Manners on the Water

The skwala hatch isn’t a bad time to refresh our memory about how to behave

By Rob Breeding

Fishing reports from the Bitterroot suggest Montana’s first real dry fly action of the year, the skwala hatch, is sort of on. “Sort of” is about as good a report as you can expect, even if the skwalas are full on, because with a hatch this early in the season, it can be good one day, and a blizzard the next.

Some say the best way to fish skwala is to fish with nymphs, but who wants to do that? I’ve been nymphing all winter. Skwalas are about dry flies. Big ones. That’s the only way to fish this hatch.

One of the Missoula fly shops, while touting the impending hatch on its fishing report, also advised folks on some dos and don’ts on the river. Basic river etiquette. The skwala hatch isn’t a bad time to refresh our memory about how to behave.

Let’s start with what should be the easy stuff. The other day The Professor and I were fishing a nice run when a large group showed up. We’d been picking up some fish, but that was about to end. The group, a mix of fly fishers and gear heads, also brought along their dog, a huge Lab that looked like it might push 100 pounds. If I’d been duck hunting I’d have been happy to see that dog, but in this case I knew the pooch would be bad news.

The dog owner took up fishing a respectable distance downstream, then proceeded to lose a nice fish when his dog tried to retrieve the trout as it splashed near shore. After that the dog noticed the two of us, and our small strike indicators floating through the run.

Well, the instinct to retrieve is a powerful thing in most Labs. Unfortunately, the good sense to control your dog wasn’t powerful in its owner. The pooch was soon swimming through our run chasing our strike indicators. If we hadn’t complained I’m not sure the owner would have ever bothered to rein him in.

We decided to call it a day.

Here’s another example. One spring during the skwala hatch a group of us put a couple rafts in the river and floated together. We eventually came upon another boat that had anchored up for a break, but one of the anglers had waded out about midway into the river and was working rising trout in a foam line on the far bank. The position of the boat and angler gave us no option but to drift between that dude and his fish.

Those of us in the first boat politely refrained from casting as we drifted past.

That wasn’t the case for the second boat, where a dude I call the “Mouth” was fishing from the front of the boat. As they drifted past, the Mouth dropped his fly into the foam line and hauled out a nice 16-inch cuttbow.

The wading angler voiced his displeasure (that’s a nice way to put it) while the Mouth howled with laughter. We gave him an earful later in the pub.

It goes without saying that you always give waders a wide berth when floating. In a boat you often have miles of river in front of you, but waders may only be able to reach a hole or two.

Finally, don’t be a low holer, the fly shop implored. Low holing is a term most frequently used to describe wading steelheaders who step below anglers in runs, but it also applies to drifters. If you’re posted up in a nice spot, see another boat drifting downstream, then quickly pull up anchor so you can have the water first, you’re a low holer.

Don’t do it. There’s plenty of water, and in most Montana trout rivers, plenty of fish. Share them, be polite, and have a nice time on the river.

Rob Breeding writes, teaches and watches his kids play soccer when he’s not fishing or hunting. He lives in Kalispell.

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