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  • Kelly Whitmoyer and Sandy McNamara

Best-known secret of the Bitterroot Valley

One of the best-known secrets of the Bitterroot Valley is the Skwala stonefly hatch on the Bitterroot River; it has lured anglers to the Bitterroot for many years, long before our most recent spike in popularity.

The hatch starts around late February and continues through April. Skwala stoneflies inhabit the river bottom rocks until changes in the water’s temperature and flow signals it’s time for them to emerge onto the riverbank for mating. The females then take flight, and you can see them hover over the river dipping their tail-end into the water to deposit eggs.

This annual phenomenon of nature

heralds the start of spring fishing season, attracting a burst of anglers. While this is nothing new, with the valley’s growth in popularity, increasing numbers of anglers create more pressure on the river and fish creating a deleterious cumulative effect on the river’s ecosystem. This is why it is very important that we each recreate responsibly, respecting the river and each other with considerate behavior and lawful angling practices. Here are a few steps to take:

  • Mind your manners. With more anglers vying for space on the river, an overcrowded boat launch can be irritating at best, so remember to keep your cool, be courteous, communicate with your fellow anglers, and be prepared ahead of time. Have all your gear ready away from the boat launch so you’re not holding everyone else up with fiddling around arranging your stuff. Be mindful of how you park; if you're launching early the consider parking further away to allow room for others to come behind you. On the water, mind your spacing, and yield to wading anglers. Stay below the high-water mark and don’t trespass on private land. Make sure to take your trash with you, and maybe even dare to go so far as to clean up after any careless others.

  • The regs are there for a reason. More users on the river means the need for regulations becomes unavoidable. Take responsibility for knowing and following the regs. It’s easy to think that your participation or lack thereof doesn’t really have an impact, but, for better or worse, it does. For example, imagine the impact on our fishery if every angler took the attitude that catch & release or hoot-owl hours didn’t apply to them! With the swarms of anglers on the water, the fish population would be decimated in no time at all.

  • Pike are pernicious.  Northern Pike are illegally introduced predator fish and harm the native species, especially trout. If you catch one, it's ok to take it home and fry it up rather than release it.

  • Cough up some coin for your conservation license. For all types of fishing on state waters, a valid fishing license is required for everyone 12yrs of age and older. New as of July 2023, a conservation license is required for ALL users to access most state lands including fishing access sites, wildlife management areas, and wildlife habitat protection areas, (even if you are just walking your dog). Funds from these licenses contribute directly to maintenance and conservation work on FWP lands and youth education.

As mentioned in my previous newsletter, life in the Bitterroot is not solely defined by work, ranching, and farming. When we decide it is quittin' time, the river is always there, inviting us to cast a line for some river therapy. Let's enjoy it and take care of it!

The Montana FWP site is an excellent resource and easy to navigate. Click on the tab below for a great article about the Bitterroot River.

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