Maybe it's not the best idea in the world to have one of those prima donna dry- fly fisherman write an article about nymph fishing. My guess is that it's just not gonna come out sounding anything less than jaded, and nobody's gonna be happy with the results in the long run. But, then, everyone is asking, and it seems no one else is stepping up to volunteer for the task, so I'm gonna give it a shot. It's been a couple of weeks since I updated this column, mainly because not much has changed here as far as conditions go, but for you that demand and deserve the latest on your fishing intel, here's my take of the latest on the San Juan.
First of all, let me just start out and say that as far as the quality of fishing here goes— it has been steadily improving. Of course, given the conditions we faced a month ago, the bar has been set pretty low, so I guess we had nowhere to go but up— but "better" is always better, so let's give the devil his due. It seems the biggest hurdle for most folks is getting past the aesthetics of the water clarity and honestly, myself included, we're all a little spoiled with this river and it's generally pristine fishing conditions, given it's a tailwater, that, for the most part, pumps out clear, cold water year round, so anything less than that sends a lot of disciples of the Juan running for the turnstiles, screaming like Chicken Little, that the sky is falling. My advice is that if you can get yourself past the mental block that you've always gotta have clear water to catch your fish in, then the San Juan's still your place right now. You'll catch fish if you come here, it just won't be as easy as times past, and it's probably not going to be as pretty, but the end result will be generally the same. I say all of this, wishing I was writing about rising fish and midge clusters, and blue wing olive hatches, but we've been dealt a different hand by Mother Nature this year, so you gotta either squeeze the lemons and make lemonade for a while, or come up with a plan B.
That said, what are the conditions? Well, a lot of folks say the water is clearing, and honestly, based on where we were several weeks ago, I think that's a true statement. The most obvious change is that the color of the water has gone from muddy and brown, to more of a lighter green color more reminiscent of when the lake turns over in the winter and reminds me of those Alaskan rivers, forever tinted with glacial runoff. I would say the visibility is about 10 inches, should I ever be sworn in and have to take the witness stand or injected with sodium pentothal. As far as fly choices go, it's all nymphs or streamers right now—we haven't had a rising fish here since Ol' Shep was a pup. There has been a shift back toward more "real" bugs and less of the junk selection of flies, although I would still recommend using a big (size 18 or 20) red larva or a small bright egg pattern as an attractor. My choices in the upper river would be the standard San Juan midge patterns you would normally use here like a crystal flash midge, bling midge, zebra midge, etc., but maybe go up in size to a 24. 5x tippet is fine for your nymphs. Anywhere from Texas hole and below, foam wings (chocolate and gray), RS2s, rootbeers, and small flashback pheasant tails should be in your offerings, since the baetis nymphs seem to be on the move right now. As far as streamers go, smaller (size 12 bunny leeches) seem about just right—color choices range from black, white, and olive and are best fished on a dead drift with a very slow retrieve at the end. To better your chances it doesn't hurt to drop a red larva or egg pattern off the back about 14 to 16 inches behind the leech. I always go 3x to my leech and 5x to the dropper—seems to work for me. As far as when the water is going to return to it's normal clarity, that's anyone's guess, but mine would be probably not anytime real soon. Although our water has cleared slightly it's been a cold spring, especially in Southern Colorado and we still have a lot of snow to melt and run into the lake and I just don't know how all that water is going to affect the river—for all I know it could help clear it up. I think we're just going to have to wait at least until after high water (5,000 cfs for five days) which the BOR says will happen by possibly the end of May or early June to see how all this shakes out this year. As to the exact date on the high water release, we should know about a week out to the ramp up date and the BOR is waiting to time it with the peak runoff flow of the Animas that so far has been stalled by colder weather in Colorado. I would guess that there will probably be a four or five day ramp to reach 5,000, then five days of 5,000 cfs, and then at least four of five days to ramp it back down. As soon as we hear anything definite on the dates we'll let you know. Besides that, just keep fishing, every day seems to improve a little here and we are headed in the right direction which is a plus. If you would like more information or need to book a guide trip, give us a call at 505-632-2194.