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The March Brown Dry Fly: A Comprehensive Guide

30 May 2024

The March Brown dry fly is a classic pattern that has been a staple in the fly boxes of anglers for generations. Known for its effectiveness during spring hatches, this fly mimics the March Brown mayflies, a critical food source for trout. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the history of the March Brown dry fly, the fish species that it attracts, the techniques for fishing it, and the essential equipment needed for a successful outing. Whether you are a seasoned angler or a beginner, understanding the March Brown dry fly can significantly enhance your fly fishing experience.

The History of the March Brown Dry Fly

The March Brown dry fly has its roots in the rich traditions of British fly fishing. The pattern dates back to the early 19th century and is named after the March Brown mayflies (Rhithrogena germanica) that emerge in early spring. These mayflies are found in both Europe and North America, making the fly pattern popular on both continents.

The original March Brown fly was tied with natural materials such as partridge or grouse feathers for the wing and tail, and hare's ear or muskrat fur for the body. Over the years, the pattern has been adapted and modified by various fly tyers to suit different fishing conditions and regions. Despite these changes, the fundamental design and purpose of the fly have remained consistent: to imitate the natural March Brown mayfly and entice trout to the surface.

One of the earliest documented references to the March Brown dry fly can be found in Alfred Ronalds' "The Fly-Fisher's Entomology," published in 1836. Ronalds' work was instrumental in popularizing the use of artificial flies based on the study of natural insects, and the March Brown was prominently featured in his writings.

What Fish Will Bite the March Brown Dry Fly?

The March Brown dry fly is renowned for its ability to attract a wide variety of fish species. Here are some of the primary targets:

  1. Trout: The primary target for the March Brown dry fly is trout, including rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout. The fly's design mimics the natural mayflies that are a significant part of the trout's diet in early spring.

  2. Grayling: In regions where grayling are present, the March Brown can be particularly effective. Grayling are known for their selective feeding habits, and the realistic appearance of the March Brown dry fly can entice these fish to strike.

  3. Panfish: Species like bluegill and crappie are often attracted to the March Brown, especially when they are feeding on small insects near the surface.

  4. Bass: Smallmouth bass, in particular, can be tempted by a well-presented March Brown dry fly in streams and rivers where they coexist with trout.

How to Fish the March Brown Dry Fly

Fishing the March Brown dry fly requires an understanding of dry fly techniques and the behavior of mayflies. Here are some effective methods:

  1. Matching the Hatch: One of the key strategies in fishing the March Brown dry fly is to match the hatch. Observe the insects on the water and choose a fly size and color that closely resembles the natural mayflies present. This technique is especially important during the peak of the March Brown hatch in early spring.

  2. Dead Drift: The dead drift is a fundamental technique for fishing dry flies, including the March Brown. Cast upstream and allow the fly to drift naturally with the current, ensuring there is no drag on the line. This presentation mimics the way real mayflies float on the water's surface.

  3. Upstream Cast: An upstream cast can be very effective when fishing for trout. Position yourself downstream of the target area and cast the fly upstream, allowing it to float naturally back towards you. This technique helps keep the fly line and leader out of the fish's line of sight.

  4. Mend Your Line: To achieve a drag-free drift, it's often necessary to mend your line. After the cast, use a quick flick of the rod tip to reposition the line upstream. This helps prevent the current from pulling the fly unnaturally and can make a significant difference in fooling wary fish.

  5. Sight Fishing: When conditions allow, sight fishing can be an exciting and rewarding way to use the March Brown. Look for rising fish or those holding in shallow water. Present the fly delicately to avoid spooking the fish and watch for any subtle takes.

  6. Emerging Flies: During a hatch, mayflies often struggle to break through the surface film, making them easy targets for fish. Consider using an emerger pattern or adding a drop of floatant to the body of your March Brown dry fly to mimic this behavior.

Equipment for Fishing the March Brown Dry Fly

To fish the March Brown dry fly effectively, you'll need the right equipment. Here's a detailed guide on what you should have:

  1. Fly Rod: A 9-foot, 4- to 6-weight fly rod is ideal for most situations involving the March Brown dry fly. For smaller streams and more delicate presentations, a 3-weight rod can be a good choice.

  2. Fly Reel: Choose a reel with a smooth drag system that balances well with your rod. The reel's primary role in dry fly fishing is to hold the line and provide a smooth, controlled release when casting.

  3. Fly Line: A weight-forward floating line is suitable for most dry fly fishing situations. Look for a line with a long, fine front taper to help achieve delicate presentations.

  4. Leader and Tippet: Use a tapered leader that transitions smoothly from thick to thin. A 9- to 12-foot leader is ideal for most situations. Attach a 4X to 6X tippet, depending on the size of the fly and the water clarity.

  5. Floatant: To keep your March Brown dry fly floating high on the water, use a quality floatant. Apply it sparingly to the fly before casting and reapply as needed.

  6. Fly Box: Include a variety of March Brown dry flies in different sizes (12 to 18) in your fly box. Having multiple sizes allows you to match the hatch more accurately.

  7. Waders and Boots: Quality waders and boots are essential for accessing prime fishing spots. Look for breathable waders and sturdy, well-fitting boots with good traction.

  8. Accessories: Include hemostats, nippers, a landing net, and polarized sunglasses to reduce glare and spot fish more easily.

Tying the March Brown Dry Fly

For those interested in fly tying, creating your own March Brown dry flies can be a rewarding experience. Here's a basic recipe:


  • Hook: Dry fly hook, sizes 12-18
  • Thread: Brown or olive, 8/0 or 12/0
  • Tail: Partridge or grouse fibers
  • Body: Hare's ear or muskrat dubbing
  • Wing: Partridge or grouse feathers
  • Hackle: Brown and grizzly dry fly hackle


  1. Start the thread at the hook eye and wrap a smooth base back to the bend.
  2. Tie in a small bunch of partridge or grouse fibers for the tail, about the length of the hook shank.
  3. Dub a slender, tapered body with hare's ear or muskrat dubbing, wrapping forward to about two-thirds of the way to the hook eye.
  4. Tie in the partridge or grouse feathers for the wing, ensuring they are upright and divided.
  5. Tie in the brown and grizzly dry fly hackle and wrap them forward in evenly spaced turns to create a collar. Secure and trim the excess.
  6. Whip finish behind the hook eye and apply a drop of head cement for durability.


The March Brown dry fly is a testament to the timeless appeal of well-designed fly patterns. Its rich history, coupled with its ability to attract various fish species, makes it an essential pattern for any angler's fly box. By understanding the history, target species, fishing techniques, and necessary equipment, you can maximize your success with the March Brown dry fly.

Tying your own March Brown dry flies can add a personal touch to your fly fishing experience, allowing you to tailor the fly to specific conditions and preferences. So, next time you head out to the water, make sure you have a selection of March Brown dry flies in your arsenal. This classic and effective fly has the potential to turn an ordinary day of fishing into an extraordinary adventure. Happy fishing!

By diving deep into the March Brown dry fly's history, effectiveness, and practical application, this blog post aims to equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to make the most of this exceptional fly. Whether you're a fly fishing veteran or just starting out, the March Brown dry fly offers opportunities for learning, experimentation, and, most importantly, successful fishing trips.

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