By Matt Selders
I don't know why but when March rolls around I start thinking about dry-fly fishing on the Provo River. Specifically, I'm dreaming about the Mayfly nicknamed blue winged olive. After waiting all winter, occasionally fishing the tedious midge hatches, it is a sight for sore eyes to see the upright Mayfly wings on the water.
In Utah, many fly rodders fish the middle and lower sections of the Provo River in March. They too have felt the frustrations of winter: spooky fish, miniature flies and ice in the guides. Although fish can be caught during the cold months, I'll be the first to say that it is not much fun. But there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Well maybe not gold, but colossal browns, football rainbows and a few rogue cutthroats that may be worth their weight.
March brings Mayflies, period. So you've got to be ready. You probably have all the necessary equipment. First, you'll need a moderate action, 3-to-5-weight fly rod, 8 to 9 feet in length. Personally, I like a 9-foot 5-weight rod for most situations. Make sure your line is clean, or possibly get a new one to start the season. A 5x or 6x, 7 foot 6 inch leader works extremely well for most dry fly situations. If the fish are still a little skittish, a 6x or 7x, 10 foot leader may be needed. Don't under gun yourself though. It's best to use as strong a leader as possible. It makes landing fish faster and, in turn, less stressful. The new fluorocarbon tippet material is almost impossible for fish to see. You can use stronger tippet and catch just as many fish.
March is still winter until the 20th. Hope for the best weather but expect the worst. A pleasant day can turn into a blizzard in 10 minutes on the Provo River. Layer clothing appropriately for cold weather. As it warms up, remove layers. Polypropylene liners on your feet along with heavy wool socks keep your feet warm. Windstopper fleece or fingerless wool gloves leave your hands free to work and warm even when the material is wet.
Flies are important. Don't buy cheap flies. When it comes to imitating blue winged olives on the Provo River, precise imitations change a good day into a killer day. The cute little Mayflies usually range in size from 18 to 22. They have an olive-gray body with a bluish upright wing. Lawson's Thorax Mayfly BWOs (blue winged olive), Parachute BWOs and Lawson's No-Hackle B.W.O. are great imitations. A Parachute Adams or a Standard BWO will also get results. If you tie flies, experiment with new materials. Spirit River has some new, pre-made extended bodies that make great BWOs.
Nymph fishing is a very productive method to catch fish when there are no hatches. I usually use simple flies, usually with a bead head as the lead fly. Flash-Back Bead-Head Pheasant Tails and Hare's Ears in sizes 14-20 are my most productive. Sometimes, when the fish are picky, I'll use a Mercer's Poxy Micro Mayfly in a size 18. My trailing flies are usually my best producers. A Barr's BWO Emerger, Lawson's Halfback BWO Emerger, or a Micro Pheasant Tail often fools them.
Blue wings usually hatch from the end of February until the run-off starts, with the best action coming in March. The first bugs to hatch are generally a little larger (size 18), and they gradually become smaller as the hatch progresses. Mayflies tend to hatch more consistently throughout the day when the sky is overcast. I'm not sure if this is because of the more consistent, generally warmer temperatures. When the sun is shining bright for the better part of the day, surface action is the best from around 11 a.m. to around 2 p.m., with a peak around 1 p.m. Hatch conditions vary from day to day, as do hatch times and intensity. It pays to keep in touch with the guys at your local fly shop. They hear about river and hatch conditions a few times a day and have the most up to date reports.
Delicacy is important. Provo River fish have seen it all. Every kind of fly imagionable has been passed over their noses before, and many fish have been caught multiple times. If you want to catch fish then your presentation must be as natural as possible. Sometime before you go fishing, go to a neighborhood park and practice your casting technique. When they are fishing, many anglers don't pay attention to how they cast. They pay more attention to the fish. In parks there are fewer distractions. Practice like you play. Practice short-range accuracy rather than distance. Sometimes a fish will have a strike zone only an inch or two around its nose. You must be able to get the fly to the fish. Drag free drifts are also important. Try using serpent casts, pile casts and crisp roll casts to mend lines and give natural presentations.
When fishing the Provo River during the blue winged olive hatch, my best advice is to have patience. The river is 40 minutes away from Salt Lake City. It is by far the best urban trout fishery I have ever fished. It attracts many anglers from all over the West and has received critical acclaim. With so many visitors to the precious water, we should be respectful of it and to those people we encounter while fishing.