I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with Montana fly tying and fishing legend John Foust. You may have never heard of John, he’s not a big self-promotor, but if you’ve fly fished for trout in the western US you have likely felt his influence whether you know it or not. Foust is one of the most innovative fly tyers in recent history. He developed some of the first stamps to cut foam bodies and wings, perfected adhesives to glue foam and other fly tying materials, invented the parachute tool, he even built the mechanical trout they used in the movie “A River Runs Through It.”. I am simply amazed at his creative mind, he has probably forgotten more about fly fishing than I will ever know.
This winter I called John asking if he knew how I could make my parachute flies more durable. Sometimes they would fail after only a few fish and it was always due to the hackle coming loose on the fly. John just chuckled and told me to drop by his house sometime with my vise.
John sat down at the vise and started tying a parachute adams. Everything looked standard to me until he tied the post in. Then he flipped up this tool and started tying a strand of monofilament in. It looked complicated and I had trouble keeping up but John just kept on going and explained that the tool allowed you to secure the hackle with 4lb mono so there was physically no way the fly could come unraveled. He also said that using the tool added no more than 30 seconds to a minute to the overall time of tying the fly once you got used to the steps.
I was more than skeptical at first. I am not a fan of tools in fly tying, the fewer tools the better and I thought the process would take too long. But after sitting with John for half an hour and tying some flies I’m a true believer. What looked complicated in the beginning is really rather easy and by the end of the session I was cranking out flies quickly. The best part is that an extra 45 seconds on the front end creates a parachute fly that is nearly indestructible. In my business flies that last pay big dividends in the long run.
The state of the Skwala hatch has been a hot topic of conversation lately around Missoula. According to the social media outlets the hatch is going full bore, cast out a dry fly anywhere and reel in a monster trout. The truth is somewhat different. There are Skwalas out in certain spots, but they are not plentiful yet. If you are in the right place at the right time you can enjoy a few hours of single dry fly fishing in the afternoon although there is no specific formula at this point to guarantee your success. This past week we had boats seperated by only a few miles on the Bitterroot. One boat had solid dry fly fishing while they other couldn’t buy a trout on the surface. The dropper fishing has been fairly steady on the mid to lower Bitterroot while the upper river seems still a little cold to produce consistent results. The fishing has been good it just hasn’t been the classic dry fly fishing yet that everyone is hoping for. The bugs will pop in earnest soon. When exactly? Your guess is as good as mine but it could happen by tomorrow or the next day, or it could be next week but it will happen soon. Until then the dry/dropper game will continue to put trout in the net on the Bitterroot and one of these afternoons they will start to feed hard on top.
If you are looking for less company on the river both Rock Creek and the Blackfoot river have been nymphing great this past week. Standards like rubber legs and san juans have worked best and it pays to focus on the slower winter type water. Not much for reliable information from the Clark Fork, but the one report relayed decent fishing with droppers and nymphs with about an hour dry fly window. You can find pods of rising fish on midges around town to keep you busy for an hour or two but the main hatches are still a little ways out. Fly fishing in the Missoula area is poised to bust loose soon. Keep a sharp eye on the streamflows though because a couple warm nights or too much rain could put the fishing off for a few days.
The 2014 fishing season has started and it’s about to get busy here in Missoula. While I still have the time I thought I would share some of our winter time activites when we can’t be out on the water. My good friend, Karl Jones, is one of the best wooden boat builders in the west. Production at Bitterroot Boatworks is limited because Karl is a full time guide, but every off-season he usually refinished a couple guide set-ups and finds a little time for some Missoula boat building. I kept tabs on him this winter and produced a short video that’s worth a look.
I wish I could report the Skwala hatch was in full swing on the Bitterroot. It’s not. Conditions are trending in the right direction with dropping streamflows, warm days, and a mild forecast, but the bugs aren’t out quite yet. I stopped several times on the water yesterday and looked in vain for an adult skwalas. While I didn’t find any bugs crawling around on the banks, there was no shortage of nymphs in shallows. Most of the skwala nymphs were 18″ to two feet from dry land and with the dropping flows there could be adults on the prowl by this weekend.
Our fishing on the Bitterroot was solid considering the conditions. All the fish we caught were on nymphs, and skwala nymph patterns proved to be most effective. The most active part of the day was from 2 o’clock on which is typical for this time of year. Fish can’t be found river wide yet and we had to focus on the slower insides and riffle edges to get eats.
Anglers who are used to fishing the Skwala hatch this time of year are in for some big surprises. Normally flows on the Bitterroot river are low and clear through most of March which is great for wade fisherman. This season the river is big, it will drop and clear in the next few days but I think river levels are going to remain high enough to be challenging for wade fisherman for most of the month. The upside is that these bigger flows will keep the Bitterroot’s alpha fish in play through the whole Skwala hatch. Keep an eye on those flows….the dry fly season is about to start.
We are digging out from yet another winter storm here in Missoula. This latest round has closed schools (unheard of in these parts), shut down interstates, and brought avalanches within the city limits. The bright side is that all of this fluffy white stuff will help ensure healthy stream flows through the summer, but at this point everyone is pretty much tired of winter. I’m sick of it too, but it has brought a certain unusual delight.
Most years the valley is buzzing in anticipation of the Skwala hatch by early March. This hatch has gained in popularity over time, but it has gotten a little out of hand since the advent of social media. Between the fly shops, college kids, and road trippers it’s a constant stream of posts, tweets, and pins all revolving around Skwalas. If one were to rely solely on these sources they might believe that the Skwala hatch is the most consistent unbelievable fishing of the year. This season the feed has been astonishingly quiet. Record cold and snow for February will do that. No grin-n-grins of trout on stonefly nymphs, no shots of PBRs chilling in a snowbank while wade fishing, no tweets of “3 trout looked at my Skwala dry today dude!” This February weather shut down the fishing in the valley and the social media stream.
It will be a little later start to the season than normal, but the weather forecast is for warmer temps and the thaw will begin. We will likely be on the water by next week to check the progress of the hatch. I’m excited because the trout will be a lot fresher than in years past. Most seasons a bad case of cabin fever results in anglers out on the water my mid-Feb. wading, floating, and generally pestering the trout with nymph rigs. This year they have been relatively untouched all month and that’s good news for spring fishing.