You may hear the word ‘skwalla’ being thrown around the fly shop or river over the next month. You might see anglers get all hot and bothered when the hatch shows up. You might lose your own shit when you see a big troot hoover a big dry like it’s August but it’s Late February early March. It’s the Skwalla Stonefly….and it causes fish, critters, and anglers to lose their minds!
The skwalla is a stonefly. We have a handful of species that hatch on the Yakima. The stonefly is a carnivorous little aquatic insect that lives in the river for up to 4 years before it hatches and becomes an adult for a few days to reproduce. Like all our stoneflies here…they live in the big rocks hunting amd feeding and growing. When late February and March rolls around our first big bug of the season starts waking up.
Stoneflies eat other bugs. And as they get ready to hatch, they are relentless. They feed and slowly migrate towards the banks and shallow areas of the river. This is happening right now. The skwallas are moving into the bank and feeding….getting ready to hatch. This happens because the bugs have reached sexual maturity. Some waiting for 4 years to become an adult and pass on their genetics. Water conditions, air temps, barometric pressure, and time of year all have to overlap in order for these bugs to pop. And every other critter in and around the river knows this.
Birds, small fish, other bugs, and of course troots eat these crunchy morsels. They pack a lot of protein, are easy to eat, and are in abundance for 10 to 20 days while the entire ecosystem of the river wakes up and ushers in spring. The weather has shifted, flows have come up, runoff has started its trickle, water temps are fluctuating, the sun is out, and in a few weeks the green will come back to the river and hillsides. Skwallas bring in the spring season anglers.
Already, fish are chasing the skwallas along the bottom of the river. The majority of the fish we have hooked into have been on stonefly nymph imitations. 2 weeks ago, fish were deeper and near the middle of the river. This week, they are closer to the riverbank. This means fish are following the food. As the water temps hit 42-45 degrees, the rainbow trout get spawny, which makes them get hungry. The w tire population of trout in the river. All 2000 per mile….they all start getting into a frenzy for these bugs. It starts in the lower river and works its way up river over the next 3 to 4 weeks. When the water hits 6 cutties join the party.
Skwallas cycle, because they are nymphs for 2 to 4 years, we have cycles of big hatches and small hatches. Since the 2015 drought, keeping track of when the big hatches come has been difficult. Hot water does a nu.ber in invertebrates. After 8 years since that drought, I think the skwalla hatch is back to normal cycles. This means we get decent hatches every season, and every 2 to 4, we get a massive hatch. The last season was a big hatch, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be here this season in droves. We have had great water conditions for 3 seasons. I expect to have a really good skwalla hatch this year.
The skwalla hatches on the bank not in the river. It crawls out and then takes several minutes to metamorphosis into an adult. Like a caterpillar. It pops out of its old shuck or skin with a new set of 4 wings and one thing on the brain…reproduction. after hatching into an adult the next 36 hrs are spent finding a mate. Females mate and hang out for the day making an eggsac to oviposit back into the river. The males, once finished, die shortly after. Feeding mostly birds and small critters along the grass and bank of the river. After a few hrs or a whole day, the females return to the river to lay eggs.
Skwallas aren’t graceful and can’t fly worth a damn. The females flutter or crawl back to the river , wiggle, and flop around to release eggs. These eggs, smaller than a pin head, are wicked dense and sink to the bottom of the river. They slowly work their way into the substrate, like a plinko machine. They rest there and hatch into a little nymph and start the process over again.
When these females come back to lay eggs, that’s when shit gets silly. Skwallas are easy to see, which means they are easy to eat. They sitter and flop around, making noise and racket, which makes fish crush them. Fish are hungry getting ready for spawning, battling spring flows, and the general ravenous nature of critters after the winter hibernation. We are so close. Already fishbare feeding on midges up on the surface. When a larger, more filling meal presents itself…oh man troot are gonna lose their little brains.
We are just waiting for bugs now. The water and fish are ready. Now, with all these sunnier warmer days here…the adult skwallas are almost here. This week? Maybe next….we are in it now, and it’s a fun place to be because when it happens and you’re out on the river….its something pretty special. You have to experience it to really understand it. But trout get stupid for these bugs. It just kicks off the season so nice.
Right now, it looks like this weekend, but probably the following and the first week of March for skwallas. No matter what, the next 2 to 4 weeks are going to be when shit turns on. I’ve been doing this a while…my trooty senses are tingling.
Right now here’s what dates are open that are going to fall during the skwalla hatch in my professional opinion. As we get into March the upper river will be the focus but until then we are working the lower river.
Open days during skwallas:
Last week it will be thick:
Mach 14th-17th, and March 20th.
After that, it will shift to BWOS and March Browns. Skwallas are short and sweet. And there are still a good number of dates open during what should be the peak of the hatch. Later dates in March will be focused on the upper river, so book accordingly if you’d rather fish the upper river.
$325 for 2 anglers is my Skwalla Special rate. I also have a clinic on Feb 19th that has 2 spots still open to learn how to fish this hatch and other spring techniques.
So reserve a day during the skwalla hatch and come chase fish on big dry flies in the spring! No one has hooked a trout on the dry yet….you wanna be the first!?
See ya riverside anglers.