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The Yuba River Skwala Stonefly Hatch

Article and photos by Jon Baiocchi
02/05/14 -- Dry fly fishing on the Lower Yuba River during winter can be phenomenal, productive, and so much fun! For those fly anglers who simply cannot wait for the warmer months of late spring and summer, the Yuba fulfills the needs and desires of presenting dry flies floating gently down the currents. It’s so good that it inspired me to make the move down from the high country to the foothills so I could be that much closer to this awesome fishery. The Yuba River is a special place and often challenges the most competent fly angler, which is part of the allure.

Skwala Unit Dry Fly, gray and brown and white, on a leaf
Having the right pattern is everything, the Skwala Unit produces good results.

The main attraction right now on the Yuba is the highly popular Skwala stonefly hatch that starts in late December, peaks in February, and wanes in the middle of March. Every day is different when it comes to this hatch and the stoneflies prefer warm sunny days as it allows them to fly easier with little effort. On colder days the hatch will be sparse, but they are still present hiding under rocks with females waiting for the right time, and warmer conditions to oviposit over the river. The Skwala stonefly nymph when fully mature is about 1.25 inches long, with the adult around 1.5 inches. It’s the adult we are concerned with in regards to fishing the dry on the surface of the water. Fly patterns should be a size 8 that sit flush in the film and are very buoyant.

The Yuba River Skwala stone fly hatch is legendary. Skwala bugs on rock
The Yuba River Skwala stone fly hatch is legendary.

The body color of the Yuba River Skwala is unique and very different than most specimens’ from other water sheds having a burnt yellow color on the underside of the insect. The longer this stonefly lives, the darker the shade of the body is with some hints of an olive coloring. Having the right pattern is essential to your success! The trout of the Lower Yuba are serious professionals and will refuse inferior flies that do not match the natural.

Jim Moloney with a beautiful red striped male rainbow.
Jim Moloney with a beautiful red striped male rainbow.

Fishing the Skwala hatch is best from noon to late afternoon during the warmest time of the day; this is when they are most active and available to the trout. Casting less and observing more is critical, I often sit in a productive area of slower side water that is next to faster runs and riffles looking for rising fish. Once I see a rise, I immediately pin point the location and devise a plan of attack. Every scenario is different and an angler needs to think about if an upstream presentation is applicable, or maybe a downstream “fly first” presentation would work better. Regardless of the choice of cast you intend to make your fly must drift freely without any sort of drag. If you see wakes coming off your fly, you’re doomed. These educated trout want it just like the natural, which drifts quietly and softly down the feeding lanes without any movement.

Warm and sunny afternoons are ideal for high Skwala stone fly activity. Skwala hanging onto fishng rod
Warm and sunny afternoons are ideal for high Skwala stone fly activity.

Being stealthy and keeping a low profile will definitely give you the best chance of having a fish rise to your offering. The most common mistakes I see other anglers do when playing this game is being in too much of a hurry, often running up the river and passing up good water. Slow down and study small sections of the river, decipher the seams of the river’s currents, and making every cast count. Secondly, making sloppy repetitive casts will put any fish down in the area you are fishing. Be confident in your equipment, your fly selection, and most importantly your skills. Without confidence you will surely fail.

The rainbow trout of the Lower Yuba River are powerful and educated. Hand holding spotted trout
The rainbow trout of the Lower Yuba River are powerful and educated.

If you’re looking for easy fishing the Lower Yuba is not the place to visit, but if you are up to a challenge and a good puzzle to solve, the rewards go much deeper than just a bend in the rod and a tight line. Personally, I want the latter as tough conditions make you a better fly angler, and carry you up the staircase of progression to be the best you can be. It’s not about numbers on the Yuba when stalking trout off the bank with a Skwala dry fly; it’s the combination of witnessing this incredible hatch, the beauty of the river, and the anticipation of hooking a powerful Yuba River rainbow.

Jon Baiocchi has been fly fishing and tying flies since 1972 and is a California licensed fly fishing guide, published author, educator, innovative tier and public speaker has given fly fishing presentations to clubs and expos around the state. Jon operates Baiocchi’s Troutfitters guide service in Northeastern California where he has a reputation as a hard working guide who has been trained by some of fly fishing’s best known master anglers. He can be reached at BaiocchisTroutfitters.com

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