October 21, 2018
The same, only different. I can't think of a single river (and I've fished a lot of them) that undergoes so many changes on a regular basis, yet still retains such resiliency, as the San Juan. Sure, there are others where the fishing dynamics are subject to the same whims of nature such as weather, temperature, the seasonality of insect metamorphosis, etc., and even others that undergo changes in flow under the control of man; but, as evidenced by the ever fluctuating daily discharge graph provided by the USGS, there are few that experience it on such a re-occurring basis, such as we have seen on the San Juan over the period of this past year. In large part, this has has been precipitated by a very dry year and the BOR's attempt to strike a balance of keeping enough water in the reservoir for future use along with the need for water downstream to maintain the viability of certain endangered species of fish in the lower reaches of the river. In short, this thing has been going up and down like a yo-yo all summer, but it still continues to fish well, no matter what has been thrown at it. While some may decry the ever varying water levels (the human brain, one could argue, is hardwired toward repetition and stabilization) I tend to like it and have come to embrace it. Now, if you're one of those old boys that likes to always keep your rod rigged up in the back of your pickup with the same old two fly nymph rig and the same weight, and indicator placement, and chunk it into that same run you park yourself on every time you visit the river, then I can understand your consternation with the unexpected; but for me, I see it as a good thing, and here's why. Foremost, it's like being able to fish an entirely different river without ever having to drive anywhere, and short of time travel, that's just not possible in this world, as we now know it. Sure, everyone occasionally loves easy, but I like the challenge of figuring different conditions out when I fish, for me, that's more rewarding. Using that super computer in your old noggin that uses about as much power as the little light in the back of your refrigerator, is what keeps this sport interesting. And change with the flow, it does, this river. The location of fish, their feeding habits, and even the behavior of bug life undergo modifications and transformations, sometimes dramatically, when the levels of a river go from, say, 900 to 400 cfs— it's up to us as fishermen, to adapt and conform to the new elements, and be able to dial the fish back in, and therein lies the challenge that separates this sport from a sunny afternoon of backyard badminton. This river may, at times, change it's appearance to the naked eye, but it has yet to lose one essential difference that has resulted in the loss of it's original identity— the ability to deliver trout in numbers. Go forth, my friends, and conquer. Very important note: Read the last paragraph of this report, if you read nothing else.
So, here we go with the report part. Last week we saw some changes in the flow rate, as well as a switch in the release gate from the dam. Due to construction being performed on the power plant release side, water is now being distributed from the spillway area. In addition to a slight loss in the clarity of the water, this also has the effect of dramatically shifting currents around (more so in some areas than others) in the river. That said, some fish moved around. Now, if you hadn't fished here in the last couple of weeks and you just showed up, you wouldn't have noticed the difference. You'd have gone about the business of reading the water and observing fish behavior just like you are supposed to do every time you approach new water. If you did fish here a few weeks prior and didn't take that approach, then you probably left here a bit disappointed. Anyway, this construction thing is supposed to go on through the major part of the winter, so get used to the spillway side release. And, in addition, expect to see these low flow levels, and possibly even lower, for quite a while. Other than possibly making the boating part a little trickier, it's not gonna hurt the fishing any. At present, the flow is at 392 cfs and the midge hatches, and the baetis hatches are still going strong—the BWOs, more so on cooler, overcast days. As I mentioned earlier, the water clarity isn't quite what it was when it was being released from the other gate. Whether or not that will change over time remains to be seen, since the spillway side releases from a different depth in the lake, but either way the water's still plenty clear enough to sight fish and it's all gonna change anyway in about a month and a half, or two, when the lake turns over, which is a whole new ballgame. As far as flies go, it's the same old stuff of small, dark midge patterns in the upper river and more focus on baetis in the lower. Midge larva, pupa, and emergers above the Texas Hole and rootbeers, fluff baetis, and RS2s below. Fore and afts, and Morgans midges for the dries in the upper river along with midge cluster patterns when the bugs intensify later in the day—don't overlook the opportunity to fish some size 10 dead chickens in the late afternoon and pick up some nice fish right up until dark. For the lower river, I like size 22 and 24 olive bodied comparaduns when the fish are taking the adult BWOs. I'm a firm believer that 7x helps when fishing these small midge and BWO patterns.
Now, lastly and most importantly, here's something you may or may not know—on Oct. 18th, the year of our our Lord 2018, the New Mexico Game and Fish Commission voted to kill the two-fly maximum rule on the San Juan. Yes, you read that correctly. Now, I can't begin to tell you, nor do I have the time, nor should I even have to take the time; for that matter, to tell you what a terrible idea this is. It should be obvious to any real, ethical fisherman, notwithstanding the fact that if you have to rig up your leader to resemble a trotline in order to catch fish on the San Juan; well, then you really suck as a fisherman and should really try your hand at some other sport like golf, where cheating is actually encouraged, or at least not frowned on very heavily. Anyway, the final vote on this will take place at the Game Commission in Roswell on November 30th, so there's still time to let your voice be heard on this, so I'm attaching a link to the folks responsible for the final vote on this. Now, I am no political activist, but I can't let this one go with out letting these people know that this ain't good. I truly hope you'll do the same and also to encourage everyone you know who loves this fishery to do the same. Here you go, don't let this happen without expressing your opinion:
Chairman Paul Kienzle firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice Chair Bill Montoya email@example.com
At-Large Dick Salopek DickSalopek@hotmail.com
Northeast Bob Ricklefs firstname.lastname@example.org
Southeast Chance Chase email@example.com
Southwest Ralph Ramos firstname.lastname@example.org
Northwest Craig Peterson email@example.com