Tag Archives: bitterroot skwala hatch

Classic Drifts

bitterroot river guidesThese waters bind us: to the river, the fish, the mountains that feed them, and the friends we share them with.  Time spent on a trout stream is food for the soul, enjoying the natural cycles of the day and moods of the river.  While fishing ebbs and flows throughout the day, we work together to figure it out, changing tactics and mindsets on the sight of a bug or a switch in the wind.  In tune.  Fly fishing tunes us to the river, the environment, each other.

bitterroot river guidesDrawing upon a bond formed on the banks of the Big Hole river almost twenty years ago, I recently had the pleasure of fishing with a true master of the art of fly fishing, David Decker.  Owner and outfitter of the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River, Montana, David is like a father to those of us guides lucky enough to learn from him.  I can truly say that everything I teach on the water today, starts with something I learned from David and the other veteran guides from the Complete Fly Fisher.  Those bonds run deep as the gut of the Kispiox and wide as a Missouri river sunset.

untitled (17 of 17)So with Skwala stoneflies and March Brown mayflies hatching in full swing on the Bitterroot, a true master casting from the bow, and twelve miles all to ourselves, David and I shared another day to keep close to the heart.  The fish were looking up, and nowhere was out of reach or out of drift.  Everything is possible.  We ran with the mood of the river, keeping and eye on the natural cycles and currents, knowing the next run may be jamming while this one is quiet.

bitterroot river guidesOur bugs were Big Hole style tied by David the night before in Wise River: no foamy Bitterroot flare, just natural fibers and buggy proportions.  Another lesson from the old days: keep it natural, simple, quick to tie.  And they worked, well.  The Bitterroot is really shaping up fine this year with consistent Skwala and mayfly hatches day after day.  Our water is holding up good, with cooler temperatures and high country snow keeping the water locked up in the mountains to use later down the road; a fine summer awaits us.  So here’s to old friends and teachers, and the waters that bind us together.  All photographs in this post were taken by David on our trip, his love of the wild trout evident in yet another art form.

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Skwalas and March Browns

bitterroot skwala nymphIt’s turning into another fine Skwala season here on the Bitterroot with tons of nymphs ready to hatch and good fish already looking up for a bug.  Our weather took a turn for the better, shooting up to seventy degrees a couple times and really bringing out the solar energy needed to get the bugs hatching.  Skwalas are looking for 46 degree water temps before they pop, so we’ve seen the bugs waiting until well into midday to start emerging.

bitterroot river guidesWith that in mind, fishing-wise, take your time out there and don’t get into a big hurry.  There’s plenty of other boats and anglers out there enjoying the hatch, and when the fishing is good, everyone is catching, and when it’s off, it’s off.  That’s how the Bitterroot works: when she’s ready this river will fish lights out, but not until the fish and the bugs are ready to play along.   Nymphing rarely saves a tough day here, but patience and working good water will bring many fine fish to the net.

bitterroot river guidesSo every day should have it’s better moments until the surge of runoff wipes the slate clean for the upcoming summer season.  We have a cool front with moisture predicted for the coming week which may tone down the Skwalas a bit, but will certainly favor the much awaited March Brown.  On our float yesterday, we had a massive emergence of these mayflies, making for the best fishing I’ve seen this early season.  As we move on into April, the March Browns will hatch earlier and more consistent, right around 2:00, and in my opinion this is the hatch to fish.  Skwalas get all the hype, but Bitterroot trout will pod up rising to mayflies, making for fabulous targets and fool hearty takes.

bitterroot river guidesSo get on the horn and get in touch with us for some early season action.  We still have a few weeks of pre-runoff fishing, which is truly some of the best of the season, and our rates are discounted to $350 per guide boat.  Bring a rainjacket for those spring squalls, and get ready to throw dry flies from the put in to the takeout.

Reel Girl

A quick afternoon float on a rising river was all we had going for us. New friends, Ryan and Heather,  and a chance to see some new water together; at least new as of today with the rising tide of warm weather hitting the valley.  The first days of spring cometh, easy fishing on those once a week perfect days may be over, at least until the temps cool off and shrink up the melting snowpack.  Every ‘good’ day brings a rise in the water levels which cool things off and bring on the sediment, making that sure thing a big question mark at the boat ramp.

So fishing is up and down, good and bad, is what I’m getting at.  That perfect day may actually be pretty tough because the river bumped and made all those perfect holding runs way too fast, or those soft banks turbulent and boiley.   Our day was damn near a skunk, due to the previously mentioned issues, until things settled down enough late in the day to start producing some action.  Savor those dry fly takes folks!, sometimes we may hold out for hours waiting and hoping, and all the while learning and enjoying the river on it’s rise to runoff, happy to be out once again chasing wild trout on the fly.

Bitterroot River Skwala Hatch

bitterroot skwala hatch 003I figured we’re still early, and we are, but a mid morning phone call today sure led to some fine dry fly fishing on the home river.  Skwala: The Bitterroot’s Big Deal.  Which they really are, even if it brings a bit of pressure to our sleepy little river; get out there and throw a line and put your smile on.  The rest of the state is still dealing with winter, at least its departure, while the Bitterroot Valley is gorgeous and temperate as ever: snowcapped peaks protecting a low altitude, Pacific sided drainage.

bitterroot skwala hatch 015So we slid the boat in around the crack of noon, or even one o’clock, to see if we could find a few fish looking up.  Sure enough, our second run drew a fine rainbow to the dry, then the next, and the next, and then they were sipping mayflies…. Pretty damn impressive to say the least.  The true Bitterroot Skwala hatch is still weeks away in my opinion, but the fish certainly know what’s coming.  I witnessed Baetis mayflies and midges today, but no mature adult Skwala moving about.

bitterroot skwala hatch 009So watch your weather for those good warm days in the near future, there should be some fine fishing to be had out there.  The weekend is looking beautiful, so I’d bet there will be plenty of other folks out there chasing the hatch.  My advice: take it easy, put in good ‘ol Bitterroot fashion around noonish, and fish the nice likely runs with medium speed and a wee bit of chop.  Look for your best fishing from two to four, and savor throwing a dry fly once again!

bitterroot skwala hatch 2015Our boats are spruced up, lines are greased, waders patched, and the coolers are packed!  Contact Jed or Chris if any of you are feeling the itch for a guided Skwala float.  We offer discounted rates for the early season, $350, and focus on the midday Skwala and mayfly hatches.  Our meet time is noon, earlier if we need to work out some winter kinks in the casting, and we fish until the day is wrapped up, usually around six o’clockish.  We’d love to have you out with us once again to start our 2015 Bitterroot fly fishing season; see you on the water.   JF #8392

Great Bitterroot Fly Fishing

west fork bitterroot cuttThe river is on the fluctuations of a big spring, up one day and then dropping after a few cold nights.  We’ve been at it through snow and rain, wind and shine, finding pretty good fishing through it all.  Adversity is definitely the name of the game; lots of rigs, lots of poking around checking all the holds.  Every type of fly rig has its time to play throughout the day: streamers for a few runs, then fish a dry through the riffles and slough mouths.

west fork bitterrootAny spotted fish is catchable right now, and right about two o’clock the March Brown mayflies have been peeling off, bringing quite a few fish out to feed.  Throughout the upper Bitterroot, we’ve found many sneaky little spots that have steady rising fish, but you have to search closely and fish a ton of water to find them.  Once you do, bingo.  We have plenty of equally sneaky hand tied patterns in Skwala and mayfly that work excellent, with fish moving hard to the fly and eating them fool hearty.

Trophy Bitterroot River Brown Trout

covershotWell, while I was out on a guided float chasing Skwalas and mayflies, my guides were up to no good, as you can clearly see, chasing big Bitterroot brown trout, and definitely not using dry flies.  Trout eat a little of everything, mostly aquatic insects, as they forage throughout the day in rhythm with the daily bug cycles.  When the hatch at hand gets going, large numbers of fish feed throughout the river to take advantage of the increase in bug activity.

bitterroot brownThen there’s these guys.  Hatch be damned.  Browns like this rarely fall for your ordinary insect imitations, their feeding patterns are impulsive, and their foraging is more like hunting and killing.  These are the predators of our peaceful little rainbow/cutthroat stream: no little trout is ever really safe.  That’s why we protect our beloved little dinks by targeting these bruisers with the only thing they consistently hammer: Streamers.  Heavy, colorful, flashy minnow imitations with big ass googly eyes fished on a clear, sink tipped seven weight.  Oh Yeah.

brochureshotStreamer chucking is not for the faint of heart, and many can’t handle it.  Heavy stiff rods and weighted lines wear a person out, especially if one’s cast is inefficient, so we guides use caution when introducing our anglers into this realm:  short periods keep our guests from getting frustrated and beat down.  Now when it’s a crew like these two river monkeys in the photo, there’s no holds barred.  Ten miles of swollen off color river, a half rack of Coors, and hundreds of heavy casts went into that one brown trout.  Every cast has the promise of another leviathan: it may be the first deep log jam at daybreak, it may be somewhere on mile seven, or it may not happen at all.  Keep hucking.

Futile Floating

early bitterroot float 004Chasing the goat, as we like to refer to it.  Or more accurately, a plan that has turned futile that once held so much promise.  Kinda like our plan to nail a bunch of big fish on the lower Bitterroot Saturday, April 13 on streamers, until our gorgeous morning turned into a northern winter blitzkrieg around mid afternoon.  With easily forty mile per hour sustained gales, we rowed due north right into the punishment for hours on this long stretch of river.  The fishing pretty much sucked, between the wind and the bumped up river flows, we caught few fish, and my boat was even handed a royal skunking.  Always optimistic, it was a good workout for when the river really gets big, and will make those marginal dry fly days seem outstanding compared to that crap.  We hustled it back toBlacksmith Brewing in Stevensville, a beacon of light, and toasted Cutthroat IPAs to another day of chasing the goat.

Bitterroot River Skwala Hatch

   I’ve been writing enough river reports and updates lately to fill a novel, so I’ve decided to write 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.

 

     Chris_Rockhold_photo_19-65Now, 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 absolutely lights 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.

A look at Pre Runoff

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montana
killer greg thomas photo

Well, the river is making some bumps and the fishing is getting less predictable as we move away from the early conditions of this spring.  The March Browns and Skwalas are giving way to caddisflies as May gets started, and finding rising fish is getting trickier as water levels fluctuate.  To look back at the early season, it was definitely one to remember.  Starting in mid March one could find Skwala risers pretty frequently, and by the end of that month it was on fire on stones and mayflies.  We never got slammed by the early bumps of the river, which provided perfect conditions for both aforementioned critters to hatch profusely and bring up the fish en masse.   This river definitely produces world class hatches and blue ribbon fishing all the way.

Skwala and March Browns on the Bitterroot

Here finally comes another spring in Montana.  We’ve eeked through the long chill, and even though the snow squalls persist to this day, spring is really happening around here.  We guides have already logged many days throwing nothing but dry flies, a major benefit to those of us who live in the temperate Bitterroot valley.  Skwalas started popping over a month ago and the March Browns came out in full force early to mid April, making for the best and most consistent early season fishing I’ve ever witnessed.  The midday mayfly hatches began around two and would cease by 4:30 of so, with pods of heavy fish rising steadily at a voracious pace.  Absolutely this was  some of the heaviest feeding this river has ever shown, and the big boys were up pushing for the first swipe at a well drifted bug.