River Conditions in March
March is the month Southwest Colorado starts to come alive from the winter slump. The fishing on the Animas will start to pick up immensely with the onset of the spring temps. Fish will begin to move off of the bottom of the deepest pools into the more swift riffles and runs. Consistent hatches of baetis will also bring fish to the surface. Rainbows will also begin their yearly spawn and many eggs will be in the system to be chomped. Please make sure to resist the temptation to fish to actively spawning fish. Trout on the Animas have a hard enough time spawning without someone tossing flies at them.
The San Juan will continue on in reliable consistency of a solid fishery. Look for warmer days to bring out the baetis and great dry fly days. Navajo Reservoir will also turn over soon and with it will muck up the river…but will also kick up a lot of new food.
A few other rivers here in the southwest part of the state will also begin to open up and start to fish well. Fish in the Los Pinos, Piedra, Williams Creek, Dolores, Rio Grande, and the San Juan in Pagosa Springs will be more active with the warmer weather and the ice should clear off in areas with ample sun.
March also usually marks the beginning of our pike fishing season on Navajo Reservoir. Captain Mark Engler has already hooked into and landed a multitude of 14+ pound fish.
Insects and Natural Food Sources
Drainages in Southwest CO will be slowly showing their signs of life. Look for a string of warmer days to bring out hatches of baetis in droves. Baetis hatches in spring can account for the best dry fly fishing on the Animas for the entire year. Stonefly nymphs will also be moving slowly towards shore and will be swept up in the current and will become a reliable and good food source for trout. Again, fish will be more active and may not be able to pass up a big meal. Streamers with a little more action and speed will bring out the big boys.
As with SW Colorado rivers, baetis will begin to show themselves with the warmer weather on the San Juan. Dry fly action will pick up in the afternoons. If they are not eating your baetis dry; tie on a smaller midge dry. As the San Juan is a tailwater: midge larva, midge pupa, midge, emergers, and midge dries will always be on the menu. Other food sources to be aware of are: eggs, annelids, aquatic worms, leeches, and in the lower stretches of the river towards town streamers. Big, rainbow trout fingerling streamers.
If you have the urge to catch a Pike on the fly, now is the time to do it. The reservoirs in Colorado will still remain iced over through March unless we get a sudden heat wave. However, Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico is open and ready for business. Pike eat big things: minnows, sculpins, crayfish, trout, bass, and other pike. For best results, just get a big fly that you would assume was made for saltwater and fish it with a sink tip line. Also, it is not recommended that you fish pike with anything less than a 7 wt rod and preferably an 8 or 9 wt as big flies are hard to cast on your 4wt trout rod.
Recommended Fly Patterns
Animas and other SW CO rivers: Baetis size 16-20: Juju Baetis, Tungsten Micro Mayfly, Foam Wing RS-2, WD-40, Black Copper John, BWO Comparadun, Sparkle Dun, . Midges Sz. 16-20: Green, black, tan or white; size and color matter more than pattern. Green or black caddis larva and cased caddis nymphs sz. 12-18. Dark stonefly nymphs sz. 10-14 such as a 20 Incher Stone, Prince Nymph, Black Wolly Bugger, Pats Rubberlegs. Streamers: anything that is big, meaty, and has lots of action in the water. Kiwi Muddler, Hare Sculpin, Black or Olive Buggers, and Boufaces. Egg patterns, Sz. 16 in orange, pink, and cherise.
San Juan River: BWO’s Sz.18-22; Two Bit Hooker, Juju baetis, WD-40s, Pheasant Tail, RS-2s, CDC Comparaduns. Midges Sz.18-26; Scissorbill Special, Red Brassie, Big Mac, Griffith Gnats, and Zebra Midges. Brown, Olive, and White bunny leaches or buggers of the same color. Tan chamois Leeches size 16. Red annelids Sz. 20-22. San Juan Worms, Sz. 16-20 in tan, pink, or orange. Egg patterns, Sz. 16 in orange, pink, and cherise. Rainbow Trout streamers in the lower stretches of the river such as T&A Rainbow.
Pike: Massive pike streamers in brown, olive, or black. Engler’s Pike Fly, Barry’s Pike Fly, Meat Whistle, Hairgrub, and Hairjig are all solid. However…and I know we have all had this experience…but you walk into a fly shop and whilst perusing the countless bins of hackle-stackers and crippled-emergent-dun-