Those Skwalla Eats

I can feel it in the troutesphere…there will be skwalla eats in the future. There is something to behold when you see a big wild trout take a skwalla dry fly off the surface. Mmmm.

Trout have been wintering sipping little bugs and the occasional sculpin or worm.  Not the most appealing diet, and if you think trout don’t have picky tastes in their food you haven’t fished enough.

Like most critters, trout are opportunistic but also one of the most adapted creatures to their environment. They know things anglers could only dream of knowing. What they see, move, hear, feel the aquatic world is astounding. As an angler I am always striving to understand trout more. Over the years, I have come to understand a great deal about trout especially when it pertains to eating bugs off the surface.

It’s no secret as an angler; I am a dry fly fisherman. It’s my favorite; it’s what I’m best at and presents the most challenging encounters with Yakima River Trout I’ve ever experienced both personally and guiding. I’ve spent the better part of my angling career fine tuning dry fly fishing. As a guide, I’ve spent a good amount of my hours teaching, working, and opening up the world of dry fly fishing to clients.

It’s not just a thing we do for 20% of the day. When I worked for outfitters, I was told and expected to only target dry fly fishing for 20% of the day. What a waste of a day. There are just as many trout up on top as underneath once water temps are up above 42 and even better above 50. Once we get those conditions, we are hunting on dries. It works here. Trout on this river are wary of the dry.  You have to be patient and precise, and you have to read water really well. Not just position and presentation, the timing of the drift, the amount of lead time to the fish, angles of approach when one doesn’t work, sun, shade, cover, so much goes into a dry eat. It takes work on both ends, client and guide. When it comes together, it’s fucken magical. 

Trout only get stupid a few times a season for dry flies. We see it during hoppers, drakes, ants sometimes. We even see amazing feeding during mayfly hatches but there is one time a year….when trout go absolutely bonkers for top water flies….Skwallas. 

Maybe it’s because they’ve been hibernating all winter eating shit that tastes like dirt and is little. Skwallas taste like bacon for a trout coming outta the winter months, and they are huge compared to other bugs. The first big bug of the year. Of course it corresponds with spawning, water temps coming up, spring runoff, all these things that make trout need a larger, more robust food source come together in the first few weeks of the spring season on most western rivers. The Yak is no different.

Trout, get pushed around from the runoff.  Trout are looking for territory, areas where they can feed, swim, feel safe, and move about the system. Trout, don’t sit still; they are constantly moving and seeking out places that give them food, cover, and oxygen. In the spring, everything has oxygen, so those places with cover and food become easier to find. It’s still cold for a trout, but not that cold. 42 to 50 degree water is equivalent to our 50 to 60 degree days. Pretty comfortable. Trout are hungry and are now prepping for the spawn, the heavy flows, and the pressure of nature like predators…survival kinda stuff. It all begins in the spring. Right when this big easy to find, easy to eat food source becomes readily available. Skwallas.

They hatch on the bank and lay eggs on the water. Fish are all about big twitchy bugs in the soft water along the swollen banks of a springtime river.  The way these trout eat skwallas is something else. Like a grasshopper eat, but in March. Trout lie in wait sometimes coming 4 to 6 ft to the surface to eat a skwalla. When a fish moves that much to the surface, it’s explosive!  A 2lbs trout moving at top speed for a skwalla will lunge out of the river, literally crushing the bug with its head and shoulders as it eats it. It’s like trout forget how to eat big bugs over the winter.  They expose themselves, give up position, and fight and jockey for the best areas to feed on these bugs. Trout will hold in an area, sometimes for a few days, other times a few weeks.  It depends on the species, water conditions, and that sort of thing.  They can be larger area for a good number of fish or they can be small tight areas only for a few fish.  Water reading becomes a key to dry fly hunting.

We get a 10-day 2-week window that this process happens over with our trout. It’s the start of their season too. And skwallas are a great way to usher it all in.

Nothing quite like rolling up on a good 100 yard spot of bank with overhanging brush, maybe a stick and log or two in there, some good sized rocks 2 to 4 feet down 6 feet off the bank.  That slow walking speed water that’s just a little swollen from about 400 cfs of runoff in the river. Mmmm, juicy stuff.  Those precise casts tight to the bank twitched 2 to 3 feet off the grass line, a big trout underneath watching, waiting to face punch that fly. It twitches one last time almost put of range for the fish to want to eat it… But it’s spring, and that troot is hungry. 

Just before you get ready to pick up for another cast….a violent splash occurs as a pink banded leviathan with a set of big green, black spotted shoulders launches out of the river!  There is panic, there is tension, and there is a trout in the air 15 feet from the boat with a fake ass bug hanging in its face!  It’s like a stick of dynamite goes off under your fly sometimes!  It’s amazing.

I’ve had the good fortune of experiencing skwallas many times on the Yak and other rivers. It’s the same no matter where….trout love that bug.  Anglers who have been in a skwalla hatch know…its something else. I have many fond memories of skwalla days over the years. A day where 5 to 10 large, and I mean, large ass fish decide to fuck up some skwallas. The kind of fish getting ready to make more fish….ya….the good ones.

Its here anglers…all those things are lining up. And although I do love to experience dry fly fishing on skwallas for myself…its a lot more fun, and more challenging for me…when I’m guiding during it.

I guess that’s what separates guides from anglers. I’d prefer to guide skwallas instead of fishing them myself. Maybe it’s a bit of “been there done that,” for me, but really, I just get a kick outta being in the cockpit of the drift boat, not the horns. Oars in hands not a fly rod. I can’t fish and row at the same time.

The hunt is on, for those big dry fly eats, for trips on the calendar, for that one trout this spring that just never gets topped all season.  A handful of clients know what I’m talking about….there’s always one fish that gets landed in the spring that’s pushing 20-22 inches.  The biggest and baddest troot…always happens in the spring, and we spend all season trying to find another one. Maybe you could land that fish this season. 

Come on out. Skwalla pop this weekend, and I’ve got the 7th through the 10th open next week during what looks like could be the peak of the skwallas in the lower river. Who’s coming?  Land that big trout for me and help me lose my mind on dry fly eats.

See ya riverside anglers,

Tamarack

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