The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 51 - September 9, 2009

reel time

Extend your season in Big Sky country

From the September 2, 2009 Issue
Reel time

PHOTO/ED CHILES Anna Maria guide Craig Madsen enjoyed
the fruits of the Madison in early August.

Most of Florida’s summer season offers unparalleled fishing to area anglers. Snook, trout, redfish, grouper, tarpon, snapper and a smorgasbord of pelagic species swim area waters. While many snowbirds head north in May or June, anglers in the know wouldn’t think of leaving Florida that early in the season.

That all changes when the tarpon thin out and the day time temperatures and humidity make fishing local waters uncomfortable for anglers and fish alike. This doesn’t mean that we’re not interested in pursuing our passion. Instead it’s time for our own migration to cooler climes where we can experience the height of another seasonal fishery. The change requires different techniques as we turn in our #9, 10 and 12 weight fly outfits for the lighter tackle used to pursue fresh water rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout of Western streams and rivers.

Recently I had the pleasure of spending 10 days in Big Sky, Mont., where I was treated to some special fishing opportunities on private access waters along the Madison River below Quake Lake near Yellowstone National Park. After years of making long hikes, Anna Maria residents Ed Chiles, Skip Radick and Bradenton attorney Jim Knowles purchased acreage that provided them access to some of the best fishing on the Madison River, arguably one of the West’s top trout streams. During my stay I fished the river several times, including a day with Big Sky developer Radick, Realtor Burke Stancill and Bradenton and Big Sky resident John Panning.

The trip along route 191 from Big Sky to the Madison River is spectacular. Following the Gallatin River Valley you’re surrounded by towering mountains with stone spires sculpted by eons of wind and rain. The landscape gradually changes as the valley widens and the highway wanders into a 20-mile stretch inside the western boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

As you leave the valley, you have a panoramic view that stretches east for over 20 miles of rolling rangeland to the massive edges of the Park’s volcanic caldera at Firehole Canyon. To the west as you turn onto Route 284, Hebgen Lake dominates the landscape before reaching Quake Lake and the scenic aftermath of a massive earth quake in 1959. Down stream from Quake Lake is the special stretch of water that is home to robust, hard fighting, rainbow and brown trout that regularly top 20 inches.

We stopped along the way at Kelly Galloup’s Slide Inn ( where anglers get the latest information on which flies are producing on the river. The shop is well stocked with flies and tackle and runs guided float trips for visiting anglers. After purchasing extra leaders, tippet and flies, including the Ant-Acid, the Cinnamon Ant and Royal Wolf’s, we drove to the property where we donned waders and vests, assembled rods and headed for the river. Radick and Stancill started on the lower stretch of the river while Panning lead me a half mile up river. After watching me catch a nice rainbow and brown trout, he headed to the upper reaches of the river as I worked the edges of the fast moving water for another quarter mile upstream. I landed about six trout that day, including several nice rainbow trout and a brown trout I estimated to be close to 20 inches. I marveled at how fast time passed along that spectacular river.

At the end of the day the other anglers had landed between 12 and 20 trout each, proving the advantage of local knowledge. The trip ended at the tail gate of Stancill’s truck as everyone (well almost) dined on canned sardines, smoked oysters, cheese and saltine crackers.

During the balance of my trip I enjoyed several more successful days on the river and was introduced to a small stream near Big Sky where Radick and I caught dozens of small, hard fighting cutthroat trout. Big Sky is a beautiful area for fishermen, hikers and all outdoor enthusiasts of all ilks. My wife, Chris, and I spent many days immersed in the beauty of the mountains on a few of the numerous backcountry trails.

Fisherman and outdoorsmen and women should be sure to experience the beauty and cool comfort of our Western states. Big Sky is the perfect place to experience the best the West has to offer. For information on accommodations, contact River Rock Lodging at (866) 995-4455, or check out their Web site at

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper