Thursday, February 10, 2011

San Juan Dreaming

Fontinalis Rising after some San Juan Oncorhyncus Mykiss

I'm dedicating this post to my buddy Tim.  He's heading out to the San Juan river in Northern New Mexico today, without me.  We went there together for the first time two years ago, a trip I would like to make an annual one.  I had to sit this one out, for many reasons.
Tim and I grew up together, were best buddies.  We learned to fly fish on the same northern Michigan river, in the same manner: Hexes in June, back before the Hex hatch became the Rotary Club International Annual Convention and Pig Roast.  Our lives have drifted, mended and changed over the last 20 years, both of us doing stints in New York City, me moving from there to metro Detroit, to metro Ohio, then back to Detroit.  Tim's sojourn to NYC only lasted a year; he married his childhood sweetheart and went back to northern Michigan to work at the family business. Shortly after  I moved back to Trout Country 11 years ago they moved out to Arizona, which spawned some adventures of its own.
I had spent a dozen years away from my beloved fly fishing and took it up again shortly after returning to Trout Country, but my participation and growth was fairly stagnant.  It was a few years back  that I got the call from Tim with the big announcement- he was going to return to the sport and ply the delicate waters of the Grand Canyon State.  It was through the constant back and forth with Tim that I started trying new things, researching more, buying better gear.
Two years ago I spent the winter in southwest Colorado, working for some friends.  Tim came up with the brilliant idea of us meeting up to do a fishing trip- the original plan was to fish Lee's Ferry but in the end we settled on the San Juan.  Perhaps I shouldn't say 'settled', as it was a perfect choice.

Tim, with a San Juan brown caught at Tim's Hole
I've heard the San Juan denigrated as a glorified trout pond.  I don't buy this argument.  If only more of our waters had such a healthy population of protected, fat, sassy, overfed slobs of trout.  It's a tailwater fishery, a western tailwater fishery, meaning size 18 flies are probably too big, and 5x tippet is out.  The name of the game is 6x, size 22-28 midge larvae and emergers on two-fly rigs under indicators, a set-up and method that was new to both of us.  We went, we learned, we adapted, we fished from sunrise to sunset.  We caught a few fish.

While the San Juan is in the west, it is not what non-westerners think of as a western river.  The mountains are not the highest, or snow capped.  The desert is not the most picturesque.  The towns seem seedy and sad.  But the river itself is beautiful, an aquamarine gem flowing through sandstone cliffs.  Wide, powerful, but with plenty of braids and flats to explore, spread out in, to get away from the crowds at the Texas Hole.  As usual, if you walk more than 200 yards from the launch the crowds thin out. It's all about the trout, ohhhh, the trout.  Rainbows, browns, cut-throats and cut-bows, by the thousand, munching midge larvae by the million.  Trout measured in pounds, numbers measured in the tens of thousands per mile.  You can fish broad, muscular flats, or find your own small stream fishing in the Braids.  You'll find fish that average 18-24", in large, hungry hordes.
Tim has been after me since the fall to join him again this year.  I waffled back and forth, but in the end I've had to bow out.  So Tim, buddy, I wish you a good trip, that you catch some fish, and learn some new techniques to teach me.  I'll buy my ticket this summer.

FR and the battle of the 'bow.
San Juan cut-bow, one of the smaller fish of the trip


  1. I'm touched. Thanks buddy. Wish you were going too.
    Actually, I am leaving this coming Thursday. Taking advantage of the President's day weekend. I should get in 4 days and ...maybe 4 hours on the river depending on when I can get this my old soul on the road for the 7 and a 1/2 hour trip.
    There WILL be another adventure here for us. I GREATLY want to experience the fabled summer antfall on this wonderful "little" trout stream someday.

  2. Wup! Now you're up on my radar: Michigander who's a Hex and Juan enthusiast both! That covers both extremes of the spectrum I should think. Let me know when you get back this way next time- mike

    PS- hope your stint in that 'state down south' was a brief one- they don't have much by way of cold, clear water I'm thinking.

  3. @ Royal- yeah, I guess that covers the size 4 on down to 28. I don't think I'll be tying those little ones anytime soon. FR

  4. Very cool article. Echoes my sentiments on the San Juan exactly. Sure was a ton of fun to fish for those big shouldered rainbows. Added you to the blogroll and look forward to reading more great stuff.