Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Yesterday, I had reports from the river, confirming the beginnings of what I observed on Friday— the lake is turning over. Not surprising, it typically happens around this time every year. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this term, I'll break it down for you with a brief explanation; sparing you all the boring scientific rhetoric and jargon, which really doesn't matter much anyway, you just really need to know, that it happens (is happening) and the effects of it alter the fishing on the San Juan, depending on the severity. That said here's the Lake Turnover for Dummies version. Basically, winter comes and the air temperate drops, cooling the upper water column of the lake, this upper column that is now denser, and thus heavier than the water below it, begins to sink, displacing the lighter, warmer water on the bottom and this movement of water stirs up the sediment of the lake bed, creating turbidity, which is picked up in the outflow of the lake, into the river. Wa-la! Or Voila, whichever you prefer. Anyway, from a fisherman's perspective, which is the only one we are concerned about here, right? what most folks only wanna know— is how does it affect the fishing? and how long does it last? To answer that first one, it depends on how "bad" the visibility gets, and that varies each season, depending on a lot of things which we won't go into right now, because it's mainly weather driven and we have no control over that, so it just is, what it is. However, just to let you know, I have seen it where the water looks like pea soup, and other years where it is only slightly discolored. The result, as you would probably guess; is that, as the visibility diminishes, so goes the quality of the fishing. Lest this all sound like gloom and doom here, take heart—even on its worst of days, the San Juan usually fishes better than most wintertime fisheries—your catch rate could go down a bit—just don't expect to garner any sympathy from folks that fish elsewhere because you're not having those 30 plus fish days on dry flies anymore. Now, the how long will it last, part. Depends. Depends on what? Mother Nature, of course. Some years I have seen it start to clear up in a matter of weeks, or a month, other years I have seen it stay off-color or murky until right after the high water release, which can be sometime around the end of June or early July. Unfortunately, we'll just have to wait and see, and hope for the best case scenario here.
So, as of today, here's what it's like. The visibility, which was around four feet last week, is now about eighteen inches or so. That could stay the same for awhile or it could worsen. Right now, it's still clear enough to keep fishing the usual San Juan small stuff and catch fish, so you'll just have to play it day by day and see what happens. Typically, there will come a time when that modus operandi won't be as effective anymore, so you're gonna have to be prepared for it. Here's what I do—start carrying around some bigger, brighter stuff in your box in case the conditions dictate it. Size 18 red larva, princess nymphs, egg patterns—"junk flies" we call them, although that sounds like such a disparaging and derogatory term. And don't neglect the streamers. One of my best set-ups, when the water clarity is at its worst, is a white bunny leech with a size 18 red larva trailer, fished on a dead drift, under an indicator. It ain't pretty, but hey, it's still fishing— if you just gotta fish. As far as the dry fly fishing goes, my past experience has been that you'll have far less opportunities, given the small size of wintertime bugs, and the inability of fish to see them in less than clear conditions, so you may get some shots at a few rising fish, but if the clarity worsens, you're just wasting your time. One of the key things you'll have to start paying attention to, since it will now become more difficult to spot fish, is to watch where you wade—first of all, because you don't want to step into the deep stuff and drown, but also because you don't want to bump fish, so be prepared to read the water, and fish those "fishy spots' before you wade in and spook your potential quarry. There's probably gonna be some blind casting going on unless you can find some fish holding in the shallows where you can actually see them. Overall, friends and neighbors, it ain't as bad as it sounds. You'll still catch fish, just maybe not as many of them or in the same manner that you are accustomed to here, which compared to most places, still ain't a bad day for the average angler. It's all part of the natural order of things and we go through this every year. If you would like more information or would like to book a guide, give us a call at 505-632-2194.