With the prolonged winter season this year I was beginning to wonder if Skwalas would ever appear on the Bitterroot. Well, they’re here and hatching well, albeit about a month behind the normal schedule. Morning fishing is pretty slow, nonexistent some days, but our warmer afternoons are bringing out piles of bugs and the fish are happily looking up to eat a well drifted imitation. Streamers have they’re place as well if you are skilled with the bigger rods and the quick hand work that this style of fishing demands.
We’ve survived another winter! Well, almost. Our cold season has held on longer than I have seen in many years. Ice and snow drifts are still lining the banks of the Bitterroot River, and we haven’t seen any Skwala stones to speak of, but the trout are still right where they should be. Definitely not looking up for a dry fly, but there is lots of fun to be had under the surface on nymphs. The lower river is where it’s at right now, search out slower runs with proper depth and slight current and you will find the trout!
This year’s Skwala hatch has been extraordinary at times, and downright hectic at others with rising river flows and cold temps. We have pulled it off every day that we’ve been out, but we are often resorting to nymphing while waiting on a patch of good weather and crossing our fingers for a decent hatch. Just when everything settles down and we start to see some consistency in our fishing, the damn river spikes and we are left twiddling our thumbs waiting for it to stabilize.
All complaints aside fishing has been very good. We try to approach the river as an angler, not taking anything for granted and not expecting it to be the same day after day. With lots of experience, knowing the runs that hold fish and where to find them, one can search them out using all methods of fly fishing to have a successful day out there. Maybe we’ll get to throw that dry fly all day. Maybe it will just look pretty on the side of the boat while we’re catching good fish underneath in the bigger flows.
These are perfect days, they won’t last forever as the summer is coming and runoff could come any moment. Embrace them as they come; the fields are turning green in the valley, mountains white and loaded with the water we hope to get all through the summer, the tree buds waiting to pop. Fishing is good to grand some days, this was one of them shared with good companions on a perfect weather day. May it last forever….
This season looks as good as 2011, as far as snowpack in the high country, and cool temperatures keeping it locked up and the river flows stable. Big and stable. Friends are still skiing and will be for some time to come, while our Bitterroot river is alive and fishing well on our first hatches of the season. Skwala stoneflies are hatching routine now, and the first of the March Browns are here and building every day.
The river is gonna be big this year, same with the Big Hole which feeds from the same mountain ranges as our river. Its been double historical flows for the last month, and a long winter with never ending shitty days and cold temps have kept any signs of runoff at bay. The river and the bugs are happy despite the fickle days, and afternoons produce excellent dry fly fishing for a few hours or better on the pleasant days.
We have a couple weeks of predictable fishing, maybe more, until that big snowpack starts to let loose, and then we’ll see how this year’s runoff shapes out. Right now the valley is just waking up, no leaves yet, deep white mountains overhead, brilliant sunshine followed by a snow squall every thirty minutes or so, and great early season fishing: it feels like a perfect Montana spring.
The easy days of pre-runoff are long gone, and with them go the predictable water flows and insect cycles we’ve grown accustomed to. March Browns and Skwalas are still hatching every day, but that sure doesn’t mean anyone with fins is actually looking at them. When the water starts to spike in the spring, things can get a bit dicey out there on the river. Bugs will still hatch for the most part if the weather is conducive, but the added river flows charging down the valley keep the fish busy finding new homes and lies, virtually eliminating any rising activity until things stabilize.
Now is when your fishing guide is worth their weight in gold. Those easy single dry fly days are history, and plugging along with such rig will lead to a long beautiful day making casts, but that’s about it. With our feet in the river daily, a good guide can make a tough river fish spectacular with the right setup and instruction. What may look like a turbulent, flooded river basin to many, is actually an oasis to the fish, filled with food and hiding spots not usually available at lower flows. Big trout move to feed in this kind of water, coming out of their deep winter holes to lie in ambush positions throughout the river. Gravel bars littered with tree stumps become flooded and then attract fish to their refuge, more than doubling the available hideouts throughout the basin.
So some days you have to say screw the dry fly, at least until things really get cooking, and bust out the junk. Being a good fly fishermen means dealing with adversity and finding success whenever and wherever you may find yourself. If the dry and the five weight ain’t gonna do it, bump up to the six and the bobber, or grab the seven and the biggest ugliest thing in your box and start ripping casts. One way or another we’ll figure them out, and we’re having a blast in the process.
I’d have to say it’s here full swing, or at least enough to have some great consistent fishing throughout the main part of the day. Skwalas were hatching well a couple days ago, with just a few Baetis and possibly a March Brown or two on our float trip. Lots and lots of skwala nymphs are staged near the shoreline ready to pop. We started early enough in the day things were quiet, and a simple nymph rig brought up lots of mighty whiteys for the little guy in the front, while Dad threw a dry and found a couple willing fish.
After a great morning and river bank lunch, we set out full dry fly for the remainder of our long float. Quite a few fish rose to our bugs, the little guy putting the wood to ’em and Dad missing most, but having a great time and seeing lots of great eats. Most water with the right habitat for trout was holding a willing fish, and some banks several. Eventually the window closes for the day, and as evening approaches the fish settle down and the bite turns off. Time to head for the corral after a fine day.
Here we go again, the start of another Montana fishing season, and as always, the Bitterroot River Skwala hatch is on the forefront. While most of Montana is covered in ice and snow, and many rivers are still locked up in a winter pattern, our Bitterroot is wide open with bugs starting to pop along the gravel bars and riverbanks. Skwala and Nemora stoneflies are the first of the real bugs to get cranking on our rivers, not counting the midges that peel off on most nice winter days, and they bring up trout to the surface even on a snow squalled March afternoon.
We are still very early in the hatch, as I’ve seen only a few Nemora adults and less Skwala adults yet, though the fish are definitely looking up for a bug during the right window of the day. Nymphs and droppers off dries play well during the early part of the day, and a decent dry fly bite has occurred right around noon til four on the right days. As our weather improves with spring, which who knows when that will actually happen, we will see a greater emergence of stoneflies and eventually start to see some March Brown mayflies. This is when things really fish well around here. So give it a couple weeks and bit o’ sunshine, and get in touch with us for a little early season topwater before it’s too late, runoff is just around the corner and that dry fly window will shut down until June.
As a Western Montana fishing guide, we all get the willies when we are headed to the big river, the Mo. We’re super stoked to get a chance at the big rainbows and killer dry fly possibilities, but we are also nervous as hell that we’re gonna get our asses kicked! This river can be brutal sometimes, challenging everything you have to make good casts and see the fly, let alone landing the heavy duty fish the Mo puts out consistently.
Fortunately for Chris and I, our group of four were up to the task and the Missouri river smiled upon our efforts. Caddis, PMDs, and a smattering of little mayflies peeled off the water from early morning to late evening, providing lots of visual targets for our fishermen. Many years guiding the Bitterroot and Big Hole with these guys, we wanted to show them what Montana dry fly fishing can really be like: huge rainbows sipping sub16 dries in shin deep riffles with finger burning runs after the set!
So thanks to our diligent fishermen and to the spirits of the mighty Missouri for giving us a great trip. Everyone stuck a few great fish and held in there when the going got rough, something one must power through on every Missouri trip. See you fellas next time.
Our spring mayflies have finally started showing themselves on the Bitterroot. After almost a month of focusing on the Skwala stonefly, the March Browns are coming on with a vengeance on certain days and sections of the river. These bugs can be picky to their preferred weather, leaning towards humid broken skied days. Unlike Baetis which thrive with torturous weather, March Browns like a little sunshine mixed with some clouds; too much rain will cancel the deal as it did on our Friday float trip.
Fortunately, we took advantage of the hatch all day Thursday, and then Friday from its inception at around two o’clock, and saw epic fishing until a heavy cold rainstorm wiped the bugs out around 3:30. While waiting for the mayflies, we fished Skwala patterns to likely holds and found many good fish looking for our bugs. As I glanced towards a likely chop seam, I saw multiple good trout fully expose their red banded sides as they rose steadily, indicating they were onto a mayfly hatch. Right away we dumped the Skwala, tipped down to 4X, and started throwing small brown quill patterns to this pod of at least a dozen fish. They ate them, well!
So be on the lookout for mayflies for the rest of this month, usually starting around 2:00. No need to get on the river before noon, unless you like your bobbers and droppers…. no thanks. There are some situations where one could run a nymph through a run, but the patient fisherman will find enough action on top in the afternoon to put a smile on anyone’s face. So take advantage of the dry fly while you still can, before runoff restarts the clock on our way to summer.