"Mamma Tried"—Merle Haggard. Despite what I am about to tell you about how the fishing is going on the San Juan, it has become glaringly obvious to me— based on the increased traffic of Spring Break fishermen here, that most of the people that read this column will read it and draw their own conclusions and decide to fish it anyway. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that. My job is not to try and dissuade anyone from fishing, my job is to try and provide the best up-to-date information possible to help in your decision process. If anyone understands the desire to fish, it's probably me, and when you've spent a long winter with too many days cooped up inside, 70 degree temperatures and warm sunshine are a clarion call too strong to ignore. If you're a fisherman, you're going to be on the water somewhere and a little murky water, and less than stellar fishing is not gonna stand in the way. And truth be known, the San Juan, even when it is under performing compared to it's normal outstanding reputation, generally fishes better than a lot of other places you could choose to go.
That said, here's my take on how things are going. Compared to conditions about a week ago, the visibility here has increased a little bit. A recent switch on the release gate from the 4x4 on the spillway side to the power generation side which draws water from a different level in the lake, resulted in the visibility improving from near zero, to about a foot- and- a- half. Now, some people may tell you it's better than that—that it's more like three-feet, and there's a little bit of truth in that. It's true that you can make out some larger structures like maybe a boulder, or large rocks down to three feet, especially from a higher vantage point like from a drift boat, but from a wader's perspective, the ability to accurately distinguish a fish from some other form on the bottom at three- feet, is still quite difficult— unless it moves. Anyway you slice it though, it's an improvement and we'll take it, and it has resulted in improving the fishing somewhat, and that's all that really matters.
As far as fly choices go, the bigger, brighter stuff still seems to be the better way to go. Red larva, OJs, Princess nymphs, and Desert storms have been the biggest producers. There are some fish that are starting to trend back to actual traditional nymph patterns in recent days; as well, and teaming up a Red larva or annelid pattern in size 18 to 22 as a point fly along with a smaller pupae pattern like a UFO, in olive or tan, are putting fish in the net for some folks. I would not overlook the streamer fishing, if that is your thing, with black buggers and bunny leeches being my first choice, followed by olive, and white as backup choices. For dries, there still isn't a whole lot going on at this point in the way of rising fish, although there's a few fish coming up in the shallower stuff where the fish can still get a decent look at things, later in the afternoon. But in all truth, I don't think the dry fly fishing will become a significant way to put any real numbers in your net, until the water clears considerably and the hatches get much heavier than what we have been seeing in the past couple weeks.
If I could offer any other advice that could perhaps be helpful with these conditions, I would suggest that you would probably be better served to put a little more time into the thought process on the locations you choose to fish. Normally, when the water is much clearer here, it's a no brainer where the fish are or aren't because they are easy to spot, but when visibility becomes a problem, you've got to think more like a fish. Based on my recent trips— where they aren't— (which, by process of elimination helps to determine where they are) is in the shallows. That leaves the deeper stuff where you can't actually spot them. Right now, that includes a lot of water, but if you start thinking like a fish—when it's tough to see, you're probably gonna migrate to where the heaviest concentration of food is and those areas tend to be where the current funnels food right past your face where it's close enough that you can actually see it. Trout are efficient eating machines and innately know the dynamics of caloric intake versus the energy expended to retrieve it. When conditions dictate a scarcity of food, like not being able to see very far, they are going to go where the food conveyer belt is, and to where they don't have to fight a lot of strong current and burn up a lot of energy to find a meal. This generally translates to the slacker water along current seams where they can hold without a great deal of effort, yet reap the rewards of a lot of food still being moved through the system. This holds true for places like tailouts where the conveyer belt dumps out and scum lines along eddies. Those are the places I would target right now and where I think you are going to find fish. Start at the edges, work your way into the thalweg, and if wading permits, cross to the other side and repeat. I know I kinda got a little carried away and a bit verbose on the report this week, but things have been a little tough for some folks out there recently and I want to do all I can do to help out and possibly make things a little easier if I can. Hope this helps. If you would like more information or would like to book a guided trip, give us a call at 505-632-2194.