"Well, there you go again," ...Ronald Reagan. If you've been following the fluctuations of water levels on USGS site for the San Juan recently, you're probably thinking that exact same thought , or— looking at the graph, wondering if perhaps you've mistakenly stumbled across someone's EKG readout from their last cardiologist appointment. In the past three days alone, we have seen three changes/adjustments (call then what you will) where water levels have bounced anywhere from the 650 cfs range all the way up to today's 924 cfs level. Strange days indeed. I've got some got some news for you children, buckle up, it's gonna be a bumpy ride and it's gonna go on for a while. If you're one of those folks that always needs to know the reason why for everything, then I suggest you read my last week's report, archived here on this website. Otherwise, just fall into the lot with the rest of us and accept, and move on, and acquiesce to the new normal that the same river you're fishing today may not even look like the same river you fished yesterday. Perhaps, just think of it as a bonus— like getting to fish two different rivers in one trip without any extra driving—which is a little like growing older and having the benefit of hiding your own Easter eggs. If nothing else, it provides great fodder for my Rabelaisian causerie.
So, what to do, you ask? Well, first of all you'll have to become a fish hunter and recognize that when the water levels change, so do the locations of the fish. The places where you saw fish holding yesterday when the water level was 650 cfs, may not be the places where fish are holding today where the water now flows at 900 plus, cfs. On waters such as the San Juan where the bug life is small, the fish are eating machines. It takes a lot of size 26 midges to fill up a belly of an 18 inch trout; which, outside of the inconvenience for needing magnifiers to attach your flies to your tippet, makes for good fishing, since most of our fish are eating 24/7. That said, the fish are going to go where their food source is most abundant and those areas are where food is being funneled by noticeable current that also offers protection from predation—which translates to thalwegs and current seams. So, when the main flows of the current relocate, due to upward or downward movements of the water level, so do the fish. That means you might have to do a little walking and looking when there's a water change. The good news is that the water is still very clear here and we have a lot of fish, so they're not really that hard to find—the bad news is you gotta do it every time the water changes, which lately, is happening a lot. So long to the good old lazy days of going right back to the same spot where you hammered 'em last week, or maybe even yesterday, for that matter. I know everyone loves easy, but so far this year, this has not been a lazy man's river—if you want to catch fish, you're going to have to do a little leg work and a little homework when we have these water changes.
As far as fly choices go, the water fluctuations have ,so far, not accounted for any new magical mystery bugs, so these fish are still eating the same bugs they are accustomed eating during this time of year which equates to mainly small midge and mayfly patterns, with an emphasis on midges in the upper portion of the river and more mayfly patterns in the lower. Earlier in the day your focus should be on the larva and pupa stage of the bug, them switching to emergers and dries as the day progresses and the bug activity and the fish become more active. Popular patterns right now are red and cream larva, bling and momomidges in black and olive, and crystal flash and ju-jus for the midges. Rootbeers, foamwings, small hare's ears, and RS2s are good choices for the lower river. The best fishing has been from around 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and there have been some fish rising (mainly to midges) from early afternoon until late, but most evenings have been spoiled by either heavy winds, lightening, or rain, or a combination of all three. Usually by 3:00 pm you'll see the clouds start to build and by 4:00 the sky up near the lake is darker than a Cormac McCarthy novel and then all bets are off as the wind starts coming at you from every direction imaginable. Aside from all that, you might want to experiment with some worm and chamois leech patterns on the days of, and immediately following the increases in the flows, especially when they are in the 800 to 900 plus cfs level. Also, don't overlook ants and hoppers in your dry fly offerings although you'll need to target fish in the skinny stuff or find them holding higher in the water column, since they won't rocket off the bottom from five feet deep to take a terrestrial. Overall, despite having to make a lot of adjustments for changing water levels, the fishing has been good here on the Juan, just be prepared to adapt and roll with the punches if you decide to come. If you would like to book a guide or need more info, give us a call at 505-632-2194.