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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Skwala Stonefly ~ Tips & Tricks

The Skwala Stonefly hatch is right around the corner on the Lower Yuba River. I've see the hatch start as early as late December and last until the 2nd week of March. With two big water events taking place already in the month of December alone, I'm being optimistic about the populations that will appear for 2017. I'm sure they took a beating, but Mother Nature is very resilient in so many ways. In this post you'll find a whole lot of information including links to past posts, and breaking down the key components and materials for tying the Skwala adult pattern. Some say that this hatch is overrated which I disagree, yes it does get a lot of attention and with that comes hype, that's for sure. You'll see various guide services exclaiming how fun it is to throw a big dry during the winter. The fact remains that the Skwala stonefly is not that big, and an angler must put their time in with careful observations, and the perfect drift to fool the highly educated Lower Yuba River wild rainbow.

Let's first start with some past posts that will cover many different things about the hatch from behavior to presentations;
The best resource on the Skwala stonefly hatch would be my article "The Skwala Hatch" that was featured in the 2014 December issue of California Fly Fisher. If you do not own a copy of that issue ask around, it's loaded with some great information. 

When it comes to Skwala presentations there are many different factors involved, it's way more that just chuck and drift. I have just completed a superior Powerpoint presentation on fishing dry flies, "Mastering The Dry Fly ~ A Visual Experience" is a program that is both technical and informative, with new animated step by step instructions on the proper casting presentations that will equal success. I will be showcasing this program to many fly clubs and shows throughout 2017. To check out my presentation schedule, follow the link to my "News" page on my website HERE.

There are a few good patterns out on the market that will definitely increase your chances for a hook up with a surface eating trout that is keyed in on the Skwala. A Stimulator in the right color will work when the fish are really on the grab, but let's look at some specialty ties that take it to the next level.

The "Unit Skwala" is my favorite pattern and one that I have a high level of confidence in, and confidence is everything when we fish no matter the species. This pattern was turned onto me by a long time guest and fishing buddy of mine who travels to the Bitterroot River in Montana most every year for the Skwala hatch. Created by veteran guide John Cook, this pattern has an extended foam wing that is highly buoyant and provides the right profile. It has fooled many fish on the Lower Yuba River.

Morgan Thalken's "Double Dutch Bug" is my second favorite pattern, and it's also a highly effective fly. The color shown here is not up to par for the Yuba Skwala (which I'll go into detail further down) and better suited for Skwalas on the Truckee River, the Rocky Mountains, Washington, and Montana. Morgan's fly is readily available at most higher end fly shops and a must have in your box.

Photo by Dan LeCount

Truckee River guide Dan LeCount's version is another fine bullet head pattern complete with rubber legs, and an egg sack, which at times greedy trout will key on. Dan is one hell of a fly tyer, if you have a chance to see him tie - do it, you'll learn a lot from him as I have.

As a fly tyer, one is always improving patterns whether they are commercial, or their own. I do it all the time, and that's what progression is all about. I want to share a few things I've learned about tying medium to large stoneflies, and the best materials to choose. Check out the top picture of two male Skwala stones, and the lone female. Notice the size difference? For the female I use a Tiemco TMC 2312 in a size 10, I really like this hook as it features a straight eye, and is slightly humped, which allows the abdomen to sit flush in the film just like the natural. For the male, the same hook in a size 12 replicates an exact match.

When it comes to body material small diameter yarn is a good choice, it speeds up your time on the vise, and when applied properly gives a segmented look to it. Be careful in choosing the properties of the yarn. I look for blends that are both nylon and acrylic, which floats better than others that are made with natural fibers. Another aspect in using synthetic yarns is that they have more sparkle to them that shimmer and shine. One key technique when applying your yarn is to twist it in a clockwise direction, this tightens the fibers and does not allow for water to soak in. I like to use Cascade Yarns Cherub DK blend. For freshly hatched Skwalas, or specimens that are a few weeks old, I go with color #43 (located on top) which has is a pale yellow/olive color to it. Skwalas live quite a long time, about a little over a month, and as they age they darken up a bit like a ripening banana. For this life stage I go with color #51 (located on the bottom), which is more like a spicy brown mustard color.

Matching dubbing to your exact yarn color is easy. Snip off a 3" piece of the yarn and with your fingers pull it apart, repeat the process over and over until you get a fine blend. An important technique in dubbing dry flies is to use less, and spin tighter onto the thread so water does not absorb into it. Try this important technique with all your dry flies with dubbed bodies.

All foam is not created equal, and I have a lot of experience with foam as I have been tying with it since the mid 90's. Foam that you buy in fly shops is the same formula as sheet foam you can buy at a craft store, except three times the amount. Thickness may vary though. There is nothing wrong with craft foam, it comes in many colors, and serves a purpose like on my club sandwich hoppers. Larva Lace foam is simply the best, it is more buoyant than most other foam products on the market, and has the ability to be stretched when wrapping bodies. Whatever foam you choose, make sure it is "closed cell" and not "open cell", which will sink.

Quality moose hair is hard to find and one reason I've been buying my deer, elk, and moose hair from Blue Ribbon Fly Shop in West Yellowstone for the past 22 years. These patches of hair are from the Montana area from hunters who network with the shop. If you're lucky enough you'll get a patch with a bullet hole in it. When Ordering, ask for patches that have a high sheen, minimal underfur, and with straight hairs throughout.

I prefer a sight wing over a clump of foam on my patterns, and a white or off white color is best. You can use natural hair like a calf tail or go with a synthetic material. Z-lon and McFlylon have better floating abilities and resist water saturation. Antron is a great material for nymphs and emergers as proven by the late Gary LaFontaine, but it also does not float which is not the best choice for a dry fly.

Last but not least is medium round rubber legs in brown. Spirit River materials was bought by Hareline Dubbin so look for that name brand when buying your rubber legs. A key action for rubber legs is to keep them on the long side. This will give them more action as they flex with the micro currents of a river. Too short and they will not move at all and be stiff. I use a closed loop knot while fishing my Skwala patterns, this knot allows more movement and closely replicates those highly twitchy legs which is a behavior of the Skwala stone, and a strike mechanism for enticing trout.

Well there you have it, just some tips and tricks for you to ponder before hitting the vise and spinning up some bugs. We'll have to play the waiting game to see how the hatch unfolds on the Lower Yuba River this winter, and on the Truckee River a little later in spring. Tightlines!

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