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Trip report: San Juan River, New Mexico

December 1998

by Bill Becher

This was a continuation of my trip to Lee's Ferry with Wayne, Diana, and Dan. Unfortunately I had to do this part of the trip solo. The drive to the San Juan took about six hours.

Thursday December 3

This fish took a half-hour to land!

The weather was "warm" in the 50's. The water was very murky due to the turn over of Navajo Lake above the dam. Lots of moss in the water meant you had to clean your flies frequently. The flows looked to be low compared to other visits to the SJ. Apparently the generating equipment was undergoing a ten year maintenance, and flows were from the bottom of the spillway, rather than the turbines.

I fished Texas hole briefly without success. Crowds were not too bad, but much less pressure up river. I headed for my usual haunts on the Main Channel. I had good success, landing 15 fish, most on a #20 brassie tied with medium red wire on a 2487 Tiemco scud hook, fished below an orange SJ worm or red annelid worm tied with Larva Lace on a Tiemco 205. The fish seemed to be holding more in deeper water near in the middle of the river, rather than at the slow water along the banks. I hooked two great fish that took me a half-hour each to bring in. They were only slightly over 18", but STRONG! I pumped some stomachs and found black baetis nymphs about a 20. I tried tying some baetis nymphs in black to imitate these, but with modest success. Also present in the trout barf were some orange worms, and some salmon flesh. Apparently the kokanee salmon were dying in the lake and chunks of flesh were in the river. A wide chamois Alaska"flesh fly" would have been worth trying. There were lots of midges and baetis on the water, but few fish rising.


Friday December 4

The weather stayed mild (the water temps were around the usual 48 degrees). I tried fishing "Baetis Bend" below Lunker Alley and the Lower Flats. This was a tough day. I managed a few fish on a gold T-midge emerger nymph. A brief baetis hatch took place around mid-day. I managed takes on several dry flies, with the best success on a Brooks Baetis Sprout Emerger in gray. I managed to land this fish, a nice 17" bow (I didn't catch a brown during this trip, though supposedly about ten percent of the fish population are browns.) In general the suggestion is to fish midges above Texas Hole, and baetis below this time of year. That evening I tried adding some flash to my nymphs, and bought some "Flasher Johns(?)" at Abes. This was a pretty good imitation of the baetis nymphs I had found in river - and stomach samples. It worked pretty well, presumably the Krystal Flash on the wingcase was necessary in the murky water.

Saturday December 5

It rained today with temps in the 40's. I went back to Texas Hole and the Upper Flats. I had another good day, but again the most productive fly was the red wire brassie. Biggest fish was 17", but jumped four times! I managed a nice fish at Jimmy T's favorite run in the Flats, though the cloudy water made sight nymphing difficult. A "micro" egg (glow bug in a size 18-20) worked well as the upper "attractor" nymph. Sampling found some cased caddis, midge larva (tan with black head) and worms. The day ended in snow and I decided it was time to head for home the next day. Unfortunately a snow storm near Flagstaff slowed traffic, with 18 wheelers littering the landscape. I opted to sleep at a rest stop and continue when the storm cleared. Be prepared for winter driving when visiting the San Juan this time of year.


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