- Jay Walden
December 15, 2019
Dateline: early December—bracing for a Navajo Dam Friday night. I walk out onto my patio and light a cigar. Lately I’ve taken to smoking these Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Stories out here in the cold. Stubby and fat, they are just the perfect size for smoking alone, unlike a Churchill when you have to have an hour to devote with a friend. Overhead, a full moon flirts between the co-equal forces of light and darkness like some petulant child that has broken from the clutches of their mother and will no longer heed her call. Clouds racing across the sky—gray-black, dark, ominous, foreboding and downright sinister. How many day and nights under these magnificent New Mexico skies? What sum total portion of my allotted days? We were brought here unknowingly—all of us—washed up on the beaches like the detritus of a sea long forgotten— writers, poets, actors, artists, and artisans—D.H. Lawrence, O’Keeffe, Cather, Hopper, Fonda, Abbey, Anaya, Townes Van Zandt, Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Kid, and miscreants, and misanthropes, and kooks, and nut-jobs on the fringe like me. So many fabulous days under this same sky. All of us never fully knowing, understanding, the exact meaning of how we came to be in this amazing, particular place.
I finish my cigar just as the clouds win the battle above, and it grows dark. The only light, a red neon glow from the Abe’s Motel sign and the incandescent over the ice machine that cuts through the slats in the fence and directly across the dusty tops of my cowboy boots, making a long shadow. I rise to go inside and down near the river I hear a lone coyote yip and howl, and then further, an answer from another, and I wonder. I wonder if, they too, feel the tug of the sky. And all the friends back home worry, “What’s he up to now?” Hell, it’s Friday night here.
If you fished here this week based on my report from the week before, then you probably think I'm selling snake oil like Elmer Gantry. Believe me, no one was more surprised than me to find out this past Monday that the lake had turned over and the water clarity went south. I swear, sometimes I think this river is gonna be the death of me one day. Now, this happens every winter, but I was sure hoping we had at least few more weeks of clear water left before she turned on us. As the American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson once said; however, "The universe is under no obligation to make sense to anyone." So there you have it, murky water with about a foot of visibility. Unless I sound like a complete Debbie Downer here, just know, that all is not lost. You can still catch fish on the San Juan. Okay, so first of all, the dry fly fishing is the first to suffer from these conditions. There are still a few fish rising out there because the hatches are going strong, but it's nowhere near the quality of what we saw before the water changed. That said, look for heads starting around noon and place a strong emphasis on the midge portion of the hatch. This past week I saw tons of BWOs on certain stretches of the river with nary a rise to them, but for some reason when the midges got going, you'd see a nose or two and a size 24 gray adult midge did the trick. Yesterday I was looking at the river around 11:00 am and there were midge clusters in the back eddies and along the banks and I did see several fish rising closer to the shore, so I think you could target some of those fish with a cluster pattern like a Bloody Butcher, aka the Western Bloody Butcher, that is a close cousin to the Orange Asher and Griffith's Gnat. Now, outside of that there's nymphing and streamer fishing, although my attempts at streamer fishing this past Monday and Tuesday were less than what you would label as stellar, I managed few fish on a small white bunny leech after trying everything else in my box. But don't write it off just yet, your mileage may vary. So that leaves us with nymphing, which, in my opinion, is the better route to go than any of the above when the water conditions are what they are now, if you're looking for numbers. I, for one, have not yet been so inclined to do so, but I know of others who have and are catching fish. I suppose my time of reckoning will soon come, although, I dearly dread the thought of selling my soul to the devil. So based on past experiences of what works under these present conditions, generally the number one producer tends to be the red midge larva or some assimilation thereof, like a firecracker, UFO, or even a OJ pattern. Brighter, flasher stuff including disco midges and princess nymphs tend to work pretty well as lead flies and all of them should be teamed up with a standard midge or baetis pattern in the larva or emerger stage, until perhaps the water clarity gets worse—but for now that should work. Hell, there's old-timers out there that fish a chamois leech burned on both ends with a cigarette lighter, so what do I know? Experiment— eggs and San Juan worms for that matter—you just never know, but one thing's for sure these fish still have to eat. In a world gone completely mad where someone would buy a banana duct taped to a wall as art for $120,000 or where KFC scented fire-logs sell completely out within hours, I suppose there are worse things in life than fishing a San Juan worm and calling it fly fishing. Did you see that Denny's now delivers, giving us even fewer reasons to leave the house? Get out and fish or you're gonna go crazy. So if you've got some time off for the holidays come on out and fish the Juan, it's probably still gonna be better than anywhere else you can go this time of year. Just come with your expectations in check for winter fishing and don't kid yourself like I did recently, thinking I might finally have a shot at Angelina Jolie now that she's single, only to have my dreams dashed when I saw Brad Pitt remove his shirt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Now what? Looks like another Christmas alone. Happy Holidays to all. If you would like more info or need to book a guide, give us a call at 505-632-2194.