Fly Fishing Guide Profile: Justin Spence of Big Sky Anglers in West Yellowstone

Justin Spence fly fishing guide

Justin Spence of Big Sky Anglers in Montana has followed his love for trout all over the world. From Montana to Patagonia, Spence has a true passion for trout. Spence recently took time to interview with The Venturing Angler:

Why do you guide where you do? 

That’s an easy one.  The variety of water.  I don’t know many or any places that are as interesting to explore as the area around West Yellowstone.  It would take a few lifetimes to learn and master just the water within two hours of us.  The same thing is what first drew me to guide in Patagonia.  As amazing as South America is, Montana is still home.

What is your favorite fish specie?

Trout.  Hands down.  I think trout is the most complete fish species and the most interesting fish I fish for.  And no matter how many times I think I have them figured out, they keep coming up with ways to surprise me.  There are so many approaches to target trout, and so many water types to fish for trout it, it always stays interesting.  Anything from tiny creeks and 2wts to huge rivers with giant sea run fish, or lakes and ponds.  As for a specific specie of trout, it’s hard to pick a favorite.  I have the most experience fishing rainbows and browns, so those make sense.  Sight fishing to selective rainbows, or hunting for migratory browns are both passions.  And man, I love that slow, lazy slow motion rise of a big Yellowstone cutthroat.  Ohhh.

What is your favorite thing about guiding?

Teaching… and LEARNING!  Sharing my knowledge and passion with a client is a great joy.  And for every thing I teach a person, I try to one or two from my experience guiding them, so I can pass that along to others.  My guide approach is that, if I teach well and my clients learn, then the fish will come and catching takes care of itself.  The folks I’ve been fortunate enough to guide for years and year have all progressed so much, learned so much.  When you can find folks who enjoy the process of learning and exploring, and not just catching fish, that will happen, along with so much more.  The idea of the Total Experience from Bud Lilly mixed with some Zen.

Justin Spence fly fishing

What is the most memorable trip you’ve guided and why?

Ha.  Hahaha.  I’m sure you’d like a story about fishing for huge dragonfly eating brown trout in the ponds of a region in Patagonia in incredible wind, breaking rods left and right.  But really, well, this is a long involved story, but, it involves missing the takeout boat ramp in middle of nowhere Patagonia and ending up after dark semi lost.  We ended up seeing a light off on the mountain and we pulled over and hiked toward the light.  When we got to the light, it was a family at their little cabin in the middle of nowhere.  They spend 10 days there each year. They were wonderful folks that fed us and told us where to hike up to and find some cell service, which I did, and called our shuttle driver, who got to the cabin around 2am.  The fishing was really good that day too!

What is the funniest thing you’ve experienced while guiding?

Hahahahaha.  This hands down was the funniest.  I was hanging out under a tree during one of my good customers self-imposed siestas.  I had my camera out and was looking at pictures on it when one of my clients started yelling BIG FISH BIG FISH!  I was surprised because I thought they were resting too.  So, I’m snapping pics left and right of the guy fighting this huge fish, talking him through the whole fight, side pressure, everything.  I’m taking pics and the second client says they will net the fish.  When he scooped it up the two of them started howling and laughing.  Turns out the big fish on the line was a Nalgene water bottle that they had tied on the line and thrown into the rapids.

Justin Spence trout

What makes your guide service great?

The first thing is, overall, our guides and the experience they have fishing and guiding this area around West Yellowstone.  Second, it is the water we have access to in Montana, all of Yellowstone Park, and over to the Henry’s Fork and Henry’s Lake in Idaho.  We are super fortunate to work with some guides that we have known for a decade or longer, both in the US and Patagonia, and the level of respect and trust is essential to our operations.  Everyone is focused on providing the client with the best possible experience on and off the water.

If you had only one day off all year, where would you fish and what fish would you target?

If I’m fishing for myself, I’d go for steelhead in B.C.  Assuming that it’s the right time of year.  I have simply not fished for steelhead enough to be satisfied yet with my understanding of the fishing.  I really enjoy the time between fish when swinging for steelhead as well.  The pace allows for a lot of thought and clearing of the mind.  And I really enjoy discovering things on the steelhead river that I can bring home and apply to my local trout fishing and guiding.  I like the places steelhead live, I love casting two-handed rods, and when I’m out fishing it’s my time to myself to challenge myself and relax at the same time.

Big Sky Anglers Montana

What are your favorite three flies?

#8 Royal Wulff – Because it’s easy to see, and big fish will eat it if you present it right.  Big fish eat it.  And it doesn’t look like anything, so it’s all in the presentation.  You can twitch it, work it right.  They will come up.

A Bucktail Streamer, like a Joe Brook’s Blonde, in various colors and sizes.  Depending on how you tie it you can go for anything from a crazy attractor to a specific baitfish imitation.  They are easy to cast, fish, and versatile.

A Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail in various sizes.  I think that’s another one you can take about anywhere you can find trout and it will work.  Insect imitation, attractor, fish it as a dropper, blind, off an indicator, on a sinking line in lakes, you name it.  Great fly.

What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave at home?

Oh man, that’s a good question.  The first thing that comes to my mind is a good fly rod that I really like.  I can fish with anything if I have to, but I LOVE casting and fishing with a rod that I’m comfortable with and that I really feel good about.

Do you have any other passions?

I love to travel, whether it is for fishing or not.  It’s so great that fishing and travel go so well hand in hand.  Traveling is a lot like fishing too.  I crave getting into new situations, places where I’m not perfectly comfortable and can learn about a new place or culture.  Or something about myself.  I’d say even that fishing has become my excuse to travel and try new things that I wouldn’t normally have tried.

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