It's hot and dry here with a slight bit of smoke from the fires just over the border in Colorado, drifting down into our river valley today. Just across the highway from where I now sit and write this column, the San Juan River runs strong and clear at nearly 1,000 cfs— not that far north, low stream levels and warm temperatures are already prompting some self-imposed "hoot owl" restrictions by conscientious fly fishermen. For about as far as you can drive in a day's time, you'll see giant, electronic highway signs warning of level two and three, fire restrictions. Entire forests and backcountry areas have been shut down indefinitely, until conditions change. Here on the San Juan, aside from the fire restrictions, it's business as usual and the irony is not lost, that it precisely because of these dry conditions elsewhere, that we have the higher water levels that we do. We are blessed to be on a tailwater where such things can be regulated and our fisheries resources can be protected, although looking at inflows versus outflows on a reservoir that now stands at 40 feet below full pool, leaves many a fisherman speaking of the coming monsoons with the invocation of silent prayer. Hopefully, the rains of late summer and the snows of this winter will arrive. As for the rest of this year, we'll be okay.
If you are wondering how the flows here are going to work throughout the rest of the summer; at the risk of oversimplifying things, I'm gonna try to sum it up in a few sentences—reason being, that this is becoming one of the most frequently asked questions of late, due to all the dry weather and fire news that a lot of folks are hearing about. The most important takeaway of the whole ball of wax is that basically the flows on the San Juan are being determined by something called—the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program, which in name alone, sounds like a government mouthful. You can research it, but in a nutshell of how it affects the release levels on the San Juan River that you love to fish goes like this: There are two endangered species of fish, the Pikeminnow and the Razorback Sucker in the lower San Juan that the government is trying to save from extinction. At some point, the agencies involved in the operation all came together and determined that these fish need a sustained flow of 500 to 1,000 cfs where they reside, which happens to be in the area below where the Animas River and the San Juan join together, down to where the waters are finally impounded at Lake Powell. So, if the Animas is running low, as it is now, the extra water that is needed to meet the 500 to 1,000 cfs requirement, is made up by increasing the flow of the Juan, which is actually the only variable in the equation that can be regulated by man. Likewise, when the Animas is running higher, less water is needed from the San Juan, thus the releases from the reservoir are dialed back. Now, based on what is going on with the Animas at this point (it is low and dropping lower in the dry weather)—unless we see rain soon and the Animas rises, then more water may be needed from the San Juan side of the equation and the flows may need to be bumped up again. At present the combined flow of the two, at Four Corners is 532 cfs—which, just barely, meets the minimum requirement of 500 cfs. The Animas, as it enters the state of New Mexico is currently at 171 cfs and that number doesn't account for any irrigation that's being pulled out before it reaches the Juan just below for Farmington. So there you have it—flows of almost 1,000 cfs here now, with the likelihood of another increase of a couple hundred cfs, maybe before the week is out. Add in the possibility of rain on Friday and we could see it dialed back, if only for a day or two, as the BOR doesn't want to have to send one more gallon downstream than necessary right now, given a diminishing reservoir. A bit complicated I know, and I'm not even going to thrown in what happens in mid-October, when irrigation needs go away. In the meantime, just expect the flows here to yo-yo a bit, based on what the Animas is doing.
Now, as far as the fishing goes—the river here is still very wade-able, it's clear, and it's fishing good. We're fortunate that a lot of this river is broad, braided, and shallow to begin with, so it can actually carry a lot of water until the wading becomes dicey. I've fished this river for a while now and somewhere around 2,500 to 2,700 it's not that much fun to wade anymore, so we've still got a lot of wiggle room to play with. Further increases, should they come, will likely be in 200 cfs increments or so, and will be less detectable and disrupting to the fishing, considering it makes up a smaller percentage increase when the water is already flowing at a good clip. Anyway, nymphing with midge patterns in the upper river is still very effective. Larva and pupa patterns in the mornings and emerger patterns from around 11:00 till late evening afternoon are producing fish. There are lots—lots of BWO and PMD nymphs present in the lower river, so mayfly nymph patterns should be a "must have" if you are fishing the Texas Hole and below. There are also a few PMD and caddis adults showing up later in the day, down near Duranglers, Last Chance, and further down river. The dry fly fishing has been pretty good with some fish rising to midges in the early afternoon until late evening in the upper river and you can get by with some large midge cluster patterns like Dead Chickens late in the day. Terrestrials—hoppers, ants, and beetles will bring some fish up wherever you can find water skinny enough—which is becoming more scarce as the flow levels rise. Honestly, I think the dry fly fishing here is best at around 500 to 650 cfs, but you gotta play the cards you're dealt. Overall the Juan's a good place to be right now and will continue to be even with a few more flow increases, should they come. If you would like more information or would like to book a guided trip, give us a call at 505-632-2194.