Nymphs For Early March
March is a special time in Missoula. We’re so lucky to have excellent pre-runoff fishing, and we take advantage of that from the moment the rivers are accessible. Let’s talk about the first few weeks of March first where you’ll find the best fly patterns for fly fishing Montana in March are nymphs. Nothing but Midges have hatched since October, and the biomass of the river is as high as it’s going to be all year. There are so many nymphs crawling on the bottom, and the trout are gorging. Focus on the SR Bullet Frenchie (Nemoura), The Bullet Olive or Olive Hot Spot (BWO) in size 16 and a TH Duracell or Ptail Jig Nymph (Western March Brown) in size 14 to get close to the coming hatches. A Double Bead Olive or Double Bead Peacock in size 10-12 covers the skwala nymphs that are starting to move. Truthfully, you can pick a nymph and fish it- there’s so much food on river bottoms that most nymphs are eaten.
Euronymphers, this is your time to shine. If the weather is good, late February is just as good as early March. Pick two nymphs that make you smile and get them on the bottom. The trout are looking for food, and the abundance of nymphs has them feeding in heavily in our local rivers. It’s the best nymphing of the season, don’t miss it!
Blue Winged Olive Fly Patterns
As we approach March 10, the early season hatches start to emerge. BWO’s are the first to establish, and it’s a good hatch from a fly buyer’s perspective. Missoula has two BWO hatches- spring and fall– and the same flies work for both. If you loaded up last fall, the same flies are working now. If you need some BWO’s, the BWO Film Critic, Tilt-Wing BWO and the Split Flag BWO will cover a lot of stages in the surface life of the Blue Winged Olives. Add a Hi-Vis Spinner and you’re pretty much complete. All these flies are size 16 (very early season) to 20, and require fine tippet for a good float. Underneath, any Tungsten Jig Pheasant Tail in a size 16-18 will move fish for the rest of the month. Look for BWO’s to appear first on the Bitterroot River, and then followed on Rock Creek and the Clark Fork River.
The BWO’s can be very strong during the Spring in Montana, almost a blanket hatch at times. It pays to have a wide assortment of BWO’s to cover all the different Mayfly hatch stages. With so many insects on the water, the trout can get quite snotty about what stage they’re eating. It pays to have more than one type of BWO. The BWO Sprout and Film Critic are excellent emergers, while the Tiltwing or BWO Comparadun handle the adults. Don’t be afraid to have a few smaller Parachute Adams as some of the BWO species that hatch in the Spring are decidedly gray in hue. Wide and shallow is the way to buy your flies for the BWO’s, to cover the different stages and hues that appear in the Spring (and the Fall!).
Skwala Fly Patterns
The big dog in March is the Skwala stonefly. Think about it, who doesn’t enjoy throwing a size 8-12 dry fly? The best early season Skwalas in Missoula are the Chubby Chernobyl Olive, Olive Fat Frank and the El Camino Olive, all in size 8-10. Those flies make the cut because, while the skwalas typically start hatching in the 3rd week of March, anglers start fishing them in the 1st! Big Foamies support the DB Peacock or Brown/Black Pat’s Rubberlegs we all fish as the skwala tries to establish on the surface. The bigger dry bugs sometimes get noticed early in the hatch but the big dry is more of an indicator at this point.
As the skwalas get consistent in the 3rd week of March, the Morningwood Skwala, Plan B Olive and Rogue Skwala have been strong fly patterns for March Fly fishing in Montana for years. These flies tend to float a little lower in the film, and carry a classic stonefly shape. If you want lower floating still, look at the Half-Down Skwala or Little Olive Stone. On a warmer day, look for some movement from the naturals, so a twitch isn’t a bad idea. In the cold, a dead drift is much preferred. Stick with the larger sizes in the early part of the hatch.
There’s a sneaky spring stonefly hatch, and it’s the Nemoura. A black stonefly in a size 16, if you’re not looking for it, you’re going to miss it. Most anglers discover the nemoura when they cast a skwala to a fish that’s risen, and gets refused. Pull out a nemoura, and throw it over the rise. You’re going to find the nemoura to be pretty good in picking up those random rises the skwala misses. When the hatches are strong, a double dry of a skwala and nemoura is a great combo. Despite its small size, the nemoura accounts for a lot of fish in Spring fly fishing in Missoula. The Missoulian Angler carries a couple of different nemouras, and it’s well worth having a few in the box to cover all the stonefly bases.
Like most stoneflies, the bugs don’t start until the afternoon. The warmer the day, the sooner they start to move. Morning angling is often devoted to nymphing, but if you have the notion, twist a streamer on and get it in the obvious places. The trout are coming off 4 months of minimal feeding, and the warming water is speeding up the trout’s metabolism. A morning sttreamer has the potential to move some big fish on our local rivers.
The size of the streamer is going to be important. In March, the water is normally low and clear, giving the trout a good look at your offering. An active smaller fly is exactly what you’re looking for in March. Some of our favorites are the Sculpzillas in a variety of colors, the Swim Coach and the Baby Gonga. The last two are articulated flies, and they have action out the gazoo. Articulation is often thought of as a big fly feature, but with their success, articulation is found in streamers of all sizes at this point. The smaller articulated flies allow anglers with a 5 or 6 weight to utilize the action of flies normally thought to need a bigger stick.
March Brown Patterns
As March draws to a close, the Western March Browns will begin to insert themselves into the conversation. The hatch gains its name from the original 12 flies from Dame Juliana Berners book printed in 1496, the first book on sport fishing printed on moveable type. Not as well named as they could be, the WMB is strongest in April and is a gray/brown fly. Other than that, it’s a Western March Brown! In the last 10 days in March, the Tungsten Duracell Jig or Tungsten Hare’s Ear Jig in size 12-14 will match the nymphs that are starting to move on the river bottoms. When this afternoon hatch does materialize, a simple Parachute Hare’s Ear or Parachute Pheasant Tail will cover the hatch. If you’re looking to extend your selection for the WMB, look to a Brindle Chute or a Purple Haze in size 12.
Unlike the BWO’s, the WMB’s are rarely a blanket hatch. That sometimes means the bugs are hatching and nothing is feeding on them, as there’s not enough insects to pull the trout to the surface. But it’s nice when the fish are up and eating. Because the WMB’s don’t carpet the water the fish will take most anything close with a good drift. While you can certainly use emergers, cripples and any other cool fly you’ve tied for this hatch, a parachute or comparadun will work 90% of the time. It’s rare you need to delve too deeply into the WMB box for a solution.
March starts subsurface with nymphs and streamers, until you see a hatch establish. The first one to start will be the BWO’s, followed by the Skwala. Use your bigger skwalas in the early season, and be ready to drop a nymph off the back until the hatch gains consistency. Look for WMB’s to start near the end of March, so have your gray bugs with you. Consistent rises means a mayfly, sporadic rises means the skwala or nemoura. If you want to start the season off with some heavy numbers, go deep and stay there. The river biomass is as big as it’s going to get, and March is the best nymphing month in Missoula. As always, feel free to stop by or call the shop to chat more about some of the best fly patterns for fly fishing Montana in March.