- Jay Walden
Fall. The cottonwoods with their resplendent yellow leaves line the banks of a river filled with clear, cold Rocky Mountain snowmelt. A clear, blue New Mexico sky reflects off the surface, painting an azure ribbon through the high desert, flecked with silver in the occasional riffles. Nature's heraldry, backlit by the soft, warm tones of an autumn sun—a picture snapped from an iPhone, hardly does it justice. This is something you need to see with the naked eye, because it is something that is more felt than witnessed. It's a special season, but fleeting this far north, near the high country— it's beauty transient, cursory unlike the others than go on for months on end. There is something in it that stops us dead in our tracks and forces us to not only pause and look, but to reflect, to think; as well. Thoughts of times past, of things coming to an end, slowing down, shifting our gears to a slower pace, all while appreciating the beauty of the moment. It is, a special time.
If you have been unable to witness the resplendent charm and elegance of the San Juan at the height of autumn due to travel restrictions, hopefully you've been able to capitalize on it, elsewhere. We have been blessed with wonderful, warm weather, although we've had some windy afternoons the past week or so, much to my chagrin as a dry fly fisherman. Overall, that's not much to complain about in the present scope of things. As far as conditions go, the flow here is presently at 629 cfs, or as I would characterize it—just perfect. The water clarity, couldn't be better, with the visibility as good as it gets. I haven't been fishing a lot in recent weeks due to hunting and all the time and preparation that entails, but the times that I have been out, I've had good to very good results. I've been doing most of my fishing in the upper river, for a couple different reasons that I'll get into in a moment, so most of my personal, first-hand information is going to be specific to that area and the rest is just extrapolation from my best guess and intel I've picked up from a few guides and a fishing buddy or two. Anyway, here's my present beef with my recent experiences fishing the area from the Sand Hole down to the lower end of the Texas Hole—as you know, I like to fish dry flies when I can—well, this area has too many little stockers to my liking, it's hard to get a drift in there right now without having five or six little guys trying to sink your fly before you can get it in front of a big fish. Your results may be different, especially if you are nymphing, but that's just my take on that, and I'm probably gonna stay away for a while. Secondly, I generally like fishing the lower river this time of year, because we tend to get some decent BWO hatches about now, but I've been seeing a lot of boat trailers at the takeout and I'm gonna give that about another week or so when the fiberglass hatch is over. No offense to any of those good folks—guides gotta make a living and lots of people like to fish out of boats—I'll just wait my turn. Thirdly, the upper river has been good to me lately and I'm fine with that for now. As far as hatches go, there been some okay midge hatches on most days, generally starting around 10:00 or 11:00 am that have some fish up for a few hours. On the days that the wind doesn't come up in the afternoon (which have been few) you can find rising fish up till about 4:00 pm. I have even seen a few baetis on the water as far up as the Cable Hole on some days, although the hatch is very sparse and short, but they generally show up around 2:00. I imagine this hatch is way better further downstream, based on my experience in years past. My sources tell me that the nymphing is pretty solid down there using baetis patterns, like rootbeers, small pheasant tails and RS2s, which comes as no surprise. This coming week will bring a pretty significant weather change to our area with much cooler weather, overcast skies, and moisture, so I would imagine we will see some stronger BWO hatches, especially earlier in the week. All in all, it's a beautiful time to be on the water. Now I gotta go and finish packing the truck for an elk hunt that starts tomorrow, depending on how that goes, I may or may not have an update for you later this week. Either way, I hope to see you on the river soon.