July 18, 2021
What the? Some days there's midge hatches, some days there's not. Now, I'm not about to go down the rabbit hole of the whys and wherefores of bug behavior. Hemingway said to write what you know about and I'm going to take that advice. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. I've been around this river since Kitty Wells was a Girl Scout and I still can't figure this one out. My best advice is to go prepared and hope for the best, if it happens, at least you're ready for it. I had a couple days this past week when there were midge clusters on the water and fish rising for hours, and other days where I hardly saw a bug or a dimple on the surface. I figure the chances are still good enough that I've taken to carrying my midge dry boxes in my pack again—although, unfortunately, I lost my box on the water that contained all my midge clusters the other day and have since started to rebuild that arsenal. So, if anyone found a small, clear, magnetic box stuffed full with midge clusters, I would appreciate it's return. You can contact me through Facebook Messenger. And, no, I did not have my name and number on it—which I highly suggest you do, and I have done since. I'm great at giving advice, but not so great at following it. Anyway, if you are looking for this highly elusive midge hatch, your best chance of finding it is most likely going to be from about 2:30 or 3:00 till about 6:00 pm (unfortunately this is also the time that the wind usually starts to pick up—apparently the switch that is connected to the midge hatch is also wired to the wind switch.) Any flat that has grassy banks along the sides, seems to be the best location and a little cloud cover or an overcast day appears to be a definite bonus. That's about as far down the rabbit hole that I can go here. A size 22 Bloody Butcher has been my go-to for the clusters and you can get away with 6x for your tippet when they're eating the clusters. As the hatch starts and as it winds down, and these fish are focusing on one bug at a time, you're better off with a size 24 or 26 single adult midge in gray or black on 7x. In my experience, the color on these small midges doesn't matter that much, it's just whatever I can see better based on the light I've got to work with. Aside from that, I've just been filling in the hours in-between, sight fishing ant patterns and PMXs to cruising fish or fish that are holding in shallow enough water to get a good look at my bugs. The results have been pretty good. It's not as easy as it was when the water was in the 350 to 400 cfs range, mainly because there's less shallow water right now, but it ain't too shabby, either. Overall, the river is fishing pretty good, whether you're fishing dries or nymphing. For nymphing, I'd focus on the usual plethora of small San Juan midge patterns, with an emphasis on larva and pupa patterns earlier in the day and emerger patterns starting around 11:00 or so. Throw in a few RS2s or foam wings and rootbeers if you're fishing the lower river. One thing about this river—you don't need to have a P.H.D. in entomology or stare at your fly box for hours trying to make a fly selection, to fish it—it's generally gonna be a midge or baetis pattern, and if you fish the upper stretches, for the larger part of the year—it's midges, or midges. I used to work with a guide who once told me that you only need about 5 different patterns to catch fish on this river—that sounds like an oversimplification—but he's probably right. Too many people get wrapped around the axle of this fly or that, I think it's more about the presentation, unless you're fishing something that is just downright ridiculous for this river.
Anyway, presently we have flows here right around 700 cfs and the water clarity is great. I suspect we will see some increases here in the weeks to come, as the Animas River continues to drop and we'll end up with flows somewhere between 800 to 1,000 cfs. or possibly more, if we don't get some appreciable rain from the monsoon season. Several rivers in Colorado are already instituting mandatory and voluntary closures to fishing, both partial and full day, due to low water conditions. Montana is already doing the same. Right now, we're getting the cloud buildup here around 3:00, but for the most part it's just been clouds and wind with little to no rain—"Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," as the old English bard would say. We'll see, I'm just thankful that it's not 105 degrees here anymore and we still have water to fish. Overall, the river isn't super crowded like you might expect. Maybe it's like Yogi Berra used to say, "No one goes there nowadays, it's too crowded." Another great thing about the Juan is all the access you have here and you don't need a giant stretch of water to find fish. If you're willing to walk a little bit from the parking lot, you don't have to be dodging someone's back cast. To put it bluntly, I'm spoiled—and I know it, but at least I appreciate it. Hope to see you on the water soon.