Early Spring Dry Fly Options: Mix It Up For Success

Sick of hearing about skwalas on the Bitterroot? This time of year the olive stonefly gets a lot of attention, as it should. Big chunks of protein pulling large fish into skinny water is hard to beat. But for some, the skwala hatch is a maddening situation, due to the necessity to focus on water that most of the season might not hold fish, and to adopt techniques closer to spring creek fishing than the chuck and duck frenzy of the larger stonefly hatches.  As legendary Bitterroot outfitter Chuck Stranahan says about the skwala hatch, “This ain’t cowboy fishing.”

The Gray Drake is an oft-overlooked option during the skwala hatch, but is a viable option nonetheless.
Photo via  flyfishingtraditions.com

That said, the skwala hatch could also be labeled a “masking hatch” as it tends to overshadow the other hatches that occur simultaneously. Gray drakes, blue wing olives and March browns can also be found on the water in March in good numbers, and fishing their imitations can sometimes turn fishing frustration into grip-and-grin success. When the skwala ain’t working, give these alternatives a try if you’re hitting the water this week in western Montana.

Even if adults aren’t present on water, a good gray drake cripple pattern can find fish in March.
Photo via riverbum.com

Double Dry: Skwala and Gray Drake cripple trailer
This setup is a great pre-runoff option, and offers fish two enticing flies to rise to. A low-riding skwala pattern followed by a gray drake cripple can sometimes make the difference when fish see lots of boat pressure.

Blue Wing Olives might be small, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective.
Photo via  riverbum.com

Dry/Dropper: BWO and Pheasant Tail 
Going small is never a bad idea, and this time of year a light double setup can help dial in your cast and move wary fish that have seen too many mid-winter foam creations floating by. Start with a 3-4 foot dropper and adjust as conditions dictate. When it comes to dropper rigs, adjust often and find those fish!

Oh you dirty, dirty girl. This chenille and lead bodied pattern finds the bottom fast.
Photo via capitalcityflyfishers.org

Double Nymph Rig: Rubberlegs and Prince Nymph
Though we all wish for top eats during the skwala hatch, the reality is that most of the fish caught this time of year are still eating underwater. A reliable setup for finding fish is a solid stonefly imitation and a smaller prince nymph trailing behind. The ubiquitous Pat’s Rubberlegs works well in this situation, though you may find more fish falling for the trailer than the bottom roller. It’s hard to beat a prince nymph for sheer “bugginess”.

Whatever you throw this time of year, nothing is of more importance than reading the water and looking for those soft edges, inside bends and back eddies where fish are waiting out the up and down flows of spring and eating bugs with abandon. Skwala time can be frustrating or fantastic, but remembering there are alternatives that can find success can be a day changer when boat and angler traffic gets heavy.

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