Jonathan Heames of Big Sky Anglers in Montana is a passionate fly angler whose devotion to fly fishing has taken him all over the world. Heames recently interviewed with The Venturing Angler about his fly fishing pursuits:
Why do you guide where you do?
I find the diversity of waters and fishing opportunity here in Yellowstone Country unmatched anywhere else I have traveled and fished. It is this diversity that keeps me engaged and challenged. It also allows for us to build a long term relationship with our clientele, we have the water to start someone in fly fishing on a small mountain stream, the water to refine their techniques as a stealthy spring creek angler and everything in between.
What is your favorite fish specie?
I grew up moving around in a military family and I’m happy to fish for anything that swims in the water that’s close by! Trout have always been my favorite and still are. I love them all, but I’m especially fond of brown trout. I find fishing for them an imaginative experience and always slightly unpredictable, it just never gets old!
What is your favorite thing about guiding?
From the beginning of my guiding career, I always wanted to spend the bulk of my days outside sharing fishing and the natural world with people. That’s what drew me to the profession and still gives me a lot of joy today. As my career has matured, I find that the relationships I have formed with the people I get to fish with on a repeat basis has become something I value more and more. In a sense, I get to accompany people on their fly fishing journey, or odyssey. It’s often said that the evolution of an angler follows a path something like this: first, you want to catch A fish. Then, a LOT of them. Next, a BIG one. Lastly, you just want to GO fishing. It’s really fun for me to share this journey with repeat clientele, helping them get closer to their fishing goals every time and at each stage. We do this by working on technique and I always try to introduce new experiences along the way to help broaden those angling horizons.
What is the most memorable trip you’ve guided and why?
There’s a lot of great trips over the years but for a kid that largely grew up in Arizona’s desert southwest a desperate angler begging his father to take him at every turn, this one stands out the most:
As a kid, my brother and I would hardly be able to sleep the night before a fishing trip, I remember lying awake in bed thinking of every way I would fool the next fish. We would fish from sunrise to as long as my dad could stand it and at the first sign of getting ready to leave, I would beg for “one last cast!” That one cast request would go on and on until Dad could take no more.
Years ago, I was able to return the favor to my dad and take him fishing on the lower Henry’s Fork during an outstanding period of dry fly fishing. He’d never seen anything like that in his life and it was having the time of his life, so was I. I’ll never forget as that June evening set in around 9pm, fish still rising everywhere and him still catching them, my dad’s voice begging ME for “one last cast, one last cast!” I had to stay creative on the oars to sneak him by a pile of other big risers just so we could meet up with my mom for dinner, already quite late.
What is the funniest thing you’ve experienced while guiding?
This remains one of the funniest images burned into my mind, but I’m not sure I can do it justice by explaining it…Years ago I was hiking into a laguna in Patagonia with another guide and three brothers, the youngest about 15 years old. He was dressed in borrowed gear, in those days it was an old pair of bootfoot waders that were a little large for him. We had almost arrived to the laguna after a 20 minute walk and had to walk through a significant mud puddle to get to where the boats were parked, the older brothers had gone ahead, experiencing no trouble with their stocking foot waders and separate boots. The younger brother suspected nothing of the mud puddle and began to march on through. About halfway across his boots simply stuck in the mud and he kept walking, his feet leaving the boots and he started walking up the inside of the waders until his suspenders could neither stretch nor contain him any more…there was a moment of stall when the whole situation was maxed out, slow motion for just a pair of seconds, and then WHAM! He was snapped face first right into the mud! We could hardly contain ourselves the image was straight out of a cartoon! Thankfully, he was a good natured lad and we all had a crying laugh as only a group of brothers can at the expense of another.
What makes your guide service great?
Our guide service prides itself in building great relationships with our customers through fun experiences and by taking the time to teach them the skills they need to achieve success. What makes it great is our attention to showing anglers a great time based on what they want out of their day, and at the same time introducing them to other experiences and ways of enjoying trout fishing. Our vision is not only to enjoy the day’s fishing, but to plant a seed that both inspires and keeps them coming back for more.
If you had only one day off all year, where would you fish and what fish would you target?
Living in this part of the world, it’s hard to answer this question without considering what time of year and what the weather is. The short answer is, if it’s a day for the Railroad Ranch section of the Henry’s Fork, there is no better place for me than spending the day in pursuit of those big rainbows. However, if it’s not a day for that, I would most likely be found walking and fishing along the upper Madison, a section that someone once described to me by saying, “…if there’s a trout stream in heaven, it has to look just like the upper Madison.”
What are your favorite three flies?
Trusty Rusty. Size 14 Rusty spinner. Rising trout eat them all over the world. Wouldn’t dream of being anywhere without having one handy.
BFE. Best. Fly. Ever. A handy, dandy streamer that I find to be the most versatile fly in the world. Super fun to fish because I can do so many different types of things with it.
Jacklin’s Salmonfly. A classic and beautiful tie that still outperforms foam imitations during this hatch. The salmonfly hatch, crowded as it may be, is still one of my favorite hatches to fish, and this is my imitation of choice.
What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave at home?
8 # Maxima. This is, by far, my favorite tippet when I can pull it off. It is the monofilament by which I measure all others. I never fish a streamer on anything less and always have a spool handy in case I need something for taking care of serious business.
Do you have any other passions?
Yes, lots! Fly fishing for tarpon, Fly fishing for bonefish, fly fishing for golden dorado, fly fishing for roosterfish, etc…
OK, seriously and aside from all of that…I love to hunt upland birds, and I do enjoy photography and have some small sense of artistry in me in the form of pencil and paper, but I’m not very good at either! I also enjoy reading and spending time with my wife and two boys, they are 5 and 7, so I’m passionate about whatever they are these days: Legos and Star Wars are currently in vogue around the household!