The San Juan below the Navajo Dam is a trophy rainbow river with excellent access and year-round fishing. This planning guide concentrates on winter fishing, though the season is year-round. The San Juan is known for nymphing, but baetis and midge hatches in the winter can supply some great dry fly action.
By car: The San Juan is approximately 850 miles from Thousand Oaks, about a 14-15 hour drive. Usual route is the 101 to the I-10 to I-15 to I-40 to north on US666 (Jimmy calls it the Devil's Highway) at Gallup, NM, then east on US 64 from Shiprock to Farmington. From Farmington continue east on 64 through Bloomfield to 511 north and continue 13 miles to the river (continue over the dam for Pine River Campground). Be ready for winter driving conditions going through Flagstaff. The AAA "Indian Country" map is a good one of the 4 Corners Area.
BETTER ROUTES: Nevada fisherman Bruce Pencek says "Do your folks really go to the Juan via Gallup and Rt 666? It's literally a killer road -- going from Flagstaff to Page, Kayenta, and Shiprock is a little faster, too. In winter, it's better, if counterintuitive, to take I-15 through Vegas to Hurricane, UT, cut across country to Kanab and Page and so on -- those two-lanes in Utah for some reason are better in snow than I-40 around Flagstaff."
Flying: You can fly to Albuquerque, rent a car and drive about 3.5 hours, or catch a puddle jumper to Farmington, NM about 45 minutes from the SJ. For you private pilots, there is a strip at the river. Check with Abe's about pick-up.
Places to stay and eat
Camping at Pine River Campground at Navajo Lake is excellent, with electric hookups available, along with clean new showers, water and a dump station. There is also another campground at Cottonwood, but access can be difficult if roads are muddy. Your camp permit ($10, with electric hookup $14) is also a parking permit on the river (otherwise you need to pay a daily fee or get a year parking pass at the ranger station for $10). No reservations. Check map. There are also RV hookups at Abe's and Sportsman's Lodge, which also have restaurants. Local accommodations are pretty basic. If you want an more up-scale experience, try staying in Durango, CO, about an hour's drive away.
Bring a 9 foot 5 weight rod with a floating line. Use 7.5 ft (longer for deeper holes) leaders for nymphing, 9 ft for drys. Most people use a poly yarn indicator and fish with 2 nymphs, a larger "attractor" such as a San Juan Worm, Annelid, or egg on top, with a midge or baetis emerger on a 12" dropper. Or you could try a triple rig with attractor and two point flies. Have a good selection of split shot for slower and faster water. Stripping bunny leaches or buggers on a sink tip early or late can be productive, too.
Where to fish
Check out the map. (Mike Mora) also has a map) Access is at 5 parking lots along the river. From the Dam, the first small lot has access to the Catch and Release area after a short walk, the second (there's a church at the turn-off) to the Texas Hole right from the parking lot, the third provides access via a bit of a hike to the Lower Flats, Baetis Bend area, the 4th lot provides access to Simon Point, and the 5th is where drift boats take out.
Most people start at Texas hole, then work up to the Upper Flats or Main Channel. Look for the transition zones along faster moving water. Another good choice is the Lower Flats, Baetis bend area. Simon Point is usually less crowded than the other areas.
New Mexico Fishing License Fees
April 1, 1998 Through March 31, 1999*
Special gear required on the Quality Waters of the San Juan:
Attracting or Concentrating Fish: (The "San Juan
Clothing and gear:
The water is COLD, about 45°. A thick pair of neoprenes (5mm) worn with fleece pants will help keep you warm. Some do okay with Gore-Tex and lots of fleece under layers. Be prepared to fish in the snow (best baetis hatches occur then, though it can be sunny and pleasant too. A warm cap, storm/rain jacket with hood will help, but bring lighter clothing too. Bring gloves and get some hand warmers from a ski shop. A collapsible wading staff is always a good idea.
Suggested basic flies:
San Juan Worm, Annelid (realistic worm), eggs, chamois worm. (#14 and 16)
Glass bead head midge emerger, foam RS2, WD40, Chocolate Emerger, brassie, red wire brassie. (#18-22), thread midge.
Parachute Adams, Griffith's Gnat, Baetis (BWO) with standard tail and trailing shuck style. (#18-20) You might want a larger Adams as an indicator fly in front of the smaller flies if you have trouble seeing them. Or you could tie up a "Dead Chicken" which is a Griffith's Gnat in a size 8-12 as the lead fly. Sometimes take it for a midge mating cluster.
Check Mike Mora's excellent page for designs or to purchase flies, or the Virtual Flyshop for more ideas. Also check CVFF trip reports for the San Juan. Also you can get flies designed for the San Juan from Michael Parker at bugsrus-nm.com
Guides and Local Fly Shops
Although much of the SJ is accessible to self guided fishermen, you may want to go in a float with a guide if this is your first visit, to get some help with fishing technique and see the whole "quality water" stretch of the river. There are a lot of guides available for the SJ. Costs usually run $225-$250 per day per boat for 2 anglers. Wade guiding is available too.
Mike Mora's San Juan Webpage is the best single source of up to the minute info about fishing the SJ. Mike has an excellent library of patterns, a map of the river, fishing reports. You can also order from him an assortment of well tied flies developed for the San Juan. Click on his FAQ link to get more detailed info about the San Juan.
Also try the guide links above and:
Rocky Mtn Fly Fisher
Book on SJ River
New Mexico F&G
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