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The official beginning of the skwala discussion among fly fishermen in the Bitterroot Valley is Jan. 15. It happens every year about this time and this year is no different than any previous January.

The first article that I have seen comes from the Fly Fishers of the Bitterroot newsletter. The skwala season will soon be upon us, as the longer daylight hours began last month with the winter solstice. If you are keeping track, we are gaining daylight each day by two or three minutes.

I began looking on the internet for new skwala patterns to see if there was a pattern that might be better than I have tied for years. I can’t say that my pattern is any better than any other, but I know it works for me and that is all that counts in my fishing journal. I know that every fisherman has his or her favorite pattern and feels the same way that I do about mine.

Mike Canady, of Ellensburg Angler, wrote that “Skwalas are a smallish (sizes 8-10) olive-bodied stonefly, which become active in late winter or early spring, as the water temperatures begin to push into the 40-degree range. These bugs provide the first sizable meals of the season for western trout, and fishing the skwala hatch offers you the opportunity to cast to some of the largest fish in the river.”

Mike is right about the size, but the color of the body can vary from river to river and even the same river may have a variation of color from olive to brown.

Here are five verbatim tips from Montana Outfitters that can help you catch more fish during the skwala hatch: “These five tips can be the difference between a bent rod and high fives, or grumbling the whole way home about that ‘overrated’ skwala hatch."

  • Avoid traffic: Whether you are wade fishing or floating, do your best to avoid accesses that look busy.
  • 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.
  • Go fast or go slow: If you show up to your first Bitterroot skwala hatch hoping to see clouds 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.
  • Watch stream flows: Spring is a tricky time of year when it comes to stream flows. Too warm of weather or rain can have the river on the rise while hard freezes can make flows drop.
  • 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.

Good Fishing!

Bill Bean