In 2016, long time local guides / outfitters Joe Moore (Big Sky Anglers), Justin Spence (The West Yellowstone Fly Shop), and Jonathan Heames (Jonathan Heames Fly Fishing) merged their individual businesses and acquired Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop. The entire operation, including all outfitting and the fly shop, is now known as BIG SKY ANGLERS, based here in West Yellowstone, MT. With over 55 years of combined guiding and fly shop experience in West Yellowstone, Joe, Jonathan and Justin are excited to continue the tradition started by Bud Lilly so long ago, while adding their own unique voice and vision to the business.
Bud Lilly founded the modern Trout Shop in 1950 when he purchased the inventory of a small tackle shop originally founded by Don Martinez (perhaps West Yellowstone’s original fly fishing expert) from Charles Borberg. Much has been written about Bud, a World War II veteran and one of the pioneers of guided fishing in Yellowstone Country. Bud casts a long shadow across the fly fishing world, having mentored many of the next generation of angling legends. His efforts and personality, along with others, paved the way for all of us who have made lives through fly fishing. For that, we will forever be grateful.
The original Trout Shop was in the back of what is now Eagles Store, at the corner of Yellowstone Avenue and Canyon Street. The shop moved to its well-known spot at Madison and Canyon, currently occupied by Big Sky Anglers, in 1967. Bud and his family ran the shop proudly until 1982. A series of owners, including our friends Jim and Anne Criner, Dick Greene and Barbara Klesel, continued the tradition until Big Sky Anglers purchased the business in 2016.
Joe Moore founded the original version of Big Sky Anglers in 2004. Since 1996, he’d been employed by fly shops on the Missouri River and in West Yellowstone as both a shop manager and fishing guide. Big Sky Anglers was, at that time, a small scale outfitting business allowing Joe to move around the state and follow the fishing. Offering outstanding guided fishing throughout Southwest Montana and Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky Anglers thrived as a result of the hard work that Joe and his staff of guides put in every day. It remained Joe’s business alone until the merger with Jonathan and Justin in 2016.
Jonathan Heames got his start in the fly fishing industry in 1994, under the tutelage of Bob Jacklin. He quickly established himself as not only a personable and professional guide, but also as one of the fishiest guides on the water. Jonathan studied every fishery within striking distance of West Yellowstone, and became one of the most sought after guides on Idaho’s Henry’s Fork. When the founders of the Trouthunter acquired Jacklin’s Henry’s Fork Idaho Outfitters license, Jonathan and Bob amicably parted ways. Jonathan continued to guide the Henry’s Fork for Trouthunter, and founded Jonathan Heames Fly Fishing which offered guided fishing in Montana and Yellowstone Park. In 2004, he and his wife Sarah began managing and guiding for a well-known Chilean fishing lodge in the winter months. In 2016, Jonathan Heames Fly Fishing merged with Big Sky Anglers, where Jonathan is a co-owner and senior guide on the Henry’s Fork and other waters.
Justin Spence began working as a guide and employee of a local fly shop here in West Yellowstone in 2000. In 2005 he began outfitting on his own, running fishing trips in both Montana and Argentina. A year later he co-founded the West Yellowstone Fly Shop, which became the face, heart, and home of the business. Small (to say the least) and quirky, but also comfortable, the West Yellowstone Fly Shop served as home base and office for the guiding and travel operations, and was a place to meet, hang out, exchange ideas, and gear up for anything from a day on our local waters to a month long expedition to the tropical flats. The shop stayed open as much as their busy guiding schedule allowed during the summer months. It was always great to get back after a long day on the river and find notes from loyal customers and friends taped to the door. Justin would then often go seek them out at one of the local restaurants to catch up and get them what they needed before heading home himself. After 10 years of great times, great people, and personal and professional growth, Justin took the next big step.
THE LEGACY CONTINUES
The legacy of Bud Lilly lives on here at Big Sky Anglers. Bud was a legendary angler and advocate for conservation and protection of wild trout and their habitat in southwest Montana, Yellowstone Park and beyond. His message 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 was that of being a well-rounded angler and participating in fishing for what he called “The Total Experience”.
It’s not only catching fish that draws us to angling, it’s the love of the fish and the rivers which initially united us. 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.