- Jay Walden
June 17, 2018
Truly blessed, is the best way I can think to describe it. But, for a fly fisherman to have a beautiful river full of thousands of big, hungry trout that willingly come to the fly only a stone's throw from his front door—spoiled rotten, might be a better term. The San Juan, at times, can be a very generous river; so generous in fact, that it might carry with it the propensity for some of us to think we are God's gift to the sport itself. And when the fishing is as good as it is right now, it's not hard to start down that slippery slope where your arm gets tired from patting yourself on the back too much, attributing more to your skill set and less to the generosity of the river, which truly plays the larger role in your, so called, exceptional trout prowess. Lest you get too carried away with yourself, just remember that this is a place where someone who doesn't even know which end of the fly rod to pick up, can on occasion, lob a bobber five feet over the edge of a drift boat and be into fish after fish. Under those conditions, Lefty Kreh or Lee Wulff, you are not. Oh Lord it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way. I'll be the first to admit that, I too, have occasionally fallen victim to this spell of self-aggrandizement. It's not hard to do when numerous big fish eat a size 10 hopper or ant pattern like that haven't seen a meal in weeks, or when you forget and drag your fly upstream as you walk to your next location, only to have the rod nearly jerked out of your hand. When the fishing becomes so easy that even a caveman can do it and your hat doesn't fit anymore because your head has swollen, I've found that the only cure is to pack up and go where the trout are less plentiful and more finicky, and just get over your wonderful self. It is good for your fish karma, to periodically, put both feet back on the ground.
Now, to be honest, the San Juan isn't always a pushover. There are times when it can actually be downright tough and challenging, but those times are few and far between —in the winter when the lake turns over and in the spring (if we have high water) and the flows are being bumped up, are two times that come to mind; but outside of that, this river is generally very forgiving and I can think of no other tailwater that has rewarded more sloppy casts and botched drifts, than this one. But I love it, I truly love it and I'll take easy when I can get it, because it evens the score for those times when those snooty fish refused my perfect presentation of a size 26 midge dry on 7x tippet. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
So, if you'll promise me that you'll keep your ego in check, I'll let you in on a little secret. The San Juan is fishing great right now. The flow was recently dropped to 500 cfs and the water is clear which is great for some fantastic sight fishing. The midge hatches have been good, especially in the upper river, and the fish have been active and eating well throughout the entire day. On overcast days like this past Saturday and Sunday there have been adult baetis on the water, as well—throw in the fact that the terrestrial activity is improving every day and you've got yourself a recipe for some fine piscatorial fun. It's really hard to see how things could be better here. If you are out in the earlier part of the day, nymphing with midge larva and pupa patterns are your best bet—around 10:00 am you'll start to see the bugs and the fish get a little more active and it's time to start thinking about emerger patterns. Once these fish move up higher in the water column and strap on the feed bags, it's on. Ju-jus, crystal flash, and black foamwings fished shallow on 6x tippet will keep you into fish for hours. If you like dry fly fishing, there's plenty of that going on too. From around 11:00 am until dark expect to see rising fish. Fore and Afts in size 24 and midge cluster patterns once the hatch gets heavy, will get the job done. 7x tippet is best for the small dries. Terrestrial patterns like ants, beetles, and hoppers are working now; as well, especially when the fish aren't locked in on taking individual midges. Anywhere in the lower river, you should throw in some baetis nymphs into the mix, like rootbeers chocolate foam wings, fluff baetis and CDC RS2s. It's enough to spoil a man right now, but if you end up getting too full of yourself, just promise me that you'll come back in January for your yearly dose of humility. This recent drop in the water level was a response to an increased flow on the San Juan and the Animas from a two day rain event. Looking at the ten day forecast it looks like we are headed back to drier weather again, so I would look for a bump in the flow later this week or early next week, probably back to the 650 cfs range for the near term. Don't worry, it won't affect the quality of the fishing. Hope you can make it out. If you would like more info or need to book a guided trip, call us at 505-632-2194.