Uneducated fish on the San Juan River

Photo Credit: Don Oliver | Special to the Drum

I had another column outlined and ready to write when I received “The Email.” A friend emailed me and told me a friend of his had emailed him to say, “17,000 uneducated trout had been released into the quality waters of the San Juan River.” I had to see for myself, hence different column today. So, on a Saturday (if you can believe that) a friend and I headed to the San Juan. We found two things. There was no crowd, more on that later, and there were, in fact, lots of uneducated trout. An uneducated trout is one that is small, around than 12 inches, and will eat anything.

We parked at the Muñoz parking area, sat in the truck until the temperature reached my minimum to boot and suit (30 degrees), then headed to the river with freshly lit cigars to help keep our hands and lips warm. We waded into the main channel, saw one other fisherman, and wondered what was going on. There was no wind, no clouds, and the river was as smooth as glass. It was still cold but warming up. My friend tied on a Woolly Bugger, and I tied on a dry fly. Nothing was rising, but I had to try. It didn’t take long for me to switch to my favorite creation, a green Woolly Bugger that resembles wilted lettuce. I have good success with this fly.

Even though it was still cold, about 40 degrees, we begin to catch some of these uneducated youngsters. They hit the bugger more often when the fly drifted past me and headed downstream, with a little slack in the line. If they missed that drift they would eat it as I slowly stripped the fly back. My friend, and fellow fisherman, was having the same experience. I did catch one large fish that sipped the fly like a catfish would. I think this educated fish knew it was too cold to expend lots of energy. The youngsters just whacked it.

After fishing in this area for a couple of hours, my friend and I decided to head to the back channel where we had first entered the river. On the way there I visited with the one other fly fisherman we had seen. He told me he had been using a leech, a red annelid, and an egg pattern. He went on to say it didn’t seem to matter, the youngsters would eat anything. As my friend and I were catching fish on green Woolly Buggers, his theory seemed to be correct.

We worked our way upstream, in the back channel, to some big rocks and ripples. Again, casting to a big rock, then a downstream drift with slack in the line, and a slow strip back to me, produced lots of fish. At one point it reminded me of fishing for perch holding over tree stumps. There were just lots fish.

As I mentioned earlier, even though the weather was beautiful, and there were lots of fish, there just weren’t many people. That’s very unusual for the San Juan, especially on a Saturday. So, as I was cogitating this, I began to read the big orange signs in the river, and later in the parking lot. It turns out the river downstream from Muñoz to Crusher Hole is closed to boat traffic until March 1, 2018. Wadding is still allowed from Muñoz to Simon Canyon. This area is undergoing rehabilitation work similar to the area above the Kiddie Pool done several years ago.

If the people doing the rehab work do as good a job on this section of river as they did around and above the Kiddie Pool, we are going to have some great fly fishing. So, do the construction crews a favor. Do what the signs say, stay off the water where they have asked you to. Then, unlike Lake Nighthorse, this part of the river will be opened in a timely manner.


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