July 26, 2020
Okay, I know, I skipped a week. Honestly, there was a good reason. Friday night before last, we finally got our first good rain here in months, and up until then, day after day, it had been nothing but hot, dry, and windy out here. Now, if you've been around the San Juan for a while, you know that particular recipe means only one thing, and one thing only, for fishermen—the perfect storm and the time when all the planets in the universe align and we get the fabled "ant fall." Witnessing one of these things and actually being here, and available to fish it, is something akin to seeing bigfoot riding a unicorn—it don't happen that often. Like having Valhalla and Shangri-La all rolled up in one. You done died and went to heaven, boy. So, I got out early Saturday morning—well, early for me, which is 8:00 and sure enough, the second I stepped in the river, there they were—big, black, winged ants—lots of them. Some of them linked together in the throes of Aphrodite, forming giant Happy Meals for trout, right before my very eyes. And boy, did the fish ever respond. There is no mistaking an ant take, none of that midge sipping stuff that barely leaves a dimple on the water—no sir, this was the real deal, Holyfield—gulpers, everywhere. To say the fishing was easy would be the understatement of the century, silly, probably more accurately sums it up—Stevie Wonder kinda fishing. Pretty much anywhere there was a rise, you just tossed a big foam ant in that general direction and a fish would eat it. These ants kept coming off until around noon, which is pretty typical how this thing happens, then they tapered off, but if you could spot fish, and I did, they continued to eat with reckless abandon. By 4:00 the wind came up and I was pretty well exhausted by that point anyway from fighting and landing fish, and throwing rocks at hordes of geese that were cruising around picking off ants and screwing up my fishing, so I called it a day. Anyway, I went back out early Sunday morning, which is my normal time for writing this article, hoping that these fish would still remember these ants from the day before, but that wasn't the case. Maybe their attitude had just changed, maybe they were still stuffed from the day before, maybe there was a case of bad indigestion involved, but for whatever reason, they were all glued to the bottom of the river like they were asleep and very few of them were interested in eating another ant. Perhaps it's like a Blake's Green Chile Lotaburger—they're great, but you don't want to eat one every night. So basically, I was out fishing when I should have been writing this last week, so that's the story, here.
So since then, a few things of note have happened here on the river, the first being a change in the flow rate, back down to 700 cfs, due to afternoon thunderstorms that have raised the level of water in the Animas River and requiring less water to be released on the San Juan to hit the 500 to 1,000 cfs requirement for endangered species between Farmington and Lake Powell. How long it will remain at that level remains to be seen, since that's all dependent on weather, but it's a welcome change in my book, since I don't think 800 or 900 cfs is a great flow for dry fly fishing on this river, or any fishing at all, as far as that goes. Actually, I would really prefer it around 600 to 500 cfs, but I'll take 700 over 900 any day. I've heard this same thing expressed by several guides recently that have grown tired of seeing these fish glued to the bottom at 900 cfs that won't move an inch out of the way to eat a fly. Anyway, we're now at 700 cfs and that's a good thing. The second thing to note is that the weather pattern seems to have finally changed. Gone are the 100 degree- plus days and now we are seeing some overcast days with temperatures back into the 80s, and even some afternoon showers, and finally—that despicable wind that has blown every afternoon since March is even dying out. Adios, you won't be missed. This may sound a little like one of those cuckoo conspiracy theories, but as I was telling one of my friends just the other day—once you start to see roadside stands go up for Palisade peaches, look for a change in the weather to more fall-like weather. Maybe I should send that one in to The Old Farmer's Almanac. Genius. Being the great Nostradamus of all things fishing here's my latest prediction given all the recent changes—first of all, the fishing will get easier than it has been for the last month or so, secondly, we're probably going to start seeing more fish rising to midges (which actually is a pretty low bar given there has basically been nil for a long time, but I'll take the low hanging fruit just to score a point, here) and you'll start to see more fish working higher in the water column, eating emergers in the afternoon. Basically, I think it's going to be a return back to what most folks associate with the San Juan—back to fishing more of the little midge stuff and less of the wormy, big larva, and egg, junk with a lot of lead. More than likely, the success rate of fishing big terrestrials will fall off; somewhat, and before you know it, you'll have to go back to fishing size 24 midge patterns on 7x if you want any kind of numbers on dries. Well, I guess we'll see now, won't we? All bets are off if the monsoon stops and the water level goes back to 800 or 900cfs. Hope you can make it out soon. Meanwhile, stay safe and healthy.