February 6, 2022
Just this morning as I was finishing up the last of the tater-tot breakfast casserole, it struck me—struck me just like the quote from Colonel Kurtz, in Apocalypse Now, " And then I realized...like I was shot...like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead—Dude, you gotta get outta here and go fishing, or the men in the white coats and butterfly nets are gonna show up and drag you out, kicking and screaming, in a straightjacket." Well, he didn't actually say that last part, I did, but that doesn't make it any less true. February in the West is probably the hardest month for a fly-fisherman. You've pretty much made it through the worst part of winter and spring is in sight, then along comes a week of frigid weather and snow—like the one we had this past week—and you don't even want to go outside, much less fish in it, and it takes you down like a cheap shot of a boot to the groin. If you're lucky or you can work it out in some way, February is the best month to just to go somewhere tropical or warm to fish—even if it's just for a week or a few days. By the time you get back, and get into your old routine it's already mid-March and all it takes at that point to carry you through, is the sight of a robin or a single blade of green grass, a proverbial straw; if you will, to give you enough hope that you can make it. Such a trip can be expensive, but how can you put a price on your mental health? Anyway, it's better and probably cheaper than paying for a therapist and an expensive Prozac prescription, and without a doubt, way more fun. For you young guys and gals out there I'll tell you this: As you grow older, no matter how much you love the sport, wintertime fishing becomes less and less something you feel you just have to do, and the parameters that exist to guide you—like it has to be at least 40 degrees and sunny with no wind—start to become more and more restrictive. Take this from a guy that already has a closet full of, "Been there, done that, froze my butt off and only caught a few fish," t-shirts. It's like the writer Thomas McGuane said about ice fishing, ''It's fishing, but just barely." All that said, I still do it, on the nicer days, and next week when the daytime highs are going to be in the 40s and 50s, if you're on the San Juan, you're probably going to see me out there, because not to do it, still, is unthinkable for me even if the fishing is only slightly better than a sharp stick in the eye. I do it because, after all these years, it keeps me grounded, centered, and although some may argue against this last one— sane. Like Santiago in The Old Man And The Sea, I think sometimes, particularly in winter, "Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing that I was born for." For some of us, it's not a choice, it's a calling.
Soooo...how is it out there you ask? Well, in my opinion, it's like this: If you compare it to how the San Juan fishes at its best, say, in the height of summer, then, it's not so great. But, if you compare it to other places, you may, or may not, be able to fish in the wintertime, then it's not all that bad. A couple of things I can tell you is that the weather is going to be a lot nicer than about anywhere you can fish for trout right now and the number of available fish to catch is probably going to better, as well. Just so you keep things in perspective though, the odds of having a 40 fish day on dry flies like you might have in July, or anything similar to that, probably ain't gonna happen. That said, here's a little bit of info about the conditions and what you can really expect. The flow is currently around 400 cfs, which is where it's been for quite a while. I'm doubtful we'll see any change in that until later in the spring. As far as the water clarity goes, it's not the greatest, but then again, it's not the worst I've seen it in the winter. I would say there's about 8 to maybe 10 inches of visibility in the upper river—BOR, Cable Hole, Upper Flats area. From the Texas Hole on down, it's slightly better, maybe a foot to a foot-and-a-half. Overall, it's hard to see fish about anywhere, unless you're right on top of them in shallow water. Part of that has to do with the water clarity, but it's compounded by the light when the sun is at its present angle in the winter. But, whatever—it's just hard to see fish. As far as hatches go, there isn't much happening out there right now. There's some midges mid-day, but the only fish I've seen rising in any type of numbers are the little stockers that were recently released in the upper Texas Hole. If you absolutely have to get your dry fly fix, that's about the only game in town right now—occasionally there's a respectable size fish thrown in the mix, so there's that. There are a few adult BWOs in the afternoons in the lower river, but they are few in number and only elicit a random, occasional rise. In all honesty, even if we start getting more bugs on the water, I don't think the dry fly fishing will get a lot better until the water clears up quite a bit, hopefully in mid- April or early May. Believe me, nothing would make me happier than to be dead wrong on that. So, that leaves nymphing, or streamers, or a hybrid of both. Most of my fish have come from dead drifting streamers and I've had only a few on a traditional stripping retrieve. I'm not sure if that has to do with water temperature and the old wives' tale of lethargic fish in the winter time, I guess only time will tell. Based on what I'm hearing from other folks the best fishing is coming from dead drifting streamers under an indicator with a large red larva or egg pattern as a trailer. As far as streamer colors go, lately I'm hearing gray, brown, and black. If you're not into the streamer thing, I'd at least make something like a red larva, an O.J., or an egg one of my fly choices followed by your favorite midge or baetis pattern. Well folks, that's it for now. We've all gotta pay our dues as fishermen and fishing in winter is better than no fishing. The good news is that things are only going to get better from here on in.