- Jay Walden
A new year, and I'm ready. This past year, for me, seemed to be an odd one on the San Juan. We had murky water from the lake turning over in the winter of 2016 that lasted through the early months of 2017 and continued all the way until the end of the spring release, which put us into early July. Even after that; although clearer, the water clarity never did reach that normal San Juan, gin clear status, until late summer, something I'd never seen before here; or if I had, I didn't remember it. Then of course there was that spring release of high water that lasted nearly forty-five days and made wade fishing impossible, right when the weather was getting nice and everyone wanted to get out and shake off the "shack nasties" of a long winter. It's dang near torture to look at a body of water you love for a month-and-a-half, knowing that you can't fish it, except by boat, which I'm not too crazy about in the first place. Besides, fishing that high stuff is a whole different beast, and not really my cup of tea, although I know some folks just love it. To each his own, I guess. That said, I did it a time or two, because not fishing at all, is dangerous to the psyche. And in all oddness, as oddness goes, this seemed to be the year of small fish for me. Never before in all my years of fishing this river, do I remember seeing the overwhelming number of "pellet heads," as I saw this past year. And yes, I caught a good number of "good" fish too, but I don't recall catching, or for that matter, seeing, as many small fish, as last year. I know there's a logical argument for a river that receives a lot of fishing pressure to be replenished, especially when said species does not naturally reproduce, and I know that there's the explanation that the survival rate of smaller, stocked fish is higher than that of larger, stocked fish, so I'm going to chalk up this last year to growing pains for my home waters. Painful? Yes, a bit, but hopefully for the common good of years to come–2018 being the first of them. While I'm on my rant, I'm just going to throw in here that just as the Durangler's Corner/Simon area seemed to be on a comeback and I was getting into some good fish down there, up went the signs for the river restoration project and now all bets are off until sometime around March or April. Again, growing pains—but something that will make this a better fishery in the long run. Lest my curmudgeonly demeanor get the best of me, I'll move on now, with a brighter outlook for the future and the ability to look slightly beyond the end of my nose. 2017 is behind us now, and I, of all people, just need to get over myself.
Okay, so here's the deal on the new year. At present, the flow here is around 480 cfs and likely to stay at that level for a while. The water clarity isn't great—the lake has turned over and I would put the visibility at somewhere around a foot to eight inches. Fish are being caught. Nymphing with the bigger, brighter stuff and tossing streamers/bunny leeches are your best bets for getting into fish. Red larva, O.J.s, Princess Nymphs, Disco Midges, and Egg Patterns are my suggestions. Smaller streamers in black, olive, and white seem to be working best. Dead drifting them under and indicator with lots of weight and a bright trailer about 14 inches behind has been the most effective method for me. There aren't a lot of rising fish out there right now. If you do find them, they're going to be in shallower water where they can see the bugs or in back eddies around scum lines. You might be able to find a few fish to fool with a dry, but I wouldn't plan on coming here expecting a whole day of dry fly fishing. I don't think that'll change until the water clears up, which will be exactly when it gets good and ready, and is anybody's guess right now. It has been unseasonably warm here this winter, and as a result, we've seen more traffic on the river than normal for this time of year; still, there's plenty of room and you won't feel crowded as long as you're willing to walk a bit—just don't expect to have the entire river to yourself, as in past years when the daytime high never got past the freezing mark. The best fishing of the day seems to be between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. when the water warms and the bugs and fish become more active. Looking forward to spring, right now it's hard to say what will happen with the water release, or if it will happen at all. So far it's been a dry, warm year for us and the snowfall in the South San Juan Mountains has been almost negligible. We still have several months to go and we could pick up a lot of snow between now and mid-April as long as this dry trend doesn't continue, so we'll have to wait a bit to see. The release of high water in the spring isn't totally essential to the health of the river over the short term, although it sure makes it look a lot nicer, so if we have to skip a year, it won't be the end all, to end all. The upshot is that you'll be able to wade and fish the river for more days if it doesn't happen, so there's a bit of a silver lining in that cloud. In the meantime, all those smaller fish are out there eating and growing and I think we are going to have some big numbers of catchable fish going into the summer season and a great new stretch of water to catch them in once the construction project wraps up in the Simon Canyon area. Here's to the San Juan and 2018! If you would like to book a guided trip or need more information, give us a call at 505-632-2194.