- Jay Walden
There's not a lot of things that I'm particularly good at; like some guys, who seem to have been born with that innate MacGyver instinct and can fix about anything around the house with a little bailing wire and a roll of duct tape or pick up a musical instrument for the first time and be able to play a song from start to finish in a matter of minutes like they've practiced on it since childhood. But there are a few things I do well and fighting and landing fish is one of them, which may sound a little braggadocious until you factor in the consideration that I've been practicing it a lot for the past thirty years and the claim sort of loses a little of its luster. Anyway, I think it was Dizzy Dean that said, "It ain't bragging if you can do it." The most difficult part of it all; for me anyway, is explaining to other people how to do it, probably because I'm a really poor teacher, which explains why I never gravitated toward the guide aspect of the sport. Another part of it is, that it seems to be more of a natural "feel" kinda thing that just seems to develop over time and putting that all into words would probably leave Ol' Will Shakespeare struggling for the correct nomenclature. I think the best description of it that I have ever seen in print, came from a friend of John Gierach's, who explained what to do once you hook a fish as, "When he's doing something, you do nothing and when he's doing nothing, you do something." That, in a nutshell, pretty much sums it all up. Without getting too dramatic, I'll try to expound on that a little bit. First of all, don't panic—you hooked a fish—isn't that what you were trying to do? It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Second, and I think this is the most important aspect of the whole process, get the fish under control right away, every second is critical here. Strip any slack line if you need to, to come tight to the fish—don't obsess about getting him on the reel right away, that can come later when you've got the fish where you want him. Get, and always maintain, tension on the line, between you and the fish— if you're comfortable with how your rod feels and works, you'll know when enough is enough, if not, you'll learn it over time; unfortunately, probably the hard way. I like to trap the fly-line against the handle with the index finger of my casting hand, leaving my other hand free to reel up slack, once I "feel" what the fish is going to do. If he runs, you gotta let him go, but just loosen that finger enough on the fly-line to keep it from being a free-for-all. Keep the pressure constant—over time you'll learn how your rod and the limits of 5x,6x, and 7x tippet work in tandem. Right away, clear the decks—make sure there's no slack line wrapped around your boots, rod handle, lanyard, etc. or else it'll all be over faster than it started. Keep the rod tip up, this is no time to try any of those fancy side to side moves, leave those to the bass fisherman with the big treble hooks and the barbs on the ends. Your end goal is to get the fish's head out of water and the way to do that is to keep the rod straight up— you control the head, you control the fish. Now here's the point where some folks are going to disagree with me, but I'm not one of those "old just let 'em run around until they get tired and reel 'em in old boys. " No sir, I from I'm from the give 'em maximum pressure from the get go till the end don't let 'em get into the current if you can help it, school, kinda guys. My theory is the longer the battle goes on, the more time elapses for something to go wrong, which favors the fish, which usually doesn't take a whole lot of time when a number 24 or 26 hook is being sawed back and forth in a fish's lip. If the fish is below you, reel in slack when you feel any give in his resistance, strip if he comes at you fast, do whatever you need to keep that line tight and be prepared to give a little if he tries to peel away. Try to bring the fish directly below you in your wake using as much upward pressure as he will stand, the sooner that head comes out of the water, the closer you are to having him licked. You'll be surprised how much your legs and body reduce the current behind you, even in faster water. If he runs past you, don't worry, it is actually a good thing. As soon as he slows, apply a little pressure to turn him and the current will help with the rest as long as you stay tight to the fish the whole way through the process, stripping and trapping line as needed. Finally, keep that tip up and lift that rod, reaching your arm back as far as you can get it and his head will come up and you can slide the net under him, and it's game over. Trout are efficient swimmers, but take note on how much that efficiency diminishes when their head is out of the water. If I impart nothing else to you, that alone will be worth the time you spent to read this.
Now that I have climbed down off my soapbox, here's the latest skinny on the San Juan. The flow is around 500 cfs and the water clarity is good. This past week I had some of the better dry fly fishing I have had for quite a while here, and the river was not crowded—at least during the weekdays when I fished it. There were fish rising to midges from about 10:30 till 1:00, then a good BWO hatch that started around 1:00 and lasted until about 3:00 until the wind came up. I assume that I could have probably fished to some more rising fish for about another half hour, had the wind not started blowing. This week I would expect more of the same, although you'll have to adjust the hatch times by an hour to correspond to the end of daylight savings time. That should throw all those fishermen from Arizona who are always looking at their watches and asking me what time it is, for a loop. Anyway, I had good success with fore and afts in size 24 for the midge risers and olive comparaduns in size 26 for the BWOs, both fished on 7x tippet. Yes, the BWOs are that small. Earlier in the day, it's pupa and larva time with midge patterns in the upper river and a mix of baetis patterns as you move down river. There is some good emerger activity just before both hatches get going, as well as after the last one ends, and there are lots of fish working the subsurface for midge emergers right up until dark. The weather looks like it will be nice, but cooler, with a good chance of rain on Tuesday, which should be great for a strong BWO hatch. Hope you can make it out. If you need more information or would like to book a guide, give us a call at 505-632-2194.