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March fly mania
  |  First Published: December 2004



It’s probably happened to all flyfishers at one stage or another… you alight from your car at your favourite fishing spot to find the conditions perfect, blue skies, no wind, the air temperature conducive to a hatch.

You hurriedly thread flyline, attach leader and select flies, you glance over at the first pool to see an expanding set of rings – a tell-tale sign that your quarry is at home. It is at this point in time when your idyllic conditions are shattered by the low, resonant hum as the first flight of March flies for the day does a recon mission past… they have smelt your blood.

Dracula with wings

March flies are bloodsuckers whose primary source of food are the horses and cattle often found close to our favourite waterways. Their larva live in the soft, wet ground close to riverbanks and lakesides, hence their presence so close to the places we love to fish. I suppose that after sucking all that bovine blood they see human blood as a form of dessert, unfortunately for us.

They are a medium to large fly, quite robust and strong flyers with a distinct hum that alerts you to their presence. Although big and loud, I have yet to feel one land, but as they unsheathe their dagger like mouth parts glistening in the sun like something out of the movie Alien and sink it to the hilt in your delicate hide in search of an artery, there can be no mistaking their presence!

As they are strong and true flyers it is not often that they end up on the stream, therefore I never really considered them as being a primary food source for trout. That said, trout, being the opportunists that they are whenever something substantial ends up in their domain, then I guess it is fair game. March flies are quite a mouthful, which is probably why trout like them, very little effort for quite a bit of gain, and this was brought home to me one December day last summer on a stream in northeast Victoria.

Arriving at my chosen spot for the day I observed an elderly man on the far bank who appeared to be in some difficulty, jumping twitching and slapping – looked and sounded like a German dance of sorts! Anyway, on closer inspection he was being harassed by some hungry March flies. He was swatting them at a steady rate, grabbing 2-3 and placing them on a hook and slowly feeding them into the current with outstanding success, I might add – three plump little brown trout in three casts before I could watch no more.

I immediately began a ‘materials required’ inventory in my mind, of my fly tying kit to assemble and construct an effective March fly pattern.

BULK AND PROFILE

The key to this pattern is bulk and profile. A March fly laying on the water surface floats rather well and while still alive will attempt to fly off. Its wings are usually splayed out either side of the body and when moving rapidly have a blurred effect – the Cul-De-Cunard wings of this pattern give that effect perfectly.

Secondly the Marchie has quite a large abdomen with a slightly iridescent green tinge to it, although this coloration can vary from state to state. The use of foam for the abdomen gives it the bulk required, and the correct profile from beneath.

The fly in basic design is not all that dissimilar to the famous American fly the Humpy. The Humpy, like the Royal Wulff, are generalist flies in that they do not actually represent any particular food item, but just present a general shape and profile that could be any fly or food item. The Marchie, on the other hand, is a representation of a natural insect.

HOW TO

This pattern is equally effective on lakes as it is on rivers. For lakes, it is a good option on windy days when quite a lot of terrestrial and airborne food gets blown on to the water. A few wayward Marchies can end up there, too.

I have used it with great success of an evening when trout are cruising around mopping up the leftovers from the day’s wind. On the windward shores of lakes, there can often be quite a lot of food, bits and pieces of ’hoppers beetles, and other insects all banked up in a small area and the trout just cruise around chomping them down.

My preference for this pattern, though, is to use it on streams, either used as a blind searcher or casting to risers. It is a buoyant, high-floating fly, especially good in riffles and the faster runs where trout have little reaction time between spotting and deciding whether to eat it. Quite often it will be a snatch and grab take so the opportunity doesn’t pass them by.

PRIME TIME

Late spring through summer into autumn seems to be the best time for March fly action, although it may come a little later in the high country as it takes things a little longer to warm up.

I have found that early morning and later in the evening you will get some respite from the attacks leaving the middle and warmest part of the day when they are most prevalent. Most of the more well-known personal insect repellents don’t seem to have much effect on them, and I have had them bite through shirts and thermals. It would seem the only defence is to get in the water as much as you can or hop in the car. But if you are mad, like me, you will persevere and take the pain, but remember too much blood loss can result in light headedness and fainting spells.

GEAR

Any standard dry fly outfit will suffice. For lakes, something in the order of a 2.7m 6wt coupled with a weight forward floating line to give that bit of extra casting distance should you need it, with a leader in the 2.7-3.6m range. For the streams, a 4-5wt is ideal with a double taper floating line with a 3.6-5m leader down to about 2kg.

TYING INSTRUCTIONS – MARCH FLY

HOOK: Mustad Signature R30 (size 12-14)

THREAD: black 6/0

BODY: 3mm Evasote foam, green thread

TAIL: grey micro fibbets

WINGS: grey Cul-De-Cunard feathers

HACKLE: grizzle

STEP 1

Attach the thread and wind to the bend of the hook and tie in the tail fibres. Take the thread back to midway down the hook shank and tie in your foam strip followed by the green thread. Wind the thread to the bend and back to secure in the foam.

STEP 2

Now take the green thread and wind in backwards and forwards between the tail and the point indicated to form a plump underbody, tie it off and remove the excess. Tie in the two wing feathers, one either side of the hook and angled back at 45˚. Having tied in the wings, pull the foam over and tie it in. You can colour the foam with a waterproof marker (a good colour is dun). Now tie in your hackle feather.

STEP 3

Wind the hackle on taking about six turns to make it fairly bushy. Tie in the hackle and form a small head, then whip finish and apply some head cement. You can clip the bottom of the hackle to make it sit flush with the surface, if you like – this also allows the wings to sit flatter in the surface film

STEP 4

A top profile of the fly showing the wing position.

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