The San Juan below Navavo Dam, New Mexico is doing a spring release, currently flows are around 4,000 cfs and will continue to rise until somewhere sround 5,000. Heads Up Flyfishing will only be offering float trips through the high water period due to the dangers of wading at these increased levels. The only time I’d discourage fishing is on days they increase the flow. Once it’s had a day or so to level out, the fishing will be fine. We’ll be throwing lots of worms, eggs, and leeches at the beginning of the flush; then moving back to the smaller more realistic bugs as the fish become more accustomed to the heavy water. Fish will be found concentrated in seams where they can avoid the main current.
This is the second article in a 3-part series, covering the San Juan River. It is not a comprehensive look, but rather a series meant for those first-timers who hit the water sight unseen and flyfishers looking to try something different.
Location: Middle section of the San Juan River quality waters directly below Navajo Dam; Lower Flats to ET Rock.
Environment: This stretch of the San Juan River consists of a variety of trout habitats: runs, riffles, pockets, back-channels, flats, etc. and the water is a tad bit warmer (42-46 degrees) than the upper third because the river widens/shallows out across Lower Flats and Baetis Bend. Fish, mostly rainbow trout, ranging from 16-22 inches typically feed on an abundance of midges, but it is here where you can break out the mayfly patterns like Blue-Wing Olives with great success.
Tactics: There are a variety of methods for fishing this middle section; wade or float. We recommend floating because you can access a lot more water quickly, while moving closer to your targets.
Patterns: Midge Pupa and Emergers (gray/black/brown/olive), Terrestrials (ants/hoppers) and Dry Flies (bwo’s/midge clusters).
Methods: While there are several ways of fishing this section, depending on time of day/year, I will use this section to highlight conventional and unconventional methods.
Conventional – Start with a 7.5ft 5X leader, then add 18 inches of 6X tippet with your weight (eg No 4) secured above the knot on the 5X leader. Tie on your first fly (eg Pheasant Tail) then drop another piece of 6X tippet for your second fly (eg Chocolate Foamback). After rigging your leader/flies attach an indicator 1.5 times the depth of the water you plan to fish. Once fully prepared, look for a pocket or channel to fish – present the fly to targeted fish by casting upstream and letting it drift dead-still while mending as necessary to avoid drag – if the indicator hesitates slightly, SET the hook! [Note: Clean your flies often when dead drifting nymphs, every 2-3 casts, as the slightest bit of moss will deter a strike.]
Unconventional – Start with a 7.5ft 5X mono-leader, then add 18 inches of 6X mono-tippet. Tie on your first fly (eg Fat Albert or Black Parachute Ant) then drop another piece of 6X mono-tippet for your second fly (eg Parachute Adams-size 24). It’s time for some dry-fly action! Once fully prepared, look for short riffles or nervous water that tails into pockets to fish – present the fly to targeted fish by casting 12 inches in front of intended targets and drift with a little bit of slack line. Don’t set to soon on the dry, let’em eat it!
I wanted to tell you about an epic day of fishing that I shared with anglers Mike Atwell and Van Rollo last week. We caught fish, nice fish, but that’s not what made the day so special. What set that day apart was the relationship between Mike and Van, the fun we had, and the beautiful stretch of river that we had all to ourselves. Oh yeah, throwing dry flies to big trout was nice too!
Mike and Van were visiting the San Juan River as part of a group from Far Bank Enterprises. Far Bank is the company that owns Sage, Redington, Rio, and C&F Designs. The first part of their trip was eaten up with sales meetings and new gear demos. Finally on Thursday afternoon, all of the team was able to escape to the river for a much needed break. Mike and I were to fish together, and Van was paired with Cindy, a Soaring Eagle guide. We were going to spend the afternoon wading the private water of Soaring Eagle Lodge, on the lower San Juan River. How sweet to have all that water to just the four of us. I knew this was a different trip when the guys told Cindy and I that they would like to fish together, and wanted us to fish with them as well. Most anglers would have jumped at the chance to have a one on one session with a guide, and all the shots to themselves. To Mike and Van, being with each other was more important than probably catching more fish and fishing alone.
As soon as I had the hopper tied on Mike’s leader it was apparent that this guy knew what he was doing. He cast well and covered the water expertly with the big foam hopper. Not having to coach left me able to talk with Mike and get to know him. We covered the top end of Hopper Alley while Van and Cindy worked the bottom with a nymph rig. After tossing a cast that ended up with the fly floating upside down, Mike saw a fish come up and refuse it. (I never saw the fish the first time!) He put the bug back in the lane, floating right side up this time. As it passed over the spot, a beautiful 19 inch brown rose to the fly and Mike was tight to him! It was the kind of slow, deliberate dry fly hook set that I dream about, and after a good battle we had him to hand. I snapped a couple of pics and released the trout.
We waded down to Van and Cindy to share our accomplishment. This was when the special relationship between Van and Mike became very obvious to me. Mike and I could have continued fishing, or moved to some fresh water, but what Mike wanted to do was hang out there with Van and watch him fish and talk. We watched Van land several nice fish over thirty or forty minutes, never once getting the rod off the bank. This pace, unhurried and focusing more on the experience than the fish count, came to signify the day.
Mike and Van have been friends for 23 years, and I was lucky enough to hear their stories of some of the legendary guides and waters of the west. The fishing was awesome, we were able to enjoy a prolific pale morning dun hatch on the lower end of the property. We had a few dry fly doubles, and Van introduced me to the no-hackle, a pattern I’d never tried before.
Mike and I finished the day with a couple of Coronas under the cottonwood trees looking out over a riffle dotted with rising trout. We had spent a great day on the water, fishing and sharing stories. We talked about the things in life that get us down, women, health, money, etc. and how they shouldn’t dominate our everyday lives. Life’s too short to dwell on these types of things. Instead, our focus should be on what makes us smile, makes us happy. For that day I focused on the great company, expert angling, amazing dry fly takes, and the friendship that Mike and Van share. I feel very lucky to have been a part of the day, and it will take its place as one of my most memorable and rewarding days of guiding.