Skwala Season in Western Montana: Not Just For Fly-Fishers Anymore

The heart of a fly-fisher

There is an annual dormant place in a fly-fisher’s heart, and in Western Montana, we call that dormant place “winter.” We drive over the bridges of our favorite rivers, patiently observing the slow, icy water below. We wonder what our favorite trout are doing in the wintery depths, hoping they are eating well enough to grow, while remaining hungry enough to rise to anything we cast at them in the early days of spring. 

The Skwala Hatch in Western Montana

Sure, there are a few winter die-hards in Western Montana who will try to nymph the bottom of the river for a slow-thinking whitefish, but most of us are doing all we can to quiet our inner fly-fishing enthusiast until early spring, when our favorite stonefly – the Skwala – hatches. 

When the Skwalas hatch, so does our restless, overly-exuberant inner fly-fisher, which has waited all winter to smell the fresh river air, pull on the waders, and tie a big juicy Skwala fly pattern to the end of our fly line. 

Skwalas are a stonefly, a fly-fisher favorite. Skwalas are large, so Skwala flies are easier to cast, and you can see them well on the water. They hatch as early as late February through run-off, which brings us to our next topic.

Run-off and the “Boat Hatch”

Every obsessed fly-fisher patiently gets through the long months of winter to be able to fly-fish spring waters, knowing they have an extremely small window to do so before the run-off. When the snowpack of Western Montana’s mountains starts to melt off, it gushes into the valleys below and blows out the rivers. This makes it extremely dangerous to fish the rivers, and the trout don’t like it either – they get pushed down and tend not to look up for your flies in murky run-off water. So we know from about May to early June that we will be hitting the golf course until the rivers are fishy again. 

In Western Montana, the Skwala Hatch is also called the “Boat Hatch.” Every access point on Western Montana’s rivers is going to be crawling with Skwalas – and trucks hauling rafts and drift boats. If you have river plans that don’t include fly-fishing during Skwala season, keep this in mind.

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Skwala Season — For Kids of All Ages

So why do we say that Skwala season isn’t just for fly-fishers? Skwala season can also be great fun for biology enthusiasts and parents of young children. It provides a real-life example of how the bug cycle works and makes for an excellent lesson in entomology. 

Head to the river in the late afternoon when Skwalas are most active (like us, they prefer the heat of the day, so look for them on warm afternoons). Walk to where the water meets the rocks, and encourage kids to turn rocks over. They will see Skwalas and all their spring friends scamper out from underneath their hiding spots. Skwalas are fascinating for young kids because they leave a full-body “shuck” on river rocks. Young outdoor enthusiasts will also thrill in the excitement of watching big, hungry trout rise to Skwalas! 

Nothing gets the heart of a fly-fisher pumping again like Skwala season. Take the fly rod, the kids, or just yourself to the river bottom to enjoy one of Western Montana’s most exciting spring events. 

Learn More About Skwalas and Skwala Season in Western Montana:

Skwala Information

7 Tips for Fly-Fishing the Skwala Hatch


Photo credit: Header image, iStock,  All other images via Kat Hobza