Whip Finish


Ralph Long - January 30, 2012

For many, March Madness is a period of time when collegiate basketball dukes it out for top honors. Where mascots are plastered all over ESPN and the pools at work are in full swing. But for others like me, "March Madness" means a size#14 mayfly that rings in the spring season by bringing those early risers to the surface. While not the first hatch, it's the first real identifiable hatch that sends both novice and longtime fly fishermen yelling as if they were Paul Revere, declaring the March Brown hatch to have arrived on their waters.

I for one love the March Brown hatch, and for more reasons than just because it signals the arrival of dry fly fishing for my area. I love it for the way the bugs lend themselves to the tying bench, the fact that it is a hatch that you can handily see and match on the water, and because it tends to come off around mid-day. There is no second-guessing when the March Brown hatch comes off, no hatch charts or identification book required. You will know them when they arrive, because as usual, they arrive just about when they are supposed to every year. On the bench the hatch really has a plethora of patterns that all seem to fish just as good as the next. From the older Catskill-style American March Brown patterns to the parachutes of today, they all just catch fish. And while I've tied and fished most of them, over countless waters through the years, I've never really come to terms as to whether or not it's the fact that the fish are hungrier in the spring, or the bug is just that durned tasty that it brings the fish so readily to the surface? Regardless, I'm very much appreciative.

So it's generally this time of the year, the post-holiday season, finds me sitting down at the bench worrying over which pattern to tie. I think that more than any other hatch, the March Brown hatch is covered by more dry fly patterns in my box than any other. And oddly, it's not really because the fish are more selective. Quite to the contrary, the fish tend to identify a March Brown pattern for what it is and in turn, eat it. It's really because I've done so well on this hatch with so many patterns that it's too hard to pick a favorite. Yet admittedly, I am influenced by other powers as well. I'm bitten by the romance of the classis Catskill March Brown pattern. It is one of my first loves both to tie and to look at. To me, a dozen Catskill March Browns clustered together on my bench screams "dry fly fishing"! It makes me long for a whicker creel, bamboo and silk. It always has held that effect on me, and I truly hope it always will.

Another of my favorites is the May Haystack. The simplicity of the Haystack tied with barred coastal deer hair wing and tail seems to fit the no-nonsense attitude that fish seem to address the March brown with. Just two simple materials, Coastal deer hair and Tannish-dun rabbit dubbing, lets you can tie up a dozen in 20 minutes and fish for an entire day with little else needed. Add to that the Hares Ear Parachute, the March Brown LTD, the CDC March Brown and the list goes on. You see what I mean?

A person can spend all of January and February tying just to be ready for one hatch. Yet one of the most enjoyable aspects of the March Brown hatch is its size. A #14 dry fly hook is probably the most comfortable size dry to tie and fish. It's easy to proportion, and it remains very visible during the drift. It's easy on the eyes after squinting since November on miniscule midge patterns, and most patterns are tied using readily available materials. For a dry fly addict, what's not to love? To top it off the hatch is often fairly sporadic in comparison to others, so quite often fishing pressure is pleasantly light. And it's enjoyable to fish since it comes off in the comfort of the mid-day when one can take the opportunity to shed that spring jacket.

But for now, my Jan-Feb months are spoken for and I'll be tying. The flies will line up like little soldiers in my fly box longing for a chance to see water, while I stop and stare off bridges in anticipation of the hatch. I'll pace, grow irritable and jump at every warm and cloudy day in hopes of their Blue-Winged Olive brethren to show, yet I'm always watching come lunch time. On those early sunny spring days I can usually be found off the beaten path on a few riffles I have come to enjoy, standing below them watching for those early rises and expecting to see some bugs. Waiting for that first mayfly to climb gracefully toward the branches, signaling the beginning of March Madness. And when it does I'll be the town crier with the great news that the hatch has arrived.

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