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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
Flows and the damn Dam
River flows in the Madison Valley, from Hebgen Dam to Ennis lake, are sitting pretty good right now as we shift from summer to fall. At the Kirby Gage, she’s registering at 994 cfs. Over the past few weeks, the heat and high sun have been minimal and river temps are hanging in there on most days. However, there have been some super hot days once in while and the river temps can still hit the high 60’s and low 70’s. Once 68 degrees hits the river, you might as well reel up, sit back and take a boat ride. Recently, we have been experiencing some very cold over night air temperatures and several mornings here on Horse Butte the thermometer has read 28-30 degrees. That folks, has been the saving grace for the Madison River, well, that and decent flows from Hebgen. This past week, Hebgen Dam began to pull from roughly seventeen feet below the surface. This is NOT the point where we celebrate just yet. Apparently, this will only drop the river temp a couple degrees, but that’s better than top releases any day of the week. Sometime in November (cross your fingers), Hebgen will hopefully be completed and the river will pull from 37 feet below the surface. Right now, I am holding my breath and really won’t believe its fixed until it actually is. This project has stretched out for way too long and we are all completely over it.
Madison River Fishing Report 08.25.2015
Inconsistent…to say the least. Really though, I’ve had a bunch of great days on the Madison River this summer. However, if you are gonna roll the dice and fish the river only one day while you’re in the neighborhood, you had better be on the good side of the trout gods…..or be a little lucky. It also helps to bring your A-game and let the fish eat your fly. Your day could be a dink fest, but please remember to pay attention as there are some really nice fish eating the fly and just when you think it’s a dink and you don’t set the hook, you’re hating life and wondering out loud where that big brown trout came from. My only answer to that question is, “they live here too”. The nymphing crowd is pounding rocks and mid river runs with various flies like: shelia sculpin, trevor’s sculpin, rubber legs, zonkers, midge larva, $3 Dips, olive dips, crystal dips, shop vacs and the traditional no bead pheasant tail. The rest of us are fishing dry flies whenever possible with hoppers, ants, wulffs, beetles, trudes, small royal stimis and pretty much any reddish attractor pattern. I like fishing a single fly this time of the year as most of us, myself included, tend to get a better drift with just one fly on the end of the line. It’s late August and the trout are not dumb, so tighten up that skill set and pay attention.
Hebgen Lake Fishing Report
I will never claim to know everything about Hebgen Lake, it’s almost impossible. However, I’ve been playing around the lake this August and Hebgen has shown us some really good days with calibaetis spinners, duns and ants. Slow stripping mayfly nymphs is a great way to spend any early morning in an unnamed bay on the south shore of Hebgen Lake. I absolutely love watching the lake come alive from 8 am till noon. Some days, like today, there was glass all over the lake till almost 3pm, but making the fish eat was a little difficult. My best bug here lately has been a #14 Missing Link fished on 5X.
Writing and this blog
I would like to reach out and thank those folks who have asked me to keep writing and posting my random thoughts here on the site. Running the business…aka…. full time guiding/outfitting, tying flies for what may be your trip tomorrow, answering emails and phone calls along with mowing the yard and running the bird dog has gotten in the way of writing. Writing is hard, and while I don’t claim to be very good at it, writing is time consuming and after some 600 posts on the blog, I got tired. With any luck, I’ll continue to find some time as I really do enjoy writing, but sometime it’s just hard to find the energy. Thanks for reading! If you enjoy social media, please check us out on Instagram, that folks, is the easiest way to get your fix without sitting in the boat with us on a river here in the great state of Montana.
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.
All the locals I have run into lately are talking about it. The elk are thinking about it as well….so are the brown trout and the white fish.
Fall is in the air.
Yes, it’s only August 11, but in these parts, summer is rapidly approaching it’s end. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of summer like days ahead in the Rocky Mountains, but whether you like it or not, Fall is coming. There are trees and bushes starting to show some color, the days are getting shorter. I have woke to ice in the drift boat several times this past week. I have NOT heard an elk bugle just yet, but I thought I heard one yesterday morning, which reminded me of a tree stand which needs to be moved to a new location as archery season is almost three weeks away. September and October, on the Madison, offer some of greatest fishing opportunities. If you keep your options open, and are willing to fish dries, nymphs and streamers, you can have some great days on the river.
On another note
2013 has been the busiest season for Big Sky Anglers to date. As the owner/outfitter/guide, I would to give a mid-season “Thank You” to all those who trust in BSA and come fishing with us. We truly love what we do and without folks like you, we could not exist. Thanks to all of you who have come out to fish the Madison, Missouri, Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park – you are the BEST. Bookings for 2014 are coming in already……are you fishing Montana in 2014?
Fishing Report: 08.11.2013
The Madison has been a little inconsistent, but honestly, the fishing has been pretty darn good this season with all things considered. therre are still some fishing willing to eat the nocturnal stone fly and when the moths drops from the evergreen trees, the fish are paying attention. The daytime river temps are getting a little warm, but luckily the cold over night temps are keeping the fish happy. We have yet to see a real flight of honey ants, but any day now these will emerge from the ground to recolonize. When this happens, all the big trout come up for a taste of the ants. If you are lucky enough to be on the Madison when this happens, you will never forget it. Some of the biggest trout of the year are looking up when this hatch occurs.
YNP is fishing, but some of the rivers in the northeast corner are getting low and a bit warm. Fishing these rivers early and late is the name of the game. Walking a little further than the rest of the anglers will reward you as well. Cover as much water as possible and once you start catching fish, SLOW DOWN, there are more.
First off, Happy New Year from West Yellowstone, Montana.
The past 12 months was filled with wonderful memories on and off the river. Thanks to those of you who diligently return to fish with Big Sky Anglers each season, and to those first timers who trust in our word, we continue to thrive in this competitive fly fishing world. With out the support of you – the reader, the traveling angler and our own families, BSA would not exist. So, hats off to all of you! We appreciate it more than you will ever know.
While sleeping sitting on the couch the past couple of days, I have been running through photos from the past year. I picked a few…… I hope you enjoy.