Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot

Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot

Monday was the first of two days with long-time anglers, Alan and Bruce. The Bitterroot leveled off and started dropping over the weekend so I was optimistic despite the chilly and breezy weather in the morning. We launched near Hamilton, south of Missoula Montana, and started off with dry/dropper rigs.

Bruce quickly picked off a rainbow on the first bank and Alan had one try for his dry fly. Bruce added another rainbow in the next inside and then Alan connected with a gorgeous cutthroat out of a foam back eddy.

The trout were on the hunt early and the action continued at a good clip with fish coming on the dropper in most of likely places and even a few swipes at the dry fly. Alan hooked two right away after lunch and then Bruce picked off a rainbow and a big cutthroat on a deep seam with the dropper.

Around 2 it was time to give the single dry fly game a shot so we made the switch. In the second run Alan had a violent take on the dry. A bulldog fight ensued after that and the fish didn’t want to give an inch.

Alan did a great job with the fight and eventually slid a giant dry fly brown in the net that went 20+”. That fish gave us tons of confidence in the dry fly and when Alan picked up another nice 17″ brown I knew we were in business.

We still had to find the right kind of water, but the fish were looking up in those spots. Bruce tangled with one more big cutthroat on the dry as the guys rose healthy fish the rest of the afternoon. It was the best day of the spring so far and a solid afternoon dry fly session.

Wide-tailed cutthroat to get things started
Wide-tailed cutthroat to get things started
Alan with a colorful cutthroat in the morning
Alan with a colorful cutthroat in the morning
Big cuttbow on a Skwala dry fly
Big cuttbow on a Skwala dry fly
Alan scored with the first big dry fly brown trout of the season
Alan scored with the first big dry fly brown trout of the season

Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot

Tuesday I was back out with Alan and Bruce and we just continued our float, south of Missoula Montana, from yesterday by putting in this morning where we took out last night. The dry/dropper rig was the ticket again as we hooked 2 and Alan landed one if the first spot.

Bruce had a fat rainbow shake loose before making the net in the next run and then sealed the deal on an inside just downstream. After that we found a shelf that was loaded this morning. We made 4 passes in that spot and hooked 6 fish including a big, jumping rainbow for Bruce.

A foamy back eddy produced a a bright bow for Alan as the fishing remained consistent all morning. I made a fly change during one little lull and that got us right back on track as the guys picked off 3 on the next inside, including a solid double. Bruce’s fish was a healthy 19″ cuttbow that jumped a few times for us.

We stayed with the dry/dropper rig after lunch and the first spot yielded a hot fish for both guys. Alan had a big rainbow break him off in the next back eddy and Bruce boated the first brown trout of the day. We had a couple other fish look at our dry so we made the switch to a single Skwala.

Bruce connected with a riser in the eddy, a thick cutthroat on the next bank and then another riser right after that. The fish were definitely looking up and I saw a number of adult Skwalas on the water today. From there Alan heated up with a series of nice fish on the dry.

For much of the afternoon at least one angler connected with a solid fish in all the likely spots. Fish were eating tight to logjams, out off the bank on seams and in the back eddies. They were all quality 14-17″ cutts, cuttbows, and rainbows with a couple other browns mixed in.

Alan poked one more in a foam spot around 5:00 and then the action started to fade. We fished a few other good runs without so much as a look and knew it was time to push for the take out. It was another action packed day on the Bitterroot river south of Missoula Montana.  Skwala Hatch near Missoula

Alan and Bruce had great timing this year as they got the first of the good dry fly fishing and some of the most consistent all day fishing I’ve seen yet. They are always a pleasure to share the river with and I hope to see them later this season.

Quality rainbow in the net early
Quality rainbow in the net early
Alan, the masked man, with a bright rainbow in the morning
Alan, the masked man, with a bright rainbow in the morning
Doubled up on a beautiful day
Doubled up on a beautiful day
Fat dry fly cutthroat in the afternoon
Fat dry fly cutthroat in the afternoon

Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot

Wednesday I fished with local angler, Jim, and his friend Mitch. We launched around Hamilton with cloudy skies and cold temps. The dropper produced a nice cutthroat in the second run and another cuttbow in the spot below that for Jim.

The day was off to a good start, but the fishing sputtered after that. Water that had been good earlier in the week was vacant today. We switched droppers several times and while Jim connected with one more cutthroat, it was slow fishing with no action in a lot of the spots.

Mitch had a couple fish take a swipe at his dry fly but that was it as we decided to take a break for lunch. With the dropper fishing tough in the morning I rigged Jim up with a single dry to start the afternoon and he stuck a fish on top on his very first cast.

Mitch picked one up on the dry just after that. The dry fly action was better than the dropper fishing, but the guys still had to work for every opportunity in the early afternoon. Mitch boated a few decent cutts while Jim hooked up on back to back brown trout.

The fishing was just good enough for the first couple hours of the afternoon and then it started to build momentum. We could finally feel a little bit of warmth in the air and the trout responded. Jim started off the hot streak with a great 19″ brown that chased the fly down.

Then Mitch stuck a colored up cutthroat that smashed the fly. From there the fishing was on with trout coming out of nearly every spot we fished. Some big fish were looking up too. On one bank Jim tangled with a big rainbow that popped the tippet after a long fight, and then a couple casts later connected with a rocketship of a bow that taped out at 20″ after another good fight.

Mitch had a fat rainbow that tried to eat his fly 3 times before finally sealing the deal and putting on a show. It was the same story in every run the rest of the way. One or two nice 15-17″ trout that confidently ate the dry. The guys capped off the day perfectly with a solid double in our last spot.

The cold and cloudy weather definitely contributed to our slow start today, but Jim and Mitch had a great attitude and just kept fishing hard. Their efforts paid off with an awesome afternoon dry fly session and a bunch of good trout in the net.  Another great day with the skwala hatch on the Bitterroot!

Jim hooked up in the clouds
Jim hooked up in the clouds
Jumping brown trout on the Bitterroot
Jumping brown trout on the Bitterroot
Thick cutthroat with a Skwala dry fly in it's lip from the Bitterroot river
Thick cutthroat with a Skwala dry fly in it’s lip from the Bitterroot river
Jim with a big dry fly brown on the Bitterroot
Jim with a big dry fly brown on the Bitterroot
Jim followed it up with this 20" cuttbow on the Bitterroot during skwala hatch
Jim followed it up with this 20″ cuttbow on the Bitterroot during skwala hatch
Mitch with a perfect specimen near the end of the skwala hatch day
Mitch with a perfect specimen near the end of the skwala hatch day

Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot

Thursday I was back out with Jim and Mitch, and today we went a little further upriver. We bumped the meet time back a little in hopes of finding the trout motivated once we hit the water. That seemed to work as the dry/dropper session this morning was more productive than yesterday.

Mitch got the skunk off with a cutthroat on the first bank. Then Jim stuck two in back to back runs before Mitch boated a colorful brown trout. It wasn’t in every spot, but fish were looking for the dropper better than yesterday in the morning.

We closed out with two more fish in the net for Jim before pulling out of the wind for lunch. Since it was still chilly and cloudy we decided to stay with the dropper rig early in the afternoon. Of course, after the first two fish ate Mitch’s dry fly we quickly switched over to single Skwala dry flies.

The trout were looking up for the rest of the day. A few runs after making the switch, Jim and Mitch doubled up on rising cutts. We continued to find fish willing to eat the dry in many of the likely spots. There was never enough warmth to really get the bugs going.

We had a few brief windows of warm sun, but for the most part the weather was cool, breezy and cloudy. That meant the trout never got super aggressive but they were still willing to eat a well presented fly. Over the course of the float the guys seemed to trade off on the action.

Jim would stick 2 or 3 in a row and then Mitch would get a couple. We did have one more nice double later in the day. No real big fish on the hunt, but a steady diet of 12-16″ cutts and cuttbows with a couple rainbows and one brown mixed in.

Mitch stuck one last good cuttbow a few runs above the take out and Jim finished the trip off with 3 fish in a row in out last 2 spots. Not quite as good as yesterday, but still a very solid March day with good action on the dry fly in the afternoon.

Jim and Mitch fished very well the last two days. I look forward to seeing Mitch again in May on the Missouri and Jim and I will be back at again in April.

Mitch picked up a colorful brown on a dropper
Mitch picked up a colorful brown on a dropper
Classic upper Bitterroot river cutthroat
Classic upper Bitterroot river cutthroat
A squall in the distance moving over the Bitterroot Mountains
A squall in the distance moving over the Bitterroot Mountains
A dry fly double in the afternoon on the Bitterroot during skwala hatch
A dry fly double in the afternoon on the Bitterroot during skwala hatch

Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot

Friday was the first of 4 days with a group that has been coming out to fish the Skwala hatch for almost 20 years. Today I was paired up with Erik and Scott on a stretch of the middle Bitterroot. We started with dry/dropper rigs and Scott didn’t waste much time as he connected with a bright rainbow in our second run.

Erik followed that up with a decent cutthroat in the next run downstream. The main river was a little quiet after that until we found a run just below a creek mouth. Erik stuck a hot 19″ rainbow on the first pass.

While we were dealing with that trout Scott just kept fishing the middle of the run and after his 15th or so cast he came tight to a heavy fish. It was a long fight as that trout wanted to stay put but he was eventually able to coax a super thick 21″ rainbow into the net.

On the next pass Erik pricked another big bow that thew the fly on it’s third jump while Scott landed a nice 17″ bow. From there the guys found a couple more on the dropper and we had a two other missed dry fly eats before stopping for lunch.

I decided to change to single Skwala dry flies in the afternoon and Erik tagged a rainbow on his very first cast. Then we didn’t move another fish for a while. We tried dropper fishing a couple spots with no success and switched the dry a few times.

Finally, Scott had a violent take on the dry from a big fish that charged off into the current and broke us off. The action improved in the late afternoon. We missed a few on the dry before Erik came tight again on a cuttbow in a big back eddy.

He picked up a rainbow on a soft inside and then Scott had a fish come look at his fly twice before finally coming back and sipping it down. That was another big 19″ bow and it was awesome to watch it race toward the fly a few times.

Toward the end of the day the guys had a simultaneous double with two fish eating the flies at the exact same moment. Scott had a feisty cuttbow while Erik boated a stud 19″ brown. Erik capped the day off with one more bright rainbow with the take out in sight.

Overall activity wasn’t as good as earlier this week, but the quality of fish was exceptional. 3 big 19 inch trout and a 21″ rainbow is impressive, and the rest of the fish were all 15-17″. It was cool and windy, but the guys did a good job today.

Erik with a gorgeous rainbow early on the Bitterroot
Erik with a gorgeous rainbow early on the Bitterroot
Scott connected with a stud rainbow a few minutes later on the Bitterroot
Scott connected with a stud rainbow a few minutes later on the Bitterroot
Big dry fly rainbow on the Bitterroot
Big dry fly rainbow on the Bitterroot
Erik was all smiles with a great brown at the end of the Bitterroot float
Erik was all smiles with a great brown at the end of the Bitterroot float

Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot

Saturday I ventured further upriver with long-time angler, Randy, and first time floater Jeff. Decent weather on the weekend meant that it was going to be busy on the river so we met early and made the choice to go with single Skwala dry flies right out of the gate so we could keep moving downriver. (Skwala hatch on the Bitterroot, ah what fun!)

Jeff had only fly fished once before decades ago, but he picked it up extremely quickly. He actually had a fish eat in the first run but wasn’t quite ready for that. Once he was dialed in he picked up 3 smaller cutts in the next few runs.

Then Randy joined the party with a nice cuttbow on the dry. He fooled a fat cutthroat in the next spot as the fishing continued to improve. The guys traded off on fish and the best one of the morning was a 17″ cuttbow that Jeff picked up in slow water.

Randy got the afternoon started with a bang as he connected with a solid 19″ brown at the top of an inside bend. We had a brief cold spell after that as the guys missed or lost a series of trout in a row. It was just tough luck, but we got back in the groove as Randy and Jeff both landed nice fish out of a long run.

We ran into a little boat traffic in the afternoon and the sun popped out. Neither of those things helped, but we continued to find nice fish in most of the spots. The best fish of the day was a 20.5″ rainbow that Randy tagged after we saw it rise to a natural.

We boated a couple more in the last few runs and Randy had the last eat of the day right across from the takeout. It was a solid day of dry fly fishing from start to finish. Most of the trout were 12-15″ cutts and cuttbows but we managed to find a handful of bigger fish as well. A great first day of float fishing for Jeff and some hefty trout for Randy.

Perfect Skwala hatch day on the Bitterroot
Perfect Skwala hatch day on the Bitterroot
Jeff with a quality bow on a Skwala dry fly
Jeff with a quality bow on a Skwala dry fly
Randy with a healthy brown trout from the Bitterroot
Randy with a healthy brown trout from the Bitterroot
Randy fooled this 20.5" rainbow on a Skwala dry late in the day
Randy fooled this 20.5″ rainbow on a Skwala dry late in the day

Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot

Today I was out with Mark and Scott.  After all of the boat traffic on the middle and upper river yesterday we decided to pursue some solitude with an early meet time on the lower Bitterroot.  We started off with dry/dropper rigs, but surprisingly the trout wanted to eat the big dry right out of the gate.

The guys had 3 solid eats in the first few runs with Mark boated a decent cuttbow and Scott landing a very colorful brown trout.  With that kind of action I switched Mark to single dry and kept Scott on the dropper.

Strangely the trout didn’t want anything to do with the good skwala dry fly, but they did continue to occasionally eat the big fluffy dry/dropper.  I cycled through a bunch of different droppers too and the trout were tough to find underneath.

Finally, I found a bug they would eat and Scott tagged a couple more nice rainbows and had two others get away before we stopped for lunch.  Mark was still fishing the single dry to start the afternoon and he coaxed a feisty brown trout out of a log jam in our second spot.

The dropper went quiet again for Scott and since the action wasn’t great we took a break and tried to find a northern pike with a big streamer in slow water.  That was a bust too, but after I noticed a few bugs on the water so I put both guys on a single Skwala.

Mark picked up two nice fish in the next inside on the dry.  Once we reached Lolo Creek I went back to the dropper for Scott.  The fish were stacked up in there as he hooked up 10 times in 4 passes and landed two hard fighting bows.

From there it was back to the dries and Mark stuck two more in the last few runs while Scott had a few big dry fly eats.  The trout were definitely not as active today.  There is a big cold front on the way and that might have put them off a little.  The guys did boat some nice specimens and we had a good time on the river with only one other boat around.

Scott with a great brown in the morning
Scott with a great brown in the morning
Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot
Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot

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