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An early spring hatch of the little known Skwala stonefly on the Bitterroot River in western Montana will be coming up soon, offering hardy anglers a chance to take browns 20 inches or more. The best part is, almost no one knows about this hatch, so you should be able to enjoy it in relative serenity.

The action should begin around the second week of March and run through about the 10th of April when runoff from spring snowmelt will begin in earnest.

"On a warm, sunny day you can take browns that run up to 27 inches," says John Adza of Catch Montana (*). Adza operates a new lodge in nearby Hamilton and offers daily float trips for $210, which can be split between two fishemen.

Adza describes the Skwala as a flat shaped insect, dark olive in color and size 6 8. He says he has never seen them take to the air despite their being winged. They differ from their famous relative, the salmon fly, in that their hatching is not marked by wild, blizzard like events that move steadily upriver. Instead, the Skwala exhibits more sedate behavior, hatching on a localized basis throughout the streamcourse, pretty much in the same spots year after year.

The advantage here is that experienced anglers know where and when to fish and are not forced to "chase" the hatch the way they do the salmon fly hatch. Visitors to the Bitterroot will obviously need the knowledge of a guide to find the hatch and insure quality fishing. Adza is a top choice.

Later in the year, if you are looking for a way to fish the Yellowstone National Park region and beat the crowds, too, I suggest you check out the Big Sky Resort area. It’s situated in one of the prettiest parts of the scenic Gallatin Valley, only minutes from the excellent fishing found in the Gallatin River. The Gallatin offers very good angling for rainbows and browns in the 10 to 16 inch range, with fish over four pounds taken each year, especially in autumn.

Just about any place you can park your car off Hwy. 191 and walk down to the river is a good place to fish. One of the best day’s fishing I’ve ever had anywhere took place on the Gallatin one sunny July afternoon using nothing but Royal Wulffs. Almost every cast produced a rainbow with an occasional brown thrown in for variety’s sake. You pretty much can have the water to yourself here, too.

Lodges to check out include Buck’s T 4 Lodge (*), one mile south of the Big Sky Entrance. It offers comfortable rooms, spas, a lounge and a dining room that features a menu with items not normally found in this part of the country, like West Texas Antelope and Alaskan Venison. Rooms at this Best Western Lodge start at around $40/right and run up over $70.

Lone Mountain Ranch (*), a member of the Orvis Endorsed Lodge Program, offers guiding on rivers such as the Yellowstone, Madison, Gibbon, Gallatin and trips to the Spanish Peaks for cutthroats, goldens, grayling and rainbows. Because of the Orvis influence, flyfishers’ needs are catered to. Costs for guide services begin at $110/half day to $250 for a full day on the river. Special fishing supplement packages are available.

Finally, there is Big Sky Resort (*), below Lone Mountain. The whole setup here is excellent for anglers. Rates for rooms at Huntley Lodge start at $88 and go to near $200. Condominiums begin at $97 and approach $400. My wife and I recently stayed at the Beaverhead Condominiums (at the upper end of the price spectrum) and found these to be ideal for anglers traveling with children, or for individuals who desire spacious, luxury accommodations.

Just remember, if you get tired of the Gallatin while you’re at Big Sky, there are all those famous rivers in Yellowstone waiting for you just 45 minutes away down Hwy. 191. Enjoy! John Holt.

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