Wow. What a brutal February we've had! Snow and bitter cold has me incredibly anxious for more mild temperatures and, hopefully, more fishing! March certainly has some exciting possibilities for the Washington fly fishing enthusiast. Here is a breakdown of the more popular options for anglers headquartered in the Seattle and NW Washington area.
Steelhead get a big percentage of the interest this time of year. March is perhaps the best month of the year for anglers searching for big winter fish. We'll hear of a few over 20lbs every year in March and occasionally, the very rare 30+-lber! Most of those fish will come from the rivers on the coast in the Forks, WA area, although the Skagit/Sauk will produce enough 20+ fish to keep you on your toes. These are fish that stretch the tape to at least 40-inches so keep a tape measure handy and keep swinging...
Skagit/Sauk Rivers -- The Skagit and Sauk Rivers are open to catch-and-release steelhead fishing for February thru April. The Skagit is open from the Concrete Bridge upstream to Marblemount. The Sauk is open from the mouth up to the Sauk Prairie Rd Bridge in Darrington. These rivers were off to a slow start in February, much of that due to so much snow on the ground that anglers couldn't get to the river! As February comes to a close and the weather has gotten a tiny bit warmer, we've began hearing of a few more fish being landed by anglers. Eventually, warmer temperatures should raise the rivers as well, and that will be a welcome sight. The Skagit and Sauk have been very low and clear with such cold temps keeping snow melt to a minimum. A good shot of rain with temps in the upper 40's and it could be game on. Watch the river levels, however. It won't take much of a change in weather to melt TOO much snow and blow the rivers out.
Olympic Peninsula Rivers -- March is usually the most popular time to hit the famous OP rivers like the Bogacheil, Hoh, Sol Duc, and Queets, among others. The number of folks fishing these rivers can be frustrating, but it is such a fun place to be in March. Eagles in the trees, grouse thumping their chests looking for a mate in the forests, and so many elk some mornings you need an extra cup of coffee before the morning drive to keep your eyes peeled for giant animals in the road. Add to this the shot at fresh from the ocean, chrome-bright, winter steelhead... perhaps the most prized species in all of freshwater fly fishing. There is a reason anglers are traveling from all over the country to fish the OP rivers.
Each river on the Peninsula has its own characteristics, but all of those mentioned are worthy of a trip over. Using two-handed rods with sink-tip lines is the normal approach but single-handed rods will do fine in most water. Fish medium to large steelhead flies like the Dirty Hoh, the Exasperator, Hartwick's Hoser, or the Hoh Bo Spey in colors such as black/blue, pink/orange, and black/purple. Keep your leaders short and stout... like an Umpqua Freshwater Shorty leader in 16lb. There is plenty of walk-in water on the Hoh and Bogacheil. The Sol Duc and Queets don't offer as much good walk-in fly water. All rivers can be floated in rafts, drift boats or pontoon boats but will require some rowing skills. Parts of the Sol Duc in particular shouldn't be floated by anglers unless you're familiar with them. Shuttle services are easy to come by for most rivers.
Rivers – As March begins, it's time for the Yakima to get very exciting. The Skwala stoneflies are the big news. With such cold temperatures we just experienced in February, this hatch was a bit delayed, but it will hit the fan some time in March. Other bugs will join in on the fun in March as well. The Blue Wing Olives will hatch in the afternoons, especially on cloudy, cool days, and will be in the size 16-18 hook size range. Fish the BWO's in nymphs, emergers and dries depending on the situation and water you encounter. March Browns will also join the party and are generally most important on the upper parts of the system and faster water areas later in the month of March.
Some good Skwala flies to take on a March Yakima trip would include Dave's Neo Twenty Incher, the Little Olive Sloan, the Micro-Stone - Dark, Mercer's Tungsten Skwala, the Restless Stone - Brown/Olive, lthe Rubber Leg Stimulator Skwala, and Silvey's Little Olive Stone. For the Blue Wing Olives, consider these patterns in size 16 & 18 -- Baetis Nymph, Morrish Anato-May - Olive, Baetis Challenged, D&D Cripple - BWO, Baetis Thorax, and Quigley's BWO Hackle Stacker. For March Browns, check out the Morrish May Day March Brown, March Brown Parachute, the go-to Pheasant Tail Nymph, and the March Brown Wet Fly. Also, don’t forget to take a few Gummy Worms, especially if you're there during a shot of rain.
Another great benefit of the Yakima in March is that the river is typically running at low flows, which makes walking and wading the river much easier and a more fun river to fish from shore. If we've had rain, check the river levels here to make sure it isn't blown.
Rocky Ford is another great trout river to fish in March. Feel like tying into some rainbows in the 18 to 24 inch range? Fish over 20-inches won't even turn heads on Rocky Ford. Some days the fishing can be really easy. Other days it can be seriously tough. Since Rocky Ford is a spring creek, the water temperatures are fairly stable and the fish will feed all year long. This time of year, plan to fish either streamers or small nymphs and scuds. A good fly box this time of year might include flies like the Coffee's Sparkle Minnow in Pearl, Swede's Rabbit Leech - Black, Jon's Hot Spot Czech Scud - Pink, the Jujubee Midge - Zebra, and the Tungsten Zebra Midge - Red. I would also have a few BWO nymphs and dries handy like those listed for the Yakima.
Lakes – The month of March marks the beginning of some of the year's best trout fishing on many of our quality lakes here in Washington. As of March 1st, many of our state's most popular and productive lakes open for the season. Some of these lakes include Lenice, Nunnally, Dry Falls, Lenore, and Dusty. Lenice, Nunnally, and Dry Falls lakes are very popular with fly anglers and are usually sure bets for a good day as long as the wind doesn't explode in the afternoon (more the issue with Lenice/Nunnally). Dry Falls has been trending favorably the last few years while Lenice/Nunnally haven't been as productive as years past, but remain as very good fisheries most of the time. Lenore had some off years but, apparently, had a very good Fall 2018 so this spring could be a good one for the big Lahontan cutthroat that call it home. Dusty requires a bit of a hike-in so get the float tube out for this one and get some Backpack Straps to hike it in to the lake.
For any of the lakes mentioned above, make a call or two to make sure they don't have ice on them! I'm not sure of the situation as of right now (2/28/2019), but it will certainly be an issue on some of the lakes for the March 1st opener. The Desert Fly Angler is a flyshop in Ephrata and they would be a great resource for any questions regarding the lakes in their region.
Pass Lake – In the February post I made last month, I predicted that Pass Lake should fish well in February and water temps should reach the 50-degree mark. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong with the "Snowmageddon" event we experienced this year! Let's hope that March eventually warms up a bit and we can at least get out on the lake without snow, ice, wind, etc.
Pass Lake usually fishes very well in March, especially during a stable or rising barameter (in my opinion). A good plan for hitting the lake in March would be to start with full-sinking lines with leech patterns like the Hale Bopp Leech – Brown or the Ruby Eyed Leech in Canadian Olive. Fish these leech patterns close to the bottom of the lake but fish different depths to figure out what depth is most productive. Concentrate on the 12- to 18-foot depths this time of year on most days.
When surface temperatures on Pass Lake reach around 50-degrees, get ready with your chironomid setup because this is when many chironomids begin to hatch and the trout will be ready to intercept them on their way from the bottom of the lake all the way up to the surface where they will hatch.
Here are some solid fly recommendations for Pass Lake in March. The exact size/color of chironomid hatches is tough to forecast, but some good chironomid flies to have along would be the Yankee Buzzer in Black and Red, Chan's Chironomid Bomber in Black/Red, the Buzzer in Olive and Black, and the Jumbo Juju Chironomid in Zebra. You will probably need to fish these fairly deep so we recommend using Quick Release Chironomid Indicators and fluorocarbon tippet around 5X in size.
Lone Lake – Lone Lake is a great option in the early season and in March and April, Lone Lake should be high on your list. Concentrate on fishing full-sinking lines with dark leech patterns like the Ruby Eyed Leech – Black/Red, the Gold Bead Bouface - Black, Drifter’s Crystal Leech. Unless the weather goes COMPLETELY haywire, Chironomids will get very important on Lone Lake as the month goes on. On this lake, the same chironomids recommended for Pass Lake would be on the list, but we would also recommend some blood worm patterns like the San Juan Worm - Red. If the fish are on bloodworms, you will know right away. The Olive Willy – Red Bead is always a pattern worthy of consideration on this lake so it might be worth having along, but it will usually fish better a bit later in the season.
All of the lakes mentioned here are best fished from a float tube, pontoon boat, or some other kind of small boat. Shore access is limited or non-existent on most of these lakes. Lenice and Nunnally require a walk to get into them so be prepared for that. A wheel system is highly recommended if you are planning to take your pontoon boat into these two lakes. In March, remember that ice might be an issue on many eastern Washington lakes so make some calls or have a backup plan.
Puget Sound Saltwater
Sea-run cutthroat trout fly fishing in Puget Sound can be good all year long. March, hopefully, brings warmer temperatures and provides some good opportunities for a nice day on the beach. As in February, the southern portion of the Sound is a better bet in March but the central and northern portions of the Sound will still produce both sea-runs and resident coho. In March, consider keeping an eye out in shallow water near creek mouths for big fish looking to nose up into the smaller creeks and spawn. The usual techniques and fly patterns should have you in the game. Baitfish patterns fished on an intermediate sinking line with a 5- to 6-weight rod will have you setup. The RIO Coastal Quickshooter fly line was developed for this fishery at the request of PFF’s Ben Zander and is the line to get for Puget Sound beaches. Put a 3X 6-foot Fluorocarbon leader on your line, add a fly, and you're fishing. Look for beaches with oyster beds, cobblestone, or eel grass bottoms and cover water to locate the fish.
Resident silver salmon are also often caught while fly fishing from the beach for sea-run cutts. For both fish, remember to pinch your barbs down to aid in releasing the fish unharmed.
Give us a call if we can help with further advice or equipment, flies, etc. Hope you get out and take advantage of Washington's year-round fly fishing season and remember to check back for the April report.
Pacific Fly Fishers