March is a spectacular time to fly fish our local rivers. In the opinion of many anglers, March offers the best dry fly fishing of the year. Midges and a few Baetis will blanket our local freestones through the end of the general trout season (March 31st) and, especially on the warmer days, catch rates can skyrocket for the determined fly fisherman. However, freestone trout are not the only quarry of springtime. Steelhead, which are currently running up the Salmon River, present fly fishermen with a rewarding challenge in the shadow of springtime in the Sawtooth Mountains. Whether you choose to chase the recklessly feeding Rainbows or the “metalheads” of the North Country, March is a great opportunity to get your gear tuned up, enjoy the first warm sunny days of the year, and create angling memories to last a lifetime.
The Big Wood River, the Big Lost and the South Fork of the Boise will continue to fish extremely well through the end of the month. The Rainbow Trout will be feeding non-stop late morning through late afternoon. Midges will be the main attraction with hatch numbers and insect size growing through the end of the season. Before and after the main emergences of the day, subsurface feeding will also be active. Midge pupae in sizes 18-22 will be the best selection and can be trailed off mayfly nymphs such as bead headed flashback pheasant tails or prince nymphs (size 14-18) or even cranefly pupae patterns like the Philo Beto. Brassies in copper and red, zebra midges in black and red and midge pupae in grey, black and red will be the most effective midge patterns. When trout are feeding on top, midge patterns like the Griffith’s Gnat, snowfly imitations or even small Trico patterns will catch rainbows off guard. Although it can still be effective swinging and stripping sculpin patterns, the dry fly fishing will climax as the season winds down and should not be missed!
The annual run of Rocky Mountain steelhead is now underway and fish have been caught as high as Slate Creek (30 minutes downstream from Stanley). The bulk of the run is still well downstream from Challis and driving the extra distance is the best course of action early in the season. There are two effective ways to approach this fishery – walk and wade or drift boating. Currently the boat ramps are iced in at the East Fork of the Salmon and at Deadman Hole, but below at Bayhorse (45 minutes downstream of Stanley) the ramp is clear and continuing downstream all other access points are free from ice. The best technique for steelheading with the aid of a drift boat is to float from one deep run or hole to the next, anchoring and working the water slowly and methodically from the top of the run downstream. It is best to cast at a perpendicular angle to the current, allowing the fly to sink to the bottom where the fish are holding, and then allow the fly to swing below you with the current. Fish are most likely to hit as the fly dead drifts down deep or when the fly initially begins to swing. Walk and wade fishing on the Salmon River is very accessible since, in most stretches, the river road runs parallel to the river. For fly selection, try string leech patterns in black, purple, chartreuse, blue, pink or white. Egg-sucking leech patterns can also be effective or try egg patterns trailed off of leech patterns. Mayfly and stonefly nymphs can also hook fish when the larger, less subtle leech patterns are not turning the Steelhead. The use of strike indicators will increase the hook-up rate, particularly while blind fishing. Just remember, regardless of your approach or chosen fly, there is little that compares to the beauty and exhilaration of fishing for our Rocky Mountain Steelhead.