“LISTEN TO THE RIVER and you will catch a trout” – Irish Proverb
THERE ARE A COUPLE OF RIVERS in my region that produce Skwala stoneflies early in the season. It’s not a significant hatch but sometimes there are enough of them to get the attention of a few good trout. I usually start noticing them while I’m waiting on an afternoon Blue Winged Olive hatch.
Skwalas are relatively big (hook size 10 or 12) and easy to spot in comparison to other early season insects such as Midges and Olives. They are also dark (dark olive sometimes almost black) in color and therefore contrast well on days when a river surface is a silvery-grey which is common on broad, wide open water.
When Skwalas appear I often position myself ankle deep on a large slow moving shallow flat below a riffle. I can usually spot them just as they exit the riffle and begin their long journey over the flat. Due to their size I can follow them for 30, 40, sometimes 50 yards or more before I lose sight. The key is to focus and not take your eyes off of one during its long slow drift. Occasionally one will disappear. This means a shallow water fish has “tipped up” and consumed it. These rises are rarely aggressive such as when trout are focused on the much bigger fluttering stoneflies (Salmon and Golden) later in the season. The feeding is a little more subtle. Sometimes I hear the rise before spotting it. This often happens on a slow moving flat.
Once a rise has occurred I try to mentally mark the location of the trout using the shoreline as a reference point and also estimate its distance from shore. This is easier said than done when one spots a fish 40 yards downstream on a broad river with a somewhat featureless bank and flat featureless water. Once I have an estimated location then I quickly “rock hop” along the freestone shoreline to the approximate location. If there are no other Skwala in the drift then I will prospect the location where I believe the trout was feeding. If there are more Skwala in the flow then I’ll patiently wait for another rise so that I can more accurately pinpoint the fish before making a cast.
In the rivers that I frequent the trout aren’t selective when feeding on this stonefly. Exacting fly patterns aren’t needed. Anything resembling a Skwala is usually taken. I’ve even fished a large, oversized black ant and had a response.
If some Skwalas are around but I don’t see any rises on my favorite shallow flats then I hike to a “collector” area on the river such as back eddy or bay, or a long seam or bubble line where they can get captured. Sometimes I’ll find a good trout feeding there.
Sometimes a Blue Winged Olive hatch never develops and early season Skwala save the day.