Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fly Fisherman’s March Madness

St. Patrick's Day Baetis
by Craig Amacker
Fontana Sports Store Manager & Fly Fishing Guru

The weather in March can be a crapshoot in the Driftless region of Wisconsin. It can be 65 degrees and sunny with folks wearing shorts and flip flops or we can still be in the icy grip of winter with two feet of snow and a high of 20. For the avid trout fisher, March is a great time to be on the streams because it’s not crowded, the bank grass is trampled flat and there are no gnats. The nymph and streamer fishing is also superb.

One element most folks overlook, however, is the dry fly fishing that can also be good under the right conditions with one fly in particular, the Blue Wing Olive or Baetis in Latin. While the best Baetis hatches occur in April, March is when things get started. According to my logs, the Baetis hatch usually starts on St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day became the magic start date many years ago after running into a couple fly shop guys from Chicago who went fishing to get away from the craziness of the holiday in Chi Town. All three of us had one of the best dry fly days of the year. It’s become a habit ever since to be on the stream that day looking for Baetis hatches and rising trout. There have been some interesting variances in start dates throughout the years. For example, in 2012 when it was freakishly warm, it started the beginning of March, and last year in the grip of the Polar Vortex it started March 20. The fact that last winter and spring were the coldest of the cold, and the hatch started only three days late is a testament to the hardiness of the Baetis. Though you’ll encounter some hatches on sunny days, the best conditions are overcast and drizzly because the adults stay on the water longer-read easier mealand the trout aren't as spooky.

The hatch won’t be heavy, but it will be good enough to get fish looking up and eating on top. You can make a game of it by hunting individual risers and in the early stage of the hatch, just put a fly over the fish after it rises once. More often than not, it will eat right away. Because this isn't “super hatch” fishing, you’ll know when a trout eats your fly rather than a natural, and you’ll experience a higher catch rate-to-cast ratio. This is great sport for folks who've just come back from their early spring Bonefish trip because they're in the right mindset to hunt and sight fish their query.

The gear for pursuing this hatch is pretty straightforward. First and foremost you need warm clothing, merino base layers, fleece, waders, fingerless gloves and a Gore-Tex rain jacket to have the staying power to be out in temperatures from 35-45 degrees. For tackle, an 8 1/2’ to 9’ 3 or 4 weight rod with a dull colored weight-forward fly line, and a 9’ 5X does the trick. Don’t have your leader too long or it won’t turn over properly and good turnover makes it easier for the near-sighted individual to see size 18 to 20 flies and track them on the surface.

My go-to fly for this pursuit is the Sparkle Dun in gray/olive color in sizes 18-20, and my CDC version of the same fly is good for high visibility on mirrored surfaces. I like the Sparkle Dun because it’s a sparsely tied fly with a low profile that does double duty as an adult or emerger, depending on whether you grease the wing or whole body. If you like fishing droppers, you can tie 12 inches of 5X to the hook bend of the Sparkle Dun and attach a Pheasant Tail, Ju Ju Baetis Nymph, or Craig’s Big Green Baetis in sizes 18 to 20 behind it. This allows you to capitalize on fish that are eating the bugs ascending towards the surface and further maximize your catching opportunities.

Despite not being the magic air temperature of 50 degrees to bring everyone on-stream, I've had some really good dry fly days in March. While everyone else is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with lots of Guinness or glued to the NCAA Basketball Championships, I’m experiencing my own form of “March Madness,” the first good dry fly fishing of the season.

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