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  • Jay Walden

August 18,2019

The Snows of Kilimanjaro. On Monday I drove for an hour-and-a half to reach the trailhead to a mountain lake I'd fished before in Colorado where I'd caught some big rainbows and cutthroats in years past. I didn't get to fish it last year because of fire closures and this year it had been closed until a week ago because there were spawning fish in the outlet creek that connects it to a larger lake below, so I was even more anxious to get back there to see how things had fared. It's a two hour hike back to this alpine lake over some tough terrain and about halfway back in, the trail kinda peters out, so you gotta bushwhack the last part of the hike, which is good, because not a lot of people know it exists or are willing to venture back there to try and find it. Anyway, I set out with my backpack loaded with my fishing gear, a sandwich, and a couple of water bottles, with visions of cruising 20 inch-plus fish that were eager to take a big dry fly. I got a bit of a late start, so it was hot; like 95 degrees hot, and there were lots of little elk wallows along the last part that were full of standing water, so the mosquitoes were bad, too. So, when I was less than a quarter mile from my final destination, my right quadricep and my left hamstring both seized up in the most god-awful cramp at the same time, causing me to cry out in pain and I couldn't move either of my legs without excruciating pain. Lucky for me, there was no one around to hear my crying and moaning. I managed to shuffle over to a big boulder and drop my pack and fish out one of my water bottles which I finished off and I just laid against that rock, not moving until the pain subsided, for about 15 minutes till I could finally walk again. Once I had reached the lake, I had my sandwich and finished off half of the other water bottle while I walked around the lake a bit to see if I could spot some fish. My legs muscles were tight, which gave me concern for the hike back out, but at least the cramping had stopped. In the back of my mind, I also had concerns about the low level of water in my only remaining bottle, but I pushed it aside; temporarily, to focus on the fishing. Well, the big fish weren't in there. After an hour of eyeballing that lake and only catching two, six inch rainbows, I knew I had to start that two- hour hike back. I knew I'd never make it out without more water and I was torn between risking dehydration and more debilitating leg cramps or filling up my water bottles from the creek and taking my chances with giardia. I compromised by filling one of the bottles, which held about a quart. I took it a little slower coming out, making sure to stop from time to time, to slowly sip the water I was now rationing out. I did okay and once I came down off the mountain and reached another creek, and crossed the beaver dam, I knew I only had about a half-of-a-mile left to go. Right as I reached the beaver dam, both legs seized up again. This time, it was even worse. I cried out in agony. My legs were paralyzed—the least little movement caused shooting pain and more agonizing screams. I stood there, unable to move until finally I was able to drop my pack and fall over on the ground next to it. I laid there for about five minutes, writhing in pain until finally it subsided enough that I could stretch out, which helped considerably. I laid there for about thirty minutes more, afraid to move, and finished off the rest of the water. Finally, the pain wore off and I could hear the wind quaking in the green aspen leaves above me. I heard the sweetest bird sounds, the gentle gurgling of the creek. The breeze was cool there next to the water, streaks of sunlight shone through the tall trees, the grass was deep and soft—it was almost perfect. Off in the distance, I could see slender fingers of snow in the deep couloirs above the treeline, still hanging on from winter. I wondered for a moment if I was leaving this place, I wondered if I was dreaming it all, like when Harry is dying in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and he thinks he's flying over the mountain, looking at the snow. I was okay with it for that moment, just that moment. If I was going out this was about the nicest place I figured I could do it in. If they found my emaciated corpse, my face pulled back in a dehydrated, death mask grin, my eyes pecked out by the ravens and magpies, right in this spot, at least they could say, "Well, he died in a good spot, he always used to catch big fish back here." Well, I didn't, but count me among the still living, and on Tuesday, I stayed home and fished the San Juan.

Okay now, the San Juan is still fishing just about like it was last week. On Friday the BOR bumped up the flow another 200 cfs, so it now stands at 1,270 cfs.— that's a lot more water than we're normally used to seeing for this time of year. The bump in flow made the fishing a little tough for the day, but things have settled down to right back where they were before, which means it's still pretty tough out there for the dry fly fishermen, but the nymph fishermen are doing just fine. That said, with this increased flow, it would be a good idea to add some bigger larva patterns (like size 18) to your offerings, maybe even some worm patterns, for awhile. Stay with your usual dark midge patterns for the upper river as your dropper, and baetis patterns for the lower river. This higher flow looks like it will be the new normal for us through the rest of summer and probably through the fall, as the Bureau tries to dump enough water to give themselves a cushion in the reservoir for another big snow year or some monsoonal rains in the fall. Anyway, I think we'll see these higher flows until sometime in November. I don't really like it that much because I'm a dry fly fisherman and I don't think anything around a 1,000 cfs or better, is conducive to good dry fly fishing here, but then, no one consulted me on the decision. At 1,000 cfs the San Juan is a trout river, at 500 to 650 cfs it's a trout stream, or a bunch of trout streams that you can carve up into sections and sight fish to numerous targets—oh, well. That said, if you're looking for rising fish, you best chances are late afternoons and evenings, targeting the edges where there is overhanging grass along the bank, or around and behind exposed islands. During these times there are some midge clusters on the water and a size 22 midge cluster has been my go to pattern. The visibility, I mean good visibility, is still about two-and -a half to three feet. The increased flow on Friday did cloud the water a bit more, but not considerably, but that's always the case when the water goes up for a day or so and it usually clears right back up, which it probably has already done by today, although I haven't looked at it yet. To sum it all up, the nymph fishing is very good right now and the dry fly stuff could still use a little work. In either case it's way better than killing yourself on some crazy hike to somewhere with little fish and dying alone in the woods. If you would like more information or would like to book a guided trip, give us a call at 505-632-2194.

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Jay Walden
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Jay's Fishing Report  

To our faithful fishing report readers, 

Here's a way to get your rainbow trout fix 'til you are able to hit the San Juan again-- available online only

Check each style out--there are a variety of colors, fabrics & sizes to enjoy.

Special thanks to designer & artist, Matt Zudweg 

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As a small aside and attempt at shameless self-promotion, there was an article featured  on Flyfisherman Magazine's website written by yours truly about the 60th anniversary of Abe's Fly Shop that can be accessed through the following link: Abe's Anniversary. Hope you can make it out this week. If you would like more information or would like to book a guided trip, give us a call at 505-632-2194. 

Abe's Fly Shop Turns 60 -

Watercolor by Tim Oliver                                          Photos Courtesy of Abe Chavez


Jay's Past Reports:  

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