As we approach the middle of July each year, I tend to feel a little bit of anxiety as I begin to consider the bewildering diversity of fishing opportunities that surround us here in West Yellowstone. As a guide, now is when I begin to have almost TOO MANY good options and the difficult thing can be to decide which one to take each day. As an angler, I begin to think of all the places that are still on my list after a lifetime of exploring Yellowstone country and I grapple with the reality that I might only have time enough to tick just one more off of what seems to be a growing, rather than shrinking list.
We at Big Sky Anglers choose to live here in West Yellowstone because of its incredible diversity of water types and virtually endless fishing options for anglers of all skill levels and interests. We not only live here because of the opportunities found to engage all anglers as customers but also because we, as anglers, remain engaged in angling pursuits here even after a lifetime of flyfishing in the area. Draw a simple 100 mile radius around West Yellowstone on any map and you will have encapsulated more squiggly blue lines and world class fisheries than can be found in a 100 mile radius just about anywhere else on the globe. This place both keeps us on our toes and inspires us. We love to share it with others and look forward to chances to introduce anglers to new experiences.
The middle of July represents to us the heart of our season. It is exactly in the middle of what we would call our prime time, which arguably ranges from the beginning of May through the beginning of October. Summertime dry fly fishing is in full effect, good hatches are occurring during the daylight hours and good evening fishing can be found with regular spinner falls and caddis emergences. At this point in the year, there is more quality fishable water around us than at any other time. Terrific fishing can be found on the Henry’s Fork and Henry’s Lake in Idaho, Montana’s Madison, Gallatin, Missouri, Yellowstone Rivers as well as many of the region’s stillwaters, of which Hebgen sits atop our list due both proximity to the shop and the angling diversity it offers. Yellowstone National Park, with the exception of the waters warmed by geyser influence like the Firehole and Madison, numerically dominates the area’s options and great trout fishing can be found in any quadrant. Many of the high country and back country streams are just now coming into shape for their short but productive time of year.
Perhaps foolishly, I have decided to attempt to summarize some of the option available to us during the Heart of our season.
Let’s start in Idaho. The Henry’s Fork is perhaps the single most diverse river in our lineup. It has everything from technical spring creek fishing on a large scale to wild and seldom traveled wilderness canyon sections that offer a high quality outdoor experience on just about any day of the summer. Though some of the fantastic fishing that we experience in June on the Fork has shut down due to high irrigation demand and high summer temperatures in the valley, the river fishes consistently well all the way to the town of Ashton. Just below the Island Park dam the remarkably consistent fishery of the Box Canyon is entering its prime season, which will extend through the middle of October. The Railroad Ranch has good hatches throughout the month of July before shifting into more sparse and technical August fishing with fewer bugs and terrestrials. Evening fishing is still high on the list of great ideas here at this time and will continue to be so until the end of the month or first weeks of August. The canyon country below the Ranch and the water just outside of the caldera remains highly oxygenated and offers consistent fishing almost every day for beginner and intermediate level anglers. Henry’s Lake begins to weed up and the hardware/trolling traffic begins to lighten up a bit, leaving most of the water to fly anglers. This will continue into August and the fly opportunities continue to increase from now through the middle of October. The Henry’s Fork provides on very large piece of a large puzzle of opportunity at this time of year.
In the portion of southwestern Montana that is immediately around West Yellowstone, the Madison River and Hebgen Lake dominate the list of options. The Madison is now at its most active time of year and this represents the heart of the dry fly season on one of our nation’s finest dry fly fisheries. Good hatches provide great action for anglers of all skill levels throughout July, and the classically wide-open landscape of this iconic Montana river lends itself to the production of a great many terrestrial insects during the month of August. Water temperatures stay consistently cool throughout the heat of summer here, especially now that the Hebgen dam has been repaired, and dry fly fishing remains an excellent option through the end of August. If the Madison is on your list of rivers to experience, these next two months are some of the best times to experience it. Hebgen Lake is a robust Stillwater fishery, perhaps best known in the flyfishing world for its incredible hatches of tricos and callibaetis, as well the large trout that gobble the spinners from the surface of the water in easy rhythm, those we refer to as “gulpers”. This is some of the most entertaining Stillwater fishing available to fly anglers, and it is located right in our backyard. If you are a repeat visitor to Yellowstone country with a fly rod in hand, experiencing “gulper” fishing is something that should most definitely be on your list. Hebgen also offers an incredible variety of subsurface fishing opportunities throughout the summer, similar to Henry’s Lake.
There are over 1,800 miles of squiggly blue lines in Yellowstone National Park and just over 220 lakes within its boundary. Virtually all of this water holds trout of some sort: Rainbows, Browns, Brooks, Lakers and Cutthroats, both Yellowstone and West Slope. There are also Grayling and Mountain Whitefish to be found. Outside of the waters that directly receive geyser effluent (the Firehole River, portions of the Gibbon, and the Madison), most of this water is in prime shape and is now ready to be explored. In the Northwest, the Gallatin and Gardner Rivers are in their prime and will remain so through the end of August. In the Southwest, the more remote river systems beckon the backountry angler with some fine fishing, hot spring soaking, and waterfall exploring opportunities. In the southeast, lies the headwaters of two of the United States’ great rivers, the Yellowstone and the Snake. Much of this water hasn’t been fishable until just now due to regulations and runoff conditions. The Yellowstone and Lamar Rivers, as well as Slough and Soda Butte Creek in the northeast are now in shape and begin to draw anglers from around the globe. The open Serengeti-like terrain of this corner of the park provides not only exciting fishing but also some of Yellowstone National Park’s best wildlife watching. Now is the time to begin fishing in earnest the bulk of the water in the crown jewel of our National Park system.
Whether you are bound for Yellowstone country with plans to fish every day or have come to simply experience this part of the world and would like to fish for a day or two, the next two months offer some of the most consistent and diverse fishing to be found in this remarkable region surrounding West Yellowstone. We are truly and fortunately, located at the epicenter of trout fishing in the American West.
Well folks, we’ve held out as long as possible to update everyone about our summer community appreciation event. Formerly known as the Grand Opening Celebration. Turns out, those banners finally wore out. The simple fact is, now is not the time to invite all of our best friends, family members, and the entire BSA community into the flyshop for a party and BBQ. That said, we are not interested in cancelling the celebration all together, so we have been wracking our brains for ways to bring our community together in other, safer ways this summer.
So, what do we have up our sleeve?
First of all, the flyshop will be open on June 27th for regular hours, so please feel free to stop in and say hi. We plan to run some great sales, giveaways, and maybe a game or two.
The rest of this event, however, will be held online, taking advantage of the incredible technology we have at our disposal that helped keep us together and sane during lockdown. SO…
Join us ONLINE for Big Sky Anglers FOURTH ANNUAL Community Appreciation Celebration –
A celebration of summer, friends, family, and fly fishing.
Saturday, June 27th, 2020
Read on below for a listing and schedule of guests and events. Keep fishing, keep smiling, and we hope to see everyone at a bigger and better party at the flyshop in June 2021!
Joe Moore, Justin Spence, and Jonathan Heames
Owners, Big Sky Anglers
Special Guests and Events Schedule
We hope to add a couple more events in the coming week, so please check back in!
Saturday, June 27th
On Instagram @bigskyanglers
If you haven’t started following us on Instagram, now might be the right time to do it. We will be live on Instagram throughout the day, with IG Live videos, Q&A, special guests, fly tying, giveaways, sales, and more.
2 PM Mountain Time – Jonathan and Steve will be chatting live with Benjamin Beale of El Encuentro Fly Fishing. Watch for the IG Live announcement in your Stories via @bigskyanglers and @elencuentroflyfishing
4 PM Mountain Time – Justin chats live with the Patagonia Nomads, direct from San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina. Watch for the IG Live announcement in your Stories via @bigskyanglers and @patagonianomads.arg
6 PM Mountain Time – Justin chats live with our good mate and Kiwi fishing guide Ronan Creane, direct from the South Island of New Zealand. Watch for the IG Live announcement in your Stories via @bigskyanglers and @ronan_creane
8 PM Mountain Time – BSA’s Matt Klara on the tying bench sharing a few tips and tricks for tying some of his favorite stillwater and Trout Spey patterns. Watch for the IG Live announcement in your Stories via @bigskyanglers
West Yellowstone is one of those unique places in the world which offers dry fly fishing for nearly seven months of the year. Most of us in the shop prefer to fish dries whenever possible in our daily lives as anglers to our fishing programs as guides. From the Henry’s Fork to the Madison, to the Northeast Corner to the Firehole River, we do our best to fish it dry. The flies in this package represent some of the fishiest patterns in the shop; it’s a smattering of caddis and mayflies and includes four of Joe Moore’s original fly patterns.
The contents of the package is below.
1 x BSA Small Heavy Duty Waterproof Fly Box – FREE!
12 Days of Christmas – Day Two – The Orvis Retro BSA Trucker Hat
Years ago back in Illinois, when I was just a wee lad, I was given a duck brown camo hat by my father Tom. In those days, duck brown camo was the only camo for waterfowl hunting. Wetlands camo wasn’t even thought of yet and each member of Tom’s duck hunting crew at Toe Head Slough wore duck brown head to toe. Each Christmas, I would flip through the Cabela’s catalog and order a new piece, sometimes it was overalls or a button down hunting shirt. As time when by this pattern pretty much disappeared as new innovations came upon the scene and other companies started making various waterfowl patterns. Several years ago Drake Waterfowl Systems brought the duck brown camo pattern back to life and then Orvis jumped in and helped revived it as well. Much to Molly’s despair, there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not rocking the Orvis Retro Trucker hat. She has however, convinced me to pick a new one off the shelves at the fly shop more than just once a year. Check it out in the online fly shop.
I will never forget the first time my Dad took me fly fishing. As far back as I can remember, fishing has been a major part of my life. It’s an experience my Dad and I still share together today. But that day was significant to me; more than most fishing trips. I was ten years old. As a very young boy I was always fascinated with watching my Dad cast his fly rod to a rising trout. He held off on teaching me to cast a fly rod until that summer to ensure that I was not only physically able to cast the rod but that I also had some semblance of patience. After weeks of “10 o’clock to 2 o’clock” and “you’re going too far forward/back”, it was finally time to chase trout on the river with a fly!
The time I spent in western Montana as a child is filled with fond memories. The valley and the mountains that surrounded our quaint little town was a seemingly endless playground for my two brothers and me. I was spoiled by sunsets, scenery, mountains, and countless other things. The first day I went fly fishing embodied all these things.
It was a warm evening in August and Dad pointed out the bugshovering over the stream in thick clouds. Grasshoppers leaped from all sides as we wandered towards the bank. From what I recall, almost every cast result in an eat from an eager trout. The rod pulsed in my hands as the fish shook their heads, and my smile grew larger by the minute. From that day on, I knew I loved fly fishing. I sat in bed that night filled with joy after a successful outing on the water. It felt different than my normal fishing excursions and I knew fly fishing was special. Fourteen years later, memories of that day stick with me as if it happened yesterday.
As I got older, I reminisced. “Was it really that incredible? Did we really catch that many fish? Did it just seem that great because I was young and easily impressed?” My family moved away from Montana the following fall, removing me from the proximity to the stream my Dad took me to that day. Since then, I’ve had the good fortune to fish some incredible waters. Yet, I would often find myself pondering over that day long ago and the stream that began my fly fishing obsession.
Fast forward to the summer of 2018. I attended a Trout Unlimited event held near the western Montana town I lived in during that fateful tenth year of my childhood. In between workshops we were granted some fishing time, and I visited the exact spot on the stream my Dad took me to that day long ago. I didn’t have much time to spend there, but it was enough time to leave me wanting more. When the event came to an end, I made the long drive back to West Yellowstone. I knew I had to return to that stream as soon as possible.
Labor Day weekend came a few weeks after. One last, extended weekend before college classes were back in full swing and hunting season would become more of a priority for me than fishing. I chose to return to that stream and attempt to relive that summer day when I was a child. My friends Connor and Tyler made the journey with me, and we planned to camp multiple nights in the area. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The warm weather and breeze made perfect conditions for fishing hoppers during the day, and the cool evenings were left for resting by the fire, roasting hot dogs, and enjoying good conversation at night.
From the moment we arrived on Saturday to the moment we left on Monday the fishing was spectacular. Cut banks, rocks, and seams regularly held fish that were eager and willing to attack a dry fly. SLURP! SMACK! GULP! It wasn’t uncommon to see grasshoppers tumble through the wind and onto the water, twitch on the surface, and be eaten by a hungry cutthroat. Each evening the sunset glistened over the peaks and through the trees signaling the end of an incredible day. The more time we spent there, the more clearly, I remembered what it was like to be there as a ten-year-old, fly fishing for the first time.
On our last day, we fished another lesser-known stream in the area that I had fond memories of fishing as a kid with conventional tackle. I recalled memories of good numbers of quality fish that I had caught there with my Dad in my youth. My childhood memories had served us well on this trip so far, so we decided to put our faith in them once again.
The stream meanders through grassy fields of the valley. It was, and still is, a slow-moving stream with deep cut-banks and overhanging grass on both sides. We tossed our hopper patterns as tight to the bank as possible while moving upstream. Resident brown trout attacked our flies throughout the next few hours, but now, time was running short for our trip. I found myself hoping for one last memorable fish to complete this perfect weekend. Connor and Tyler had both netted browns in the ballpark of eighteen inches that morning and, perhaps a bit selfishly, I wanted one, too.
In the final minutes before our departure, I changed flies one last time. I happened to glance up in time to see a fish dart from the cut-bank, gobble a drifting hopper, and return to its ambush spot. I couldn’t see exactly how big it was, but from the sound it made slapping the surface I could only assume this was a big one. I prepped my fly and lined up my cast. I laid my foam bug on the water about six feet above where I had seen the fish rise to ensure the drift looked as natural as possible. Before my fly could move two feet it was slammed by a different fish! A feisty little brown was in my net, but this butter-colored beauty wasn’t the fish I was after.
Once again, I lined up my cast. I placed the fly roughly four feet above the target location this time. I watched in anticipation, waiting for the predator I knew that was lurking in the shadows to expose itself. In an instant, a gold flash bolted from the bank and attacked my fly. Fish on! The fish bulldogged, pulled, and fought hard to stay under the cut bank it called home. Eventually it conceded the battle and found itself in the bottom of my net. After a quick photo and moment of admiration my opponent returned to its home. It was the perfect ending to a perfect fly fishing weekend.
Today I look back on the streams of my childhood with even more nostalgia than I had previously. If I fished those waters regularly throughout the year, I would surely have slow days and fruitless trips. But, in my mind, they remain pristine. Places that represent all things good in a world that can sometimes be overwhelming. I believe that’s why we have memories that we romanticize and glorify. The idea that there was a time and a place where nothing could bring us down is comforting. Everyone should have a special place like that in their heart. For me, it will always be the first place my Dad took me fly fishing. Maybe one day I will doubt again how amazing it was. When that day comes, I will return there, and hopefully I’ll be reminded all over again that, in reality it’s better than I remembered.