Snowy cold, watching silver turn to gold

Snowy cold, watching silver turn to gold

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.

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

More thoughts on winter

More thoughts on winter


The image above shows current snow water equivalent by river basin.  Notice the dates range, 1981-2010.  These percentages would actually be lower if the data included the 1970’s as Montana received more snow back then.  Earlier today, it was raining.  Yes, raining in mid-February at 6666 feet of elevation. Sure, it was snowing in the high country, but rain at this time of the year is a little alarming to most folks who call this place home.  In the early afternoon, the temperature started to drop and snowing began to fall once again around West Yellowstone.   in the matter of a few minutes, winter returned.  With any luck, we’ll continue to see moisture build up in the form of snow and not rain.  Most of us wold like to see the snowpack sitting around 110% right now, but we’ll take this as compared to a year ago.

Rain and warm temps make the snow pack form a crusty layer on top, thus providing a hard living for those animals needing to get down to the food below the surface. This layer will not simply go away, but will stay there as more snow falls on top over the course of winter.  While out in Hayden Valley yesterday, I watched a fox make several leaps into the air trying to break down through the snow and get the rodent it was after.  The fox succeeded, but only after busting the hard layer, digging with it’s paws through the icy snow and then pouncing once again.  It was a ton of work for the fox for such a small reward.  It got me thinking about this winter and the warm weather we’ve all been witnessing during “winter”.  The day time highs all around Montana have been very warm over the past couple of weeks and most, if not all, the snow at lower elevation is gone.  While this can happen and isn’t something to freak out about, it’s not normal what so ever.  There is plenty of time for more snow to fall, we just need the daytime temps to stay below freezing so that we don’t keep loosing the precious moisture that’s already accumulated this season. For those of you who are thinking about spring time fishing, pay attention to how warm the temps are over the next couple of months.  If things stay warm like this through February and March, fishing is gonna be very good in April and May.  If this season is anything like the past few years, spring angling opportunities  in Montana and eastern Idaho should be plentiful.

Pray for more snow!

Pondering Mid-winter

Pondering Mid-winter

Yellowstone’s winter season in the Interior is now a month from shutting down.  Where does all the time go?  I have been guiding five days a week again this season for Yellowstone Alpen Guides, making this my 9th year and never have I enjoyed guiding as much as this winter.  Luckily, this season, we have decent snow.  Truth be told, after last years bleak winter, I was not looking forward to guiding in YNP.  Mother Nature was providing us with almost weekly snow storms, but now that February has hit, she’s as dry as dirt.  And it’s unseasonably warm to boot.  The past few days have seen the snow melting from my roof and piling up as ice on the ground, then running into our garage as I frantically try to chip away the glacial mound in front of the door.

Is this the new norm?  Currently, its 33 degrees at 11am…it’s not even noon yet!  A week or so ago, the morning temp was -33 degrees.  I took a break for a couple hours and tended to our roof and the melting snow, now the temps are reading almost 45 degrees.  I should be fishing but adulting is getting in the way.   The roads in West Yellowstone are showing signs of spring and spring in these parts is normally a couple months away.


Overall, there has been plenty of wildlife along way to Old Faithful and of course the scenery never gets old.  The Canyon runs have been little void of life from time to time, but recently there have been bison on the move in the Gibbon Canyon, which means that coyotes and foxes are making an appearance as well.  Wolves have not had much of a presence this season along the Madison, Gibbon and Firehole. There’s been a few sightings, but overall they have been non existent.  I would say that has something do with the 94% snow pack and the fact that there are more elk around Big Sky, Gardiner and in the Madison Valley around Cameron, MT.  Wolves chase elk and the elk population is down to just a couple dozen, if that, animals on the west side of the park along the Madison drainage.  There are two small bull elk and one giant bull living along the Madison River around 7 Mile bridge.  So far, they look very healthy. While winter is not over just yet, this break from the cold is nice for every single living thing in these parts.

I’m off to town for a while, with any luck it will be nice enough to drink a beer outside this evening.   Pray for snow.

FAS – leased Fishing Access Sites may not be renewed

It seems as if the folks in Helena who represent the good people of Montana aren’t listening very well these days.  Below is a list of fishing access sites, FAS, that the State of Montana leases out from private property owners.  HB 403 has limited MT FWP’s ability to lease these sites out for the upcoming season.  This means that none of your license fees can be used to pay for these leases.  Do you like to wade fish on the Ruby at Alder Bridge?  How about floating from Notch to Pennington on the Big Hole?  Wade fishing at the Bull Pin on the Missouri is mighty popular as well.  This morning HB 403 is being heard, so cross your fingers that this money will be approved for these sites, otherwise, they will most likely be closed.   Read below for a full list…..



1 Beaver Lake FAS Beaver Lake
1 Elmo FAS Flathead Lake
2 Browns Lake FAS Browns Lake
2 WW White FAS W.F. Bitterroot River
3 Alder Bridge FAS

Silver Bridge FAS

Ruby Island FAS

Ruby river

Ruby River

Ruby River

3 Daily Lake FAS Daily Lake
3 Pennington Bridge FAS

Sportsman’s Park FAS

Big Hole River

Big Hole River

4 Lone Tree FAS

Bull Pasture FAS

Little Muddy Cr FAS

Truly Bridge FAS

Missouri River

Missouri River

Missouri River

Smith River

4 Eureka Reservoir FAS Eureka Reservoir
6 Faber Reservoir FAS Faber Reservoir
6 School Trust FAS Missouri River
7 Black Bridge FAS

Far West FAS

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River

Madison River Fishing Report 02.21.2015

The Madison has been fishing quite well this winter.  Some days have been better than others, but hey, that’s fishing.  Yesterday, I fished the West Fork area, Lyons Bridge and Reynolds Pass.  I had to work a little bit, but caught plenty of fish on nymphs like the 3$ dip, prince nymph, rubber legs and the red worm.  While I looked for heads, I didn’t see much at all.  Midges were coming off in decent numbers, but the north wind and sunny conditions may have kept the fish down – at least where I was fishing.  I did find a few nice brown trout in the shallow water sunning themselves, but I couldn’t get them to take a dry fly. With the lack of snow pack on the level in the Madison valley, getting around the river bottom is pretty easy.  River left has more snow than river right, but once you get below the West Fork, both sides of the river are relatively free of snow.  Today was nasty.  I left Horse Butte with sunshine, broken clouds and hardly a breeze.  Turning left at the Duck Creek Y the north wind had picked up and temp was dropping slightly.  Rounding Quake Lake the wind was cranking up and I could see the wall of weather down in the Madison Valley.  At Reynolds Pass it began.  Blowing and drifting snow coupled with gusts that hit 30+ mph, made me sit in my rig and watch.  Annoyed by this at first, I quickly felt a relief set in as this moisture was exactly what the river was in need of.   Across the parking area I observed four 20 somethings rigging up bobbers and nymphs in this insane weather.  I fondly remember being this way too but took comfort in knowing that it’s okay to sit and watch one’s surroundings and enjoy just that.  It’s why I live thirty minutes from the Madison.

River Flows

Coming into Hebgen Lake: about 800 cfs

Below Hebgen – 841 cfs…down quite a bit.

At Kirby Ranch – 882 cfs…down as well.

Below Holter Dam on the Missouri River – 4900 cfs

Hebgen Lake is 5 feet from full, full pond is the elevation 6534.5 feet.

Snow Pack

Jefferson Drainage – 101%

Madison Drainage – 83%

Gallatin Drainage – 107%

Missouri Mainstem – 107%

A word or two on what all this means for us….

The flows have dropped quite a bit in the past few days and anglers should expect this flow or less for the rest of the winter season on the Madison River.   Flows were dropped down as the snow pack for the Hebgen Basin is not up to snuff.  While the snow is not deep, there is a ton of moisture in what we have on the ground.   This is not the time to fret, rather it’s time to go fishing and let Mother Nature take care of the weather – remember we have no control over the weather.  What we do have control over is the lake level at Hebgen Lake. Not that “we” control this, that’s left up to the folks at NW Energy.   I’ve been watching this like a hawk and talking with NW Energy’s biologist every few weeks.  He too is watching this closely, thus the reason for the drop in flows a couple days ago.  As of right now, the lake is almost a foot higher than a year ago today.  The in flows to Hebgen Lake are 800 cfs and at some point, NW Energy may drop the flows down to match out flows with in flows.  Hebgen Lake is normally (we all know how this can turn out) full by the end of June, so while the snow pack on the Madison, Gibbon and Firehole Rivers is low, there is a significant amount to time ahead of us for more moisture to fall.  Generally speaking, the months of March, April, May and June are when we get the moisture.  Now if you’re a downhill skier, then you probably aren’t too happy with this season, but my point is that there is plenty of time to fill Hebgen Lake.  Both the Gallatin and Jefferson drainages are holding slightly above normal snow pack and I’ll take 100% at this point in the winter any year.  The Missouri low lands are still holding quite a bit snow as well, which is always good news.