Spring dry fly season is off and running here in western Montana, and a mild March and April have bought about one of the best Skwala stonefly hatches of recent memory. Stormy mornings and warmer afternoons have created perfect conditions for these stoneflies to hatch on the rocks and trees along western Montana rivers. As the first major stonefly hatch of the year, the Skwalas get the trout moving like few other hatches. From riffles to tail-outs, well placed drifts are being eaten with conviction as the trout begin to realize that easy meals are readily available after the long winter.
When it comes to spring pre-runoff fishing on the freestone rivers of western Montana, early isn't always better. Ideal dry fly conditions begin shortly before noon as the water warms and the trout start to focus on the first of the morning's bugs. The shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall are when trout apply the bankers hours for eating the dry. They feed hard from about 12-5, and most days that is all they will give you. Put yourself on the best water and move slow during this time to keep yourself into fish.
Trout this time of year are not everywhere. Hard banks, which feature fast churning water, rarely produce strikes on top during the early season; this is especially true with this years higher than normal spring flows. Trout want to eat as much as possible while expending the minimum amount of energy. They move into inside bends, eddies, and tail-outs, where food is plentiful and the water is slow, to feed during the colder water months of spring. By focusing on the slower lazy water you will keep yourself into fish until you are ready to hit home or the nearest brewery.
What makes a good Skwala pattern?
Small and sparse is key. Dry flies this time of year need to be as sparse as possible while still floating through the choppy water. Foam is not a necessity right now, as good stiff elk hair and quality CDC can get you though the rough water while keeping a natural look to your bug. The Skwala patterns that I tend to fish most are in sizes #10 and 12, but I will go to a full #8 if conditions are right. I usually lean towards fishing a bug that is one size smaller than the naturals that are on the water. This is especially important on those colder days or early mornings when the water temps have the fish thinking twice about rising. Often the smaller sneaky bug will draw a fish that would be unwilling to eat a larger fly.
Let the weather man fall on deaf ears:
The threat of bad weather can often keep many anglers at home and off the river. Those who are willing to endure the bad days are often rewarded with moments of dry fly glory all to themselves. A quick warm up after a morning of rain/snow can bring about some of the best dry fly fishing you see all year. Gor-Tex shells, quality waders, wool gloves, and a positive attitude, can keep you into fish even in the worst of conditions. Layer up and get after it. After all, what's a little snow.