Get Your Skwala Hatch On! In March?

Fly Fishing Montana

There are so many great rivers to fly fish in Montana.  One river that is still on my to do list is the Bitterroot River.

Doing some research I came across an article that just stoked that fire to fly fish this river.


Great article from Rob Chaney of the Missoulian.

Anglers: The Bitterroot River is warming up – do you know where your fly rod is?

There’s still ice on the lower end and a cold snap could come next week, but the vaunted skwala stonefly hatch could make its appearance around March 20, according to Western Flies and Guides owner Jeff Gray of Hamilton.

“They’re making their migration now from the riffles to the banks of the river,” Gray said of the immature water bugs. “If they get dislodged from the rocks, they become trout food. Nymph fishing is great this time of year.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist Ladd Knotek was a bit more restrained. The Bitterroot River is still freezing along the edges at night, although the main stream is warming up during the day.

“The skwala hatch is usually a March thing,” Knotek said. “When we start getting those warmer March days and the days get longer, it triggers the bugs to start hatching. But I’d imagine it’s going to be a little bit yet.”

When the water reaches 42 degrees, those nymphs molt into adult stoneflies. About the same time, airplanes start hatching anglers who’ve flown in for one of the nation’s most famous dry-fly fishing opportunities.

“The traffic is still increasing,” Gray said. “The volume five years ago is half what it is today. The largest stonefly hatch in the western United States is on the Bitterroot.”

Other rivers will join in the fun as well. George Kesel of Kesel’s Four Rivers Fly Shop said the Clark Fork River and Rock Creek also produce strong skwala hatches in the spring, as does the Blackfoot River.

“The least predictable is the Blackfoot,” Kesel said. “It’s the last river to warm up.”

Visitors from Utah, Idaho and Washington tend to key into the hatch most regularly, perhaps because they’re most accustomed to Rocky Mountain spring conditions.

“It’s not like June, July, August and September, when weather is predictable and warmer,” Kesel said. “It’s difficult to sell someone on sideways snow and freezing temperatures, even if the fishing is excellent.”


2 Responses to “Get Your Skwala Hatch On! In March?”

  1. RMO Says:

    Attended the Orvis Guide Rendezvous this past weekend in Missoula. We actually fished the Bitterroot excited to fish the Skwalas. I was humbled to say the least. 2 fish….My friend had a decent day on the west fork while another group had a great day on the East Fork. Absolutely beautiful though! Rock Creek fish nice for us as well.



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