September 13, 2020
"No man steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he's not the same man," Heraclitus ( c.535 B.C.-c. 475 B.C.) Ol' Heraclitus had it about right for us fly fishermen, back in the day. I've often wondered if those were the words he had scrawled across his parchment in Raphael's "The School of Athens," on the fresco in the Stanze della Segnatura, in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican, back in 1511, quill in hand, deep in thought, struggling for the next line, the next phrase, ink pot precariously perched at the outer edge of his writing table, flanked by the great thinkers of the ages. I'm reminded of that quote every time I dip a wading boot into this river—one day you're the King of the San Juan and you've got this thing all figured out and the next day you can't buy a fish— you're either hero or goat. That's how it goes when you are at the mercy of Mother Nature, for nature is a harsh taskmaster—to quote Noam Chomsky, forever reminding us of our place in the pecking order of the universe—to quote Jay Walden. On the best of days, you think you've got this river wired, only to return again and realize what a fool you were to have thought that in the first place. I suppose it is a good thing, lest we become too full of ourselves and our favorite fishing hat doesn't fit anymore. There's nothing like a little dose of humility from time to time to keep us all focused on reality, or as my uncle used to tell me, "Don't get above your raisin,' son, you ain't all that."
So, this past week we saw a couple of changes to remind us that this river is never the same river twice. First of all, there were some changes in the water level—a big drop from above 900 cfs to about 600 cfs on Wednesday that appeared to be an oops! because it was followed by a ramp up to about 850 cfs in a matter of hours, and now a drop on Saturday to 773 cfs, at which it presently stands. Secondly, we saw a change in the weather with cooler temperatures, overcast skies, and some much-needed rain, which proved to be great for the baetis activity in the lower river for a couple of days. Anyhoo, we're back to perfect fall temperatures with highs in the mid-80s for the next week and cool nights and mornings, but unfortunately, not a drop of rain in sight on the radar, so I think these present lower water levels are gonna be short lived, so enjoy it while it lasts. As far as the fishing goes, things remained pretty similar to what they had been for the past two weeks, with the exception of the two, dark, cloudy days with the good baetis activity; that, and another strange anomaly I'm gonna to tell you about in a second, here, which follows my theme that no man steps into the same river twice and features these things I call "Milagro Ants," because I don't have a real scientific name for them, but they are truly—miracle ants. Now, yesterday I went out in the afternoon to toss around some big bugs and see what kinda fish I could raise. Things started out pretty slow with a lot of disinterested fish, but there were enough moments of greatness interspersed in the next few hours of switching back and forth with a Schroeder's Hopper and a PMX with some big fish involved, to keep me interested in the whole project. Anyway, feeling that I had worn out my welcome on the section of river I had chosen, I reeled in and waded back across the river, figuring I'd head back to the car and maybe hit a spot or two on the way out, if I saw anything that piqued my interest. Well, I stopped at this riffle that I've fished in times past that has occasionally been good to me, but so far this summer hasn't yielded much success other than a small fish or two. As luck would have it, I saw a couple of fish rise, which; normally, is about all it takes to flip my switch. At the time I had a size 14 PMX on, and although I figured these fish were rising to midges, I figured, "Ah, what the hell, they'll either eat this or they won't, it's too late in the day to change flies, besides I'm on my way out of here." Okay, here's what happened—I caught a fish right away, then another fish, and another fish, and so on. All of a sudden when I'm beginning to think—"Hey, this ain't right, these fish shouldn't be eating this right now," I look down and I see my first ant—a winged ant—a Milagro Ant and I had my aha! moment. Then I started to see more of them and the fishing was just nuts for the next hour-and -a-half. And I remembered that this had happened to me once before a few years ago in September in the late afternoon and there had been a feeding frenzy then, as well. After that first incidence I asked our local biologist about this ant and he had given me the name along with the Latin genus- whatever, which now I don't recall, other than the fact that he said what I had experienced was nothing short of a miracle, since these things are rare here and being on the river at the exact same time as a fall, is right up there with seeing a Bigfoot or winning the Powerball Lottery. Now, these "Miracle Ants" aren't as big as the Carpenter Ants we see on occasion in the summer here, these have a dark, almost black head, and a lighter colored abdomen that has an even lighter underside that's almost blonde, and they have wings. After looking closely at one of them, I couldn't have picked a better fly choice than the tan PMX I had tied on at the time—although that was sheer luck on my part, indeed. Anyway, you never step into the same river twice. This week I would say the fishing is going to be great with expectations of more BWOs showing up in the lower river as we go forward toward fall, and midges and midge clusters in the afternoon—especially if the water level remains constant. If we see a significant bump, it could throw the fishing off for a day or two until things even out and you should explore some big larva patterns and annelids, and possibly some streamers until things get on an even keel. That's about it for this week, I've got a couple of hunts and a fishing trip coming up over the next month-and-a-half, so I'm going to apologize in advance that this column may not be as regular as usual, since I've gotta put some boots on the ground and get some pre-season scouting done. Hope you can make it out and get in some great fall fishing. Take care, be safe.