- Jay Walden
Good intel is invaluable in the world of fly-fishing. It can cut down your learning curve dramatically and occasionally make or break a fishing trip. It is one of the primary reasons people book a guide when visiting new water for the first time or when they are returning to familiar waters that they haven't had the time to recon on their own. If there is one thing that is an absolute certainty when it comes to the nature of rivers and the fish that inhabit them, it is that they are constantly changing, and having the latest, up-to-date skinny on what's happening day to day is an indispensable tool for a fly-fisherman, so the key word in this intel business is "good." Talking to your friend that fished this river last year might be a good starting point, but it ain't gonna cut it if you're planning on fishing this river next week—there's just too many variables involved, to rely on old news.
One of the perks of working in a fly shop for five out of the seven days of the week, is that I get a lot of intel about this and other rivers. Some of it is great, some of it is good, and some of it ranks right up there with on-line dating profiles—descriptive, but not so accurate, or as my friends in the legal profession like to refer to it—a total misrepresentation of the facts. I'm fortunate, in that, over time, I've come to know who I can, and can't, trust for my information.
Last week, I had three reports from three separate, reliable sources about a particular piece of water that normally doesn't receive a lot of of attention. There were bugs and lots rising fish there, they said. Big fish that would willingly eat dry flies, they said. I should check it out, they said. Thursday night I didn't sleep well. I woke up at 4:30 am and couldn't get back to sleep. Maybe I was thinking too much about all those rising fish my acquaintances had told me about, maybe it was just from the insomnia I occasionally suffer from, maybe it was from eating too much, too late in the evening as I have been known to do. Whatever the reason, I plied myself with an overabundance of coffee and gathered up all my stuff and was on the water at 7:15 am. I didn't see a single rising fish. I walked around for quite some time and I didn't see a fish, rising or otherwise. Conspiracy theories started rolling around in my head. Suddenly, all this news of big, rising fish started sounding like it was too good to be true. I mean, all these guys knew each other, okay, and all of them knew I was a sucker for fish on dries—and I began to think that I'd been played like a fine Stradivarius. I pictured them all standing around the boat ramp with their clients, sipping their coffee, taking turns telling their version of how they had sent me on a wild goose chase—laughing like a pack of wild hyenas, at my expense. Just then, I saw a small dimple on the other side of the river, where all fish are known to rise, and then I saw another. I hurried over there and I waited. Then, another rise, twenty feet out from the bank I was standing on. I tossed a foam hopper four feet above the rise ring and the fly floated directly over where the fish should have been, and nothing. I glanced upriver for another riser, and as my fly dragged in an arc in the current at the end of the drift, I looked back to see the giant head of a brown trout appear from the depths, in an attempt to inhale my fly. I panicked and yanked it right out of his mouth. My heart was pounding, and for a minute there, I thought I was going to have to change my waders. The next two casts were both hookups to fish that took me immediately into backing and this went on for about another hour, until I finally had to force myself to quit in order to get to work on time. On my way back to the car, I remembered that I had forgotten to ask any of these guys what time of day all this great fishing was taking place, but hey, now I know.
If you are coming out to the San Juan this week, here's the latest intel I can offer. I'll start by saying the fishing is good, really good. The present flow is at 484 cfs and the water has become much clearer—not gin clear, but dramatically clearer from where it previously was. In the nymphing world, the fish are back on the buggy stuff and not so much on the "junk" flies used during high water. Size 24, dark midge patterns like mono-midges, blings, zebra midges, and red larva have been good producers in the mornings and evenings, before the fish move higher into the water column (around 11:00) for emergers and dries. Crystal flash and ju-jus in size 24 and 26 are good choices when you start to see fish working the emerging midges. The midge hatches have been good and you should start to see rising fish at about 11:00 and this has been increasing in intensity and lasting into the late afternoon, with clusters on the water even as late as 5:00 and 6:00 pm in some places. I've been able to take a lot of fish on larger imitations like size 10 dead chickens during this time, although I don't know how much longer these fish will act stupid, before they become wise to that game. But for now, it's working and it's great to fish a dry fly on the San Juan that you can see. Also, on the dry fly game, I've been able to bring up quite a few fish on ant and hopper patterns, before and after the hatch starts— during the hatch, these same flies get totally ignored in favor of the midges. If you're nymphing anywhere in the lower river, be sure to have some chocolate and gray foam-wings, root beers, and CDC RS2s. Expect some company if you come, there seems to be a lot of pent-up demand to fish the Juan after the water has gone down, but don't worry, I can't think of a single place on the river that isn't fishing well right now, so you'll have plenty of places to fish, if you're willing to walk a bit. Bring lots of water, sunscreen, and bug spray—it's hot and the mosquitoes are bad, but the fishing is worth it. If you would like to book a guided trip or need more info, give us a call at 505-632-2194.