The Skwala hatch has become one of the most celebrated events in western Montana in recent years. A quick look through social media channels on any March day will reveal fly shops, fishing guides, lodges, and every millennial with a set of waders boasting about the now famous skwala hatch.
Is the hype just a product of a bunch of cabin fever stricken anglers looking for an excuse to get on the water? Fly shops need to make sales and fishing guides like to add a little something to those bank accounts that have been dwindling since October. A big hatch sounds like the perfect ploy to get the season started. Of course, it could be the real deal. It could be great fishing in the spring and you’re missing out.
In fact both answers are true. The skwala hatch is over-hyped and it is some of the best fishing of the year. The main reason is that the skwala hatch is not easy. This isn’t green drakes with visible risers down a good bank or golden stoneflies with thousands of bugs milling around. Most days you can count the number of natural skwalas you see on the water on one hand. That doesn’t make a compelling argument to fish a dry fly, but it might be exactly what you should do.
The other big challenge is Mother Nature. In the spring we can see anything from 38 and snowing to 65 and bright sun. Some of my best dry fly days have come during snow squalls when common sense would say to nymph or just stay home.
River levels are prone to fluctuate erratically too. Low and mid-elevation snow melting off when it’s too warm and rain events can all cause the river to bump out of shape for a few days. Weather forecasts and streamflows are huge for fishing conditions during the skwala hatch.
Traffic is the other piece of the puzzle in the spring. It’s a lot busier on the river now than it was 15 years ago. Everyone is looking for the same thing and I can’t blame them, but the weekend warrior is likely to see more anglers than trout most days. Creativity is rewarded this time of year. If you can find a little space you will likely find some willing fish.
More than any other time of year, the skwala hatch is when it truly pays off to hire an experienced guide. I’m a guide so it seems automatic that I would recommend getting a guide to fish. But it’s the honest truth for this time of year. An experienced guide is the absolute best investment you can make for successful spring fishing.
There will be 3 or 4 days during the hatch that are completely bonkers. Everyone will have a great day if you hit it just right. The rest of the season is more complicated. The average angler will have a tough time cracking the code. They will drive home cursing the over-hyped skwala hatch only to scroll through Instagram the next morning to see a couple jaw dropping brown trout, #skwalahatch.
Whether the skwala hatch is all hype or legit is for you to decide. All I know for sure is that tomorrow I’m going fishing.