It’s Skwala Season on the Bitterroot River


Sometimes I forget how humbling fishing can be this time of year.

We fish every day during the month of March waiting for that first nose to come up and eat a skwala. Getting pounded by rain and snow becomes normal, and the wind is seemingly never-ending.

Then there comes a day when the conditions all come together perfectly and little black stone flies can be found bobbing down river towards an almost certain demise. After all of the days of nymphing all winter, and countless prayers to the fishing gods, the fish finally decide to show us some mercy.

This happened last Thursday down on the Bitterroot, and it was truly liberating.

The rumors you have heard are definitely true. The fish are eating skwala dries pretty much all day, and pretty much river-wide. You just have to pick the right day.

We can assure you that Saturday and Sunday, March 10 and 11, were not it. The river blew out Saturday morning from all of the rain, so we showed up to Bell Crossing early, only to be greeted with open arms by a very muddy and considerably high Bitterroot River. It was almost as if she was trying to remind us to stay grounded.

A couple of good days can go to your head this time of year, and Mother Nature was making sure we remembered that. It’s easy to complain about days like that weekend, but in the end, it just makes the good days that much better and the legendary days that much more unforgettable.

For many of us, this is the best time of year to fish.

It’s better than any 85 degree day in August, and it’s better than a nice warm evening fishing caddis on the Clark Fork. The reason this is the best time of year to fish is the same as why it’s worth battling the sometimes less than desirable conditions.

It’s simple, really: The fish that eat dries this time of year can be huge.

The 20-plus inch mark can be hit almost every day. It just takes finding the right head out of the pods of risers, and then hopefully he gets to your skwala before the smaller fish do. All of the fish in the river will eat  a skwala.

This is actually unique to this hatch because often times, the bigger fish in the river will lay low during the warmer months, or they will catch on to fake bugs pretty quickly. During this time of year, the fish seem to have no memory, and the big fish come out of hiding in the nice cool water to destroy as many stone flies as they possibly can.

It really is a special time of year to fish in Western Montana, and as I sat in the poring rain all day that Saturday (and the relentless wind on the following Tuesday) I couldn’t help but feel that putting up with the elements is totally worth it.

When you look through the snowflakes and see a 22-inch brown trout come up and sip a big dry fly, you will know what I mean.

By the way! Check out our website, We only have one page up while we build the rest of the site, but our trailer for “Sweet Release” is up there so have a look! If you like what you see, “LIKE” Big Sky Trouting on Facebook. We post reports from the river almost every day on our Facebook page as well as lots of other various trouting pics, videos, and stories.


Need more tales from the river? Check out Matt and Bryce’s other blogs: Skwalla Stonefly Season CountdownFly Fishing: The Comedy of Tragedy, and An Ode to Brown Trout, or visit the Fish It archive.

Be sure to visit the Make it Missoula fishing page.


Photos of Missoula Fly Fishing Experts Matt Devlin and Bryce McLean

Matt Devlin (left) is originally from Annapolis, Maryland and learned to fool trout on the technical waters of the Gunpowder River. He has fished in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Indiana, North and South Carolina, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. He thinks about flies and fishing a whole lot.

Bryce McLean (right) was born and raised in Montana, and has been fly fishing here for almost 20 years. He first learned to fish on the Missouri River, but when he was ten, his family moved to the Bitterroot Valley. He’s been fishing the Bitterroot River ever since. This has been his second season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which he consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet Earth.