Monday, January 4, 2016

Jim Leisenring’s March Brown

     Meant to simulate a number of Rithrogena (clinger) mayfly species emerging to speckled winged adults, ‘March Brown’ is a tag applied to nearly as many versions of the fly as there are fly tyers &, in some form, has been described since the earliest English literature.   

Rithrogena prefer streams with good flow, & larger freestones may produce great hatches. Those species we refer to as March brown begin emerging before spring run-off, as early as February in southern & coastal regions, later at higher elevations & northern regions. Generally, these appear around late April in NE Washington, & I see them on into June some years. Though they don’t produce great hatches on my home water as they do in many places, they are enough of a presence through their hatch season that the imitation fishes well through the period.   

Looking at naturals found at various locations, one isn’t surprised at the great variety of patterns meant to cover March brown. Adults may be #12-#16 (nymphs, a size larger). The color of mature nymphs may range from tan through all shades of brown, olive/brown, & olive, depending on location. Each stream holds its own color variant. (An aquarium net might satisfy the curious.) Considering the variety of colors & materials meant to simulate these, I am drawn, once again, to the notion that: presentation, size, silhouette, are primary factors, over color. And in this case silhouette is indeed important, by my own thinking, as the broad-thoraxed, teardrop shape of the naturals is a keying visual characteristic.

One of James Leisenring’s salient contributions to the soft-hackle style was his refinement of silhouette, which he considered important to the fly’s effectiveness, & for that reason many of his patterns call for a thorax, & though not his own invention, it is a fair departure from most of the older soft-hackle designs. Jim Leisenring’s well-thought version still stands as a killing pattern for covering March browns.

Neil Norman, author of Soft Hackles, Tight Lines, an Online Soft-Hackle Pattern Book, lays out an excellent historic profile of March brown, describing several notable dressings. For any interested in the history of our flies, Neil’s journal is an invaluable archive.                

Jim Leisenring's March Brown

Hook: #10-#14 (Mine is tied on a #12 Mustad 3906B)

Thread: orange silk (orange or rusty-brown UNI 8/0 substitutes)

Hackle: brown partridge

Tail: 3 cock pheasant tail swords

Rib: gold or silver wire wound over the abdomen

Abdomen: 3 or 4 cock pheasant tail swords twisted with a tag of the thread

Thorax: hare’s mask, dubbed fairly heavy


  1. Hi Steve, I'll have to tie a few of these up and try em out when it warms a bit. I've been on a big craft fur streamer kick lately. lovin the craft fur for big sculpin profiles like the Morrish Danny Boy sculpin pattern . What do you think of this fly ? Would be fun to swing a big sculpin with a march brown dropper this spring . Saul in Northport

    1. Saul, good to hear from you!

      The MDB Sculpin looks like intensive labor. Haven't tried it. Let me know how it produces for you. I'll post one that worked good last season.

      Hope to see you on the UC this coming season.

      Best in the New Year!

  2. FlyFinaticLou - Nice on the natural bugger/sculpin - might have to try a few at my desk this coming week for Spring "Swing time" on the U.C. ! The March Brown brought back fond memories of my Navy years ('90 thru '92) in New London/Groton, Connecticut - of course the best 2 rivers were diagonally opposite & 3+ hrs. drive away. But I'd go just about every week I had 3 or 4 days off, and in my shore duty (brig) that was often. Honed my Leisenring lift & other nymphing skills their often with March Brown nymphs or Caddis. March Browns were a staple - dry, wet or nymph. Funny though, I can't seem to remember using them much once I left the NorthEast ('93)! Once I got to Washington (Navy - Whidbey Island NAS, I got hooked on the steelhead thing on the Skagit and it seemed "small" flies were a thing of the past for 4 yrs. Well now I'm rambling, so, always enjoy your write-ups . . . haven't commented in couple years, but still looked in couple times a month and "binge-read" ha ha. yea it's me, sorry for the "anonymous" thing, I'm a private sort !

    1. Lou, thanks for the report! I carry a romanticized, melancholic memory of those Eastern rivers & brooks. Saving up for an excursion back there, maybe swing up to Nova Scotia while there.

      Best in the New Year