The San Juan River
Below Navajo Dam, the San Juan River is one of the famous Western Tailwaters for a distance of about 20 miles. It is a favorite because of the size and proliferation of the fish population, and its warmer climate which affords great fishing all year round.
When the rivers are frozen and/or closed in the Northern States, the great tailwaters such as the Frying Pan, the San Juan and the Taylor are favored destinations.
The top section of the tailwater below the Navajo Dam is is the principal destination of both wade and float fishermen for about 5 miles. Above the Texas hole it is walk in wade fishing. Generally cars are parked on the side of the road and a lengthy walk can be taken to get down to the flats. Alternatively one can walk up from the Texas Hole parking.
The Cable hole
The Cable hole refers to the area closest to the dam which requires some walking and wading to get into it.
Looking down toward the cable hole walk in access.
It tends to get crowded on the first few miles of the tailwater.
The Texas hole.
The Texas hole access is where most boats put in to float. In addition, many wade fishermen will access the river at that point as there is good parking.
From there it is possible to cross over just above the area and wade to the other side of the river if the water flow is low enough. Alternatively one can walk downstream along the bank accessing great wading fishing in the riffles and below.
Putting in a boat at the Texas Hole.
From a floating viewpoint, the river is very flat for a distance from the put in therefore many choose to just float down to the first section of riffles and then row back up doing circles all day. At the end they take out where they put in.
Frankly it is a little dull just sitting in the seams drifting slowly down watching a thingamabobber waiting for it to move and then after a time, rowing back up stream and repeating the process - all day. But many choose to fish that way hoping for an unsuspecting lunker lurking below.
There is often the opportunity to try dry flies drifting down, and seeing a big fish come up and take a dry can be the highlight of the day. So if the conditions suit, consider taking along a dry fly rod and fish the edges if there is a hatch and the fish are feeding.
After leaving the top section of the river and passing though the first lot of riffles, one is committed to float down to one of the takeouts. This requires a shuttle. The further down stream one floats, the less traffic one encounters.
There are also many walk in access points along the river which will permit excellent wading access.
Lower down the San Juan gets less traffic.
The floating is very leisurely with minimal challenging water.
Vegetation and water conditions. The riparian vegetaion is mostly willows which provide excellent cover for terrestrials and caddis in the hotter times of the year. Being a bottom release tailwater, the water temperature is cold so despite the ambient temperatures being hot, it will get cold for those wading for long periods of time, so dress with several warm layers to ensure maximum comfort.
The river is relatively flat with the flows varying from around 300cfs to over 5000cfs over the course of a year. Generally the flows will be between 500 - 1000cfs which is ideal for fishing. The highest flows come when the spring runoff needs to be controlled by releases from the reservoir. In the late autumn the early spring the reservoir will turn over adding a little color for some period to the water.
The river can be quite deep in sections, so take care wading.
Fish population. The fish population is predominantly large rainbows with occasional brown trout. Fish average in size between 15 and 17 inches. The biomass supports a prolific growth rate with estimates of 7 - 9 inches a year.
Food Source. The predominant biomass is midges although it does have great BWO hatches for much of the spring and autumn. Generally at this time the better fishing will be midges in the morning and mayflies in the afternoon. It can get windy because it is relatively wide open so a good hatch will get blown off the water forcing one to resort to nymphing.
In addition to midges and BWO's, fish will take the san juan worms fished deep. But note that being feeders of opportunity, the trout will even take large stone fly patterns such as Pat's rubber legs if they are well presented.
In summer, when it is hot and windy, terrestrials patterns will work as well, so be prepared to try hoppers.
Most fishermen tend to nymph although the dry fly fishing is excellent when a hatch is coming off.
There is also excellent streamer fishing.
Equipment. Generally 5# rods and up because of the strength of the average fish. In addition because it is a bigger water one may prefer the ability to cast 40’ or more rather than high sticking at one’s feet if wading. Many fishermen floating who choose to nymph don’t need to cast far if they are dredging the bottom.
Flies: For those nymphing, midge larva and small baetis nymphs as well as the aptly named “san juan worm”. More specifically, Red and black larva #18 - #24, mircle nymph #18 – #22, bhmidge fire red #20-#24, halo midge larva, #20 - #24 red brassie. Gray and black rs2’s #18 - #24, FPA Sparkle baetis emerger #18 - #22.
For those fishing dries, midge emergers and dries such as the Griffiths Gnat or the FPA special emerger. The midges tend to cluster so larger cluster patterns will work well. For BWO's the extended body bwo #18 - #22, parachute adams #16 - #24 gray, the Adams and the Female adams #18 - #24.
Fishing techniques: The San Juan, being a tailwater is generally a midge and BWO fishery. So there will be opportunity for great dry fly fishing if the conditions suit.
However, if the dry fly activity is minimal nymph with midge larva, baetis nymphs, san juan worms, egg patterns in the spawn, and even larger nymphs and streamers.
When nymphing, fish deep down and when the fish show signs of moving up the water column, follow them up.
The Cable hole
The fishing can be excellent up in this area and generally some rising fish can be found somewhere in this relatively vast space in some of the side channels. It is a large flat area which can be carefully waded in most areas depending on the water level.
One can either nymph the central channel or look form some rising fish along the edges. In this area the flies will generally be midges and BWOs. One can use small midge dries, or larger midge cluster patterns if one notices the midges balling up on the surface. Alternatively use emergers and larva patterns.
The Texas hole.
Many of the floating fishermen drift the first section nymphing down the seams. It is an efficient way of fishing particularly if the wind is prone to pick up. But it is not very pretty and generally uninteresting. The boats will float down a mile or so and then row back to begin the drift again. It can be a zoo. It seems strange that despite BWO's coming off many fishermen will just continue to nymph down the middle.
The dry fly fishing can be excellent. A dry fly fishermen will enjoy excellent fishing with either midges or BWO's if they are coming off. Dry fly fishing can be done from the boat or while wading.
After leaving the top section of the river on will use midges and BWO's but in addition one can used streamers and in summer terrestrials and caddis.
The river offers great fishing for the first 20 miles as it meanders through desert country. The first 5 miles is the most accessible. After that it is a matter of getting permission and planning put ins and take outs.
The San Juan is a very easy 40 minute drive from the shop.
If you want to book a trip check out our rates. Give us a call. We can arrange for either a float trip or a wade.