As snow piles up here at Big Sky Anglers World Headquarters in West Yellowstone, MT (the Geographic Center of the Fly Fishing Universe) our sights are locked on to the 2018 fishing season. Guide Trip reservations are pouring in, and we’re busy planning fishing adventures throughout Yellowstone Country and beyond. We’ve fielded a lot of questions over the last few weeks about times to take a guide trip. So, we decided to share some of our recommendations for a few overlooked options.
#1 – Springtime (April – May)
When most anglers think of Springtime in the Rockies they conjure up images of our big, Western rivers running wild with brown water flooding the banks and stream-side vegetation. In much of the region, that’s an accurate description. But, on two of our favorite rivers, the Henry’s Fork and the Missouri you can find a much different experience in the early-season months of April and May. You see, both of these rivers are tail-waters with strategic dam releases, and are situated at relatively low elevations compared to other big rivers like the Madison or Yellowstone. Warm weather comes much earlier to places like Ashton, ID and Cascade, MT then it does to West Yellowstone. With warm temps comes the onslaught of Spring hatches like Mother’s Day Caddis, Baetis, and Stoneflies. While no river in our region is completely immune to Spring run-off, the Henry’s Fork and Missouri Rivers generally have sections that continue to fish well through the “mud-season” because of the clean releases coming from dams on both systems. April and May weather in the Rockies can range from 70 degrees and sunny to 30 degrees and snowing, and anglers need to be prepared for any combination of weather conditions. It’s always an adventure in the Spring as our best fishing occasionally occurs when the weather is at its worst! So, if you want to experience some of our area’s best fishing at an adventurous time of year when few other anglers are thinking about trout fishing out West, consider April and May on the Henry’s Fork and Missouri Rivers.
#2 – August
The “Dog Days of Summer” can be a bear on many fisheries. That hot August sun dries out the countryside, and heats up water temps. “Hoot Owl” closures (angling restrictions placed on bodies of water when water temps are too high and flows fall below critical levels) plague many Montana rivers like the Big Hole and Jefferson. This might be the time when many anglers would consider taking a break until the Fall, or dusting off the old golf clubs. But, in fact this is prime time for one of the angling world’s premiere destinations – Yellowstone’s Backcountry. The high alpine environment in YNP has a much different seasonal calendar than the surrounding region. Lush, green, hillsides covered in wild-flowers, and snow-capped peaks are common sight in Yellowstone’s high country well into August. Daytime temps are generally in the high 70’s to low 80’s and nighttime lows will routinely drop below freezing. This is the perfect recipe for cold, clean water. By August the backcountry has dried out, and most of the biting flies are done for the season making it the most comfortable time of year to hit the trail and explore some of the best kept secrets in our area. Our veteran guides have decades of experience wandering through the backcountry of Yellowstone in search of trout. They have more overlooked and under-fished spots in their quiver than you could fish in a lifetime. If the backcountry isn’t your thing or you’re looking for a little diversity, August is also the best time for Gulpers on Hebgen lake, and some of the most consistent dry fly fishing on the Railroad Ranch at the Henry’s Fork. Combining the backcountry of Yellowstone with some time on Hebgen, and a visit to the Ranch is a program that’s hard to beat any time of the season!
#3 – Anytime you can get here!
In this day and age, time is the one thing no one has enough of. Everyone struggles to maximize their time, especially when it comes to vacations. Visiting anglers are always in search of the “perfect time” to plan their fishing trip. The truth is, there is no perfect time. From our location in West Yellowstone (the Geographic Center of the Fly Fishing Universe) we are blessed with arguably the greatest diversity of fishing locations and authentic angling situations found anywhere. Now, Mother Nature is a fickle temptress, and often she reminds us that planning can be an exercise in futility. But, on most years with somewhat “normal” conditions we can find awesome fishing somewhere in our area every day of the season. If you have your heart set on experiencing a specific hatch on a specific fishery, say the Green Drakes on the Henry’s Fork, then, you better get here in mid-June. But, if you’re less focused, or just have an opening in your schedule, get here whenever you can! We’ll find you some awesome fishing!
The Fishing Life: An Angler’s Tales of Wild Rivers and Other Restless Metaphors (2013) compiles Paul Schullery’s best stories fish, flies, water, and the people who love them all. Including articles originally published from the 1980s and later, he adds previously unpublished pieces. Schullery fishes his way from Pennsylvania to Mexico, Yellowstone to Alaska, with stops in the Adirondacks and Ohio. These essays explore conservation, favorite rivers, beloved and scorned varieties of fish, non-traditional fly patterns, and the passion behind fly-fishing.
Schullery is a soft-spoken legend, well-known for his reflections about the natural world. He authored nearly 40 books about bears, fly-fishing, Yellowstone, and two works of fiction. Raised in Pennsylvania, he began his career as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone in 1972. Much of his writing and research is devoted to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, editing the quarterly journal Yellowstone Science from 1992-2009. He also served as executive director of the American Museum of Fly Fishing from 1977 to 1982. I met Mr. Schullery at Montana State University in 2003, when he taught “History of Yellowstone.” I can’t remember most of the lectures, and my old notebooks were trashed along with the futon and PBR cans. I would surely relish the chance to travel back and time and reabsorb every word. Since then, I’ve consulted many of his books for program research. Among his writings outside of fishing, I recommend Mountain Time (1984), Searching for Yellowstone (1997), and Yellowstone’s Ski Pioneers (1995).
Through common goals of keeping fish plentiful and happy, wilderness advocates and fly fisherman usually find companionable ground. Protecting fish inevitably leads to preserving their natural ecosystems. Chapter 21, “How Can You Do That?” explores the wavy lines between catch and release and just…catching. Returning the trout alive to the stream is a conservation practice designed to prevent overharvest in the face of increasing pressure from anglers, environmental concerns, and habit degradation. All of the sport, yet unlike game hunters, none of the bloodshed. Ah, what a fine compromise fishermen made! However, naysayers of catch and release decry the intense pain fish feel from hooking, playing, and prying the hook from its jaws. Schullery relates his experiences amidst this debate. At a wilderness conference, he is approached by some of those in opposition of catch and release. Their claim is that anglers might as well kill the fish as instead of torturing it without ending its suffering. They kept asking, “How can you do that?!” He pauses to think it over, recalling days of glorious fish and wild water, and thinks, “Oh, but how can you not do that?!” Observant anglers are privy to various natural delights besides the pursuit of trout. Chapter Four, “Antlers Aweigh,” reminds us that fish, flies, and water are a small section of the outdoors. As Schullery is fishing Michigan’s Au Sable River, he encounters a deer swimming upstream. His mind immediately relates the doe to various flies crafted with deer hair, prized for its floatant nature. While pondering the creations possible from the deer’s body hair, he watches her make a 90-degree turn for the opposite shore. Startled, she is laboriously swimming away. Realizing he spooked her, he thinks maybe the value in that day on the river comes not from the fishing, but from the larger experience occurring in the ecosystem.
Fish are as important as those searching for them. Schullery introduces us to different fish, and helps define them according to a sort of anglers’ social class. Reigning supreme are the browns and rainbows of the Gardner, Gallatin, and Yellowstone. In “Home River” he describes the Gardner River as a magic stretch of water that can mark an angler’s soul forever. Catching his first trout on a fly rod there, Schullery discovers hatches, currents, and a whole world the tour busses whizzing past never see. I immediately understood this perspective, if not as an angler, but as a Yellowstone visitor looking for more than bears and geysers. A whole world exists underneath the surface, whether that of the fish in the water, the birds in the trees, or the thriving bacteria mats next to flashy erupting geysers. “So Long, Sucker,” acknowledges that not all fish are created equal. Suckers, for one. The name sucker comes from their tendency to live along the bottoms of rivers and lakes, vacuuming up plants and insects. If suckers were people, they would have weak chins, bug eyes, and wear Cheetos-stained sweatpants. Schullery notes they are often known as trashfish, forage fish, and amongst Vermont anglers, shitfish.
The Fishing Life is a fantastic book. It can sit with pride on any diehard anglers’ shelf next to Richard & Swisher’s Selective Trout. However, if you are interested in the broader aspects of the sport like myself, an evening spent with Selective Trout would find you not understanding much, or dying of boredom. The humor, honesty, and detail of this writing offers more than enough to keep fishermen of any breed well engaged. Bearing in mind this idea that not all anglers are alike, so it stands to reason most will find a good laugh or a moment of reflection. Schullery says,
Fishing-in my case fly fishing- is an opportunity to exercise our intellects and emotions in a realm of inexhaustible wonder. At any given moment we may think we’re in this for just one thing, say the challenge of a difficult fish or the companionships of a fishing trip. But I suspect that most of the time we’re in it for everything we can get, and we’re out there just to see what will develop.
I doubt I will ever wake up one fine July morning and say, “Let’s go float L to P and rip some lips. A dozen over 20” in the boat by noon!” But meandering along small streams in Yellowstone’s backcountry, or fishing for brookies in the pothole lakes of the Beartooths are activities I’ve enjoyed since childhood. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to picking out colors for my new wine bar. Those of you who know Joe may have heard about our recent home remodel. He is busy installing my new Jacuzzi, and will hopefully make it to my custom cedar closet by tomorrow. Happy fall.
– Molly Moore
For other book reviews, click here.
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.
………and therefore there will be no fishing in Yellowstone National Park.
Yes, that’s right, our elected officials who “run” this country have failed to do their jobs and pass a budget (and they are still getting paid). The employees of YNP and the concessionaires will not get paid. Not only will the Park be closed to fishing, it will be closed to everything – hiking the trails and driving through the Yellowstone will not be possible. How long will this last, you ask? Nobody knows…….
Click the links below for contact information and give them a piece of your mind – I did.
house of Reps.
The Madison in YNP went big today after over night rain and high country snow pummeled Hebgen and Firehole Basins. The flows on the Firehole jumped up as did the Madison, by 2:30, I could hardly see my boots in thigh deep water. There were a few logs freed up as well and grass drifting through out the river.
It felt more like late May or early June…..fishing was just okay as the river went from around 370 cfs to 697 cfs in just s few hours. The best bite was in the morning, go figure, as the winds pounded us with rain. I heard the crack of one big lodge pole and looked downstream to see it tumble into the river. Five minutes later, the lodge pole directly behind us cracked as well, but failed to fall. We exited the run soon after.
Right now, at 10 pm, the clouds have cleared out and the temps are dropping. Tomorrow we are headed for Lyons Bridge…..and we could use a little sunshine.
Tonight, the shot guns will slide out of their cases for a once over as the upland season is upon us in just under a week. More ants need to be tied up at the vise and I could probably use a few more boxes of 2 and 3/4 inch number sixes. Tomorrow will be along day in the back country of YNP and I have to prep for that as well. The next three months are an exciting time and perhaps the finest portion of the three hundred and sixty five days I live each year. While I do love winter, nothing compares to a change of a season and Autumn’s turn is spectacular. Aspens on the north shore of Hebgen already have a slight yellowing to their leaves and the river bottom Betwix the Lakes is gorgeous – you should see it.
It’s also that time of the season where an angler’s skill level can make or break their day on the river. While luck is something we all want on our side, from time to time, actually being good at this sport will bring home the bacon. Which really means, the river can fish as good as you can. Sure there are some days when the river is just plain tough, but preparing for your trip is essential with regards to fishing Montana in the fall. You won’t get that second chance on that juicy rainbow taking dries out of a slick. Nor will that fat brown eat your streamer again after you miss-strip on the strip set. Get outside and cast that fly rod folks, it does make a difference, honestly…..it does.
Some anglers believe that the Madison is not a technical river and that one should be able to plop a Royal Wulff along the bank and catch some fish. Not true…..not one bit, especially during the next two months. After a summer full of good and bad drifts, our trout in the Golden Triangle are smart as shit. Fishy anglers who read water and know where the fly should be, before it gets there, will absolutely catch more trout this time of the year. Those that believe in the fly and the river will definitely catch more trout. There are folks out there who don’t believe the Madison holds the ghost anymore. They have some hours on the river, but not the days or weeks or even years on the river that it takes to understand how the Madison works. I’m not saying I have all the time in that it takes to fully understand the Madison, but I get it, or rather I get how it works – put in enough time and the Madison will open up the doors to some unreal fishing.
Most anglers don’t have enough patience these days. They want it now, yet they really don’t know what “it” is. Patience, my friends, is a large percentage of what makes an angler fishy in the first place. Patience is probably the single most important trait an angler can possess. Being patient shows the ability to relax and except the day for what it is – a day on the river. I know for a fact, that when I’m relaxed on the river, that I catch more trout and usually some larger trout show themselves as well. I pay more attention to everything around me when things are at peace in my head. I notice the tiny black ant that blew by and landed near the bank, the subtle change in depth of water that a nice trout will possibly slip into and eat naturals, the slight flash of refusing trout a few feet below the surface and I also forget about the time of day. Sometimes, I don’t even remember what day it is. The next time you find yourself on a piece of river or lake, try to slip into this realm. Forget about everything else and just go fishing.