March 27, 2022
" I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat," Winston Churchill. If your job is to write fishing reports, you probably couldn't ask for a better assignment than the San Juan. You've basically got only two bugs you gotta worry about—midges or baetis—and one of them, only has any relevance a couple of times each year. The flows, which are dam controlled, are pretty predictable and even the weather doesn't change that much from year to year. Throw in the fact that there's always a ton of fish out there to catch, and the story essentially writes itself. It doesn't hurt, that for the most part, the picture is generally pretty rosy, and primarily, everything is nothing but good news. Let's face it, that's what we all want to hear when we research a river—just good stuff—I'm guilty of hoping for it, myself. Unfortunately, no river, tailwater or freestone, fishes great one hundred percent of the time. Once you become accustomed to being fed pie in the sky, a sudden dose of, veggies only, becomes a bitter pill to swallow. So, the message here, is don't shoot the messenger. No one wants to hear that the fishing is "lights out" on the San Juan right now, more than me—believe me, it's been a long winter and now that the weather is nicer, I know we're all itching to fish. Therein lies the rub, I've always tried to call balls and strikes on here like I see them. Putting lipstick on a pig really doesn't do anyone any favors when you're looking for useful information, no matter how much you wish the reality were otherwise. "Just the facts ma'am, just the facts."
So, ladies and gents, here's the deal, as I see it. The flow here is presently at 338 cfs, pretty much in the ballpark of where it has been all winter. With the snowpack in the San Juans currently under normal for the year, I would imagine we won't see any appreciable increases in the flow here until the majority of runoff is in the bank at the lake, and the BOR can see where the lake level stands, and come up with a plan of how to dole that out for the remainder of the year. One thing that I feel is a pretty safe bet though, is that it won't involve a big spring release of water this year, so your odds of being able to still wade and fish the river during May and beyond are looking pretty good. Now, let's get to another water issue—clarity. Up until a few weeks ago, before we started to get some warmer weather, I would have to say that the water was starting to clear up a bit from where it was back in the middle of winter. However, just as recently as last week, I think that trend has started to shift in the other direction. Now, granted, I have no hard scientific evidence to support this other than my own two eyes and the opinions of others who fish here a lot, but to me it's pretty apparent. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the water in the upper river, nearer to the dam, is murky, although it pains me to say that. How can that be, you ask? Well, my theory, which is totally based on anecdotal evidence from past years' experience, involves warmer weather and the resulting snowmelt, and the inevitable end product of runoff. The result is an influx of cold, dirty water flowing into the lake. Now, when the lake is fuller to begin with, this spate of dirtier water is mitigated somewhat, because it's diluted into a bigger pool of cleaner water. But, when you've got a lower lake level, as we do now, there's less of the cleaner water to mix with, so the water coming in makes a larger impact. Add to this, the fact that this incoming water is colder and holds more particulates, thus denser, so it sinks lower in the water column which is exactly where it's drawn from and released into the river. While it took me a long time to go down the rabbit hole and get here, the end result is that the fishing is never better here in murky water, that it is when it's clear. That goes double for the dry fly fishing. Lest you label me as a Debby Downer, remember all is not lost, however. I'm not saying you shouldn't fish the San Juan right now, but I would say concentrate your fishing in the lower stretches where the visibility is better. For the next month, I would also emphasize nymphing more heavily on the baetis side of things, (pheasant tails, rootbeers, RS2s, foamwings) since there's been an increase of that activity in those areas over the past few weeks. Up until about a week ago until we started to get a lot of bright sunshine days and afternoon winds, there were some pretty good BWOs hatches down there, so there's some baetis nymphs on the move. Heck, if you can catch a really overcast or rainy day over the next several weeks, I'd bet you'll even have some decent dry fly fishing. That said, the question every one of my dry fly-fishing friends keep asking is, "When is the dry fly fishing gonna get good?" Well, my answer is, "When the water clears up." "Well, when will that be?" Most likely, early to mid-May. I hope I'm wrong—I'd eat a pile of crows to see some rising fish earlier in the year. My biggest fear right now is that we see sudden, warmer than normal, temperatures and all that snow comes down at once, and we get a rush of water pouring across an exposed dry lake bed washing a bunch of dirt and silt into the lake. If you'll remember, that happened a few years back and the entire lake and the river turned brown and it seemed like it took forever to clear up. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a slow, steady warmup— a month is already a long time to wait.