May 10, 2021
An opinionated dry fly fisherman who is at a loss of words for now. That's how I would describe myself these days. Between the relentless wind and my inability to find rising fish in recent weeks, I've been struggling out there, my friends. Like I said before, maybe it's just me. Either way, if things don't change soon, you're likely to see me out there with lead and bobber on my line (perish the thought, you heretic) or else, the men in the white uniforms are gonna come for me and lock me in a rubber room, somewhere. That's the state of play these days in the Walden household. But enough about me, how you doing, these days?
Let's get right to it with the business of river conditions, etc. on the San Juan. First of all, if you've been watching the flow levels here for the past month or so, you probably noticed the yo-yo of the water levels from the winter time level of around 400 cfs, ramp up to somewhere around 700 cfs ,and now, in just the last week or so, drop to 600, 500, and just two days ago, drop to the present 387 cfs level. That's all related to the flows in the Animas River—when it was colder and the Animas was lower, more water was needed from the San Juan to maintain targeted flows downstream from Farmington to Lake Powell—now that it's warmer and runoff is beginning in the Animas, there's less water needed from the San Juan. So, we're likely to see these lower levels here on the Juan for a bit, until the runoff starts to wane on the Animas. Anyway, what happens after that is anyone's guess, but if we have another dry summer like last year (which is highly likely) we'll probably see flows on the San Juan in the 800 to 900 range for a large part of the summer—that's my guess. The 387 cfs flow at present is still plenty fishable, it just crowds the drift boat traffic a bit. Here's another thing—there's a lot of rock snot (didymo) and algae in the river right now. Unfortunately, we're not going to see a high spring water release here to flush it all downstream—actually it's the buildup of last year's gunk too, since we didn't have a spring flush then, either. The result of this is you gotta clean your flies off a lot if you want to catch fish. It's pretty much—cast, drift, do the old San Juan windmill thing with your leader, slap, slap, slap, and cast again, even if you're fishing dry flies, you'll snag this stuff when you pick up your line up at the end of your drift. It's probably something we are going to have to live with for a while, although if we get higher flows this summer it might get rid of some of it. So, check and clean your flies often, these fish won't eat the small stuff with junk on it. As far as fish behavior these days, here's what I've been seeing, or not seeing, in some cases. First of all, what I am not seeing is fish of appreciable numbers, holding in shallow water. Secondly, I'm not seeing any abundance of adult bugs on the water, or rising fish, or very many fish eating emergers throughout the day, except about an hour before dark—then there's lots of them. What I am seeing is a lot of fish in the deeper stuff, way down toward the bottom. You can even watch them grubbing around down there like pigs in a truffle patch. I've watched a lot of them grab bits of moss and algae as it floats by. Anyway, my theory on how to catch fish right now is to put on a lot of extra weight and nymph the deep stuff. I think larva patterns are going to be key as a fly choice. That, and maybe a small micro leech in olive, brown, or grey. There's still a lot of baetis nymphs in the lower sections of the river, although we aren't seeing a lot of adults on the water, so small pheasant tails, RS2s, and rootbeers, would be a good choice anywhere down there with a red larva combination or a small leech. Up higher, midge larva, pupae, and some small leeches. As far as the dry fly fishing goes— well, for me, it been tough out there. My best dry fly fishing has been that last hour or hour-and- a- half just before dark with fish rising to midges. Outside of that, there's an occasional smattering of fish rising to midges around mid-day, but the hatch doesn't seem to last very long and that's also about the time the wind gets really cranking which puts the fish down. I have been able to bring up a few fish to terrestrials when you can find them in skinny water, but the trouble I've been running into with that is there just doesn't seem to be a lot of fish in the shallow stuff right now which I think is totally related to the lack of hatches in those areas, and the only reason they hold in those areas in the first place. Well, we'll see if anything has changed since this recent water drop. I haven't been out since they lowered it to 387 cfs. Who knows? Maybe it's the new Golden Ticket that turns everything around. Stay tuned.