- Jay Walden
September 1, 2019
Side channels. They're not for everyone, thankfully, nor should they be—they're generally reserved for only the adventurous and curious, or someone that is led down there against their will, by some insistent guide. You won't find the company of someone that is unwilling to risk a few hours of their precious fishing time to chance, down one of these, not someone ossified in their position of a sure thing—the type that would rather fish the same run in the Texas Hole all day long and never move from the same spot. No, you've got to be willing to go down into the belly of the beast, into the heart of darkness, risk it all, bet it all on black without the promise of a payoff. You can't be concerned what the neighbors or the Baptist's might think—you just gotta commit and go. It's the not knowing that generally drives you to these God-forsaken, mosquito infested, willow chocked/fly grabbing destinations—the same curiosity that killed the cat, sending you down a rabbit hole in search of fish that no one else knows about. And sometimes you find a gem down in there and end up with your own private Idaho, although there's always the outside chance you'll end up with the proverbial turd in the punch-bowl, the kind of place you had prayed that it wouldn't be, before you committed to the crazy idea in the first place. This past Monday, with only a few precious hours to kill before dark, I was sucked down one of the wormholes against my better judgement into this connection between the widely separated regions of space-time—this Multiverse of Madness of the fly-fishing world— that for better or worse, can either lead you to the Elysian fields of troutdom, or leave you wondering if you've begun to lose your mind. At first, I must admit, I was apprehensive, the place looked nothing like I had remembered. Ducks exploded from the flooded banks where I had stood on dry land, in times past, I waded through knee deep water with grass beneath my feet, some of the crossings were a bit dicey with the higher water level, there were mosquitoes by the score. But, there were willing fish—quite a few—that ate a size 12 Chernobyl ant like they hadn't had a decent meal in weeks. It was well worth the effort, and as darkness fell and I could no longer see my fly, I thought of the long walk back to the car and wished for just one more hour of daylight with the words of Joseph Conrad ringing in my head, "It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice."...
Now, how are things on the San Juan? No doubt, most of you have seen the recent yo-yoing of water levels here over the past weeks and are wondering if some sadistic madman has taken over the controls of the dam from the BOR and is behind the curtain, turning wheels and throwing switches like the Wizard of Oz. Well, without getting too awfully technical, I'm just going to summarize a recent email from the Bureau. Seems that the good folks from the San Juan River Recovery Implementation Program (SJRIP)—which is a terrible acronym, by the way— are requesting this (what they refer to as "excess water") now stored in the lake, to increase the downstream target baseflow to 1,500 cfs through September, as long as that water is available. This is the combined flow of the Animas from Colorado and the San Juan from New Mexico from Farmington down to Lake Powell that is generally targeted to stay at 500 to 1,000 cfs for the health of the endangered pikeminnow and squawfish in the lower river. Now why they suddenly want an extra 500 cfs, I don't rightly know —perhaps it is because, as George Leigh Mallory, once, so famously said, "Because it's there." Who knows? But the fact is, they're doing it and the Animas as it reaches New Mexico is only contributing a paltry 181 cfs, so thus more water is needed from the San Juan to make up the difference. Anyway, it looks like we're in for higher levels here until November when the target baseflow will be set as low as possible (with a minimum of 500 cfs) for two weeks, and in mid-November the release will resume normal operations with the target base flow going back to (500-1,000) cfs. The end result of all this is we will most likely see flows range from 800-1,500 here throughout the summer. I wouldn't be surprised to see them over 1,500 (as they now are) but that's just me talking. Anyway, we're livin' with it here and we're still catching fish, and you can still get around to wade in most places, so it is what it is, at least for a while longer, so there you have it. As far as the quality of fishing right now, it's good, especially the nymphing—maybe not as good as fishing at 500 to 600 cfs, but it's still good. The flow is presently at 1,750 cfs and the water clarity is around 3 to 4 feet. Small midge patterns with an emphasis on the larva stage of the insect earlier in the day and pupa and emergers later on will get you into fish. The obligatory plethora of baetis patterns, like pheasant tails, root beers, foam wing emergers, and CDC RS2s are great choices downstream. As for the dry flies and rising fish, as my uncle used to say about deer, while deer hunting—"They are where they are." Meaning that, you can find them in certain places right now in the afternoons (along grassy banks and exposed structure where midges gather and cluster) but they don't seem to want to rise anywhere else—so unless you know a guy who knows a guy, who knows where they are, then you're just gonna have to do a lot of walking and find them. Start looking around 3:00 until sunset is my best advice. Ordinarily I'd turn you on to a couple of my spots, but I've worked so hard on finding a few places where I can rely on pods of rising fish this year, I can't give 'em up right now. If you do find one of these places, don't leave until you've caught every fish in there, they're kinda hard to come by with the water this high. To kill the time up till 3:00, I spend all my time targeting cruising fish in the shallower stuff with terrestrials and I'm still getting a fair share of takers, but at this water level, there just aren't a whole lot of shallow spots, so I've been getting my exercise in lately. So, an interesting spring that turned into an interesting summer is now turning into an interesting fall. The good news is we're learning to adapt and still catch fish, which makes us all better fishermen in the long run, rather than spoiled brats that always have it too good. BTW, there's always the side channels. Hopefully you can make it out soon. If you would like more info or need to book a guided trip, give us a call at 505-632-2194.