By all reports the bugs have showed up. Although not in great numbers yet, trout are starting to look up routinely throughout the river. Us locals have definitely noticed the uptick in river traffic which usually means it's about game time. The trout are eating on certain banks, keyword being "certain." Don't expect to get them everywhere yet, just make note of where you do and fish those spots well.
For the Bitterroot, Skwala season is our Super Bowl, our March Madness. Much of the fishing pressure the river ever sees in a year will come in the next 20-30 days, but don't let that dissuade you.
Skwala season is one of my favorite seasons of the year but it can also be a fickle and frustrating affair at times. Below are some things to expect and a few suggestions for if you want to get out there in the next few weeks.
Have Realistic Expectations
If you go out expecting a banner 30-40 fish day on dries, you may well be disappointed. Sure, you will hit it on the head once in a while but more often than not the fishing will be spotty in this early going. Take the good banks, and good eats when you get them and enjoy it. Just be thankful that we live in a place where fish eat big dries in March. Trust me, this doesn't happen everywhere. Also, you probably won't be alone out there. This is the time I notice the biggest problems with river etiquette and the like, when folks are in a frenzy for the first good dry fly eats of the year. Remember to be patient, respectful (please don't low hole!), and don't expect to have the river to yourself, not by a long shot. If you do happen to be the only boat on a stretch, chalk it up to good fortune and enjoy it.
Put the Fly in the Right Water
The fish probably won't be sitting in the faster summer water you might be accustomed to. Look for soft inside seams, slow woody banks and the like. Don't be afraid to fish the "off" water if you know what I mean. Side channels and little odd buckets can payoff this time of year. As a rule look for the greasy and/or glassy water.
Don't be Afraid to Roll the Dice
Floating that weird stretch of river that you've never tried can pay big dividends (or not!). Why not swing for the fences once in a while? Maybe hit up the Clark Fork? Who knows, you just might have a day to remember... At the very least you might escape the boat show.
Consider Ditching the Color Olive
Who said Skwalas had to be olive? Not me. Have you tried purple? How about peacock herl? Black? Yellow? Tan? Some days mixing it up is all it takes. Remember, the fish are going to be seeing a LOT of olive shop ties very soon. Why not think outside the box a little? Skwala season is one of those times where your special homebrew will often out fish the shop ties by a wide margin. If anything, it's something new for the fish to look at.
Skwala's Aren't the Only Game In Town
Not by a long shot. Nemouras, March Browns, midges, and BWO's will all make an appearance in the coming weeks and can be big players at certain times. I'm not saying you can roll and BWO emerger or Nemoura all day, but be prepared for that one pod of fish working on them in a stretch, it might just make your day. Sometimes that pod of fish eating on March Browns will gobble up your Skwala, and sometimes they won't... Be prepared.
Leave the Droppers at Home
This is a matter of personal opinion. If catching 12 inch cutties is your game then by all means. Personally, i'd rather take those tough single dry shots into the wood for a chance at a big brown or two. There's just a lot you can't fish well with a dropper and a big fish ain't likely going to move more than an inch for your a pheasant tail nymph. You may not land as many fish with a single dry but boy it's sure fun. Believe in it, it will pay off, eventually...