August 12, 2018
The fish of the summer. I'd seen seen him earlier, the week before, cruising around in the shallow "frog water" on a search and destroy mission looking for a big protein meal— the tiny midges weren't cutting it for him lately, this big guy was looking for meat. I backed away from the high bank and stood in the shade where my movements would be harder to detect, and waited. When he made his turn and started out for the deeper water, I let him pass so I was now positioned in his blind spot and measured out a single false cast, and then let the a size 10 Chernobyl ant fly off in his direction. It wasn't the best presentation that I'd ever made to a fish, but not all that bad either, about two feet off to his left for my liking, but still far enough forward to be in his travel zone. There were a couple of seconds that passed where I held my breath and then he peeled off of his travel line and rose up through four feet of water and put his nose right on my fly. I honestly think my heart quit beating at that point. On top of the water, no longer obscured from the refraction, I got a truer read on just how massive this fish really was. And then, he silently sank into the depths like the Russian sub in The Hunt for Red October and off the radar, leaving my fly there on the surface for the Miss Congeniality award ceremony. This past week I was back with all the daydreams of the past seven days still swirling around in my brain, the countless scenarios of another encounter with this behemoth conjured up, still fresh as a daisy, churning like Amish butter in the soft, convoluted grey matter held inside my cranium. Within a matter of minutes, just like in my dreams, there he was. I immediately dropped to my knees, out of sight, and started tearing through my pack for some fresh 3x tippet and a light brown bunny leech, like a raccoon with a picnic basket, quickly realizing that I should have arrived better prepared with this all done ahead of time. Maybe despite all of my daydreams, in the back of my mind I never believed I'd actually get another shot at this fish—and I'm beginning to think that big fish fever can really screw up your brain chemistry, sometimes. With shaking hands, I threaded the eye of the hook, made five fast wraps and cinched the whole deal down with and audible click in the leader and then clipped off the tag end, then slowly peered over the edge. He was fifteen yards away swimming away from me, towards the shallow end of the pool. It was the perfect set-up for an ambush because I knew he would turn at the end, then head right back the way he had come, there was no other way out of that shallow end. With his back to me, I didn't waste a single moment and tossed my streamer out onto the sandbar that formed the far side of the trough that he would be traveling back through, and I waited. He made a lazy, slow turn down in the shallows and began heading my way. When he was about six or seven feet away, I stripped the leech into the trough, watching it undulate with each pull and keeping my other eye on the fish. On the second strip, he bolted for my fly like he had been punched from behind with a cattle prod. My heart was doing the Flamenco, as the sun burned at the back of my neck. Inside my head, El Deguello played on an endless loop and I knew that there would be no quarter given in the battle to come. At the last second, for some reason known only to God and rainbow trout, he put the brakes on and stopped within an inch of the fly— and a sure thing, faded like a wisp of smoke in the wind. With nothing left to lose, I stripped the fly a little faster back for the bank and he turned and followed. At the end of one of the strips, the fly sank to the bottom and he charged in, then tipped up on it like a permit on a crab. I couldn't see the fly anymore, because there was a massive hunk of rainbow trout flesh blocking my view, so I waited a second and went strait up with the rod tip with a simultaneous hard strip on the line and the water exploded as 25 inches of Oncorhynchus mykiss cleared the surface and made a couple of violent head shakes and then the earth stopped turning and everything went silent except for the sound of my streamer flying through the air and plopping back into the water. And that is exactly how my duel in the hot summer sun came to an end.
If you're looking for your fish of the summer, time's a' wasting—here we are now, almost halfway through the month of August and the days seem to be flying by. This is my favorite time of the year to fish the San Juan. Big bugs, big fish, and clear water to hunt them in. My favorite thing is being able to stalk and sight fish to the fish of my choosing, for me there's nothing more rewarding than going one on one with a single fish, mano a mano, if you will—really studying the fish, choosing the right fly, making the perfect cast, watching the take, getting the perfectly timed hookset, or not, as in the case above, it's still the pinnacle of the sport in my opinion. Whatever your method of of choosing, it's really hard to beat this river in the summertime for the consistency, numbers, and size of fish. Right now, we have flows of 856 cfs with very clear water conditions and although that water level is a bit higher than we are accustomed to for this time of year, the river is fishing great and you still have tons of wading access. If you're nymphing, the small midge patterns that the San Juan is known for, should be your go to flies anywhere in the upper river—small like 24s and 26s. From the Texas Hole and below, add in some baetis patterns like rootbeers, foamwings, and RS2s. There's midge hatches throughout the larger part of the day and you can catch plenty of fish on small midge dries or emergers, if that's your thing. I like to throw the big stuff during the summer here because it's a treat to be able to have a period when you don't have to strain to see a size 24 or 26 dry on the water,—there's plenty of time to do that during the other months when the fish have long forgotten the big terrestrials of summer. Ants, hoppers, dead chickens, and PMXs are my bread and butter for the San Juan in the summer, but the thing is, you gotta find the right fish—meaning those holding higher in the water column or shallow water. The beauty of the thing is you don't have to sit around and wait for a hatch in order to catch fish. It's not for everyone, I admit, and you're likely to put more numbers on the board with a nymph rig, but for me, it just seems to be more rewarding. Either way, the river is in great shape and so are the fish, and if you like to fly fish, the San Juan is not going to disappoint right now. Hope you can make it out soon. If you would like to book a guided trip or need more info, give us a call at 505-632-2194.