The stonefly hatch has started on the Bitterroot River.
Skwala hatch accompanied by boats on Bitterroot River
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Boaters and fishers, like the raft above and canoe below, find their way back onto the water as the seasonal skwala hatch begins on the Bitterroot River. (Photo)
7 hours ago • By BILL BEAN for the Missoulian
HAMILTON – “Does the skwala hatch always happen? What happens if the weather is too wet and cold for the adults to mate?”
These two questions are the most commonly asked questions by new fishermen in the Bitterroot Valley.
The skwala hatch always happens. Some of the adults will find some dry areas around the banks of the river and come out – whether it is raining or not. There are some protected areas under the rocks and under bridge abutments that allow the nymphs to come on shore and hatch into adults.
Even the cold ambient weather will not shut the hatch off completely. There are some hearty adults that will make their way back to the river to start the cycle over again for the next couple of years.
Some skwala hatches are better than others, and last year was heralded as one of the best. Most fishermen agree that 2012 was the best we have seen for the past 10 years and it is anticipated that it probably will happen again this year.
HAMILTON – Despite the wintry weather, the skwala hatch has started on the Bitterroot River. Doubters need only go to the river and look at all the boats and fishermen during the warmest part of the day.
In fact, many folks refer to the spring “boat hatch,” rather than to the skwala hatch – as on any given day, you can see more boats on the water than adult stoneflies.
Skwala stonefly adults are one of the most unusual stonefly hatches on the river.
The adults don’t fly back to the river to deposit their eggs into the water. Instead, they swim out as far as their tiny legs will carry them and then let the fast water pull the eggs off their body and into the water – where the eggs descend quickly to the bottom and are washed under rocks and debris.
The water levels on the Bitterroot are about normal as we proceed into the spring months. The snowpack looks good, even though we have lost a little ground during the last month.
On the Bitterroot, we have about 90 percent of our average snowpack, and still are building a little in the mountains. About another month of precipitation and we will be exactly where we should be for another good summer and fall of water levels.
Fishing during the past two weeks has been best on the lower river, although the upper river including the lower West Fork has been fair.
One of my favorite fishermen who comes to fish the Bitterroot River each year is here now and has taken some very large brown trout just below the put-in at Bell Crossing.
The Doc has landed one fish nearly 30 inches on a dry fly pattern that his friend and guide has been tying for nearly five years – and it is a good one. I have not had the chance to see this particular pattern, but it must be great.
There are always a lot of fishermen on the river this time of year, so when you make your plans it might be best to get out early or stay out a little later than usual. With daylight saving time, it is easier to stay out late and try to coax that large fish to your pattern if you stay persistent enough.
The weekend weather promises to be typical of March. In like a lion and out like a lion is my prediction for this year. I have seen this type of spring before and it is not pretty. Rain and cool weather dominate the scene, and Mother Nature has not disappointed me so far.
Fish with wet flies or nymphs in the mornings and evenings. If the sun shines and the air temperatures seem warmer, fish with a skwala dry fly and a dropper. The dropper should be 14-18 inches below the dry fly; one of my favorite patterns is a mahogany chenille worm material tied on a scud hook.
Make sure you have your license when fishing and enjoy your time on the Bitterroot River.
Bill Bean is a longtime Bitterroot River guide, fly shop owner, fishing columnist and avid fly-fisherman.
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