Socks and Sandals

By Beacon Staff

As the month winds down I’m reminded how much I dislike the weather this time of year. I’ve come to understand March snow is the worst of all weather.

It’s the cumulative effect I suppose. November snow has novelty. Winter snow is what you expect in winter. By March I’ve had enough.

Of course the weather toys with us this time of year. The other day I left work in the afternoon and it was warm enough to have me thinking spring had arrived. Visions of shorts and river sandals worn over socks danced in my head as I fell asleep that night. And yes, for all you haters out there, I’m a proud wearer of socks and sandals.

I’ve never quite understood the antipathy some folks reserve for insulated sandals. It’s almost like wolves: they hate the idea of socks worn over sandals with that primitive, reptilian part of the brain that usually only gets involves when that hate is directed at some existential threat that has lingered in our psyches for eons. I think the people that hate socks and sandals hate them as much as some folks hate wolves.

The thing is, when you live up north in wolf country, the combo can extend the sandal-wearing season by a good month in both spring and fall. It’s just a practical footwear combination in these parts.

One not terribly awful thing about March snow is that it usually has little effect on fishing. The one exception being that seeing the white stuff on the ground sometimes makes me turn around at the doorway. Foul-weather fishing can be fun and productive, so long as you’re wearing proper gear to shield yourself from the elements. But I can be a wimp about playing outdoors in marginal conditions. It doesn’t take much to lure me back to the couch with a cold one in hand to enjoy the more universally recognized form of March Madness on the television.

There’s plenty on tap outside for those who can put their bodies in motion. Skwala stoneflies are making their annual appearance on western Montana rivers, marking the start of the dry fly season. The Bitterroot is always the best skwala water, but the bugs — and more importantly, fish willing to be fooled by skwala imitations — can be found just about anywhere in Montana west of the divide. It’s just that the farther you stray from the Bitterroot the greater the proportion of time you’ll spend searching rather than catching.

The skwala hatch can be a wonderful thing. The bugs are some of the biggest trout will see all season, and the hatch can come as early as the first week of March. When you hit it just right it can be silly good. And with the Bitterroot being the Banana Belt of Montana, the weather is sometimes pretty decent. When it is, get on the water. I’ve canceled many skwala floats due to, well, March snow.

Skwalas don’t fly much so you almost never see them in the air. The nymphs tend to crawl out on the bank into streamside brush. If you do see a natural on the water, keep an eye on it. If a real live skwala drifts 30 feet or so down stream without being eaten, chances are good your foam imitation won’t fare any better.

Some dudes swear nymphs are the way to go during skwala season. The adults are too scarce, and the days of decent weather too few, for there to be consistent action on the surface. Or at least that’s what they say. They’re probably right. Nymphing is usually more productive for catching trout than dry flies. But watching a bobber dip below the surface at the tug of a trout pales in comparison to being shocked into peeing your waders the first time in spring that a big trout explodes on your dry fly. They do hit these bugs hard. The fish are tired of the winter weather too, you know.

Of course I didn’t get to wear socks and sandals the other day. When I woke there was 3 inches of fresh snow on the ground. Had to wear boots instead.

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