I was reading a story the other night by Guy de la Valdene where he was describing his tarpon fishing days in Key West with Russell Chatham, Jim Harrison, Richard Brautigan, and Thomas McGuane, and it got me to thinking about how much fun it would have been to have been a fly on the wall, listening to some of the conversations on one of those skiffs, never mind the opportunity to fish for behemoth 100 pound plus game fish with a group of guys that pursued the sport with such unbridled passion. It also started me thinking about how I also came to be an admirer of the individual works of these guys, long before I knew about their relationships to each other dating back to the late 60's and early 70's. My first exposure to any of them came along in the late 70's when I picked up a copy of McGuane's The Bushwhacked Piano in a little bookstore called Books, Strings, and Things, just off the Virginia Tech campus, where I spent my time between classes reading excerpts from it and writing the page numbers where I'd left off into my English 101 notebook, returning to the bookstore, until I'd read the whole damn thing. I loved the guy's writing, long before I knew he was a serious fisherman and long before I knew he had any affiliation to the rest of this group of artistically talented misfits, whose work I came to appreciate later, including Jimmy Buffett, of who I was a fan at the time, not knowing he was part of this Key West Mafia and would eventually end up to be McGuane's brother-in-law. The fact that I read a couple of books by an author without actually buying any of his work, bothered me for a while, but over the years I've purchased everything he and his friends have ever written (some of them multiple times) so, I guess all is forgiven. Anyway, the odd thing about all of this is that I discovered and came to love the works of all of them individually, McGuane first, Harrison later, Chatham through his art work on Harrison's books, de la Valdene for his work on McGuane, Brautigan, and Harrison's movie Tarpon—and Buffett—well, Buffett was always Buffett, although he did do the soundtrack for the movie that was released in 1973, and finally, the author Peter Mattthiessen once I learned he and Harrison liked to float the Madison together. The upshot of all this is, is that I was struck by the peculiar way one is drawn to those who have like- minded passions in this old world—mine being fishing, hunting, love of the outdoors, good food and drink, and an ability to laugh at myself occasionally, not unlike the authors, painters, and musicians, I admire and revere. More often than not, I think that it is more of their compelling emotion for these things and their ability to convey it to others that stirs my approbation, rather than the actual commonality of the thing itself.
Having said all that, de la Valdene's story went on to express his opinion that his pleasure in tarpon fishing comes more from seeing the fish, judging where to cast, managing the strike, and witnessing the first couple of jumps, that is where fly fishing for tarpon begins and ends for him. To quote the author, "For me the finesse of the sport ends a hundred yards from the boat." To a certain extent, I'd have to agree. I love the stalk, the challenge of making the proper presentation, and of course, the take, but I also still love the ensuing fight, the test of my abilities against those of the fish—maybe I have yet to graduate to that higher plane attained by others of different stature. Maybe someday that, too, will come—but I have my doubts. If you are of this ilk, then you are going to love fishing the San Juan right now. The water is clear and at 700 cfs, there are plenty of opportunities to sight fish to some really healthy piscatorial targets. Lately I have been able to pick out and target fish with larger terrestrial patterns, which is the pinnacle of fly fishing in my opinion. If nymphing is your thing, then there's plenty of that too, and being able to pick out a certain fish and work him, and see the take, is much more rewarding, if not a more productive way of fishing, as well. Whatever method you decide to choose (streamers included) you'll find some good fishing on the Juan this week. There's some midges showing up around mid-day and plenty of fish working the upper water column. Earlier in the day, stick with larva and pupae patterns, then add some emergers once you see the fish start to work. Gray and black are the prominent colors in sizes 24 and 26. For the dries, I've been going with ants and hoppers earlier in the day and later in the evenings when the fish aren't all focused on the tiny midge stuff. During the hatch, small Griffith's Gnats, Fore and Afts, and Dead Chickens if the bugs are thick, have been working for me. If you fish anywhere in the lower section of the river be sure to include some Baetis patterns like RS2's , Rootbeers, and Foamwings. There have been a few BWO adults on the water on some days (especially overcast days) but the hatch has been generally short in duration, if, and when, it happens. Finally, the BOR is planning on switching the release gate from the power plant side, to the spillway side on Friday Sept. 1, so this will probably kick up some moss and sediment for a day or so and move some fish around a bit. That will probably be a good time to fish some bigger, brighter stuff, and streamer patterns, based on past experiences. Everything should clear up pretty quick, though. Hope you can make it out this week and be prepared for a little bit of company—it's Labor Day Weekend. If you would like more information or would like to book a guided trip, give us a call at 505-632-2194.