- Jay Walden
October 28, 2018
The Toughest Fish in the World. Recently, while encountering and catching a number of fish rising to small midges, my eye was drawn to a nearby side channel where another of this species, of great proportion, swam nonchalantly in circle like a child on a merry-go-round, oblivious to the rest of the outside world, extracting bugs from the surface like it could truly be his last opportunity for a meal. To me, it looked like an easy opportunity to fool and catch a big fish. Upon closer inspection of this behemoth and further study of his behavior of his daisy-chaining a small pool much smaller than my bathtub, the word opportunity slipped from my vocabulary and was soon replaced with certainty, which, I suppose, may have ultimately led to my downfall. History has wrought many fine examples where overconfident generals or leaders have lost wars, or their entire countries, for that matter, with lesser degrees of certainty, so at least I ain't the first guy to head down that smug, dark alley. Psychologists would perhaps refer to this as the Dunning-Kruger Effect— a cognitive basis in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is—which is also just a fancier way to say, "You're gettin' a little too big for your britches." Anyway, after watching this fish swim around in circles sipping midges every foot or so, and after having caught many of his friends and relatives only 20 feet distant, I was sure the whole thing was a done deal and would be over in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, or even on the first cast. Well— not so fast there pardner, hold your horses. Now, for most arrogant, self-assured folks that are so cocksure of the superior abilities, the word embarrassment doesn't exist, but I'm here to tell you that after over 30 minutes of constant fly and tippet changes, and cast after cast with different presentations without even a single look from this fish, I suffered, what some would call, a complete and utter humiliation. At length, I finally acquiesced to this superlative, unrivaled, piscatorial foe and walked away with my tail between my legs, considering the whole affair a personal affront to my fishing skills as I thought I knew them, and later, what was left of my pride. Apparently, there are some fish that just can't be caught and I'd happened to find one of those. I'm sure I'll eventually recover from it, despite what my therapist tells me.
Okay, so here's the deal on the San Juan for now—flows around 400 cfs and relatively clear water conditions with visibility around four feet. Good midge hatches and good baetis hatches, with better baetis hatches happening in the lower river, and even better ones on cloudy, overcast days. There are fish working midges in the upper water column as early as 9:00 am (perhaps earlier—that's just the earliest I've been able to get on the water, what with all the important stuff going on around home in the morning, like drinking coffee, and all.) Anyway, I've been able to take fish on dries during these "early" hours on Morgan's midges, mainly because I'm convinced they like that "stuck -in-the shuck" look of that bug, and they're really keying in on the emergers. A little later around 11:00, I'll go to a fore and aft, once I see a few snouts and I know they're starting to target the adults. I'm sure plenty of these fish could be taken on midge emerger patterns like ju-jus and crystal flash midges fished just under the surface, however, that's just not my thing, as most of you already know. If you are anywhere from the Texas Hole and below, once these fish start to actively take the midge adults on the surface, there's a lot of them that will take a small BWO dry imitation during this time, even if the baetis hatch hasn't kicked in just yet, which is a good thing because even a size 24 comparadun is easier for you to see on the water than a size 24 midge, just don't fish anything larger than 7x tippet. Now for nymphing, midge patterns like Blings and Monomidges in black, and size 26 Crystal Flash emergers, should be your go to flies in the upper river and don't overlook red and cream larva that seem to always work on this river. Anywhere below Kiddie Hole, stick with the baetis patterns of Rootbeers, Fluff Baetis, and RS2s (especially in olive and gray.) On most days you are likely to see adult BWOs on the water in these sections, which can start showing up as early as noon and intensifying as the afternoon progresses. These bugs tend to be around size 22, and occasionally, larger, and the hatch can last anywhere to an hour, or two, maybe three if conditions are right. I like olive bodied Comparaduns, but a good old fashioned Parachute Adams will work just fine too, as long as you get the size right. Not to be overlooked is the appearance of a smaller version of this bug that has been showing up after the big ones all seem to disappear, and these little guys can hang around up until about 6:00 pm or later. I took a good number of rising fish this past Tuesday in the lower flats on a size 26 comparadun, right up until it was too dark to see the fly anymore. Just remember—big 'uns and little 'uns, that's all you need to know. It's a beautiful time to be on this river right now with splendid, warm, fall days and I think last week was the peak of the picturesque fall colors. Outside of Tuesday, where we are looking at an 80 percent chance of rain (and probably an epic baetis hatch) the rest of the week should be cool with temps in the high 50s and partly cloudy on most days. Hope you can make it out and experience some of this outstanding fishing we've been having this month. If you would like to book a guide or need more info, give us a call at 505-632-2194.