Early Runoff: Is the Skwala Hatch Finished? A Rundown of Area Rivers


If you’re like me, you have been spending the last week of your life wondering day and night whether or not the Bitterroot River is going to drop back down so we can do some more dry fly fishing!  Especially considering the fact that I drove back from Seattle just in time for the weather to crush my hopes and dreams of throwing big bugs to rising fish.  Yes, once again the skwala hatch has proved itself to be more elusive than most.

What are you gonna do, right?  Usually the middle of April marks the peak of the hatch, but then again it is the skwala hatch…so who knows.  The good news is that the river has started to drop, and the fishing never really got that bad.  Turns out, during this recent bump in water, the streamer fishing got really good, and the fish still kept eating a skwala here and there.  So in other words, we all got really lucky.

Fly Fishing on the Missouri River. Spring fishing.

Josh Rokosch, working hard to fool a big Missouri River Rainbow.

With this seemingly unexplainable set of circumstances in mind,  I figured it might be cool to just give a complete run down of the areas rivers so you can make an educated decision on where you want to fish this week.  I’m here to tell you that even though the rivers all came up quickly, it’s most definitely still worth getting out.  Luckily for me, I had the privilege of fishing all week last week, and we even made it to the Mighty Mo’ for some serious dry fly action.  So that being said, here is what I saw!

We started our week off last week with a casual cruise down the Clark Fork between Kelly Island and Harper’s Bridge.  It was the first day the river started to come up which usually means very bad things for the fishing, but we committed to throwing skwalas up against fishy banks and it paid off.  The fishing didn’t get very good until about 3 pm, but it became very clear to us that the fish in the ‘Clark’ know what a skwala is and have seen quite a few of them lately.  They eat them hard, and the fish are big.  You can also throw some nymphs in the morning as well if the fishing is a little slow.  Just try different combinations of san juan worms and a rubberlegs.

Fly Fishing in Montana. Fish It blog by Bryce McLean. Fishing the Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Missouri and Clark Fork Rivers.

The Trout of Montana always seem to be just a little prettier this time of year.

On Tuesday we fished the Blackfoot.  The day started off really hot, but after an extra push of water caught up with us things slowed down considerably.  We started to see a few more tree branches floating down beside us than we had hoped for, and the water turned to chocolate milk.  We still caught a few fish though, but it took a lot of drifts and a lot of patience.  The bright side of fishing the Blackfoot right now is that when you do hook something it will probably be big.  The fish are a little bit tight lipped, but any day now the nymphing could get really good so give it a try.  You will probably be pleasantly surprised.

After we got tired of staring at a bobber for way too long, we decided it was a good plan to finish up our week on the ‘Mighty Mo’.  Needless to say, it ended up being a really good idea.  The fish would eat nymphs, of course, but we also witnessed quite the early season blue wing olive hatch.  If you want to see some really big fish eat a size 18 parachute adams with reckless abandon, go fish the Missouri River right now.  They are making it easy on us, but the pressure will soon educate them on what’s real and what’s fake so go sooner than later if you can.  You will not be disappointed.

Fly Fishing in Western Montana. Fish It Blog. Fishing the Missouri, Blackfoot, Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers.

A size 18 parachute adams really did seem to be the best option.

With all of this in mind, I guess that leaves only one more river to give a report on…the ‘Root’.  I’ll be the first to tell you that the bump in water really didn’t do much at all to the fishing.  Sure, they started to eat dries much less often, but that will quickly change with the cooler temperatures.  The streamer fishing has been great though, and in my opinion that’s a pretty good trade off.  I’m sure that anybody who has ever had a great day throwing streamers on the Bitterroot River would agree with me.  Throw olive or black, and don’t be afraid to throw big nasty stuff.  Sex dungeons, and sculpzillas are always a good choice.

Hopefully this report has given you all a shred of hope that we will still get a few more really good skwala days.  I’m optimistic about it, and you should be to!  Go fishing this week.  It’s going to be good…even in the cold wind.


Read more about Fishing the Bitteroot River, the Clark Fork River, Rock Creek, and western Montana Lakes.

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Bryce McLean BioBryce McLean 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 third season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which he consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet Earth. BigSkyTrouting.com.