Fly Fishing the San Juan River New Mexico.
The day started at four am, left Phoenix at five am. According to google maps, it would be a seven-hour fifteen-minute drive. However, with gas stops and towing a drift boat and with a rendezvous to meet our other friends who also were towing a drift boat, we hit the river around three in the afternoon, taking into account losing an hour due to the time difference.
Once at the river, we had to launch the two boats, then drive both trucks down to the parking lot at the end of a six-mile drift, then drive one truck back. Time was ticking. We launched at Texas hole, which is the first pool of the drift. This hole is the catch and release barbless area of the river. You can fish higher up to the dam and of course, below the take out point.
We fished the Texas hole with all the guys catching a few nice fish except me I was skunked that day. Fishing was slow, and there was a lot of weed drifting down in the water, and just about every cast covered your flies in green weed, which was a pain to take off the flies. I think this for sure slowed down the fishing.
I was fishing with three friends, one being Matt Traynor, a fly-fishing guide licensed in Arizona, a true expert who has fished the San Juan numerous occasions and is very knowledgeable. Trust me, he has the patience of Job! as we were continually harassing him for which fly now!!!!
He brought along his brand-new drift boat, also Dave Geruais, who brought his boat. Dave and I fished together, Matt, along with his friend Steve fished in their boat. Both drift boats are Willie boats, great boats very shallow draft with excellent stability. As time was moving along, we decided to take off and drift the river so that Dave could get some firsthand experience rowing down and through some small rapids. Also, he was getting to know and try not to hit the rocks that jutted out in just the right place to ding your boat. There was not much time for fishing as we had to get down to the take out spot before dark. We did cast here and there, but before we knew it, it was dark, and we still had a ways to go.
Now the fun started, Dave asked me to give him directions as he was rowing with his back to the downside of the river. Took a while for us to understand my right was his left, etc. understanding I had never been on this river, it was now pitch dark. As I peered into the gloom trying to figure where the river went, I said to him I think this river goes to the right; he glanced over his shoulder and said no, it goes left, but we must keep right. What???? Are you sure? Then down in the gloom, a bright light turned on with a voice saying follow the light. Is that Matt? Or a pirate luring us to our doom! As they say, follow the yellow brick road in our case, the light.
If you were above the river around eight-thirty that night, you probably thought there was a drug bust going on. Lights were turning on and off shouted instructions that got lost in the night. Me to Dave watch that rock coming up on the right, Dave to me your right or my right??? Never mind, we just hit it, try not to fall out! Dave had a headlight I had a headlight the guys had headlights, and we still hit a few rocks, but we missed more than we hit so all good. Eventually, we made the landing. The Eagle has landed pitch black, is that the ramp??
Loaded up the boats and then had dinner around ten-thirty that night, off to bed.
Up at five am, looking forward to the whole day on the water, we were the first boats on Texas hole as it was just getting light, but not the first people on the river. There were two guys waist-deep in the headwaters that feed the Texas hole, they stayed there all day and killed it. The rumor was they were Russian. They must have been as they had ice running through their veins because that water is cold, and they were there for at least eight hours. They must have caught well over fifty fish between them that day. It seemed to me they were high sticking indicators in very fast-moving water and hitting the edges as the water flowed into the deeper pool. Very impressive, as we were on the other side of them in deeper water.
Matt and Steve caught some fish along with Dave, and I did not. The wind was picking up and gusting pretty strong along with the weeds making it a little difficult. After about four hours, we decided to head downstream; we drifted through the Texas hole and past the first rapid. At this point, we tied up the boats on either side of the rapids. We got out and waded alongside the deeper water. I hooked a nice rainbow that jumped out of the water, gave me the finger and spat my fly out!
The wind was now howling with white caps coming back up the river towards us; Matt was looking worried. There was still about five miles to row down, but the wind was now almost gale force; it would be next to impossible to row down. We huddled up, and all decide that the best we could do would be to walk the boats back up the rapids alongside the banks and eventually get to the deeper water and row back up to Texas hole where we could get the boats out.
The forecast turned out to be twenty-seven mile per hour winds with gusts up to who knew!!! Whitecaps galore!!!
Now Dave started rowing with Matt in his boat just behind us. We were all rowing against the down current that was strong. Having done a lot of ocean sail racing, I knew the wind was now our friend. I stood up on our bow, opened my jacked, and spread my arms like a spinnaker sail, and the race was on!!! We took off; Matt was looking on in his top of the line brand new Willies boat that had every gadget known to man on it. Except for a sail, who knew! We won the sailing regatta that day on the San Juan. Unfortunately for us, there was no cup this time at the end of the race!!!
So now what to do? There was still plenty of time so back to the hole, and yes, those Russians were still there, catching machines. In fact, on closer inspection, I think they were some sort of new Soviet fishing inventions, some kind of robotics being tested. Fish on, Fish On, Fish Bloody On!!!!! Give it a rest go home mate!!! Never did find out what flies they were using; I think they were also robotic flies that chased the trout down!! Honest, that makes a lot of sense!!!
We struggled on, Matt did better and so did Steve, Dave caught a couple and also lost a huge brown; Dave to me fish on, Dave it’s really big – get the net!! I jumped up the fish came over to my side of the boat, all golden brown and huge, I started to reach down with the net, and the fish just rolled over and dove deep, snap gone!!! A Beast for sure.
We all fished on; at this point, I was getting desperate! I had tried all kinds of flies, and yes, I know, you have to use tiny flies on the San Juan. I was using flies at this point that were so small I could hardly see to put them on my 6 x tippets. I was using cheater glasses 2.75 and magnifiers over those that were four times magnification!!!! So small we were!!! Still no fish, for the hell of it, I put on a green weenie and bang my first and only rainbow of the day!!!! It was now around five-thirty, and we were all so windblown that we all decided to head in. Loaded the boats and off for food and a couple of beers!!!
At the restaurant, we ordered our food, and I asked what beers do you have? Sorry, it is Sunday, and we do not sell alcohol! Now to a Welshman that is fighting words, no beer!!! Seriously!!! Yep!! Well, so be it! Soda water is not so bad!
Matt saved the day; these Arizonan guides are nothing but resourceful!! To be clear, Matt was not guiding us in Mexico; it was his time off, and by the look on his face when he saw me casting, I could tell he was truly happy he was not guiding me!!!
Matt said, let’s get some ice cream at the shop. Great idea, as we entered, I saw a woman buying beers over the counter, What? I asked the guy behind the counter; we can buy beer here on a Sunday??? Yep, of course, so ice cream and beer it was!!! Well, I passed on the ice cream! A few beers later, a hot shower, and I was gonzo asleep in ten nanoseconds!!!
The next morning, we were the first people on the water. Matt was staying another day, so he launched his boat while Dave and I waded the top of the fast-moving water into Texas hole. Matt and Steve did well in their boat, moving around the hole. There were plenty of boats on Texas hole with a lot of guys wading all along the river; it was pretty busy.
Dave and I both caught a couple of nice fish with the highlight for me one nice brown, not huge, but fat and heavy that took me a while to bring to the net. At around ten, we bagged it and packed up for home.
Matt sent me an update on their fishing on Monday after we left. They fished Texas hole, catching four or five fish then drifted down to the take out point, catching a few more. It was windy but not as strong as on Sunday. On Tuesday they hit Texas hole in the morning fishing the top end plus drifting around, in the faster water at the head of Texas hole. They did catch four or five fish with a few more added before they left around ten thirty.
Matt did find out when he talked to a local guide that the lake above that feeds the San Juan was just starting to turn over, so that would account for the extra weeds and slight color to the water. General consensus is that after about another week or so the river will return to normal and will be excellent fishing again.
Till the next time, may there be no wind and no weeds!!!!