The Spring Skwala Hatch, Montana’s Bitterroot River and Beyond.
I used to think that the presence of skwala stoneflies was limited to western Montana, with an epicenter being the Bitterroot River. But over time I learned that they are present on lots of western streams, ranging from offerings in Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho, to Colorado and beyond.
These are cool bugs because they start emerging as early as February, as water temperatures range into the mid-40s, and their presence often continues into May. The trout like them because they are the first big meal of the year. And that’s what trout want—a big, high-protein meal to reinvigorate them after a winter spent sucking down midge larvae and Baetis nymphs. I like them because this bug, technically skwala paralla, brings fish to the top and after throwing strike indicators, led and nymphs all winter, that is refreshing.
Big fish take time to notice this fly, too, and there’s nothing like seeing a big snout raise up from the dark water and suck one of these things in. I do most of my skwala fishing on the Bitterroot River, but that’s because I have friends in the area and we use the skwala fishing as an excuse to ring in spring by throwing dry flies and sucking down a few cold brews. Doesn’t matter if the wind is blowing snow sideways, which it can in Montana any month of the year, the skwala means spring to me and that means summer can’t be far off.
Ok, you don’t have to get overly technical to take trout on skwala dries. There are many simple stonefly patterns that draw takes, including olive Stimulators, but one of the best is Chuck Stranahan’s Peacock Trude. That’s right. You don’t even have to specifically imitate these things to draw takes. The Trude will hammer.
One thing to note about skwala imitations is that most of them are overdressed, created that way to stay afloat when a heavy nymph is tied below them. Hey, it’s dry fly time. Come on. Go with a low-pro skwala dry and take you whacks that way.
No matter where you fish the skwala emergence and no matter which fly you choose to throw your in for some good times if you hit a nice afternoon when the skwalas are scurrying about and the big trout lift their noses to the surface for the first time this year. So right now, as we prepare for another winter blast in Montana, is a good time to tie up some of your best skwala immitations. Over the next two months you’ll get plenty of shots at big fish rising to big dries and that provides some of the most exciting fishing of the year.