Bitterroot Skwala Hatch

What was once a local secret, the Bitterroot Skwala hatch has become the most anticipated event of the Missoula fishing season. It is easy to see why. After a long, dreary winter the Skwala provides the first big meal for local trout and the first big dry fly fishing for anglers from all over the country. This rise in popularity has lead to a busy river in the spring and requires a different approach from years ago.

These 5 Tips can be the difference between a bent rod and high fives, or grumbling the whole way home about that ‘overrated’ Skwala hatch. Spring is here and it’s time to go fishing!

1-Avoid Traffic: Whether you are wade fishing or floating do your best to avoid accesses that look busy. Bumping just a few miles up or downstream can give you the space and solitude to fish more effectively. If you are wading plan to work upstream of the access in the mornings and downstream in the afternoons. This will eliminate most any competition with boats.

When I am floating I will take the ramp with only one boat ahead of me over the stretch with the ‘hot’ report and 10 rigs any day. You need space during the Skwala hatch, and launching behind a line of other boats is a sure fire way to find tough fishing.

2-Sleep In: This is not the time of year to be on the water at the crack of dawn. In fact, the crack of noon is about right to take advantage of when the trout are most active. Water temps are still cold this time of year and it takes some daylight and heat to build to get our trout actively on the feed.

Yes, you can catch trout earlier in the day and some days even on dries, but there is no need to rush in the morning. Taking a relaxed approach will also likely create some space between you and other anglers.

3-Go Fast or Go Slow: If you show up to your first Bitterroot Skwala hatch hoping to see coulds of bugs flying around and pods of rising fish you will be sorely disappointed. It’s a great hatch, but does not produce prolific numbers of bugs like a Salmonfly or caddis hatch. That means you need to adopt one of two approaches.

You can choose to work the water fast, looking for the most aggressive trout and pockets of bugs, or you can slow way down and fish the water very methodically. Both styles have their pros and cons and I will often switch between the two during the day working fast when there’s not much action and then putting on the brakes when the fish start to look up.

4-Watch Streamflows: Spring is a tricky time of year when it comes to streamflows. Too warm of weather or rain can have the river on the rise while hard freezes can make flows drop. The best case scenario is stable water levels while the worst is a steeply rising river. Tough fishing is the norm during rising water, but it only takes a day or so for the trout to adjust once the river levels off.

Once flows start to drop again that can be a trigger for heavy feeding. The biggest factor effecting our flows in the spring is nightime low temps. As long as the temps drop below freezing at night conditions will remain fairly predictable. A couple nights of above freezing temps at night and all bets are off.

5-Believe in the Dry Fly!: You have come to fish one of the best dry fly hatches of the season so it only makes sense to throw a dry fly. Yes, nymphing will produce fish, some days a lot of them, and a dry/dropper rig is very effective too but it’s not dry fly fishing. Don’t get me wrong, I am no dry fly snob as I’m happy to fish whatever tactic will produce, but the Skwala hatch is one situation where you seriously hurt your chances of a dry fly eat by fishing a dropper.

Slow, woody debris is ideal during Skwalas and a lot of those spots are damn near impossible to throw a dropper into. Nearly all of the best guides I know choose to push a single dry fly for the better part of their days during the Skwala hatch. Sure, the 15″ rainbow is easy pickings on a dropper in the main seam, but your best chance at that 22″ brown is tight to the snag infested log jam.


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