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Chasing the Skwala Hatch in Missoula

Friday, March 23, 2018

I made quick plans with a fellow outfitter and buddy of mine to head out of town for a short fishing trip. We decided to run up to the Missoula area and check out the Bitteroot area to try hit the Skwala hatch. We had good reports of fish eating dries and it didn’t take much to have an excuse to get out of town and check it out. Plans were made, a few calls and a little research was done. We loaded up his camper and set out on the road with a drift boat in tow. We headed northwest and were excited about trout eating dries and spending some quality time on the river.

We had only made it 90 miles when my buddy pulled off the interstate and into a small place named “Muzz and Stan’s Freeway Tavern”. We pulled up a seat at the small bar and was greeted by a barmaid who seemed to be moving slower than normal. It was the day after St. Patricks and Butte, MT lives for this holiday more than Christmas. It is the biggest day of the year in Butte and over 10,000 people show up for the parade and party that happens each year in this relatively small Montana City. We had missed the party (on purpose) but witnessed the aftermath. The place was busy with customers, but no one was moving very fast. We ordered two ‘wop chops” and an order of their homemade fried potato chips. Our order finally arrived and our battered pork chop sandwiches arrived on fine white paper foam plates as we finished our chips. After finishing our lunch and the only selection of beer on tap they offered we jumped back in the truck and kept heading north.

The weather started to turn and rain soon turned into snow. It was still fairly warm outside but there was a bit of doubt as we neared Missoula. We pulled into a local grocery and stocked up on the essentials. Sandwiches for our lunches, steaks for a dinner, and some snacks to get us through the day. We would need plenty of calories to either fight off the cold or to keep us going as we were going to fish hard and catch a boat load of trout.

skwala hatch turkeys

We headed through town and up the Bitteroot valley towards our destination for the night. We had found out over the internet that there was 15 boat ramps on the river and you could camp at only two. One was near Missoula and the other was another 52 miles upstream. We found our turn off relatively easily and headed to get camp set up. Not 200 yards from where we turned my buddy spotted a group of wild turkeys and I quickly grabbed my camera and took a few pictures. We continued down the road and came across the access. With a locked gate across it our hearts sank for the moment and a “What the hell now” expression came across us. As we were stopped the cell phones came out and we both started looking for a plan “B”. It was getting late and wanted to set up camp. As we drove back to the highway I started making calls to RV parks in the hopes we could find somewhere to sleep for the night along the river. The first call was immediately met with a voicemail saying that they were open till 2pm on Sundays. It was just after five pm and I was not confident about how the day was turning out. The next spot was another answering machine. They asked to leave a message and with little hope I obliged. Within 5 minutes my phone rang and the lady said she couldn’t meet us but gave us directions to their RV park and said to help ourselves and that we could settle up in the morning when her husband would be around. Perfect, we have solved the one piece of the puzzle and all we to do is go fishing now. We found the Black Rabbit RV park relatively easily, drove through and found out parking spot and then directly headed to find some dinner. We found a Mexican restaurant not far away and soon found ourselves dining on margaritas and chips and salsa. After filling our bellies with fajitas we headed back to get ready for the next day’s fishing.

skwala hatch road block

The next morning we awoke to plenty of sunshine, a quick shower and breakfast burritos that my buddy had made pre trip. I didn’t comment to him about how tasty they were as that isn’t really in the man code of rules but with coffee they really hit the spot. A call was made to a recently new friend he had made on a board he sits on for most of the fishing outfitters in the state. He had a free day and we extended the offer to be the third in the boat. Why wouldn’t we want someone who is a prominent outfitter in the area to join us and share his knowledge of the river and the area with us on a river we rarely get to visit? Plus, having another in the boat allows us to fish more and row less. Russell was great, being a long time guide and outfitter in the area, along with being involved with the political side of things gave us lots to talk about on the water.

We launched the boat and off on another adventure. Things started off a little slow but we were here to throw dries and have some laughs. The Bitteroot River is a beautiful river that is surrounded by snowy mountains that provided a perfect backdrop. Our first day ended with us catching some beautiful west slope cutthroats and a few rainbows and browns on dry flies and lots of local knowledge from Russell.

skwala hatch truck boat

Plans were made for a repeat on another stretch of river. Russ had told us to try a restaurant named Napps in downtown Hamilton, MT. We were not disappointed as huge burgers (Best in the state and I would agree) and a pile of fries were laid out in front of us. After having our fill we headed back to the camp and turned in.

The next morning after downing another round of breakfast burritos and instant coffee, Russ showed up and we headed off to fish another stretch of the river. It was quite a bit warmer and seemed to be promising. On my third cast I had a nice 15 inch cutthroat on and the day was off to a great start. With my buddy rowing, Russ and I caught plenty of trout either on our dry flies or fishing a nymph underneath. We had a quick lunch and switched positions. We continued to have productive fishing throughout the day and plenty of laughs and interesting conversation.

After our day on the river we returned to the campground to find that the camper fridge had frozen the steaks, salad and sides. We threw together a quick dinner that took longer than it should have and called it a day.

The next morning we decide to head back to Bozeman through the backroads and see some new country. I was impressed with the amount of snow in the passes and to see some new areas that I hadn’t seen previously. It was a good thing that it was a nice day as it might of taken us a lot longer if the weather didn’t cooperate. We returned back to Bozeman, unloaded, and made plans for our next adventure. Stay tuned for the next episode.

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