Blog Posts In skwala

Big Hole River Fishing Report: April 8, 2014

Report by: Craig Fellin for Orvis Fishing Reports

Image Hank Hunker, of Sweetwater Fishing Expeditions, with a nice early season brown

Fishing has been good in the afternoons! Fish are looking up for midges and skwalas in the slower water and along the banks and they are chasing streamers and chomping girdle bugs in the riffles, especially at the tail end.


Water flow: 820 cfs
Visibility: 36 inches
Water temperature at mid-day: 42 Degrees F
Water condition: Clear
Best time of day to fish: 1:00-4:00 PM
Best stretch: Jerry Creek- Dewey
Best access point: Dewey
Dry Fly fishing in order of importance:
Midges, blue winged olives, skwalas
Nymphs in order of importance:
Girdle bugs, yellow streamers, black wooly buggers
Fish species: Trout
Fishing season: Spring
Nearest airport: Butte
Recommended fly fishing leader12 Foot Leader
Recommended fly fishing tippet6X Tippet
Best fly fishing rod9' 5 Weight Fly Rod
Best floating fly lineDouble Taper Trout Fly Line
Best sinking fly lineStreamer Stripper Sink Tip Fly Line

Craig's Tip of the Week:

Leaders are probably the most overlooked pieces of equipment that we use on the trout stream. I finely tapered leader either knotless or knotted will turn your fly over with ease assuming you make a good cast and match the right sized tippet with the fly you're fishing. For example you'd use a 3x tippet if you're fishing #10 hoppers in the wind, or you'd use a 6x tippet fishing a #20 baetis imitation in a slow pool. What wouldn't work would be a 5x tippet attached to a #12 Royal Wulff. Another mistake many fly fishers make is using a leader that has been snipped off numerous times during the day adding new tippet to the point where the taper on the leader has been compromised. When this happens, the fly doesn't land where its intended to, and you spend a critical moment or two searching for your fly on the water and inviting a missed strike. Use a well tapered leader each time you step in the water.

Check back weekly for updated reports! 

2014 Preview: Your Own Room, Fresh Faces and a Fresh Look!

ImageWith another snowstorm bearing down on Southwest Montana, I thought it would bolster my mental fortitude to write about fly fishing.  I’ve been tying steelhead patterns to use on the Salmon River next month for the early spring run. This has helped abate the extreme cabin fever all of us in the Big Hole Valley seem to contract about this time each winter, although this winter has been different than most. I think that could be an understatement for just about anywhere in the country, but I make the motion with great enthusiasm that its time to start thinking about big brown trout and beautiful rivers like the Big Hole, Beaverhead and Bitterroot.

“I still don’t know why I fish or why other men fish, except that we like it and it makes us think and feel.”
Roderick L. Haig-Brown
A River Never Sleeps (1946)

Tight Lines,
Craig Fellin

Our season starts with an early pre-runoff 4 night/3 day fly fishing package (see rates) from April 29-May 2nd. The water level on the Big Hole is usually ideal at this time and the trout are hungry after a long, cold winter. Expect to fish nymphs and streamers in the morning and skwala stonefly and blue winged olive dry fly patterns in the afternoon. Very few people are on the river at this time and the trout haven’t seen many flies yet. This is also a great time to be on the Missouri River, which is well known for its prolific blue winged olive hatches in April and May and superb dry fly fishing.

Big Hole Lodge will be hosting its 2nd annual Spey Casting Clinic with Larry Aiuppy on May 3-7. Larry is the only certified spey casting instructor in Montana and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the event. For me the spey cast is like watching a well-balanced and well-timed golf swing or even a ballet as some would compare. Granted the cast is meant for large salmon/steelhead rivers but there are also trout applications with the shorter spey or switch rods, fishing streamers or soft hackles in the surface film. This is a 4 night/3 day package for $2,630 per person based on double occupancy and guaranteed to jump-start your fly fishing season.


We have changed our total capacity at the lodge from twelve down to eight guests. We still plan on accommodating larger intact groups of 10-12 by special request, but the norm will be eight guests per week. There are several reasons why we made the change, but primarily it will allow each guest to have their own bedroom.  We heard so many tales of guests not being able to sleep because their roommate kept them awake at night, so now your worries are over and you’ll be able to sleep to your heart’s content. We also feel that we can give more attention to the individual at our lodge with the lower capacity and be able to deliver a quality experience that exceeds all expectations. Your satisfaction has always been our utmost concern and now we’ll be able to give you even more attention than before.

We have also replaced a lot of the furniture around the lodge with plush leather armchairs and sofas that we think you’ll really enjoy. The outdoor furniture has also been replaced with cedar Adirondack chairs that will make your cocktail hour even more enjoyable as you gaze at the majestic Pioneer Mountains surrounding the lodge.  We now have Verizon cell phone service at the lodge limited to the dining room and the deck adjoining the dining room.

We have a new guide in our line-up, Rudy Ketchum, whom I think will be a great addition to our team. Rudy grew up in Butte and has fly fished the Big Hole most of his life. He has an MBA and has installed healthcare software in hospitals for the past 22 years. Rudy has two sons and a daughter and looks forward to spending more time with his family and guiding our clients on the Big Hole. We also have a new guide for the Missouri River, Russ  Dobrzynski, who lives in Craig, MT and fishes and guides on the river year round.  Russ will be our Missouri River expert and loves to hunt those trophy brown trout that the river is known for. This is an overnight trip and requires advance reservations so please call us if you’re interested. The additional fee for the Missouri trip is $200 per person. My son Wade will finish law school and sit for his bar exam in late July. After what will be a much-needed vacation, he’ll return to our guide roster in late August and be with us each summer going forward.


With all the snow we’ve been getting, the Big Hole should have great flows this summer and allow our guides to float their boats with relative ease through September. The snowpack going into March is 145% of normal which is fantastic! We still have some excellent weeks available in July, August and September that should offer some of the best fishing we’ve had in several years with the healthy flows that are predicted for the latter part of the season.

As an Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Lodge and being one of the premiere lodges offered by Frontiers Travel, we are proud to have hosted fly fishing trips for our guests for over 30 years.  Please give us a call soon and we can talk Montana trout fishing! This is shaping up to be a very special year and we don’t want you to miss it.

(406) 832-3252

Smashin' skwalas before the runoff

Flow: 867 cfs at Maiden Rock
Visibility: Clear, but on the rise and may color up as the week begins if temps warm.
Temp: Water: 51 Air: 70 Windy
Fishing: Good! Skwalas, streamers, and small stone nymphs.

Big Hole Lodge Crew

It was wiiiiindy yesterday, but we chucked streamers through the gusts and plopped dries on the banks when the breeze let up.  Bigger fish were eagerly chasing the streamers, but were hesitant to eat it fully. We had a lot of "short strikes."   The 12-16" class was slapping the skwala dry on the banks fairly consistently from 3:00 on, and if you could get it into the pockets through the wind, the 'next size' was looking for up.

Lanette with brownie on a skwala

Lanette skwala 2

Our trusty fish hunter is sprawled out on the floor after tirelessly scanning the riffles for big browns all day!

Kali, master fish hunter


Skwalas on the Bitterroot

A few Bucknell grads and current law students pumped the boat up and shoved off for some early season Skwala action!

A Dog's Life on the Bitterroot

I was raking leaves in Bozeman last weekend when my roommate called me from Missoula and pointed out how embarrassingly late to the game we are this fishing season. This school stuff keeps one busy, but that is no excuse. I told him to get on up to Wise River and I'd meet him there. After all, we're supposed to be on spring break.  Matt called in the A-team and gathered supplies.  Tyler brought the boat and his black lab, Winston brought a cooler full of elk meat and his chocolate lab, and Matt brought whiskey and the best attitude a fisherman can have.

The first day on the Big Hole was tough fishing due to muddy water, but we had a blast and enjoyed the warm weather and fresh air.  The next day started cloudless and sunny, before turning dark, cold, and rainy as we crossed the upper Big Hole Valley into the Bitterroot.  We stopped in Conner to look at the Westfork which looked a little high, but mostly clear and definitely fishable.  The weather worsened and we decided to pack it up and head down river in search of better weather.  The storm broke in Hamilton, so we tossed the boat in.

As we rigged up the rods, skwalas crawled up from the banks and onto the boat, gear bags, and fly-rods.  The water was clear, but high and swift.  Not ten minutes into the float, Winston hooked a whitefish, breaking his bad luck streak of two weeks since he left Jackson Hole.  Shortly after, he caught a beautiful little cutthroat, to which Matt made a toast.

Check out that neon-orange cut!

We each hooked fish and we each brought a handful up on dry-flies.  The fish definitely took a while to warm up and the better fishing started around 4 o'clock.

Our trusty river guides had been waiting patiently in the boat all afternoon for us to pull into a back-eddy and throw a stick for them.  Goose, the chocolate lab, couldn't decide whether he liked diving for rocks or swimming for sticks better.  Chaco had no such uncertainty.

It didn't take long for Goose to be persuaded, however.  After watching Chaco snatch the stick and proudly return it to Tyler for a third time, Goose took it upon himself to fetch Winston the trophy.

Storms surrounded the Bitterroot Valley all day, but never left the mountains. We lucked out with sunshine and spectacular views into the evening.

We arrived in Hamilton just in time for dinner at the Bitterroot Brewery before heading back to Missoula.  It was the perfect two day getaway and we were all tuckered out by nightfall.  Goose and Chaco snored all the way home.

Ice-Out on The Big Hole River

It's Skwala time in Southwest Montana.  The trout have been in semi-hibernation under the ice since December, sipping the occasional midge larvae and passing nymph. As of last week, the ice has broken and the skwala stonefly is on the water!

I have also been in a semi-hibernation state since September, locked away in the library at the University of Montana's law school and have eagerly been awaiting spring break to get outside.  The best remedy for cabin fever is a trip to a riverside cabin in the woods with good friends.  Two of my classmates and our pal from Jackson Hole hooked up the boat, grabbed their labrador retrievers, and set out from Missoula to meet me in Wise River.  After the requisite pool game in the Wise River Club, we built a fire and sat under the stars with fine cigars and let the stress of the midterm exams slip into the crisp, cloudless night.


The next morning was also cloudless and the Pintler Mountains shimmered against the deep blue sky.  We drove down to Jerry Creek to find a very murky river.  The Big Hole had a "5 year rain" last weekend that brought the river up almost 5,000 cfs and busted the ice off of the river surface and into the fields.  The force necessary to shove ice chunks the size of sedans is tough to comprehend.  We decided to drive upriver, above several tributaries still running dirty from the rains.  The river at Mudd Creek Bridge had about two feet of visibility, but we were determined to get on the water on this beautiful spring day and we shoved the boat in over the ice.


 We took turns rowing, and when my roommate, Matt,  got on the oars he assured us he, "had this".   In fact, he did not.   It was a wild ride, but we got a fantastic panoramic view of the Big Hole Valley.  It was sort of like being in a big theatre at Epcot where the whole room spins around you.


As temperatures rose, huge chunks of ice slid from the banks into the river taking clumps of dirt and grass with them and clouding the river as they rolled along the gravel beds.  There was no hope for dry-fly action, though the skwalas were on the water.  Instead, we chucked big, ugly streamer as close to the banks as we could in hopes that a sunbathing trout would catch a glimpse.  We threw white, yellow, orange, and black streamers and the most effective proved to be black.


We all agreed that it was a great day, and though the fishing conditions were less than ideal, it felt good to stretch out the casting arms and ease into rowing shape on a 60 degree April day in the Big Hole Valley.  There were smiles all around as we headed into Wise River to plan out day two on the Bitterroot River which would hopefully have more clarity and more skwalas.


Hit this window before the run-off!

Big Hole River Fishing Report:

  • Water Flow: 1,120 cfs
  • Temperature:  47 degrees
  • Visibility:  2-3 feet
  • Bugs:  fish are looking for skwalas, streamers, and small dries when the sun is out.
  • Weather Forecast:  Thurs- 42 degrees and snow showers.   Fri- 36 degrees, windy and snow showers.  Sat- 45 degrees and partly sunny.  Sun- 50 degrees and mostly sunny

Bucknell grads, Dan and Chris, eager to get after it

The snow in the upper Big Hole Valley hasn't even come out of the meadows yet.  The meadow snow, or low snow as it is referred to around here, is typically gone by the end of April and we have a nice window for fishing until the warm spring temps bring down the high snow.

This year we are experiencing a late winter and a cool spring is likely.  One or two warm days will bring that remaining low snow out and the river will be off-color but most likely fishable.  When the temps reach 60 and 70, usually in early May, this winter's huge snowpack will begin to release and the river will be high and muddy for a week or two.  I expect high water to last well into June but as long as the water clears this is ok for fishing.   In the world of fly fishing there is always something to complain about but we would much rather have the problem of too much water than too little.  This year will be great for the health of the watershed.

Get out there with big ugly bugs in the inclement weather this week and tie on a  little dry fly when the temps hit the upper 40's and 50's this weekend.  Enjoy it while you can!