Tag: San Juan River

San Juan River gets a makeover

The fabled fishery, best known for its high desert beauty, its penchant for crowds, and its fat rainbow trout, just got a makeover thanks to some heavy lifting

Although the river water was ideal in temperature and clarity for trout, fisheries biologist Marc Wethington, with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, knew that more had to be done to improve the fish habitat in the below-dam reaches. He also knew that fixing the river would take some very dedicated, conservation-minded partners, so he approached John Hansen, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Together, they began involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New Mexico State Environmental Agency, local members of the Navajo Nation, and the community at large. They knew, too, it was going to take a lot more money than either had in their budgets. So they began approaching environmentally concerned businesses and individuals in the area. According to Hansen, “It was really neat to see how both companies and individuals began to step up to the plate. Companies such as Adobe Contractors, Golden Equipment Co., Volvo Construction Equipment, local tribes, fishing clubs, guide and fly shops, oil and gas companies. Everyone, big and small. It was very encouraging.”

I’ve spent at least thirty days of my life on that river, and must say that while improvement might be hard to come by (being that it is so damn good to begin with), getting such a fine cadre of folks together to work on enhancement proves what an important fishery it really is.

If you (like I) ever wondered how big pocket-water-creating boulders wound up in the middle of medaled trout water (when there was no rocky cliff in sight that might have held said boulder prior), well now you know – someone is looking out for you AND Mr. Fish!

Never been to the San Juan? Well here’s some enticement for planning a trip – some fun (and somewhat astounding) fishery facts.

(h/t to Moldy Chum)

Pigs still don’t fly, but San Juan pigs still eat flies

[singlepic id=151 w=240 h=180 float=left]I woke at 2:30 am last Tuesday, but knew immediately the day would be different than most. First off, I jumped right out of bed – I have trouble doing that at 5:30 or 6:30 when I know there is a work day ahead. Second, I got in the truck versus turning on the computer. Third, I drove almost 400 miles in the next seven hours, and caught a stunning sunrise in my rear view mirror. Yep, different – it always is with fly fishing. But one thing did become clear before the week was up – nothing has changed on the San Juan River. It’s still full of big fat rainbow trout!

I arrived and hit the water at approximately 11:00 – wandered around a bit just below Cable Hole before finding my groove. Started off by working some fast water, walking down stream slowly while a couple of fishermen below me cleared out (I took a shower the night before, so I don’t know what their problem was). Then I hit a big dropoff, and after adding a #22 gray/white foamback RS-2 I quickly pulled several piggies out of the hole in front of me. My neighbors were struggling, so I clued them into what was happening (thinking they might find me a bit too cocky, and leave – then I’d have the whole place to myself).

Clouds appeared, and so did wind. Things quickly cooled off, which didn’t bode well for standing in the 42 degree water. I tooled around a bit more in Cable Hole, but once the sunshine disappeared so did the action. I switched rigs – changed worms from red to tan, an egg from green to red, and added a blue thread midge. Mr. Blue Midge pulled in a few unmentionables and a couple more nice fish, but four o’clock hit – I was cold and hungry and a bit tired from the early morning trip as well.

rainbow-trout-little-piggy-1 rainbow-trout-smallest-of-the-trip rainbow-trout-little-piggy-2 beautiful-rainbow-trout rainbow-trout-little-piggy

The bar was the next course of action.

Wednesday Wind and Broken Down Friends

Wednesday brought cooling temps, howling winds, a little hail, and zero fish. Yep – for the third time in the year 2007, I got skunked. Out at 8:00, in for a jacket at 11:00 am, and back out until roughly 3:00 pm. No fish, no fish, and no fish. I’d like to blame it on the conditions, but the experienced angler knows that ugly weather often means better fishing. This time was not the case, and I suspect it had something to do with the front itself. Pressure changes do affect fish behaviour, and getting pelted by frozen rain, having your flies consistently hit you in the back of the head (requiring a ten minute break after each and every case for unsnagging and untangling), and generally shivering your ass off for hours on end doesn’t help either.

I had one foot in the door of the bar when I wondered “where the hell are Allen and Mark?”

Allen and Mark are two friends of mine from the East Coast. They planned a trip to New Mexico to bag some elk, and were supposed to be headed over to Navajo Dam by Sunday. Well it was now Wednesday afternoon, and no Allen and Mark. Sometime after coming to the realization that the fishing was blown out (literally, by 50 mph wind gusts), I decided to go looking for some cell reception – didn’t take long to find it once I drove to the top of the dam (and I’ll add that the road across the dam would be a perfect place to hold winter drag racing championships). After weeding through dozens of emails, I checked voicemail. A rental car was broken down in the middle of nowhere and two outdoorsmen were sitting in the middle of a field someplace trying to negotiate for a replacement. This particular situation is nothing new for these two, but that’s a story for another time. Luckily, I wasn’t asked to go try and find them!

About 9:00 pm they finally arrived. I ordered everyone straight to sleep so we could get up early and negotiate some positions on the always crowded waterway.

Light, Camera, Action, Dark

[singlepic id=117 w=240 h=174 float=right]We spent Thursday morning picking apart the Upper Flats, and there was plenty of action. We had but two fellow fisherman on the stretch, and as there was wavering sunlight none seemed interested in stepping in chest deep. We, however, obliged – several hours were subsequently spent knocking off rainbow after rainbow on blood worms, eggs, black and grey RS-2s, zebra midges, and various UV-winged emergers.

We grabbed some grub, and then moved over to Baetis Bend/Lunker Alley for some evening delight. The placed was packed at first, but as the sun set our neighbors disappeared and we wound up with the whole section to ourselves. I hunkered down between two deep trenches to swing some nymphs – Mark spent his time dropping gnats on rising fish in the quiet water across from me, and Allen wandered upstream about a hundred feet to do the same. Allen had met consistent action, or at least that’s what I call it when every time I looked over someone’s rod is bent double and they are reaching for their net. Meanwhile, I popped several tippets and pulled several hooks, undoubtedly from a combination of strong currents and hogs hell bent on sitting on the bottom instead of letting me coax them towards the surface. Mark had some of the same issues, but for a different reason – he was now playing with fire in the form of 8X tippets, and the fish rising on his flies looked slightly bigger than that generally suitable for catch on line the thickness of a human hair (i.e. minnows). I wound up the night stripping double streamers (something Mark had previously exclaimed he’d never seen done before). My patented leech followed by egg sucking leech method produced some poundings, and we laughed about it until well after struggling to find our way back to the truck in the pitch black darkness.

Thursday night was calm, cool, and collected, with a dose or two of Jose Quervo.


[singlepic id=63 w=240 h=173 float=left]Friday morning we packed, checked out, and headed back to the Upper Flats. Allen picked up where we had left off the day before with a catch on the first cast, followed by a pulled hook, followed by a catch, followed by a popped tippet, followed by yet another catch – that was probably all in the first thirty minutes after arrival (and much to the chagrin of the ten sum-odd fishermen we were sharing the area with). Mark moved over to a back channel to try his luck on dries while I struggled between pulled hooks and playing camera man.

No fish in the net for me that final morning, but no matter – its only the fourth time this year I’ve been had by trout, and everyone had smiles on their faces and long roads ahead of them. For me, it was back to Colorado; for my brethren, it was a trip to pick up some elk meat, and then 250 miles to a hotel for the night followed by 2,000 miles by air back home.

My waders and boots were finally rinsed midday Saturday, and I think all my gear is now back where it shouldn’t be – in the closet.

There is something about the San Juan that leaves you wanting. I’ll feel fulfilled in that desire when pigs fly.

El Río Fabuloso Del San Juan

This post has nothing to do with anything except my extra-curricular enjoyment. I just got back from a couple of days fishing the San Juan River, and have to say the place hasn’t changed much since my last visit (in 2000) – it still kicks the ass of any other trout fishery in this country (and likely most others as well).

A fellow fisherman called it “an amusement park for anglers.” I agree. And I have to hand it to the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game for their management of all the “attractions”, which included numerous rainbows over 20 inches (and fat enough to be mistaken for collegiate footballs).

Check out these factoids on the San Juan River and its aquatic inhabitants, as dug up by one of our crew…