Fishing Report: Missoula, Montana week of 3/25/2018
Skwalas are here along with single dry fly fishing!
Monday I had the chance to get out an fish again with one of my core guides, Scott, and younger guide Matt who is looking work more out of Missoula. We met around noon and set off for a stretch of the middle Bitterroot. We were all a little surprised when there weren’t any other boats at the put-in despite our late start. The weather was partly cloudy in the mid-40’s and both guys started off with single skwala dry flies. The first few runs didn’t produce a look, and just when we were thinking of changing flies Scott had an eat and then connected with a feisty cutthroat on the same bank. He tagged a decent brown a couple runs below that as we started to see some life in the river. Matt found a nice brown and then a solid rainbow in back to back runs before a brief snow squall moved in on us. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then I rigged a rod as Matt took over on the oars. The fish weren’t very happy with that squall as we couldn’t raise any in the next several runs. Once the weather settled out the fishing kicked back in. I missed a good eat and then Scott connected with a bright 17″ bow. A few minutes after that I finally got on the board with a fat 16″ cuttbow. The action continued to improve throughout the afternoon with the best of it from 3:30 on. We doubled up twice and started to find fish looking up in all of the likely spring spots. Scott capped off the day with the best fish, a 19″ rainbow a couple runs above the takeout. Overall it was a good afternoon fishing single dry flies. We boated a good number of fish and all but one were in the 14-19″ range with a solid 16″ average. It’s always fun to get out on the river with fellow guides, and after fishing with Matt today I am sure I will be able to get some trips for him this summer.
Tuesday I fished with the father/son combo of Bill and Jeff who have been coming out for years for the Skwala hatch. It has become a family tradition as sons, Jim and Dave have grabbed a boat too the last few years. It was an absolutely stunning day with bright blue skies, puffy white clouds, and a high near 50. We launched on the north side of Hamilton and the fish were active right out of the gate. Jeff picked off two on a dropper on the first inside bend and then he boated a good rainbow on the dry fly in the next spot. Bill joined in with a smaller cutthroat to start and then a nice 15″ brown both on the dropper. It was a great start to the day and then we had to chip away at them a little mostly because we weren’t in the best water. By the time we came into lunch Jeff had three solid eats on the dry and both anglers had several trout on droppers. The fishing was good enough in the morning that we decided to go with single Skwala dry flies for the afternoon. Bill stuck a solid rainbow on the first bank we fished to confirm that we made the right choice. From that point on we experienced the best dry fly fishing I’ve seen so far this season. The guys doubled up a few times, Jeff had one run where he tagged 4 quality fish, and we saw good numbers of bugs and some rising trout too. From lunch until 4 just about every good spot that we fished produced at least one fish and many gave up multiple eats on top. After that it started to get spotty. We still moved some fish to the surface but we had to work a little harder toward the end of the float. We still managed to get some good looks in the last few runs and a couple more to the boat. There were plenty of 10-13″ fish on the hunt today mixed in with a healthy dose of 14-17″ trout. Most of the bigger fish came on dries in the afternoon. It’s always so much fun to see the fishing as good as it was today. Beautiful weather and lots of trout on dries is what we hope for during the Skwala hatch.
Thursday I was back out with the Howard crew on the middle Bitterroot. I had Bill and Jeff again in my boat while Dave and Jim were with fellow guide, Jeff. It was cloudy but a bit chilly at the put-in and the fish were definitely a little more tight lipped in the morning than they were on Tuesday. After a few runs Bill finally got us started with a decent brown trout on the dropper. A couple others were hooked and lost before Jeff connected with a feisty rainbow. It remained hit and miss until we stopped for lunch with a half dozen to the the boat and only one look on the dry fly all morning. Despite the slower start we still decided to go with single dry flies after lunch and both Bill and Jeff stuck fish in our first run after the break. The fishing only improved from there as we started to find trout looking up in most of the likely spots. At one point Jeff got his fly caught in a branch and I tried to free the fly but broke it off. When that happened the fly fell to the water and started to drift downstream. As I was trying to chase the fly down it was smashed by a trout only to be spit out a few seconds later and float back to the surface so we could retrieve it and tie it back on. The best of the action was from 2-4 as fish pounded our dry flies. We doubled up twice and took lots of nice trout out of most of the runs all on Skwala dry flies. At 4 it tapered off again like it did the other day. We were still able to move fish, but it wasn’t in every single spot. Bill did fool the best fish of the trip late in the day though. A big smash off of a grassy bank yielded a gorgeous brown trout in the 19-20″ class. Jeff wrapped it up with a couple more rainbows before we pushed down to the takeout. Lots of healthy rainbows, cutts, and bows again today with most in the 14-16″ range and a few on both ends of that spectrum. We figured that it’s been at least 15 years that Bill and Jeff have been coming out to fish the Skwala hatch and this was some of the best dry fly fishing they have seen. They are an awesome family and I always look forward to my time on the water with them!
Friday was the first of four days with a group of 8 anglers who have been coming to fish the Skwala hatch for years. Today I was paired up with Eric and Ron on a stretch of the middle Bitterroot. It was sunny and above freezing at the put-in, and it only took Ron a couple of runs to hook up to his first trout. It was a great way to start the trip too, with a fat cuttbow on the dropper that nearly made 20″. Ron continued as the star of the show as he picked up all our fish in the morning on a dropper. Eric couldn’t buy a strike in the back of the boat fishing the same flies. We stopped for a quick lunch as the cloud cover started to roll in and we watched a handful of Skwalas drift through the run where we were anchored. After the break the guys switched spots in the boat and I rigged them up with single dry flies. The roles were immediately reversed as Eric went to work with 3 quick trout on the dry. He added a couple more and just as I was starting to develop a complex about the back of the boat with this crew Ron came tight to a dry fly fish in the back. He followed that up with a gorgeous 18″ brown in the next run downstream. Like other days recently, from lunch until 4 was solid dry fly fishing and today there were a few bigger fish on the prowl. Eric stuck a thick 18″ cuttbow along with several others around 17″ and we had a couple bigger fish break us off. After 4 the fishing tightened up again and we made a couple fly changes that managed to yield a few more eats on top before the end of the float. Overall it was a solid first day of the trip with some quality trout. It’s always nice when you see a few 18+” inch fish and the guys landed plenty from 16-17″ too.
Saturday I was on the water with Mark and Randy from the group. These two are a lot of fun to fish with, and after the success we had yesterday I headed right back to the same stretch of water. Mark got us off to a fast start with a bright 16″ rainbow on the dropper in the first run we fished. A few runs below that we were all surprised when another nice rainbow decided to eat his dry fly. Mark followed that up with a solid brown trout on the nymph just downstream. He stuck one more in the morning while Randy had two on the line but the both got off before hitting the net. While we finished up lunch a cold snow squall moved through on us with wind, snow, and bitter temps. That didn’t do us any favors in the fishing department as we embarked on a memorable afternoon. The front didn’t last very long, but the short version is the afternoon fishing was absolutely terrible. I expected the dry fly fishing to turn on so we stayed with single dries for a solid two hours without so much as a sniff at our bugs. Several fly changes didn’t help and eventually I put Randy back on a dry/dropper rig. When that didn’t work I switched Mark over to a dry/dropper too and we started changing up the droppers. Still no luck there. About the time I was ready to give up all hope, Randy finally had a cuttbow blast his dry fly and we landed it. That was more of an anomaly than a sign of things to come. I continued to change out flies without much success. Randy hooked two more that came unbuttoned but that was it for the day. It was one of the toughest afternoons of fishing that I’ve seen. The trout weren’t happy about the weather patterns moving through or something else, but they certainly didn’t want to play with us today. The only small solace is that I heard similar reports from a couple other guides today. I always have a lot of fun fishing with Mark and Randy, and today was no exception but the brutal fishing will definitely leave a bad taste in my mouth for a while.
Sunday I was back out with Ron again and today we were joined by Ed. It was a bitter cold morning at only 23 degrees at the put-in. I knew it would probably take some time for the fish to get going but it was also the weekend so we didn’t want to wait around too long with the extra traffic. We started off with dry/dropper rigs and battled ice in the guides for most of the morning and some great looking runs that didn’t produce. The guys soldiered on and finally around 11 Ron came tight to our first fish of the day. It was a solid 17″ rainbow with big spots and dark colors. It was nice to get the first fish of the day and when Ed connected with another good bow just a couple runs downstream it was the perfect opportunity to break for lunch and let it warm up a little more. Since it was such a cold morning we stayed with dry/droppers for the afternoon and Ed hooked up right away in our first run on the dropper. He picked off another nice rainbow in a back eddy and then Ron jumped in with a healthy bow of his own in a foamy soft spot. The guys definitely had to work for their opportunities but the fishing was improved over the morning. At one point we switched to single dry flies when the clouds rolled in. The first spot produced a big cutthroat for Ron while Ed tried to double up with 3 eats on his dry but just didn’t connect. I hoped that would be the start of some good dry fly fishing, but around the next corner a cold, stiff wind kicked up and it wasn’t long before we were back to the dry/dropper rigs. That continued to produce with a few more rainbows before we hit the take out. It was better fishing than yesterday, but not easy by any stretch. Ron and Ed both fished hard all day and they earned every trout. The upside was they boated all quality fish from 15-17″ today.
The second week of the season and the skwala hatch is in full swing. We ended the week with a couple tougher days mainly due to the weather, but we also saw some very good fishing too. There are always ups and downs during the spring and it usually revolves around the weather. We’ve started to see some of the bigger class of fish on the feed too and any day in the next couple weeks could produce the biggest brown trout of the season on a dry fly. I’m looking forward to getting on the water in the week ahead!