UPDATED: Feb. 28, 2022
It looks like the rain is back as we end February and look ahead to where to go fly fishing in March. I suppose this rain is a good thing given the very low rivers we experienced in much of February. Our winter steelhead opportunities are down to a few choices in Washington, like the Cowlitz. The Olympic Peninsula rivers close as of tomorrow (March 1st) to protect wild steelhead on a year where that is hard to argue... although, I do wish they would have waited until after this rain to decide on that. So, with that, lets look at where we can go cast a line in our region in the month of March.
Rivers – As March begins, it's time for the Yakima to get very exciting. The Skwala stoneflies are the big news. Skwala activity begins in February but really gets cranking 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. Midge will also continue to be important, particularly earlier in the month, and streamers are always important and a fun option. As we hit some warmer days, look for the Skwala nymph show to get rolling. Those bugs getting active will get some of the big fish eating and we've already heard some amazing reports on a few of the warmer days we had in February.
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, the 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. Definitely have a handful of streamers as well. It is hard to go wrong with the original Sculpzilla Jr. or the Sheila's Sculpin. And if you're fishing the Yak earlier in the month, a few midge patterns like the Jujubee Midge - Zebra are good to have along.
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. Omak seems to be getting more and more popular for fly anglers pursuing Lahontan cutts and also opens for its C&R season on March 1st. 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 the March 1 opener, ice will certainly be a consideration this year. Since they haven't been open yet, we don't have a report on if they are iced over. I have a feeling some of the lakes will be. The Desert Angler fly shop in Ephrata is a wealth of information for the central WA lakes and may be worth a call and a visit on your way over.
Pass Lake – Pass Lake usually fishes very well in March, especially during a stable or rising barometer (in my opinion). The last we heard, however, the parking lot is still closed due to a sink hole. Let us know if anyone has heard of this being fixed. Otherwise, there is some parking along the road, but the main parking lot has been closed for a while.
A good plan for hitting Pass Lake in March would be to start with full-sinking lines with leech patterns like the Hale Bopp Leech – Brown, the Goat Leech - Canadian 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.
Another hot technique right now is balanced leeches. Balanced leeches are usually fished by suspending a specific style of leech pattern underneath a strike indicator like we do with chironomids. The balanced leech is designed to suspend and keep the fly horizontally positioned under the indicator. Especially in cold water situations, balanced leeches can really be effective. Here are some balanced leech patterns to check out... Balanced Leach - Bruised, Rowley's Balanced Leech - Black, Balanced Leather Leech - Peacock.
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, and the Buzzer in Olive and Black. This time of year the larva can be very effective as well (usually referred to as blood worms). Patterns like Rowley's Holo Worm are spot on. 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 increase the emphasis on some blood worm patterns like the San Juan Worm - Red or the Rowley's Halo Worm. 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. Unfortunately, we don't have a pontoon boat wheel system to sell in the store as Outcast has discontinued making them.
As mentioned earlier, most Washington steelhead opportunities are closed right now over concerns of low returns. I think there are reasons to be optimistic for the next few upcoming years, but we'll have to see. As for now, you'll have to look at river systems like the Cowlitz and possibly some other SW Washington river systems (check the WA regulations) to see what other systems may be open. Oregon certainly has some winter steelhead opportunities to check out as well.
If you're really ready to get you swing on, contact us about a couple of trips we have lined up for the Skeena river system this year. One is in mid-June for giant chinook on the swing and another in early September for steelhead. They are both awesome trips! Contact us to get details or swing by the shop.
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 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