Montana Rivers


What to Expect in March

Note: This What-To-Expect is from Westfly's Legacy pages and may not accurately reflect the current fishing at this venue.

March weather--and therefore March fishing--is always difficult to predict. Much of the uncertainty arises from how much water will be released from dams to make room for the spring runoff, and when that water will be released. So check the river levels before packing up the rod and going fishing.

As usual in March, a few warm days can raise the water temperature and the interest level of trout. It can even generate some top-water action with midge and blue-winged olive hatches. Of those two hatches, the midges are the most reliable and the least affected by cold temperatures.

See below for some flies you should carry.

Midge imitations. Brassie, CDC Bubble Brassie, or Copper John to imitate the larvae; Sprout Midge or Griffiths Gnat if trout are taking adults on the top. Carry these in sizes 18 and 20. The larval patterns are the most effective; dead-drift them right on the bottom.

Blue-winged olive imitations. Pheasant Tail or gold-ribbed Hares Ear nymphs; CDC Baetis or Baetis Cripple emergers; Parachute Baetis or Sparkle Duns to match duns; and Rusty Spinners to match the final stage (usually not important in winter, but be prepared). All flies size 16-20, but mostly in size 18. These flies will be very important on warmer days. Look for feeding fish in backeddies and slow runs. Nymphs should be presented right on the bottom.

Baitfish imitations. Matukas, Egg Sucking Leeches, Muddlers, Clouser Minnows, etc. Usually these work best when fished from a boat because you can cast to the bank, but the boat is not essential. A sink-tip line is an aid because you need to get the fly near the bottom. Cast, let the fly sink, and retrieve slowly. This is not exciting fishing, and you'll be lucky to pick up a fish or two a day. But each fish could a brown trout that tops five pounds.

Standard Nymphs. Cast a size 8-10 Prince with a Brassie, Copper John, or Pheasant Tail on a trailing leader tied to the Prince's hook bend.

Stonefly Nymphs. The big bugs are getting active as the water warms up. Carry Rubber Legs, Kaufmanns Stoneflies, etc., in size 6-10. Black, tan, dark brown are good color choices on rivers with salmonfly, golden stonefly, or Skwala populations.

Don't rush to the river on the first mild day after a cold snap. Give the weather a chance to stabilize and warm the water for a couple of days. Also, check river flows carefully. A sudden upward spike will muddy rivers and put fish down until the flows start to drop and clear. Wait for Goldilocks weather--not too cold, not too hot, but just right--and you'll have good fishing. If it turns cold, stay home; but remember, sometimes the snowy days are the warmer ones.

Always take extra clothes in case of a dunking. Check the regs for every fishery.


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