- Jay Walden
Sometimes you are just a small split shot away from glory and you don't even know it. I left town last week to fish some different water; I needed something to get the endorphins flowing again. The challenge of new water and new fish generally do the trick for me. After about ten minutes of walking the banks, looking for fish, I spotted three nice cutthroats holding at the bottom of a deep pool. It was a tricky spot for a good drift, close to the bank with fast water at the top, dropping off sharply over a shelf where the water slowed and deepened at the end of the run and piled up in front of a couple of big boulders; all three fish were hugging the bottom a few feet in front of the boulders. To top things off there was a big bush growing out of the bank halfway down the run that I was going to have to keep my flyline from tangling in, in order to get my flies down to the bottom end of the pool. Now, I'm not crazy about nymphing, but I'll do it if it's the only way I'm gonna catch fish. I figure I spent about the first twenty years of my fishing career primarily fishing nymphs—that's about enough. After studying it a bit, I pinched on two, number- six split shots, a foot above my top fly, adjusted my indicator for the depth of the pool and made a cast to the top of the run into the faster water. Halfway through the drift, I lifted the rod to negotiate the line over the bush and attempted a downstream mend for the slower water of the deep end of the tailout. In an effort to keep my eye on the fish, my flyline snagged one of the limbs of the bush and I watched my indicator stop just short of the fish and my flies drift toward the surface. No doubt the fish thought this was hilarious. Sometimes I think they intentionally pick these ridiculous holding spots for their own amusement in frustrating fishermen. Well, it took the about three more attempts before I hooked and landed one, so I guess any good joke can backfire on you sometimes. After things settled a few minutes later, I made another drift and saw that telltale white "wink" from the mouth of the second fish and set the hook, but after a few head shakes he came unbuttoned and that was the end of that. I stood there another ten minutes or so, but I never saw that third fish again, so I moved upriver to a new spot.
I think it's human nature for all for all of us to look for the easy way; fly fishermen are no different. It's probably why I like fishing dry flies so much—there's less work involved than that nymphing business—you just tie on one fly and you're done, none of that adjusting weight and indicator business, messing with a second fly, wondering what's going on down there where you can't see, is my drift right,? etc. It's a lazy way to fish, which suits me. Anyway, when I moved up to the next pool the water was different, faster, and you couldn't see the fish, although I just knew they were in there. The lazy part of me said just keep the same set up, it'll work, and although all my experience has taught me different over the years, that's exactly what I did—for about twenty passes over the same stretch of water without so much as a touch from a fish. Sometimes seeking confirmation for your own theories becomes more important than experimentation and can often lead you down the wrong road, or as Mark Twain once said, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." Being stubborn and hard-headed won't get you into fish, it's an axiom I know to be true, yet seem to do my best to dispel every time I'm on the water. Finally frustration got the best of me and I reeled in and pinched on another spit shot between the first and second fly, an adjustment that took me all of about one minute. On my first cast with this "major" new adjustment I picked up a nice rainbow at the end of the drift, then later a small brown, followed by a beautiful, buttery looking cutthroat. Sometimes you are just a small split shot away from glory and you don't even know it. All this may sound like a lot of superfluous rhetoric just to get to a simple point, but when you distill it down, occasionally the difference between average fishing and great fishing is just a minor adjustment and the willingness to take the time to make it. Lee Wulff probably said it best when he said, "The last thing to change is the fly."
I know I get off on these rambling tangents at times, so for those of you looking for how the San Juan is doing, bear with me here just a little longer. The flow is presently at 475 cfs and the visibility is still what I would call "poor" at about a foot or so. A lot of people are telling me that it has cleared somewhat in the last few days, but I ain't seeing it. Even if it is, I'd say it still has a long way to go before it has changed enough to affect the fishing dynamic. That said, I would say that the fishing right now, in comparison to when the water is much clearer here, is okay, just not that usual fantastic, you'd normally equate with the Juan. A bit challenging, might be a better way to put it. Outside of a few great days, when it's has been overcast and cooler here, there really hasn't been much in the way of rising fish, so with the bright sunshine and warmer weather we are expecting this week, I think it's going to remain a nymphing and streamer game out there. As far as patterns go, red and cream larva, and the usual dark midge patterns like mono, bling, and zebra midges are producing fish. Desert storms, annelids, and red larva as point flies are good choices. Anywhere in the lower river, baetis patterns such as rootbeers, fluff baetis, and RS2s are good imitations as the BWO nymphs are becoming more active. Smaller streamers in black and olive fished on a dead drift and trailed with a bright larva or annelid pattern will also get you into fish. For those of you who are looking for information on the spring high water release, here's the latest word from the BOR that I have—the preliminary schedule to start the ramp up to the release is scheduled to most likely start on April 26th or May 3rd, depending on weather, and once 5,000 cfs is reached, it will remain at that level for around 40 days. Now, there is a meeting to hopefully finalize things, which is scheduled for April 25th, so I hope to have some better info after that. Bear in mind that this is coming from a government agency, akin to the same folks that wait until the last minute before the country is about to shut down from lack of funding, before they approve the money to keep it going, so we'll see what transpires on the 25th. Providing they issue the minutes of the meeting via e-mail, as they usually do, we'll try to post it to our website, or you can call us at the shop. In the meantime, make the most of it and get here while the gettin' is good.