Conejo Valley Fly Fishers
San Juan Trip Report
By Bill Becher
This trip found three waves of CVFF'ers descending on the unsuspecting fish at the San Juan River in New Mexico. The advance scouts: Bill Becher and Jimmy Toy (found thanks to an alert milk drinker) arrived Sunday night 2-28-99 and camped at Pine River Campground at the Navajo Dam State Park, just above the San Juan River "Quality Waters". The drive from TO took about 14 hours plus an hour time change.
The full moon looked nice shining on the water of Navajo Lake, but might have had something to do with the slower than usual fishing.
Monday Bill and Jimmy started at Texas Hole. (So named for the large numbers of Texans who are supposed to congregate there. Actually most license plates were from New Mexico or Colorado, though one came from Florida.). The day was clear to partly cloudy with morning air temps in the mid 30's and highs in the low 60's. Water temp at Texas Hole (TXH) was a chilly 44.7º. Bill fished the Main Channel, a stretch of faster water with riffles, while Jimmy "sight nymphed" the flats above TXH. Bill landed 6 of 14 fish hooked, the largest an old 18" toad. Most San Juan fish are in the 15-17" range -- it's unusual to hook a fish of 12" or less. Best patterns were a peach colored orange San Juan Worm and a #20 red wire brassie, along with an Ed Engle midge pupa tied with mallard flank. Stomach samples revealed larger leaches, tan-brown midge larva and small baetis nymphs.
Jimmy had similar results fishing mostly thread midges.
Two bald eagles soared over the San Juan watching over us... Lots of Canada Geese flew by in formation.
Tuesday the weather was again clear and sunny. We were hoping for some light snow or just some clouds to bring out the baetis. It was very windy in the afternoon. We fished "Baetis Bend" below the Lower Flats. This was a VERY tough day. Bill was 4 of 7 including a 10" brown, the smallest fish and only brown he caught all week. A #18 Big Bear Baetis Nymph produced the most fish, along with a smaller #22 red wire brassie. More trout puke showed the fish feeding on both baetis and midge nymphs and larva, the predominate winter bugs. Also present was a very thin red worm (blood midge?).
Jimmy had an even tougher day... hooking only one fish and landing none. We saw 2 beavers swimming near their lodge.
Wednesday morning the next wave stormed the campground aboard a camper: Pete Sumner and Gary Scott, both San Juan newbies. The four of us fished at TXH for openers. Pete and Gary then got a tour of the flat water, marveling at the sight of large rainbows holding in 12" of water. They (the fish, not Pete and Gary) were receptive to #22 flash back "Side Winder" midge larva: a simple tie of yellow thread body, brown thread rib, black thread head with a bit of Pearl Krystal Flash on the top of the head tied on a #22 Tiemco 2487 scud hook. Pete landed 4 fish, Jimmy 7 out of 16 hooked - largest 17", Gary also had a nice fish. That evening we tied some more worms, small brassies and midge larva.
Thursday the hard core of Larry Garfinkel, Tom Greenup, and Bill Sarrocco showed up after driving all night. Bill B and Larry fished the flats above TXH. We then hit the Main Channel where Bill landed an 18" fish that took at least 10 minutes and a good run down stream to land. After a slow start Larry got into some nice fish.
Jimmy had a good day to make up for Tuesday, landing 10 out of 18 fish hooked, largest being an 18" bow. Peter landed a fat 20" beauty. Bill S did some sight nymphing with Jimmy and landed six nice fish. Tom went for size with a 19 and 20" pair.
Friday we went back to Baetis Bend for another round of CVFF vs big trout. The wind came up in the afternoon making it another tough day. It only took a cloud to hide the sun for a few moments to trigger a baetis hatch. Larry decided he'd try a dry, despite discouragement from the San Juan regulars. Well, good thing he had the courage of his convictions. He hooked a couple of nice fish on an Adams. Bill B fished a small foam line with every baetis imitation in his box. Along with a lot of refusals by the well educated fish, he managed to hook a couple and land one. At 4 o'clock we went back to TXH where Larry landed a 22" fish caught on a #20 red larva lace annelid pattern he tied at the CVFF tying nite. Credit Tom with an assist as he showed Larry how to tie the fly. Come to the tying sessions and you too can catch Bubba! Larry was 4 for 8 on the day, Tom had a slower day but was 3 for 3 ("Why waste a hookup?" he says), and Bill B landed 3 out of 6.
Saturday Larry and Bill S shared a guide and drift boat. They lucked out and got John Gomez, Senior Guide at Born n' Raised (Abe's). They spent most of the day plying the waters of TXH as John said that there was not much bug activity lower down on the river. They had 60+ hookups each and landed 20+ fish each, including 9 in-the-boat doubles! They fished a triple fly rig with a green egg as an attractor, with baetis and midge point flies (or a shrimp imitation). (Water samples show a number of small gray/pearl scuds in the water, and fish are taking imitations.) Knowing the exact height to rig the indicator is a must, along with good mending technique. John can be reached at Born N' Raised at (505)632-2194.
The rest of the gang hit the Catch and Release section right below the dam and worked down to Cable Hole. Word was that green disco midges were hot, but an OJ (orange larva lace with red glass bead head) under a chamois worm produced a nice 19" fish for Bill. Later we finished the day (Bill B, the oldest, napped in the RV) at TXH where Tom joined the group fishing the foam line and had a San Juan experience hooking ten fish on a small baetis emerger. Bill B tried stripping a bunny leach and got some savage hits but no fish landed. Pete had a reasonably good day, but it was tough going for Gary, though he did stick some fish.
Pictures: Here are some more of the pictures from the trip.
Random notes: We used "FRS" fm radios to good advantage to keep in touch on the river and compare notes about what was working and where... While the San Juan is a busy place, especially TXH on a weekend, most fishermen (and women) were polite and friendly. Unfortunately the local guides are somewhat lacking in stream etiquette, and are wont to row over rising fish and ignore the rights of non-customers... Lots of deer come down in the evening to the river, so be careful driving local roads at night lest you hit a walking Compardun... The Pine River Campground run by the NM State Parks has raised its rates to $14 a night with electric hookup, but well worth it for clean restrooms and hot water showers on a scenic ridge overlooking the lake and that damn moon... While Jimmy and I have had good results on the San Juan on full moon days, probably a good idea to check the moon stage when planning a trip and avoid full moons. Click here for a moon phase chart. There is talk of a dry-fly fishing trip in July or August... Or if you don't think a full moon would hurt the fishing, you could try a night fishing experience with Float n' Fish - they offer night fishing float trips during full moon summer nights... Tom is a wizard with a Dutch oven. Ask us about his Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
If you heading to New Mexico to fish the San Juan check out our trip planning page.
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