October 14, 2018
More cowbell! Working in a fly shop on one of America's most popular trout streams, I am am often presented with that age old dilemma faced by many of us in our piscatorial pursuits, summed up in the form of the following question, "I'm not catching any fish, what am I doing wrong?" In fact; believe it or not, I've even had people call me on their cell phones from the river and say, "I'm standing in such and such hole and I'm doing this and the fish are doing that, what do I need to do?" So, please note— while some things are fixable, if you ask the right questions— such as: What flies are you using?, What size is your tippet?, How much weight are you using?, Where is your indicator positioned?, etc.— some are not,—and short of suggesting a Faustian bargain that would inevitably fix the problem, but possibly leave your soul subject to eternal damnation— Without actually being there, sometimes it's really hard for me to say. That said, don't go getting the idea that a Facetime chat would be a better idea. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for helping as much as I can; as a matter of fact, I enjoy doing it, but as one guide said to me after we watched one of his clients miss fish after fish while they repeatedly tried to eat a size 10 Chernobyl ant only 15 feet away, "You can only do so much." Therefore, when all else fails you, might I suggest—try more cowbell. That, or perhaps, it is time for you to pony up and hire a guide, if you are truly serious about learning to catch fish. Each week I try to do my part here, I write this little article based on my own experience and that of guides, and other fishermen I know and trust that fish these waters a lot. I try to include things that I presume would be helpful, like hatches, river flows, water clarity, fly suggestions, suggested presentations, even weather conditions, but the written word and the English language, in particular, has it's limits. All said, I am still confident that if you use even a close proximity of the suggested flies and have the proper set up for the water you are fishing, and get good, drag free drifts, and hold your mouth right—you'll catch fish on this river, just as I am convinced that tea tree oil is just Pine Sol in smaller bottles, yet works miraculously, nonetheless. Forget Mother Theresa, the true great miracle workers of the modern day are called "guides"— short of that—there's always golf.
Now, to be totally honest, there actually times on this river, where the fishing is tough even for the seasoned professionals, like when the lake turns over in the winter and the water looks like pea soup. But right now, that isn't the case. Right now, it is, as I have said in the past, "So easy a caveman can do it." And why is that so? That is so because we have what I would consider the optimal flow of water for fishing this river—570 cfs. It is so because we have super clear water conditions where you can practically see every fish in the river. It is so because we are having great hatches of both midges and baetis which just happen to be the primary food source for all the fish in the Quality Water section of this river. Outside of you being teleported here during the once a year event of an ant fall, you couldn't ask for better conditions for fishing than what we've experienced over the past few weeks, and are likely to see more of, through the remainder of the month. Lucky you. So here goes, baetis nymphs and baetis dry imitations are the de rigueur flies for any of the water from Texas Hole and below. Fluff baetis, RS2s, root beers, and foamwing emergers will all catch fish in that section. You are likely to see BWO adults on the water almost every afternoon, especially if the skies are overcast (in fact I have seen them as far up as Cable Hole on some days.) My favorite dry fly for the adult BWOs is an olive bodied comparadun in size 22 and 24. 6x fluorocarbon for the nymphs, 7x for the dries. I honestly can't tell a performance difference between mono and fluoro with the 7x, because I think when you get down to the differences with that type of diameter, you're literally splitting hairs. Perhaps that's also the case with the 6x fluoro for the nymphs, but like chicken soup for a cold, maybe it doesn't really cure anything, but it certainly can't hurt and is worth a try when you need every advantage you can get. Upriver, concentrate on midge patterns—larva patterns in red and cream earlier in the day along with a pupa pattern like a mono or bling midge in size 24 and 26. When the fish become more active in the upper water column, add an emerger pattern like a crystal flash or ju-ju pattern, but keep it small, like size 26 small. There are some fish rising to midges starting around 9:00 am (maybe earlier, too, I just haven't been out before 9:00) These early risers are the picky ones and if you can find a few that are consistently rising in one spot, you can generally get them to eat a size 24 or 26 Morgan's midge or Fore and Aft, but you gotta work at it. As the day goes on, the bugs get more active and numerous and the dry fly fishing gets much easier. Look for clusters on the water by lunchtime and throughout the afternoon when you can beef up your fly size—I've taken some good fish on size 10 Dead Chickens right up until dark. Altogether, this should be another great week on the San Juan. It is, and will continue to be, a bit busy for a few more weeks, so expect company. Hope you can make it out. If you would like to book a guide or need more information, give us a call at 505-632-2194.