March fly-fishing is one of the first long-awaited signs of spring for many of us in Western and Northwestern Montana. After being inside for several months, we can’t wait to hit the water again and see if the trout are awake. March fly-fishing is not for the faint of heart, however. Here are a few things to help you prepare for a March fly-fishing trip…
In Montana, fishing licenses expire at the end of February, and a new one is needed starting March 1st. The cost varies based on your age and residency status, but a conservation and fishing license is usually under $35 for adult residents. You can renew licenses online and either print them off or bookmark them in your email on your phone. Know where they are at all times – there is a good chance Fish and Game will be checking licenses at popular boat launches. Review regulations when you purchase or renew your license, as they change annually.
If you are new to Montana or new to fly-fishing, I strongly encourage you to hire a fly-fishing guide, especially for March fly-fishing. You will learn more from a guide in one or two trips down the river than you will learn accidentally over several years. Fly-fishing, in March especially, can be frustrating. A guide will not only eliminate early-spring fishing frustrations, but you will catch fish! Check with your local fly fishing shop for guides and availability.
The river bottom consistently feels about 10 degrees cooler than the actual temperature. This is a perk in the summer, but not so much in March. Dress WARM and in layers. Seriously consider using hand warmers. Fingerless gloves are helpful when casting, but your hands will freeze after a while. You’ll need to take breaks occasionally with warm gloves, ideally with hand warmers in them.
Western March Browns
Stock up on Western March Brown dry flies. This is one of the first hatches of spring, and the trout go nuts for these. You should be able to spot seams and foam stocked with actual March Browns. This can be a mixed bag – it’s exciting to be a part of one of the first big hatches of the year, however, when trout have an abundant supply of the real thing, they may reject your fly. Still, trout this time of year are hungry, slow, and haven’t been taken from the water by the mouth enough times to be discerning. This fact can make March fly-fishing an exhilarating success.
Skwalas are a late March hatch (on most Western Montana rivers) and are a blast to cast. It’s still early enough in the season for the trout to be ready for a big, juicy, fresh bug. Best of all, Skwalas are not fair weather bugs – they’ll do their thing regardless of sun, snow, rain, or wind. Fly-fishers in Western Montana go a little nuts for Skwala season – in the Bitterroot Valley, the Skwala hatch is dubbed “the boat hatch” due to all the enthusiasm. Trust me, the second you see a fat brown trout rise to your Skwala, you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
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River and hatch report
If you are thinking of dropping a drift boat or raft in the water for the first time in March, check in with your local fly shop first. The rivers in Western Montana change dramatically from year to year, and early spring water can be especially dangerous. Your friendly fly-fishing shop experts will also advise what is hatching where, and will have corresponding flies available for purchase.
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Emergency gear and food
When hitting the water in March, you must think ahead for emergencies. A dry bag with a first-aid kit, a change of clothes, fire-making materials, and food is a must. The weather changes frequently – and at times – violently. I have been in the drift boat when a once-in-20-years wind storm kicked up, and my buddies and I had to quickly haul drift boats up the river bank to get off the water. Be prepared for dramatic weather changes and emergencies.
March fly-fishing requires A LOT of patience if you are dry-flying. Your cast might be a little rusty, it will more than likely be chilly, and the trout may not come out to play. Of course, for us avid fly-fishers, it won’t matter. We’ll be out on the water, as we live by the old adage: “A bad day fly-fishing is better than a good day doing anything else.”
Kat Hobza has lived in Montana since she was nine, and was raised in the mountains west of Victor, Montana. There she learned to hunt, fish, shoot competitively, chop and stack firewood, and drive on icy or muddy roads. Kat has over two decades of experience in professional writing and content marketing. When she’s not crafting copy for Glacier Sotheby’s International Realty, she’s either hanging with her hilarious adult kids or soaking up the sun somewhere – a riverbank, a golf course, or her deck.
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