hmmmm……too early for a solid guess, I won’t even try.  They will be early.  Most years we see heavy hatches by the 4th of July, not the case this year.  As for the Missouri hatches?  Right now, there is very good dry fly fishing on some days.  Once the water bumps up past 6000 cfs, the dry fly bite will slide off, but don’t expect the Missouri to get really big this season.  We could see PMDS and Caddis by early/mid June around Craig and down to Cascade.

This is the deal:

There is not one angler, guide or fly shop owner who can predict the future.  Don’t expect us to even try….actually, we all like to try, but most of the time we’re wrong.  Mother Nature holds the cards and she knows what hands will be dealt.   If you live close to the Rocky Mountain West, it’s easier to get here when it’s good.  If you live further away, come out when you can, as there is bound to be some great angling throughout Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.   Right now, everything hinges on moisture.  Pay attention to the next four weeks, watch the weather, the river flows and check back here for more updates.

Back in SW MT

Two weeks on the Missouri will make one think about moving to Craig, Montana.  Back in the mid-Nineties, I did my time (3 seasons) on the Missouri, but back then, all the action was in Wolf Creek.   These days, Craig is the hotspot on the river.  Fly shops, bars, good food and more trout than you can shake a stick at.  Sure, we had some tough fishing when the flows were under 5000 cfs with the sun shining brightly, but when the flows bumped up a little and the water temps consistently hit 56 degrees, all hell broke loose.  Almost a week ago, the Missouri went from 4500 cfs to 9100 cfs in just a couple of days.  The river is now back down to 7600 cfs and the trout fishing will remain stellar.  For now, most of the angling will be sub surface with sow bugs, mayfly nymphs and caddis pupa/larva.  One can find risers, but things won’t get that consistent until the flows drop below 7000 cfs.

We fished with two groups of anglers over the past two weeks.  Above are the Chicken Boys and below are the Dairy Boys.   While this is the first trip for the Dairy Boys, the Chicken Boys have been coming out for almost a decade.   While these trips are large, with a diverse group of anglers, they always appreciate our hard work and attention to detail.   We could not sustain our life style with out folks like this.  Thanks fellas, you made our season!   I would also like to thank all the guides who helped Greg and I out the on the Missouri – you guys rock and are the reason we are successful.

The mountains around southwest Montana are once again full of snow.  Since I have been gone, two different springtime blizzards rolled through dropping some much needed moisture in the high country.   The Madison is stonefly green and fishing quite well – I stopped along the river yesterday and caught two trout in a soft seam along the bank in about 2 minutes.  No waders were needed as the flows are 2100 cfs out of Hebgen and 2500 cfs at Kirby Ranch.  Fishing is good to great on the Madison above Ennis, but be careful when wading the river – don’t get in unless you want to go for a swim.

When will things really get going around here?  My buddies in Livingston are saying that Yellowstone should be fishable by the end of the first week of July.  The Henry’s Fork is getting good….as it usually does this time of the year.  The Madison, hopefully, will be dropping by the last week of June, but as long as the Madison is greenish, it fishes like a champ.  I expect that the Madison will blow out once again.  When?  Shit, who knows.  At this point the weather man is calling for cool overnight temps for the next several days.  For the snow to getting melting, we need night time temps in the 50’s and daytime temps in the high 70s to low 80’s.  We are right on the cusp of world class angling in southwest Montana.  Are you ready?

It’s on like donkey kong

Big Brown Trout

The angling around SW Montana and Eastern Idaho is pretty damn good.   Things have been so busy lately with guiding, that I have needed to neglect almost everything else.   Tis’ the season, I guess, but it stills feels like we are a month behind with Mother Nature.  It’s just starting to feel like summer and my mind keeps telling me it’s more like early June than early July.  We had a 38 degree morning a few days ago. 

Fat and Healthy. Fooled by a dry fly.

After a day of guiding, a few of us drove back to the river for an evening float on the Henry’s Fork south of Ashton.  Trav (above) stuck this one on a Golden.  This river is so impresive right now.  Bugs, bugs and more bugs.  Fat trout too.   At this rate, the Fork around Ashton will continue to fish for awhile.  Harriman Ranch has been super good as well on Flavs, early and late are key for rising trout.  The Ranch is quite good these days and  I would have to say that the Henry’s Fork is fishing like it used to.  Hand’s down some of the best dry fly activity anywhere right now. 

This one at a Grey Drake Spinner.

Waiting for the hatch. H. Fork.

The Madison River has dropped significantly the past few days and is fishing really well sub surface.  It is not quite green enough for fish to rise, but that is coming soon enough.  There are lots of nice fish eating stoneflies, caddis, and may fly imitations.  Short rigs – 4 to 5 feet in total length – fished to the bank, out of the boat proved to be very deadly today for us.  We had four rubber legs for most of the day.  All those little trout from last summer have grown up and are fiesty.  There are salmonflies on the river, but the fish are not looking up that well at all.  I heard only one report of someone landing a few trout on the Big Bug and we tried it for awhile this afternoon from the Swallow’s Cliffs to Mac.  Only one smal trout took a look.  I saw decent number of salmonflies upstream of Ruby Creek, but not that many.  Any day now….maybe 5,  for dry fly angling.   Beaver Creek, Pappose Creek and Indian Creek are still blowing mud.  I have’t been below Mac yet……when the guides from Ennis are floating high, that means something. 

Floating the Madison. Hooked up.

 The Madison is still pretty big and floaters need to be aware of their skills before drifting this river.  Getting under the bridges is a piece of cake, but Wolf Creek Bridge is still a bit sketchy for novice oarsmen.  Letting go of the oars right now is not a good idea.  Dropping anchor in the middle of the river is ALWAYS a stupid idea.  Especially right now.  I am always amazed when I see boaters drop their hook in the middle of the Madison and bounce along trying to net a fish or re-rig.  Wake up people, sinking a boat sucks…

These are so nice. My favorite.

 Here at Big Sky Anglers we are super jazzed up about the season’s angling possibilities.  Dry fly fishing is just around the corner, with the exception of the Missouri and the Yellowstone, and we are very busy.  August is going to be fabulous on the Madison and the waters of YNP.    This is going to be one of those summers around SW Montana.  Are you coming?  You should.  I would.