Olive hatches

by Steven Neely


You just can’t beat the first  forays to the river in Spring with a dry fly set up. And chasing specimen wild trout when March Browns are hatching takes some beating. Anticipation is a key component in fishing. There are few better things to get psyched up about than finding big brownies actively feeding in the early season. The very idea of seeing sizeable nebs engulfing olives from the surface is more than enough to get even the most seasoned anglers champing at the bit for some action. And it is the enigmatic March Brown upwinged olive that’s often in our thoughts.

Witnessing a good hatch of these magnificent insects and the effect they can have on trout, hungry after the rigours of spawning and less bountiful feeding of the winter months, is a beautiful thing. You can’t miss a March Brown; they are a juicy mouthful for a trout and look like miniature sailboats bobbing down the river.

Olive Hatches

On the Tweed where I’m based, a size 10 is the perfect match for March Browns, more of which later. There is also every chance of witnessing a Large Dark Olive hatch at this time of year as well, so keep your eyes peeled for these, as the trout love them too. As ever, it’s all about that hatch and being in the right place at the right time. There is inevitably an element of luck involved, but you can certainly increase your chances of getting lucky by bearing a few general scenarios in mind.

March Browns are a favourite fly pattern to use during olive hatches

Olive Hatches – Timing

Usually in March and April the most likely time for hatches to occur is during the warmest part of the day. So focus your efforts between noon and 3pm if possible. And keep an eye on day-to-day conditions, particularly given the increasingly unpredictable nature of our weather these days. A forecasted hike in temperatures later on in the day, for example, could mean staying on the river longer brings  results.

There have been numerous occasions when I’ve been in position waiting at a favourite pool in the early to mid-afternoon, or have walked miles in search of feeding fish, with nothing to show for it. But then, later in the day, a good hatch has begun and the action hasn’t kicked off until around 5ish. In fact, this seems to have been a trend in more recent seasons.

March Browns – Trickle Hatches

One of my best-ever trout on the Tweed was caught late afternoon on the first day of the season. Me and a friend had covered miles, waited at likely pools, walked again, and seen not a thing all day. On my way back to the car, having all but given up, a trickle hatch of March Browns kicked in. As if by magic three seriously good trout appeared,  at the head of a pool with steady flow and good depth. The first of them, stationed furthest upstream, looked huge.

There was a hellish downstream wind blowing and trees lining the bank. So the only way I could possibly cover it was by roll casting and swinging a fly over it from upstream. With a size 10 flashback hare’s lug on the point, a spider on the middle dropper and an emerger pattern on the top dropper, I managed to land a cast in the right place and got lucky. It nailed the spider, and after taking me to the backing twice, an immaculate 6lb plus upper Tweed trout finally came to the net.

Olive hatches – Mixing It Up

Of course, dry fly is the preferred approach. But in situations like the above, even when targeting feeding fish, deploying nymphs and spiders may be the better option.  Either way, the key to increasing chances of success is to observe and be patient. Whether sitting at a hot spot and waiting or walking the river for miles, watching the water with undivided attention is vital.

Earl Season Tactics – Looking For Action

Of course you can fish speculatively, with dry flies or nymphs, from upstream or down. But your chances will be greatly increase when targeting a fish that is actively feeding or has recently shown itself. Firstly, a feeding fish is more likely to take your fly if presented correctly. Secondly, a feeding fish is less likely to be spooked. This is especially true when trout are locked in during Olive Hatches and feeding regularly on the surface. This is ideally what we’re looking for!

Being familiar with a stretch of river is a huge advantage. Then you can focus on the pools you know hold good trout and cut down on legwork. If fishing a new river, look for water with the same characteristics as productive areas on your home patch. Pools with a good flow of fast, bumpy water in the neck, with deep channels that gradually slow and deepen. These are the stretches of river that tend to produce good Olive Hatches, with broken and/or deep water where trout feel more secure. As a result, they’re more likely to be holding pools. And don’t neglect the tails of pools, particularly those classic Vs where the current quickens and food is funnelled through.

Early Season Tactics  – The Approach

For dry fly, several key rules always apply. Spend as long as necessary getting into position when targeting a feeding fish. The closer you can get, the better. Approach from downstream, stay off the skyline, avoid heavy footfalls at all costs. And only wade as much as you need to, if at all. Don’t be too quick to cast. In Olive Hatches that have just begun, wait until the trout is regularly feeding, if you can bear to. Then show the trout the fly first, i.e. get an angle, as square as you can without risking spooking the fish. this will minimise the risk of lining the fish.

Avoiding drag is essential. However this can be tricky sometimes. Better fish invariably hold in trickier spots to cover – often a clue as to why they’re better fish. Use a mend cast whenever necessary. Only practice and trial and error with presenting a dry fly at the right distance and angle will produce consistent results in the long run.  

Setup for Olive hatches

On smaller rivers or the upper reaches of rivers like the Tweed, my preferred choice of rod is the sublime Sage R8 Core in a 4 weight. This is  a truly stunning rod with a lovely tactile action but enough backbone to tame lively trout. Line-wise, I use the Rio Technical Trout, which has a long front taper. This is ideal for turning over flies accurately and delicately. For lower down with more water to go at, the Sage R8 Core is hands down, the best rod for the job. I prefer a 10ft 5 or 4 weight and these rods are quite simply the best I’ve ever fished .

My go-to dry fly set-up is a Rio Powerflex 12ft tapered knotless leader which I nail knot to my floating line. You can shorten this to 9ft on smaller rivers and streams. At the business end of this, I always use a Rio tippet ring,. This allows me to then add the required length and diameter of tippet, tapered further if necessary. For this section, I use Rio Fluoroflex Strong, but you could use Rio Powerflex or Suppleflex if copolymer or nylon is your preference. Apply floatant to the end of the fly line and thicker section of the tapered leader. This helps keep this section up high in the water. But it is absolutely key to apply mud or degreaser to the end section, ie the several feet of tippet up to the fly.

 March Browns – My Go-to Patterns

I am never without Deershucker March Browns and Deer Hair Emerger in 10s and 12s. Both these patterns represent emerging duns as they’re trapped in the surface film, either in the process of shedding their nymphal shuck (in the case of the Deershucker), or just after as the newly emerging dun is drying its wings prior to take off – and escape. Correctly presented, these two patterns can be deadly early season. This is especially the case in trickle Olive Hatches and/or when the trout aren’t yet fully committing to supping duns fully from the surface but happy to enjoy the easier pickings of those trapped in the surface film.

The good old Jingler, sparsely tied, should also be ready to hand. It is particularly effective in bumpy, streamy water. I’m sure its imprint on the surface is what entices the trout up. And that’s it. In theory, it’s not too difficult: a simple set-up involving (ideally) one fly to be dropped delicately above a rising trout before you enjoy the most addictive part of the angling experience, watching that fish of a lifetime engulf your dry fly before all hell breaks loose . . .

In practice, of course, things may not quite go according to plan: cold, squally winds; intermittent, even non-existent, hatches; trout unwilling to rise even when the mother of all hatches is kicking off; a misplaced or ill-judged cast wrecking the one shot at glory. Which will it be on your next trip to the river? Bring on the March Browns, and bring on those big, beautiful brown trout!

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