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When's the best time to fish?

Judy Van Put - Columnist
Posted 6/1/21

We often get asked from out-of-town friends “which week or month is the best time to come up to fish?” We've boiled down our response to “if you had to choose a best time, figure on the last …

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When's the best time to fish?

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We often get asked from out-of-town friends “which week or month is the best time to come up to fish?” We've boiled down our response to “if you had to choose a best time, figure on the last two weeks in May, first two weeks in June.”

The reason we've chosen that time period has to do with water conditions - generally good flows and favorable water temperatures - as well as a great variety of flies you can expect to be hatching. And now we are right in the middle of that time!

Over the past week, rivers and streams are still lower than the average flows over 106-years of record-keeping, but water temperatures have been favorable, mostly in the 60s.

A whole spate of Caddis, Stoneflies and Mayflies are around. Garlic Mustard with its tall stems and white flowers has popped up as well as the bright white or red-flowered Trillium with its leaves of three deep in the woods.

The blooming of these spring flowers coincides with the March Brown hatch - and a report of these noticeably large (size #10) mayflies have come in on our rivers and streams. (Despite its name, March Browns do not hatch here in March.)

Also blooming now are the fragrant wild honeysuckle and lilac bushes, which means that the Grey Fox hatch should be making its appearance soon as well. (Grey Fox is another mis-nomer, as despite the name, these flies are not grey, but are more of a cream/light tan color and look like a smaller (size #14) version of the March Brown with light brown markings on the legs.)

A fly pattern for the March Brown has been around for a very long time - especially in the United Kingdom, where it was also referred to as Brook Dun, there have been many references in English literature to a March Brown pattern - starting as far back as 1496 in Dame Juliana Berners' book “A Treatyse of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle.”

In her chapter on “Marche” she refers to a fly for the month of March as a March dun fly - calling it a “donne flye” - and describing it as “The donne fly the body of the donne woll and the wyngis of the pertryche.” (the dun fly, the body of dun wool and wings of partridge.) This somewhat resembles the pattern for the March Brown fly we tie today, some 525 years later!

In Eric Leiser's 1992 book The Dettes A Catskill Legend, a facsimile of W.C. Dette's Dry Flies catalogue from the 1930s lists the March Brown as “Body - Brown. Ribbing - Gold. Tail - Brown. Hackle - Brown. Wing - Brown Mottled. The Dettes credit Art Flick for standardizing fly patterns and keeping their “recipe” consistent with the publication of his A Streamside Guide to Naturals and Their Imitations (1947) Walt was quoted in Leiser's book as saying “He (Flick) did every fly tyer a tremendous service, because he organized things in relation to our insects.

Before that every tyer had his own idea of what a fly should be and you never knew what you were getting when you ordered a March Brown, Gray Fox or whatever from different suppliers.”

Art Flick devoted a chapter in his book to the American March Brown (Stenonema vicarium) stating that it is considered by many fishermen to be the most important fly that we have. He goes on to say that the March Brown is important to both the fish and the fishermen, being very abundant in almost all streams, and that the trout are equally as fond of the nymph as they are the winged fly.

The March Brown fly is relatively easy to identify, being the first of the very large flies of the fishing season, with distinguishing characteristics being mottled brown wings and brown markings on the legs. They generally begin to emerge in the late morning but continue on sporadically all during the day.

Here is the pattern for the March Brown as tied by the Dettes and published in Eric Leiser's book:

March Brown (Sizes #10 - 14)

Hook: Mustad 94840

Thread: White waxed 6/0

Wing: Wood duck flank

Tail: Dark ginger hackle fibers

Body: Sandy beige fox-fur dubbing

Hackle: Dark ginger and grizzly mixed

Judy Van Put is a long-time member of the NYS Outdoor Writers Association, and is the recipient of the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited's Professional Communications Award.

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