"Don't shoot the messenger," that idea was first expressed by the Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles, in the play Antigone, when Oedipus had the habit of killing messengers that delivered bad news. The phrase itself was later coined by Shakespeare in Henry IV; so as you can see, it's been around for awhile. I guess you could say that it's a phrase that's applicable for the ages. This column is a whole lot easier to write when there's good news to report—not so much—when things become a bit difficult. There's always that temptation to "put some lipstick on the pig, " as they say, when you find yourself seesawing back and forth on the spectrum somewhere between Chicken Little and Pollyanna. That might be suitable if you were writing an opinion piece, but not when you are trying to provide accurate information about serious business, and to me, fishing is serious business. So my attempt here will to be to tell you what you need to hear; not necessarily what you would like to hear, and to deliver it all with perspective—just don't "shoot the messenger."
So, here we go. The flows on the San Juan are presently around 500 cfs and are likely to stay in that range for the near term. I like that flow here—not too much—not too little—easy enough to wade to just about anywhere you want to go, plenty enough current to hold fish in a number of places. The visibility; well, that's the not so great part. I'd guess to venture it's about a foot to a foot-and-a-half. The big question that everyone has is, when is it going to clear up? My answer is, probably not anytime soon. If you have any doubts about that, just drive up to the lake and have a look at the water color there—that's where the water from the river comes from and there's a whole lot of it and it's got a whole lot of clearing up to do. Add to that, that we're still in February and there hasn't been much in the way of a change of the weather dynamic—at least not enough to change the hydrology of a body of water that stretches all the way up to Colorado. Anyway, for the sake of brevity here, I would venture to say that the fishing has been, and continues to be, a bit tough and a lot of that has to do with the visibility issue; that, and the lack of good hatches and bug activity in recent weeks. Now, there's all kind of theories for the cause and effect of the latter of those two and I have my share of my own, and I'm not going to get into that. Carnac the Magnificent I am not, but the important takeaway is that it's just not happening now and it's affecting the quality of the fishing.
Now, lest you think I'm leaning too far to the Chicken Little side of the scale, just know that it's all not gloom and doom out here right now, either. In fact, I'd say things are about what you would expect for February on the San Juan when the water is off color—as is usually the case here every winter. So this is where that perspective thing comes in. Is the river fishing as good as it does from July to October? Of course not. I don't think that it ever has in February in my recollection, but in the perspective of wintertime fishing it's still fishing a lot better on most days than a lot of other places this time of year. As far as fly choices, I say you're going to have to stick with the shiny, bright stuff for a while like Red Larva, OJs, Desert Storms, Princess Nymphs, and mix in some dead drifted leech patterns and don't hold your breath for any epic dry fly fishing. As far as my guess on when you're likely to see a change with the insect activity, I would say— when the temperatures warm up here considerably and stay there for a while. So overall, if you're looking for a place to get away and chase away some cabin fever for a while, the San Juan ain't a bad choice as long as you don't arrive with expectations that it's gonna fish like it does in the summertime.
Finally, to answer (as best I can at this time) the questions I've been receiving about spring high water releases—all I can tell you is what I have seen from the latest information we have received from the BOR from their last meeting on January 24th. According to their email, the current snowpack for most of the San Juan River Basin was at 150% of average and based on their lake inflow estimations for runoff, there will be water available for a 42-day spring release at 5,000 cfs. Now bear in mind here, we still have a lot of time left before the snowpack peaks (usually by mid-April) and a lot of things can happen between now and then, as Mother Nature is a fickle creature. Or to put it as one BOR once told me, "These predictions in the middle of winter, are just that—predictions. The only information you need to really pay attention to is the information that comes from the announcement in April, until then it's mainly speculation." The next meeting is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. at the Civic Center in Farmington on April 25th. As far as an actual date on the release, we'll all have a better handle on that on April 25th, but it typically takes place in late May and totally depends on how soon the weather gets the snowpack melting. In the meantime, if you would like more information or would like to book a guided trip, give us a call at 505-632-2194.