Yellowstone Valley Zoo: Bighorn Sheep


Most of the people that visit Sweetwater Fly Shop have traveled here for the world-class fly fishing for wild brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout.  But trout are just part of the complete ecosystem that surrounds, and includes, the Yellowstone River near our shop.  Coming from Pennsylvania, I find the Montana wildlife fascinating, and my travels around my new adopted home have allowed me to photograph many of the creatures that live here.

Now I know these shots aren’t up to National Geographic standards (some were shot with my cell phone).  But they’ll give you an idea of the specialness of the Yellowstone River Valley around Livingston and Gardiner.  When I forwarded some of the photos to my family back east, one of my brothers commented that it seemed like there’s a zoo on the side of every road.  So over the next couple days I plan to write a couple of blogs, looking at the different animals along the Yellowstone River zoo.  Today it’s Big Horn Sheep.

Every year in the fall, bighorn sheep descend into the area around Cinnabar, between Gardiner and the Yankee Jim Canyon, to mate on the banks of the Yellowstone River.  I took these shots there in the beginning of December.




Sadly, pneumonia, which is contracted through contact with domesticated sheep, is a great threat to these majestic animals.  There was an outbreak in this exact heard  at the end of 2014, detected not long after I took these photos.  You can read about it here:

and here:

Some animals died, as the stories found in the links above detailed, but many of the sheep survived and are fine.  They’ve passed their genes along to continue the herd in the mountains and hills beside the Yellowstone River Valley, just upstream from Sweetwater Fly Shop.



Guess he’s wondering what I find so interesting



This looks cute but it’s really an act of aggression.  He’s trying to show his dominance by putting his head on the other sheep’s back.  I’ve seen my dogs do this to each other.



Someone’s looking for a fight.


I was only fortunate enough to see the sheep butt horns one time.  It was loud and ferocious.  Here’s a link with a little more bighorn sheep head-butting information:

Make sure you check out the National Geographic You Tube link at the bottom of the page.


More to come tomorrow!




Sun Setting at Mallard’s Rest

Mallard's Rest Pic

Pretty evening view of the Yellowstone yesterday from the Mallard’s Rest access.

February Fishes and Floats


I feel like something significant occurred yesterday; one of those watershed moments that suggests things will be different going forward.  Yesterday I watched a drift boat float by me as I was fishing the Yellowstone. This was the first floating vessel I’ve seen in the river in 2015; the first since 2014’s minus 20 degree “autumn”.  The boat was gracefully gliding down a gentle pool where an ice breaker would have been needed, just to find water, a couple weeks ago.  But that boat wasn’t alone.  I saw other drift boats and rafts, all being launched with the enthusiasm of a spring day.

My boat sightings, though cool, are only a small part of this winter’s story.  We’ve had good fishing on the Yellowstone all winter as parts of the river have remained ice-free.  I’m usually working in the fly shop Monday through Wednesday.  That leaves the 4 other days each week for writing projects, spending time with my wife, household chores, and fishing.  So I’ve been doing a lot of fishing.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I went through all 4 of my weekly days off without at least one riverside trip.

This is my first winter in Montana, and I know it has been unusually mild.  But that’s not how I’ve portrayed things to family and friends back east.  I tell them, “Yeah, they say Paradise Valley is nearly always in the 60’s come winter time.  It’s why the orange trees here get so big (shh…there are no orange trees here).”  I’ve derived a great deal of pleasure from photographing my Toyota’s temperature gauge when it reads 60 degrees or warmer and texting those photos  to eastern family and friends who have been buried in snow and painfully cold temps.

This might make me a bad person, but I’m pretty sure they’ll get even with me sometime.  Though it won’t be in the next 10 days.  The forecast is for temps to reach into the 50’s most of the time.  Yes, this means you should come fishing too.  All of this warm weather might make some nervous about our summer water situation.  After all, it’s winter’s mountain snow that becomes summer’s trout river.  But so far we’re good.  As of today, the gauges tell me that we have 102% snow-pack which contains 109% of the median water volume.

The Yellowstone is now flowing about 1/3 higher than its median.  Some of that flow is due to a mini spring runoff that we’re currently experiencing in winter.  Now I realize that run-off is a dirty word to many springtime fly fishers, but this melt isn’t too bad.  The water is colored, but the fish are cooperative.  I caught 7 rainbows yesterday, beautiful fish, but no real bruisers.  I did have a brief tussle with what I thought was a log, hoped was a giant brown, and turned out to be a tail-hooked sucker.  It was exciting before it suckered.


The fish were eating the same flies they’ve been eating for me all winter–wooly buggers.  But these buggers aren’t the big streamers you traditionally see in fly shop bins.  The ones I’ve been fishing are pretty small; small enough that they’re tied on wet fly hooks, though they do incorporate cone heads in their construction.  In yesterday’s dirty water, brown and black buggers did the trick.  I usually fish these flies in tandem with a short 3 foot leader on a type 6 (sinks 6 to 7 inches per second) sink tip line.  Dark colors like black and brown are more visible in dirty water.  But I’ve had some pretty good afternoons fishing olive, yellow, and white buggers when the water was clear.  I’ve been casting the flies upstream, allowing the line to sink until it’s perpendicular to my body, then slowly twitching or even gently stripping the flies as they swing below me in the current.  Most of the takes occur while the flies are dead drifting, sometimes right after a gentle twitch.

Unlike death and taxes, mild winter weather isn’t something you can be sure will happen.  But with a winter like this, I don’t care if spring ever arrives.  After all, we need the warmth to keep the oranges growing…


What I’ve Learned My First Month in Montana

It’s November, which means I have just spent my first full month living in Montana.  I’m now officially a resident, well sorta.  I’m resident enough to have a Montana drivers license, but not resident enough to purchase inexpensive hunting and fishing licenses.  That will take another 5 months.  But at least I can begin saving enough money to get my Toyota FJ registered.  Most of Montana has no sales tax, so one of the ways to generate funds is by charging unusually high rates to register your car (at least compared to Pennsylvania).  That’s one of the things I’ve learned in my first month of quasi-residency.  Here’s a few more:


1. 50-60 mile per hour wind in Livingston is just a little “breezy.”  Locals say that doesn’t really get windy here until you can fly your trucker hat like a kite.

2.  Jalapeno corn dogs are very delicious and can be purchased with over-sized beers at Town Pump convenience stores.

3. Whitefish really like small nymphs.  Which is OK because I sorta like whitefish…just don’t tell anyone.

4. Whitetail deer are dumber than mule deer.  Why is it that most of the critters that have attempted to commit suicide by running in front of my car while I’m on my way to work are whitetails?  The mulies tend to stand back and just watch their reckless, half-witted cousins act foolishly. Sounds like my last family reunion.

5. The Absaroka Mountain range is pronounced Ab-soar-key. Not Ab-sa-ro-ka. So I need to quit saying it that way.

6. Calamity Jane lived in Livingston, but no one I know knows where she lived in Livingston.

7. Dan Gigone, the owner of Sweetwater Fly Shop, used to have a pretty sweet chin beard.

8. Yellowstone River fishing guides drink just as much beer as Delaware River fishing guides.

9. It doesn’t really matter if you forget to take a photograph of today’s sunrise or sunset–tomorrow’s will be just as spectacular.

10. Unlike tigers, grizzly bears hate pepper but love cinnamon.

11.  Marya Spoja, Sweetwater Fly Shop’s manager, used to play the trumpet.  Now she just catches big trout.

12. PBR is now owned by the Russians.  Could this lead to world peace?

13.  There are rabbits here so large that they look like albino kangaroos.  They do not believe that Trix is for kids.

14. Montana brown trout eat the same streamers that Pennsylvania brown trout eat.

15. It’s illegal to eat sunflower seeds in Yellowstone National Park.  It’s also illegal to ride a bison, though they really seem like they want you to try.


Download Our (Free) Mobile App!

App3Want to be able to check the Yellowstone River fishing report on the road? That’s just the beginning, when it comes to our new mobile app. Here at Sweetwater Fly Shop, we’ve been working hard over the last couple of months to make the app a useful tool for planning your trip to the Yellowstone River, whether you fish it weekly or it’s your first time. It’s got weather forecasts, GPS points for fishing accesses on the Yellowstone, Boulder, and Stillwater Rivers, as well as for places to eat and stay in the Livingston area, a hatch chart, links to river flow gauges, and much more. It’s now live for both Android devices and the iPhone. Click here to download the app for Android. Click here to download the app for the iPhone. Oh, yeah. It’s free! Please let us know what you think, particularly suggestions we might incorporate in future updates. And send us your fish photos (from the Your Pictures tab in the app) and we might just add them to the gallery.AppStoreGoogle

Marya Thinks It’s Cool!

So you should take a look. It’s a big spinning ice disk in North Dakota. Freak of nature!,0,4863524.story

“The Movie” 20 Years Later

ARRTII watched “A River Runs Through It” the other night, for the first time since it came out in the theaters. The movie that brought so many to the sport of fly fishing at the time. Yes, it’s still a good flick, even discounting the fly fishing aspect. Family dynamics, life in the West of the early 1900’s, etc…. Great scenic shots of the Gallatin and Yellowstone Rivers (standing in for the Blackfoot). And yes, the fly fishing scenes. But what about the movie’s impact on the sport we love so much? Did it ruin fly fishing, as some would say? Is it to blame for today’s crowded rivers, for the entry into the sport of so many “newbies” who lacked an appreciation for fly fishing’s deep history? I think that’s going to far, giving a single movie too much “credit” for the effects of population growth, shifts in demographics, etc…. My beef? The movie’s overemphasis on the spiritual side of fly fishing. Yes, that’s in keeping with the tone of Norman MacLean’s original story (read it, if you haven’t!). But I think it resulted in a generation of fly anglers who took the sport too seriously, who sometimes forgot that fly fishing is supposed to be fun, first and foremost. Perhaps I too am giving The Movie too much credit. And perhaps the pendulum has now swung too far in the opposite direction, with today’s snowboarding-style fast-and-furious fly fishing documentaries. Is a balance possible, between the adventure and the revelatory? I hope so. After all, it’s just fishing. Find God (or Mother Nature) in the river. Pump your fist when you land a nice trout. There’s a place for all of that in our great sport.

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