June 21, 2020
Smoke from wildfires hangs heavy in the valley. Summer, hot, an early fire season. It's dry out there—super dry, been that way since back in April, the ground crunching beneath my feet in the normally green, turkey woods. I've never seen it this dry here before this early in the year. And every day, there's the wind—angry, violent wind that comes ripping through the afternoons sending dust clouds and tumbleweeds flying, whitecaps on the river like you've suddenly been transported to some tropical saltwater location. Don't know that I've seen that before, either, not in June. It's a fly fisherman's worst nightmare. The weather report for the next ten days shows not a drop of rain in sight, just more of the same—hot, with afternoon winds of at least 20 miles per hour, some days of 25 to 30. It wears on you, you restructure your day and rise early and try to do whatever it is that you have to do outside, in the calm of the morning, but in the back of your mind, you know it's coming, and there is dread. It's odd, but then, there's a lot of things that are odd this year, this is just one more odd thing of other odd things and you try to live, adjust, and cope with it— hoping that, eventually, things will get better. Earlier this week, I traveled up north a few hours to fish this place that's known for its salmon fly hatch (Pteronarcys californica) the Holy Grail of hatches for a dry fly fisherman. There were several of these big stoneflies about and lots of golden stones, and caddis, and some big gray mayfly that I don't actually know the name of that I just call a big gray mayfly. Anyway, the water was still a bit high and a little off color, but I caught several pretty brown trout by wading the edge with my back to the willows and roll casting a big stimulator pattern tight to the bank. Later in the afternoon the wind came up, blowing straight down river and I'd had enough of the roll casting and the wind, and the willows, and I decided to pack it in. The walk back to the car was a lot longer than I had remembered which always seems to be the case when you're fishing new water. Anyway, I was tired and I was hungry, and I knew that after my three-hour drive home, I wasn't going to feel like cooking when I got back. I started thinking about this new pizza place I'd seen in the next town over and I started craving pizza. I tried to remember when I last had pizza. I couldn't recall, but I knew it had been a long time. Now, the more I drove the hungrier I got and pretty soon I found myself becoming obsessed with choices of toppings, type of crust, medium or large, that sort of thing. All I could think about was that pizza. The minute I started down the other side of the pass I started checking my phone for a signal to call in my order for that pizza. No go, it was thirty minutes later before I got at least three bars on my phone. I immediately pulled off the road and Googled the number and it went straight to a recording saying they were busy, but if you wanted to place a takeout order you could do it via their website. Well, that sounded a bit cumbersome, but by now I was already too deeply invested into the idea to bail, so I went to the website and scrolled through the choices and found what I was looking for—Meatlover's, Large. I even added extra meatballs on the convenient, drop-down menu. This was going to be great. And I was able to pay ahead of time with my credit card and it would be ready to pick up in 15 minutes. When I rolled into town there was traffic backed up, and further down the street, about where I remembered the pizza place being, there were red lights flashing. When I got a little closer, I saw it was a fire truck parked a few spaces past the restaurant. No hoses, or firemen in slickers and helmets, or anything like that, but a fire truck with the lights on, nonetheless. I slowed and gave the new pizza place a good once over. I didn't see anyone inside, but the neon sign in the window said, "Open." I pulled into the parking lot and was met by an employee in a mask, so I rolled down my window. Just as I was going to compliment him on his efficient service and inquire if I my pizza was ready, he cut me off and told me there had been a fire in the kitchen and the place was closed. There would be no pizza, there would; however, be a refund to my credit card. I was not consoled by this kind gesture. Oh lord, stuck in Lodi again.
On the bright side of things, there is good fishing on the San Juan right now. Big, fat, happy fish. An average trout here, would likely be considered a trophy on some streams. And they are plentiful, and not all that difficult to catch at the moment. I love summer here, it's my favorite time to fish this river. I fish big terrestrials almost exclusively, it's the one time of the year that you can fish a dry fly that you can actually see. As far as I am concerned, trout fishing doesn't get any better than that. If that kind of fishing doesn't do anything for you, then there's always the indicator/nymph thing that'll catch plenty of fish. Life is full of choices and this is just one more of them. The good news is, whatever side of the plate you decide to take your at bat on, you're gonna catch fish. The flow is presently around 500 cfs. I'd be surprised if that changed any time soon, given the dry conditions here. The water clarity is great. As far as fly choices go, if you're nymphing, it's the usual San Juan small stuff with an emphasis on emerger patterns starting around 11:00 when the fish move up higher in the water column. I'm not seeing a lot of rising fish, other than the rare afternoons when the wind isn't howling. I have, however, been able to bring up a considerable amount of fish, using terrestrial patterns. To avoid the winds, my advice is to get out a little earlier. By noon, the wind starts to pick up and just seems to build as the day goes on. If you're nymphing in the earlier hours, I would suggest focusing on larva and pupa patterns. Apparently, the rumor that the State Park was going to fully reopen on the 19th was just that—a rumor. So, for now, the only water open within the Park boundary is the Quality Water section and that is for day use only, from 6 am to 6 pm. Still plenty of time to catch lots of trout.