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.
We received the following press release from FWP and Northwest Energy this week, and though many of you would be interested. Looking forward to things getting back to the old version of normal on the Madi!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
NorthWestern Nearly Done With Hebgen Dam Project; Madison River Basin Water Conditions Hold Steady
Butte, Mont. – October 18, 2017 – September precipitation in the Madison River basin was 264 percent of the 30 -year average. This was a welcome change from July and August which were 44 percent and 63 percent of average, respectively.
As a result of the higher inflow, Hebgen Dam outflow and elevation are slightly higher than normal for this time of year. Currently, outflow is 960 cubic feet per second (cfs) and is expected to remain near this level through the end of the month. Hebgen elevation is 6532.35 feet, which is 2.52 feet below full pool. By month end, the lake is anticipated to draft to about 6532 feet.
The Climate Prediction Center’s forecast for the remainder of October indicates a higher probability for temperatures to be above normal and precipitation to be below normal.
Construction crews completed the installation of the new concrete lining in the Hebgen Dam outlet pipe by the end of September, significantly ahead of schedule. NorthWestern Energy was very happy with the quality of work on the concrete, and all test results show the work is in compliance with specifications.
The first week in October the crews ground and patched any surface irregularities, and installed and welded the steel transition section near the intake. During the second week of October the transition steel was grouted into place and work began on removing the materials in the tailrace used for access, as well as cleaning up the site and demobilizing. NorthWestern plans to transition flows from the spillway back to the intake in the coming weeks.
In 2009, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) required safety repairs to the Hebgen Dam intake, spillway and outlet pipeline to meet current dam-safety standards and reflect advances in earthquake seismology. The approximately $40 million project is expected to be mostly complete by the end of 2017, with some minor non-structural work to be done in 2018.
NorthWestern Energy will hold a celebration of the completion of the Hebgen Dam Rehabilitation Project from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2017, at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Ennis. Feel free to join us. Please RSVP to Kristen Dawes, Kristen.Dawes@northwestern.com, or by leaving a message at (406) 497-2456.
By now you’d think I could not be fooled. You’d think that I’d know better after so many seasons fishing stillwaters. But I still fall into the trap nearly every time. And it happened again just the other day.
My fishing partner and I arrived at the lake around mid-morning and found the surface glass calm, save for the boils, swirls, and gulps of more than a few rising trout. Nothing like the sight of that to motivate you to rig and launch the boat in record time! A quick survey of the scene revealed plenty of adult chironomids flying over the bushes, and chironomid shucks on the water. There were also a very heathy number of Callibaetis mayfly emergers and adults all over the surface, drifting helplessly like speckled sailboats.
Now, the Callibaetis is the sexiest mayfly of all in my opinion. Its striking mottled wings, good (highly visible) size, bankers hatch hours, and ability to bring quality trout to the surface on stillwaters are what make it so appealing. In the western US, it is by far the most important stillwater mayfly.
And so, when I see a bunch of Callibaetis mayflies on the surface, and I see trout feeding aggressively near the surface, I tend to scramble for my flybox and start deciding which of the numerous Callibaetis imitations that I should tie on. Often, seeing what I have explained above does in fact mean the trout are eating Callibaetis. But not when there is an invisible, underwater blizzard of chironomid pupae.
The trap was set. And we fell for it. After 20 or 30 minutes of fishing among numerous (extremely numerous, actually) feeding fish, using multiple Callibaetis tactics (slow intermediate and nymph, floating line and nymphs, dry fly and emerger on top, dry fly with emerging nymph dropper, etc), we only had a couple of hookups to show for our effort. I knew we had been duped by the chironomids yet again. Small, a bit ugly, and decidedly un-sexy insects – their abundance was essentially overwhelming the beautiful Callibaetis in the eyes of the trout. And still, another 20 minutes went by before I switched to chironomid pupa tactics. Each cast that wasn’t intercepted by a trout was punctuated by a comment along the lines of, “they must be on the chironomids”. I didn’t want to believe that the trout would ignore all those beautiful mayflies.
But they did just that. The rest of this story is fairly boring. We finally switched to chironomid tactics, dialed in the pattern and depths, and caught fish after fish until we had to get back to town. Fooled, but not totally foiled, we still had a great time, shared some good laughs, and reminded ourselves of the Callibaetis and chironomid trap. Maybe we will actually remember it next time, or at least acknowledge it as we are tying on our Callibaetis imitations.
Take Care and Fish On,
PS – Today’s post is also appearing at Sexyloops.com
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
The guy in the blue shirt holding that 2 X 4 brown trout is Greg Falls. The other guy, the one who caught that brown on his first cast with a size 20 trico, is one of most genuine clients we have ever guided. Many of you know Greg from trips that we guide together on the Missouri River. You’ve seen him grace the pages of this blog for the past nine years. Some of you know Greg from the Yellowstone or Lower Madison. I have known Greg since 1996 when I first showed up to Montana and worked on the Missouri River out of Wolf Creek, where we ran a fly shop together for a few summers.
This past winter I was talking with a soon to be fly shop owner from Cascade and we got to chatting about guides on the Missouri River. The conversation lead to who the best guides were/are on the Missouri River. My friend began the conversation with this gem,
“when the long time guides sit around and talk about who the best all around guides are on the river, Greg is in the top 5 for sure, maybe even the top 3.”
I have fished along side of Greg for nineteen years and I must say his skills with a fly and rod are hard to beat. It’s not just the sheer fishyness that he has acquired after countless hours on the water, but it’s the way he handles every situation on a guide trip – from meeting clients at the shop in the morning to dropping them off at the end of the day. Greg’s name alone is synonymous with the Missouri River below Holter Dam. Another guide once said this about Greg, “Falls doesn’t even row, he just goes down the river netting trout”.
It’s not all about catching trout.
Greg has the patience to teach you everything you want to know about fly fishing. He will turn over rocks and show the new angler what the trout are eating. Greg will row you around, put a few in the net with the nymph rig to boost confidence and then find some risers to show the angler what fly fishing can become with the right skills. You wanna learn the reach cast? Done. You wanna learn to stack mend? Done. You wanna learn to wade fish a nymphing rig? No problem. You wanna catch 50 on the nymph and get that out of your system? Done.
Greg Falls lives on the Missouri River from March till December. Throughout the year, when I’m not on the Missouri River, Greg gives BSA weekly, sometimes daily, fishing reports from Craig, Montana. If you are looking for one of the finest days of angling on the Missouri River, give us a call and book Greg Falls. Greg’s schedule is booked far in advance as many of his loyal anglers book him for the next year before their trip is even over. However, it’s always a good idea to call us cause you never know when his schedule might change.
Springtime on the Missouri is a great season to hire Greg and the angling can be some of the best for the entire year.
Next week, there will be a VERY interesting lecture in Bozeman given by the Super himself, Dan Wenk. Native Fish Conservation has been a hot topic the past few years with ongoing discussions on Yellowstone Cutthroats, Grayling and the other non-native species of trout….AKA….lake trout, rainbows, browns and brookies. I find it interesting as to why there isn’t talk what so ever about Mountain White Fish. They are native as well, but not one word on this species and how it’s faring in Yellowstone’s waters.
The Native Fish Plan has been taking some heat over the past year and just recently, an article has been penned by Jess McGlothlin, a friend of BSA, in American Angler’s March/April issue. Everyone should read this article, so head out to your local flyshop, buy the shop rats a sixer and read it in the shop.
While this lecture is probably a little too late, one should commend the National Park Service for taking some heat and then responding with some much needed education on the topic. It will be interesting to see if Superintendent Wenk takes questions about the Native Fish Plan as I believe this lecture is more on the history of native fish conservation in YNP than that of the current Native Fish Conservation Plan, however, there is some overlap here, so I would think this will come up anyway.
I personally want to see native fish thrive in YNP, but I am not sold on the way this particular plan was rolled out to the general public. The lack of education by YNP and the NPS has resulted in rumors flying and facts which have been hard to find. I will not write about the rumors I’ve heard as they are alarming to say the least. Why wasn’t there a well thought out plan laid out to inform the public about the Native Fish Plan? Catch & Release has been pushed hard by many different conservation organizations, did YNP expect folks to just go along with the process of killing trout?
If you live in SW Montana or close by and have the time, this would be a good lecture to attend.
You can find YNP‘s Native Fish Plan here. Oh ya, today is YNP’s 142 birthday.