We’re in the Montana this week, searching for Skwala stoneflies on the Bitterroot River.

Spring on the Bitterroot | www.johnkreft.com

I’d read the fishing report from the Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop in Missoula that the Skwala stoneflies were hatching along with a few BWO’s and March Brown mayflies. In fact, the report stated the fishing was 4 out of 5! The problem was we arrived as the river was just cresting and slowly dropping. The “slowly dropping” was good news. Perhaps in a day or two the fishing might be good.

Our first day on the river, we decided to stop at Tucker Crossing. It’s a favorite of ours.

I never saw a fish rise, but my wife managed to coax one to the surface but didn’t hook-up.

We walked the riverbank looking for any activity at all, fish rising or insects on the water or flying. What I did find was a Skwala running across the water’s surface towards shore.

Skwala Stonefly on Bitterroot | www.johnkreft.com

And an image of the bottom…

Bitterroot Skwala | www.johnkreft.com

It was a beautiful day, but cold. Temperatures were in the upper 30’s and low 40’s.

Bitterroot Spring Fishing | www.johnkreft.com

We returned to the van, cold and wondering if we were in the right spot or if the weather was impacting hatches. I think the latter.

The next day found us upriver at another boat launch. We’ve fished this area before as well. Walking upstream from the launch usually means fewer boats or rafts until late in the afternoon.

You can tell from the image below the snow level wasn’t far away.

Karen Fishing Bitterroot in Spring | www.johnkreft.com

After blind casting with some Skwala dry fly patterns, I decided to tie on a couple of nymphs and try my luck. I ended up foul-hooking one fish and felt one more.

I used an olive Jimmy Legs with a weighted Bead Head Prince Nymph tied to the bend of the hook using 18 inches of leader as the point fly (bottom one),

Nymph Setup | www.johnkreft.com

My wife found this stonefly nymph about 10 yards from the river. I thought it was a little odd to be so far from the river. I believe it was too big to be a Skwala nymph, but I’ve never seen one. Perhaps you might know. If so, please leave a Comment below.

Bitterroot Stonefly | www.johnkreft.com

And the underside of the nymph.

Bitterroot Stonefly Bottom View | www.johnkreft.com

It was cold and eventually a snowstorm forced us off the water.

The fish gods decided to smile upon us the following day. The sun was out, but cool in the morning. We decided to wait for a while before giving it a try.

Since I still had nymphs on my line, I decided to hit a couple of spots and see if I could find a fish or two. I couldn’t find a single one! I tied on a dry fly and moved to fish to the fly, but no hook-ups.

I found this nice run upriver and put a few dry flies in the seam and close to shore, hoping a Brown trout might be hiding out there. Nope.

Bitterroot Run | www.johnkreft.com

Back to the van for lunch and wait for the temperature to warm a little more.

After lunch, we both put on the waders and walked upstream. The first run was the same…nothing. In fact, I never saw a fish in that section. It’s one I know holds fish.

Farther upriver, I pointed to the spot I had moved fish and had my wife give it a try. She hooked this small, but beautiful Cutthroat. Other fish rose to her fly, but didn’t hook up. She was experiencing the same problem I had earlier.

Bitterroot Cutthroat Trout | www.johnkreft.com

I tried my nymphs again and followed her through the hole. I hooked this Cutthroat on an olive Jimmy Legs.

Bitterroot Cutthroat Slashes | www.johnkreft.com

Here is the biggest fish of the day, a beautiful Cutthroat Trout.

Bitterroot Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

And a closer look of all the colors…

Bitterroot Cutthroat Closeup | www.johnkreft.com

All of the fish which rose to our dry flies were hooked by blind-casting, hoping to raise a fish. We never saw any flies on the water. Evidently, the fish were looking up in anticipation of the Skwala stoneflies hatching.

I finally was surprised by this Brown Trout.

Bitterroot Brown | www.johnkreft.com

The fly which worked for us is this Stimulator style fly I picked up at a fly shop.

Skwala Dry Fly | www.johnkreft.com

Remember what I said about spring? The following night, this happened…

Snow Day in Montana | www.johnkreft.com

Yes, it’s spring in Montana!

Enjoy…go fish!

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One Comment

  1. Great story and pictures, John, and I’m glad you caught at least a few beautiful fish to make enduring the cold worthwhile. No, I take that last part back. In such a wonderful place as the Bitterroot, it’s worthwhile even if it’s cold and you don’t catch fish.

    You asked for feedback about the nymph that your wife found. Your doubts were well founded; it is not a Skwala. It is most likely another related stonefly in the perlodid group, a Longgill Springfly (Perlinodes aurea). The underside of the nymph provides the most pertinent clue. Your nymph has 3 sets of rather long finger-like gills at the “neck” and between the legs, consistent with P. auria. Skwala nymphs have only the set at the “neck”, and they are considerably less pronounced and noticeable. Here is link to a webpage I came across that does a good job in showing the characteristics one can use to ID Skwala nymphs; though it doesn’t mention that they don’t have gills between the legs: https://aquaticinsectsofcentralvirginia.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-skwala-large-springfly-bitterroot.html

    And though that is not a Skwala, Skwala nymphs are rather odd in that they actually will often migrate 10 yards or even more from the water before climbing a vertical structure to molt to the adult. Often passing right by other vertical alternatives in the process. For example, there is one boat landing on the McKenzie River where an outhouse that is more than 10 yards from the water is usually covered with Skwala nymph shucks, averaging about waist height, during the emergence season. It’s a good indicator of how the hatch is progressing.

    I’ve put a photo I made of an underwater Skwala nymph on my web space, in case you want to see or use it. I’ll leave it there for a few days. https://pbase.com/art1/image/172492453/original

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