7 Tips for Fly Fishing the Skwala Hatch
-Tip #1 Focus on the Right Water
Early in the Skwala hatch in Montana trout are still typically in their winter runs. Water such as slow inside seams, back eddies with slow recirculating water and slow tail outs is where you want to focus your time. As the water temperature starts to climb later in the hatch the trout will start moving out to a little faster water. Often times we will see anglers fishing faster water such as outside edges and not catching fish. These heavier runs produce fish when the water temperature is warmer but void of fish during times when the water temperature is in the low to mid 40’s.
-Tip #2 Size down as the Hatch progresses
In the beginning of the hatch the fish are pretty naïve, with little pressure over the winter, meaning you can get away with some bigger bugs. As the season progresses and the fish get more educated to fly patterns, size down to smaller bugs like a size 12. We often fish what we call a tweener around Missoula, which is basically a hybrid version of a Skwala and Nemoura. This hybrid usually consist of a darker, thinner, smaller body than the average Skwala but bigger than the Nemoura. This hybrid pattern has saved many of days on the water in more pressured areas when the fish can not only tell you the name of that pattern but also which fly shop it came from.
-Tip #3 Embrace the Sun Early In The Season
We don’t often say this but the clouds are not a welcome sight to anglers during late winter/early spring. Early season, the sun warms the water up from it’s winter temps, and Stoneflies in general hatch more consistently in the sun. Once the hatch is rolling, and enough adults are flying to get the trouts attention, then let the clouds come. Trout will eat Skwalas even through some pretty nasty snowstorms as we’ve experienced. After this initial push of bugs and the water warms, then we look forward to the clouds in April.
-Tip #4 Don’t Miss the Pre-Hatch Nymphing
The few weeks leading up to the hatch can be great nymph fishing around Missoula. As the water temps start to rise from the winter, the fish kick it up a notch in terms of their appetite. The sun brings water temps closer to that 40-degree mark, the Skwala nymphs start moving closer to the banks in anticipation to emerge. The trout are following the food source, so pay attention to the edges of the river pre-hatch.
-Tip #5 Sleep In
Fly Fishing during the spring is normally much different than summer fishing. Not only do we look for different water types, but we also focus on late morning into the afternoon. The nights are still long and cold, meaning it takes time for the water temperature to warm up. Not saying fish aren’t caught in the morning, it will just be more nymph and streamer fishing. Definitely watch the weather, an exceptionally cold night will definitely badly affect the next morning’s fishing. Typically our guides in Missoula get on the river between 9am-11am, fish the afternoon and get off the river just before sundown. This schedule allows for some streamer fishing or nymphing, followed by dry flies during the heat of the day. As water temperature rises into the mid-40s, dry fly fishing will start earlier. In a typical April you can usually entice a few fish to come up for the dry fly by 9am and at noon it should be game on. Compare that to summer trips when our guides start anywhere from 5am-8am, with the better dry fly fishing coming in the first half of the day.
-Tip #6 Tuck it
Skwala’s aren’t known for their flying skills and male Skwalas don’t even fly. You need to pay attention to this. Many skwalas enter the water by falling in and while attempting to fly, so the fish are tight to the banks. Don’t be afraid to lose a couple flies trying to tuck that fly in under low hanging branches or under a grassy bank. Big fish in the know set up to feed on the nymphs moving to the bank and clumsy adults that are falling in. Going back to Tip #1, these tight to the bank spots are often found in slow moving water where spring fish congregate.
-Tip #7 Think Outside the Box
The Bitterroot River has some of the best Spring dry fly fishing, but there are many other options to fish Skwala Stonefly dries. The Clark Fork River and Rock Creek offer phenomenal Skwala’s, March Browns and BWO’s, and shouldn’t be ignored. Many of our guests book guides for the first days of their trip and then explore the rest of the Missoula Rivers for some DIY fly fishing. The guide days can be used as a warm-up for the rest of their trip. Our guides know the area very well and are more than happy to guide clients to spots off the beaten track. If you’re not with a guide, please don’t hesitate to stop in to our Missoula fly shop, as our staff has over 110 years of combined experience. We can help you find a place to catch some trout