Fly-fishing Voices

Longtime friend

Local fly fishing guide and columnist, Don Oliver, lights a cigar in anticipation of the morning ahead, fishing for trout along Lime Creek — one of his favorite haunts.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Jeremy Wade Shockley

Fly fishing, similar to any relationship, can produce a good and longtime friend. It can be a friendship with another individual, or friends with a river. In this case, it is friends with a river. I am sure some of you are thinking Don has lost it. No one can be friends with an object; something that cannot talk with you or give you input. I say, “oh contraire.” I have had great friendships with shotguns and fly rods, some long-term. And, in their own special way, they can and do, talk to me. This came to mind as my fly fishing friend, John, and I were headed to the San Juan River for a day of fly fishing. 

As we drove to the river it occurred to me that I have known, and been friends with, the San Juan River for thirty years. Think about that. How many friends have you had for thirty years? The friendship didn’t occur overnight. And, similar to all good friendships, it has had its ups and downs. There were numerous outings that had me swearing I would never go the San Juan again. These were caused by too many people, or fish that would only take nymphs. But like any good relationship, the good times far outweighed the rocky times. 

In the thirty years of knowing the river, I have seen many changes to it. Thirty years ago the bathroom facilities were abominable. When the river was brought up to flood stages it seemed everything flooded, including the parking lots. This made fly fishing very difficult. 

Those two important areas have been greatly improved. 

As we drove to and then stood in the river, I remembered some of the times that have made the relationship special. Where else could someone watch their daughter have a bird take her fly, midair, and try to fly away? Or shake your head in frustration as you watch the fiberglass hatch crowd Texas Hole. Only to have that followed with a day where your truck is the only one in the parking lot, and there is no one else in the Kiddie Hole. 

The San Juan can also frustrate you, as any friendship can. There have been, and will continue to be, days when no matter what fly you cast none of the hundreds of trout swimming at your feet show any interest. Those days are off-set when the ants are falling in the river and the trout will eat anything that remotely looks like an ant. 

Since there can be large numbers of people fly fishing at any one time, tempers can flare. I have to say, this river friend seems to smooth over irritations better than any crowded river I have fished. In fact, the friendly bantering between strangers, and the willingness of others to help someone struggling with the day, brings warm and fuzzy feelings to this friendship. There can even be harsh words amongst those fly fishing, but not often. 

For those just now making friends with the San Juan River, be aware there is much more river than just the quality waters. In fact, depending on where you enter the river, coming out closer to Aztec than Navajo Dam is a better option. 

So, if you are just now getting to know the San Juan River, give it lots of time to become your friend. It is a good investment of time. For those, like me, that have known and been friends with the San Juan for a long time, do not take your friendship for granted. Your friendship needs to be continually renewed and worked on. When you take the time and energy to invest in the above, you will be rewarded with a special relationship. I have enjoyed my thirty years of friendship and look toward to many more years. 

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