Bitterroot River Skwala Hatch, Update

I’ve been in Seattle and San Fran for the past couple weeks so I’ve been out of the loop as far as the fishing and water conditions go, but my good friend Jed Fitzpatrick has been on the water, like always, either guiding his clients or throwing a line for himself. He summed up the current situation and I figured all of you would want to hear his descriptions. Worth the read here, especially if you live in Montana or Idaho Falls, or Salmon, or Spokane. Get on up here while the getting is good and before this massive snowpack really starts to roll.


I’ve been writing enough river reports and updates lately to fill a novel, so I’ve decided to send out one biggie to all of you to let you know what’s happening here on the Bitterroot River.
We are on the cusp of the famed Skwala stonefly hatch, which traditionally starts mid March, but has been slow to get itself going this season. If you’ve kept up with our winter’s snowpack you will see we are way above average (160% in the Bitterroots), which has the river at double historical flows. Water flows and temperatures greatly dictate aquatic insect hatches, and the delayed start to the hatch is attributable to cold temps both in the river and the air: Skwalas wait for the magic 42 degrees water temp to start popping.
Now, we’ve been catching plenty of fish, mind you, but mostly under the surface on streamers or nymphs. The dry fly windows have been brief, but are beginning to lengthen as we move towards nicer weather. Checking the river on a blustery afternoon float today, I found consistent dry fly activity in specific regions: gradually tapering inside corners and riffles were holding lots of fish from shin deep to waist deep water, indicating the fish are in position for aggressive feeding.
Starting next week (April 7), our weather begins to cheer up considerably, making for excellent hatching conditions. Along with the Skwala stones, March Brown mayflies will join the party any day now, especially on warm cloudy or rainy afternoons, and continue throughout April until runoff. When both species are in full hatch, along with the token Nemoura and Capnia stones buzzing around everywhere, this river absolutelylights up!
All this early activity comes with a time limit: runoff. When that massive snowpack comes roaring down the mountains sometime in the near future, usually early May, the slate is wiped clean.
I hope this stirs the fishing bug within all of you. My guides and I would love the opportunity to show you the Bitterroot’s early season, before the height of the summer fishing begins. We are offering discounted float trips during this time, usually meeting at the crack of ten or eleven and fishing till the day is wrapped up, focusing on the midday hatches.
Thanks to all of you of my guides and I have fished with over the years and many more to come. Contact us anytime to plan a float trip, get the latest scoop on the rivers, or just talk fishin’. See you on the river.
Jed Fitzpatrick
MT Outfitter#8392

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3 Responses to Bitterroot River Skwala Hatch, Update

  1. Now I know why Jed has been so scarce around the shop lately.

    This skawala season has been a pariah; not normal in any respect. As I tell the folks entering the shop with high expectations, the anglers who know how are catching fish. They can include themselves in that group or not… I try not to interfere, but to advise when asked.

    Quite obviously from this writeup, Jed knows how to locate fish – and that’s a big part of putting it all together for this hatch. Another part is knowing which fly to fish – and when.

    My wife Jan and I watched in amusement a few days ago as several boatloads of out-of-the-area guides had their clients slapping the outside banks with dries and going fishless; the trout were ganged up in the soft, nondescript water on the inside, chowing down on nymphs staging for their march ashore.

    I cringe a little when an obviously hip and well-traveled sport walks into the shop and demands the “hot” skwala pattern and wants nothing more; the right fly can make a big difference, but fishing this hatch is a bit more involved than slapping the banks with one hot pattern and expecting to score. There may something else going on – from gray drake spinners to March brown emergers to blue-winged olives to other species of stoneflies. That’s what makes the Bitterroot’s skwala hatch so intriguing: the perfect skwala pattern may not be the hot fly after all.

    But when it is, and that big brown or rainbow that had to be stalked in soft water finally takes that delicate and well-placed cast, you suddenly remember that you’ve engaged him on a size eight, three-X, and no mercy.

    I can dig it – and so can Jed. Have him show you how – you’ll dig it as well.

    • Greg Thomas says:

      Ah good to hear from the wise one, the river guardian, the good guy! Good info here, Chuck. Thanks for sharing with our readers. I have not thrown a fly on the ‘root for a year or two now. But I remember how it can be. Keep me posted on the water and the day. I might be able to sneak away from this awful desk.

  2. We’re long overdue for a day of fishing, Thomas… tell me when and I’ll try to arrange time away from the shop. Fly shops and desks can become benign prisons if we let them. There are some new fly patterns I’d like to have you field test – maybe we can get one of the young lions on the guide crew (as you yourself once were) to man the sticks. Stay in touch.

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