February 4, 2019
There are two activities that took me way too long as a West Yellowstone resident to get into, cross-country skiing and spey casting.
I started spey casting two falls ago with the desire to catch Hebgen Lake-run fish in a new way. Fellow MRO guide Mike Loebl has been nice enough to help me with casting from the beginning. If you haven't already, check out Mike's three piece series on wet-fly fishing.
Once my casting was proficient enough that I could make good-enough casts often enough, I haven't gone back to single hand streamer fishing on the Madison in the fall. Not only Madison in the fall, but spey has also been slowly taking over my fishing all over this area the rest of the year as well. Swinging flies is such a great technique year round whether you're throwing streamers, buggers/leeches, or soft hackles.
Next was cross-country skiing. My goal here was to find another way to get a little extra exercise for both my dog and me, as winter can be full of sitting at the fly bench and drinking beer, at times. Those two make a good pair. After getting a ski set-up and going out a few times, it was time for something new. I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but I generally look for outdoor experiences where there's a minimum on other people. This led me to combine my spey fishing with skiing.
Fishing the Madison (outside YNP) in the winter is certainly no secret as there are incredible fishing opportunities, if the weather cooperates. That being said, most of the anglers we see in the winter are in easy to access sections of river where you don't have to post hole through feet of snow. But there are plenty of other roads we use in the summer that are not maintained in the winter, think Betwix.
Generally the only folks using these roads in the winter are snowmobilers or other cross-country skiers. While the track they leave certainly isn't as ideal as a groomed classic track, the snowmobiles pack enough snow to make the skiing pretty darn easy. Yes, at times you will be breaking trail after a good snow, but more than likely you'll be the fisherman farthest down the road.
To make this day enjoyable, make sure not to over-pack. I keep my gear pretty simple, a backpack with my waders, boots, zip-lock of flies, water bottle, and an extra top layer to put on after skiing. I'll then strap my rod to the outside of the pack. Make sure not to freeze after getting sweaty from skiing! Depending on what kind of pants you ski in, another bottom layer may be needed for under waders.
There are so many ways to keep fly fishing fresh and interesting, try a spey-ski this winter!
Jake Schilling - When 21 years old, Jake moved to West Yellowstone from Missoula (where he grew up) in May 2012. That first summer he spent two months living in a tent, before buying a 1971 Lark camper. After three years of working in the shop and part-time guiding, Jake moved into a full time guide job with MRO. Living in West Yellowstone year round since 2015 now, his knowledge of the area is vast. Besides guiding, during the summer Jake stays busy fishing gulpers & spey casting. During the winter he spends his time czech nymphing, steelhead fishing, and cross-country skiing while off work from the Yellowstone Club. Jake’s laid-back attitude and patience is unmatched, he loves taking the day slow; walking the boat and always having one more fly to try before moving on.
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