- Jay Walden
Wintertime, San Juan River—A Love/Hate Relationship—sounds like a great title for a book, or at least, a chapter. Or, perhaps, to borrow a another title from Ernest Hemingway— it is a Big Two-Hearted River—one heart, kind and forgiving; the other, occasionally cold and cruel. If you truly love her, you must be willing to accept all of her moods without reservation and willingly acquiesce to the hand you've been dealt. At times, it can be a bitter, humbling pill to swallow.
This past Monday I went out to one of my favorite spots on this river. It was an phenomenal day, casting big dry flies to rising fish throughout the larger part of the afternoon. I didn't mind the murky water that I typically don't care for this time of year, I was catching fish, the river was being kind to me—very kind, and the fish were more than willing to play my type of game. I left with a big smile on my face, satiated by a great day of wintertime fishing, I couldn't wait to get back tomorrow. Tuesday came and the conditions were the same—same temperature, same slightly overcast skies, same visibility, same place. I stood and the bank and waited for the first sign of a rising fish. I waited, and waited, and waited. I checked my watch from time to time—was it 11:00 or 11:30 yesterday when everything began to happen, 12:00, 12:30? I was getting antsy, I walked around, tried a few different places, gave up on my spot eventually and headed downstream to find new water and new fish. One rising fish, perfect cast, perfect drift, and he ate, and I farmed him, broke off after setting the hook like some overzealous bass tournament fisherman. I walked around some more looking for rises. Was this even the same river I fished yesterday? It was like I had been dropped somewhere on the moon. I caught a couple more little guys over the next hour and kept checking my watch, the murky water flowed by, it's surface as flat as glass without so much as a dimple from a working fish. The watch again, too late for the long walk back to the car and the drive home for the streamer rod. I didn't even have my streamer box, which would have done me little good anyway, with the 3wt. noodle I was carrying. I called it quits at 3:00, reeled up, drove home and made myself a double margarita. After 25 years of fishing this river, sometimes I don't know as much as I think I do, about her. Sometimes, I'm too stubborn for my own good, great at giving advice, terrible at following it.
If you are a one trick pony, then you better have a good trick. I like fishing dry flies, sometimes to my own detriment. I'm hard-headed in that regard, and at times, I become my own worst enemy. If you want to catch fish with more consistency with the present conditions we are experiencing on the San Juan, stick to nymphing or throwing streamers. The visibility is only about six to eight inches, the flow around 350 cfs. Sight fishing is nearly impossible, unless you target your casts to rise rings, if and when, these fish decide they want to do that on any given day—don't count on it—one day could be great and the other, well. My advice is that until this water clears, that if you want any regularity to the catching part, bust out the junk, like eggs, red larva, princess nymphs, annelids, and desert storms—think bigger and brighter, and think streamers like black and olive bunny leeches, and buggers. Since you can't see the fish, target the thalwegs and the current seams, the superhighways of food distribution where the fish are going to hang out. For me, that's a different kind of fishing, although that tug of a streamer take, can be just about as addictive as watching a size 10 hopper disappear into a giant set of jaws. They say it takes 21 days of repetitive behavior to break a habit, I might as well get started on that.
If you're looking for a little solitude and an opportunity to wet a line, this would be a good week to visit the San Juan. This past weekend was a bit busier than most, with Monday being a holiday for a lot of folks. There were more lines in the Texas Hole than on Tommy Lee Jones' face. This week should be much quieter and the weather doesn't look all that bad, either. Bring it all if you come—dries, nymphs, and streamers. No two days seem to fish the same right now, so having it all and being flexible and willing to adapt will help. I plan on working on the willing part this week. If you would like more info or would like to book a guided trip, give us a call at 505-632-2194.