San Juan River Tailwater Fly Fishing

Intro

The San Juan River, located in Northwestern New Mexico, is one of the most famous tail-water trout fisheries in the world. Gushing out of Navajo Dam, the San Juan’s most productive trout stretches are from the dam downriver 3 plus miles to the NM Highway 173 Bridge.

san juan dam

The San Juan averages approximately 140 feet in width. Trout thrive further downriver; However, public land access is very limited, fishing via drift boat is the best way to access the lower stretches.

The river flows through a broad sandstone canyon, the floor and riverbanks are scattered with willows and cottonwoods. Navajo Dam is a bottom-releasing dam; the outflow is approximately 200 feet below the surface of Navajo Lake.

The San Juan River is a year-round fishery. Prime times are February to April, mid-June to July, and mid-September to mid-November. December and January are least crowded.

River Temps

The San Juan maintains a constant year round water temperature between 42-46 degrees, making this a fabulous winter fishery. The constant temperature provides a year round insect population and growing season for the rainbow fingerlings stocked throughout the year. New Mexico Game and Fish estimates the fingerlings grow 4-6 inches per year. Flows on the San Juan are not prone to sudden fluctuations. May and June usually have the highest flows often-reaching 5,000 cfs. By late summer flows often drop to 600 cfs with winter flows as low as 250 cfs.

The Fish

Rainbows consistently in 15-20 inch range are stacked throughout the upper 3 plus miles that are designated as Special Trout Waters.
rainbow trout
Trout are everywhere on this river and they don’t spook easily perhaps so use to the thousands of anglers that fish here each year. The heaviest populations are often found in the long deep runs below fast riffles found in Texas Hole. The deep holes in the Upper and Lower Flats, the many channels, sloughs, large eddies and low velocity lenses all hold healthy populations of rainbows.

Catching Brown Trout on the San Juan

These are the potential trophies that await you in the riffles, runs, and pools of the San Juan River. In fact, the San Juan is best known for its large rainbows and cutbows that cruise the upper stretches of the river However, if you want to catch some spectacular brown trout, the further down the river you go, the more prevalent they become. The water temperature slowly rises from a chilly 40 degrees near Navajo Dam to levels better suited for browns by the time you reach the end of the quality water. Sometimes the browns will move further up into the quality waters as a result of any drought conditions that may have forced themout of the extreme lower river section where water levels and temperatures became unsatisfactory.

Browns are no longer stocked on the San Juan and have been naturally reproducing in the river for many years now. The stretch between the Cottonwood Campground and the Hammond Diversion nearly 11 miles downriver is home to numerous wild brown trout and the quality water restrictions are no longer imposed. From the end of the quality waters to the Gobernador Wash just below the Rainbow Lodge there are several public access options that allow the angler to fish for browns. However, the remainder of the lower river between Gobernador Wash and the Hammond Diversion flows through privately owned land and can only be accessed via special permit or via boat (with no stopping or anchoring allowed). The privately accessed section of the river is best fished with a guide who knows the river well as it can be a very temperamental section of the river and navigation of the river without trespassing can be very difficult. For the wading angler, there are public access options at Cottonwood Campground, Pump House Run, and the Aztec Bridge. There are several nice riffles below the bridge to Aztec (access from south side) and then the water converges into a long deep channel for the remaining section to the wash (access from across bridge and down in the Navajo Dam residential area). There is no doubt that many large browns cruise this run. Bait fishing is allowed here. One nice advantage to fishing the lower river is that if you are willing to walk more than 100 feet from any of the popular access points the crowds dwindle significantly.

The insect population in the lower San Juan also changes with the increased water temperature and resulting habitat. The angler hoping to catch a nice brown trout will change tactics accordingly. For fly fishers, expect to see mostly caddis (June – August) and baetis (April – October) hatches, a few early summer stone flies, and some midges. Terrestrials come into play here more than in the quality waters and San Juan Worms can be very productive at times. Bait fish are also more prevalent in the slow, deep runs. Patterns like the Wooly Bugger, Muddler Minnow, and Sculpins fished deep and slow with an occasional twitch can bring some big browns to the net. Heavier tippets (3X and 4X) and more weight are the norm with the big flies, but don’t be surprised to catch a 19″ brown rising to an afternoon PMD hatch or an evening caddis hatch. For bait fishers it is hard to beat an earthworm or grasshopper. Spin fishers also have very good luck on Kastmasters, small Rapalas, and marabou or rabit hair jigs.

The Hatches

Hatches By the Day

Daily hatches occur on the San Juan River however, the species are dependent on the time of year. Hatches are normally midday usually between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. Even though these midge and/or mayfly hatches can be enormous at times, the fish prefer to feed on the nymph rather than the dry, unless conditions are perfect. The best days to fish midges and Baetis on the surface are the windless and overcast ones. Add a little drizzle and things could be perfect. For the PMD’s, a nice bright sunshiny day with a tiny breeze is the best.

Fishing Between Hatches

Fishing the San Juan can be very challenging at times. There are definitely some slow periods between hatches when fishing is relatively slow. It is hard to predict when the slow period will hit and how long it will last, and it can be very frustrating. You can look at these slow periods either as an opportunity to eat, sleep, or otherwise rest, or you can look at it as a challenge. Since eating and sleeping is obviously secondary to fishing the San Juan, here is what I do when I hit a slow period.

  1. Change to a bigger and/or brighter fly. Often, the inactivity is mostly due to the fact the fish are simply not actively feeding so go to an attractor pattern. Forget the size 24 midge pupae and go with a big leech or worm.
  2. Fish slower and deeper. When the fish are not actively feeding they will move out of the riffles and runs and into holding spots. It is critical to get the fly down to the bottom and in front of the fish.
  3. Be patient. You will not catch as many fish, but if you are patient and persistent, in many cases, you will out fish those around you.
  4. Be observant. Watch for feeding activity to reoccur and be prepared to change back to the small stuff. Sometimes hatches don’t last long.

I like to tie on a big bunny leech pattern and San Juan worm combo and dredge the slower and deeper pools. In fact, one of my favorite slow period tactics is to strip leeches through the almost stagnant water where you can see fish holding but not necessarily feeding. You can often find large concentrations of big fish in slack water during slow periods.

Seasonal Hatches

Here is a brief discussion of the seasonal hatches that occur on the San Juan, some day I’ll get around to a more detailed presentation of the aquatic life on the San Juan:

Midges

All year round, but often are especially dense in mid to late Summer. Usually 2 significant hatches per day. One mid morning and one late afternoon. Occasionally with variations in the weather the morning hatch will shift to the afternoon. Midges hatch throughout the river, but the heaviest activity is usually closer to the dam where the water is cooler. Fly sizes 20-28.

Baetis

All year round, but usually scarce in the winter. Best hatches are in the Spring and late Fall with pretty good action throughout the Summer as well. The Spring Blue Winged Olive hatch is my favorite. Hatches can occur from the dam on down, but the best action is on the lower half of the quality waters where the water is warmer. Fly sizes 18-24 dry and 16-24 nymph/emerger

Caddis

Spring and early Summer is usually the only time to get some good Caddis action in. The lower quality water and on down into the regular water and lower river is the best bet. Last year in early July we fished the lower quality section and encountered a huge late afternoon hatch with at least 3 different types and sizes of Caddis hatching. The fish were going nuts! One caddis species that hatches on the lower river can be up to 1.5 inches long (too bad it doesn’t last longer)! Fly sizes 12-20.

Stonefly

Spring is the time for the stonefly hatches. Again, the lower on the river you go, the better and the bigger. The best hatches will occur below the quality section. If you catch the hatch at the right time, the fishing is phenomenal. But the high water conditions of early spring may hinder fishing this hatch. Fly sizes 8-14.

Terrestrials

An annual ant fall occurs each Spring, but is very short lived. The fishing is great if you catch it right. The hoppers and beetles come out all summer. The hoppers seem to work better the lower on the river you get. Fish the grassy banks, but don’t neglect an occasional cast to the middle of the river and try a little twitching action from time to time. Watching the violent takes is great! Fly sizes – 10-14.

 

The Flies

Matching the Action to the Hatch

The action or movement that your fly makes when floating through the water has everything to do with whether a particular fish will take the fly. The fly should imitate the motion of the real insects that are hatching for the best success. Water depth, water speed, leader size, line control, strike indicators, and the amount of weight you use will all affect the action of your fly. Here are a few tips on how to fish certain hatches and situations on the San Juan based upon the fly you are using:

A baetis emerger like the Pale Morning Dun will wiggle quite a bit as it swims through the water periodically pausing on its way to the surface for emergence. You must learn to imitate this action through line control. Start with an upstream cast and make mends as necessary to get the fly to the bottom and on a good drag free dead drift. Towards the end of the float, just before you normally would pick up a re-cast give a slight twitch to the fly and slowly lift the rod tip to cause the fly to raise to the surface. Be prepared, you could get a strike at any time. This technique is especially effective during a hatch and often works well at the tailout of a riffle or run where the water goes from deep to shallow rather suddenly.

For leech patterns it is important to get the fly to the bottom as quickly as possible. A few bumps on the bottom are good indication that you can now begin twitching and in many cases stripping the fly in. Experiment with the rate of twitching and retrieval and you will soon find what works best. Sometimes very slow is the key. Other times, faster is better. Regardless, hang on, because I can’t even count how many times I’ve had fish break the fly off on the strike even using 3X! Trout are suckers for a fat leech pattern dancing in their general vicinity. This technique is especially effective during the times when the sun is off the water (early, late, and overcast days) and usually works better in the slower sections of water.

As for midge patterns, I’ve had the best luck with a simple dead drift technique. Often, any movement will ensure that the trout will refuse the offering. The exception is dry fly midging, where an occasional slight twitch can draw a strike and sometimes the lifting technique described for the baetis can work for midge pupa too (but much slower lift).

The worm, scuds, larva, and annelid patterns are again best fished by getting them immediately to the bottom and then dead drifted for as long as possible.

The terrestrials and Caddis adults are great candidates for twitching since the real insects actually exhibit quite a bit of movement on top of the water. Try skating a caddis over the surface during a good caddis hatch. Sometimes you need to experiment with how fast to twitch or skate to get the fish to strike. Watch the naturals and try to duplicate the action.

General Approach to Fly Selection and Rigging

The most productive type of fly fishing on the San Juan is nymphing.

During non-hatch periods and early in the mornings, try using worms, leeches, midge larva, and baetis nymphs dead drifted and fished with enough weight to get the flies to the bottom until there is an obvious hatch and feeding fish (you’ll notice the fish change from holding right near the bottom to hovering mid depth or just below the surface).

As the fish rise in the water column to feed, lighten up on your weight and move the indicator down closer to the flies. Watch for surface activity which could mean dry fly fishing but be careful, many are fooled into tying on a dry fly at the first sign of a rise. However, San Juan fish are notorious for feeding just below or in the surface film (noted by only seeing the fins break the water and not the head).

Observe the bugs that are hatching and try to determine what stage of the insect they are feeding on (larva, pupa, emerger, or adult). Match your fly selection accordingly.

With a two fly rig you can cover two of the stages at once to determine what the fish are doing. Sometimes you might even have to take the weight off and sight cast to rising fish with your emerger patterns. You will often have to switch to a smaller tippet 6X-7X to fool these selective fish.

A good combination during a baetis hatch is a Gray RS-2 and Chocolate Emerger (size 20-22). If it is a midge hatch, think very small (size 24-26) and try to match to colors of the natural pupa (typically olive, brown, or black). If there is not real hatch, stick with the other constantly available food sources in the river (worms/annelids, leeches, scuds, midge larva, etc.).

Sub-surface patterns

All year

  • Midge Pupa (Black Brown, and Olive) #20-28
  • Midge Larva (Cream or Olive) #18-24
  • Brassie (Copper and Red) #18-24
  • Disco Midge #18-24
  • WD 40 (Brown and Gray) #18-24
  • Pheasant Tail #16-20
  • Analids (Red, Orange, and Pink) #16-22

Winter and Spring

  • San Juan Worm (Red, Orange, and Tan) #12-14
  • Wooley Bugger (Black, Brown, and Olive) #6-10
  • Rabbit Leech (Black, Brown, and Olive) #6-10

Surface Patterns

  • Midge Dry (Black, Gray, and Olive) #20-28
  • Griffith Gnat (Midge clump) #16-24
  • CDC Midge Adult (Black and Gray) #20-28
  • Comparadun (BWO) #18-24
  • Sparkle Dun (BWO) #18-24
  • CDC Transitional Dun (BWO) #18-24
  • Parachute Adams #16-24

June-July

  • Elk Hair Caddis (Brown and Olive) #14-18

July-Sept

  • PMD Nymph #16-18
  • Comparadun (PMD) #16-18
  • Sparkle Dun (PMD) #16-18
  • CDC Transitional Dun (PMD) #16-18
  • Hopper #8-12

The Midges

The one constant food source for the rainbows abound throughout the river and anglers should have a box dedicated to midges with every possible pattern and size representing the various life-stages.
Sparkle Red:
sparkle red midge
Sparkle OJ:
sparkle oj midge
Sparkle Worm:
sparkleworm midge
Flash Midge:
flash midge
Anglers should also be aware of other foods: mayflies, caddisflies and annelids. Blue Winged Olives (Baetis) hatch twice a year, in the spring and then again in the late fall. The BWO hatch provides wonderful dry fly fishing especially on cloudy days. The trout in the Juan are beyond picky they define selectivity. Proper presentation is a must. These fish have seen just about every fly invented.

San Juan Style Nymph Rig

Increase your chances of hooking up by fishing with two flies instead of one:

  1. Tie onto your fly line a 9 foot tapered leader ending in 5X.
  2. Attach another 12 inches of 5X to the leader with a double surgeon’s knot or your favorite leader-to-tippet knot.
  3. Attach the first fly (I like to use the San Juan Worm or another attractor type pattern) to the end of the 5X.
  4. Tie an 18 inch section of 5X or 6X to the bend or eye of the first fly (I prefer tying to the bend of the first fly with a simple clinch or improved clinch knot.
  5. Now pick your favorite fly for the conditions you will be fishing in and attach it to the end.
  6. Attach any weight needed 12 inches above the top fly and above the knot you created when you tied the first piece of 5X on (this prevents the weight from slipping).
  7. Smash the barbs down on both flies.
  8. Attach your indicator about 1.5 times the depth of the water you will be fishing and go fish!

Strike Indicator Selection, Placement and Usage

Many fisherman place little emphasis on strike indicators. However, the placement, size, color, and type are all extremely important factors. I prefer the polypropylene yarn (Macramé yarn from craft store) type of indicator greased up real well with floatant (usually floats most of the day with Gink floatant worked into it). I feel the poly yarn indicator is the easiest to see and are the best for detecting the often very slight takes of the San Juan trout.

Of course, brighter yarn is easier to see, but sometimes the fish shy away from it. Bright yarn is good under murky water conditions or when fishing fast/heavy water, but I most often prefer using white or black as these two colors don’t seem to spook fish as easily. I typically mix white and black and try and put the black piece towards the bottom. Using these two colors helps me see the indicator under all conditions of glare and ambient light.

You also may want to use a much smaller indicator when fishing slack water situations and spooky trout. The yarn indicator should be cut to the desired length and teased out with a brush to fluff up before adding floatant (I use the velcro on my chest pack to fluff the yarn).

I use a simple slip knot to secure the indicator on my leader. Using a slip knot allows fast and easy repositioning of the indicator (which is a must for the serious fly fisherman). I usually place the indicator about 1.5 times the depth of the water for a typical nymphing situation. There are even times when I use the indicator suspend the flies at a certain depth to ensure proper presentation to the fish.

Having watched literally hundreds of fish over the years spit out my fly without ever seeing the indicator move, I can say without a doubt that indicator placement is critical to your success.

  • Too much slack line between the fish and the indicator and you will rarely see your takes unless the fish hooks itself.
  • Too little line between the fish and your indicator can lead to too much drag or unnatural movements.

Experimenting is fun though! Just as critical is you ability to detect a strike indication.

San Juan fish are very good a taking your fly and spitting it out very quickly so watch for even the slightest twitch or hesitation. I watch my indicator very carefully and strike at practically any pause, twitch, or even a strange feeling.

Dry Fly Fishing on the San Juan

The San Juan is primarily known as a nymphing river but under certain conditions the dry fly activity can be awesome. Summer is one of those times. Starting in July, the river comes alive with various significant insect hatches. I’m not talking size 24 midge clusters either. The lower section of the river has been bubbling with Caddis, Baetis, and even Stonefly hatches! For those of you who cannot bear to dredge a nymph along the depths of the many channels, now is your chance.

Here are some hints to make your San Juan dry fly fishing a success:

  1. Baetis and Caddis hatches are the primary hatches you should look for and they occur most heavily on the lower quality waters and on downstream past the bridge to Aztec.
  2. The Caddis and Baetis sizes can sometimes be quite large compared to your normal San Juan dry selections so be prepared.
  3. Often, the best presentation for the pick San Juan risers is to approach the fish from upstream and cast well out and above the rising fish and then pull the fly into the feeding lane of the fish so that the fish sees the fly first!
  4. Don’t be fooled by the ever-present boils that are actually fish feeding on emergers and not the adult stage of the insect. Try tying an emerger pattern to the bend of the dry in this situation.
  5. Also be careful to select a pattern and color that closely represents the natural. Obvious, you say, but many forget that the dark gray baetis that you see floating by may be a cream or olive color from the vantage point of the fish.
  6. Above all, replicate the action of the natural. Most of the time this will require a good, drag-free float. Other times, a slight twitch might draw a strike.

Playing and Landing a San Juan Fish

If I had a dollar for every fish I’ve lost on the San Juan, I’d retire and move to the river! Playing and landing these monsters can be challenging to say the least.

Here is what I’ve learned over the years:

First, a landing net is critical. I prefer one with a very wide mouth and a deep net. I’ve seen too many 25″ fish flop out of the standard small stream nets.

I also prefer a rubber net basket to versus all the other types out there. Yes, a rubber net is heavier to lug around, but I believe it hurts the fish less and hooks rarely get all tangled up in it.

So now that you have the right net, you must learn how to get the fish close enough to use it. This is the hard part. Small tippets and hooks sizes in the 20’s make things tough, but these tips will minimize the chance of losing a fish.

  1. Always keep tension on the line through the use of the rod. Even a little slack for a second is enough for the fish to work the fly loose. Especially those educated “head shakers” of the San Juan.
  2. Hold the rod tip at a 90 degree angle to the pull of the fish to keep tension on the rod. Never let the rod lay flat in the direction of pull. This puts all the tension on the tippet and almost always results in a break off.
  3. Let the fish run when it begins to fight hard. This is why you have backing. Of course, “Hard” is a relative term that you will learn through experience.
  4. If at all possible, keep the fish out of the faster/deeper current. This is where bubba likes to take all of his victims.
  5. Use side pressure to force a fish in a particular direction.
  6. Land the fish in medium depth water. San Juan fish go nuts when forced into shallow water.
  7. When you get the fish close enough to land, in one quick and smooth motion, raise the rod high in the air with the tip up and quickly swipe the fish up with the landing net as it nears the surface.

Don’t over play a fish. It can kill it. In general, if a fish comes to the surface it is ready to be landed.

Now that it is landed, please quickly remove the barbless hook. Try not to handle the fish or keep it out of the water if possible. If you must have a picture for a trophy fish, wet your hands first and don’t even think about keeping the fish out of the water longer than you could hold your own breath!

Once the hook is removed, hold the fish in the current and let it swim off under its own power. If the fish does not swim off, gently move the fish forward and backward to revive it. It will swim off when it is revived.

What Gear to Use

Proper gear is essential here. Rods should be 9 foot 4-6 weights to help with mending and heaving lots of weight. 9-12 foot leaders with 5X-7X tippets are required. Wading the San Juan can be exhilarating; the rocks are rounded and covered with a film of algae. Chest waders with felt soled wading boots are vital.

Seasons on the San Jaun

The San Juan below Navajo is one of the best year round fisheries in the country. With constant 42F water temps the fish continue to feed all year, at an elevation of just under 6000 feet, the climate tends to be less severe than many trout waters.

Most springs see increased flows and somewhat off color water conditions. Even at peak flows of 5000 cfs the river can fish well. With high water conditions floating is always a good option, but wade fishing is still possible in some areas.
Summer and fall tend to be very consistent, with good insect activity and moderate to low flows.Although weather in the winter can be severe at times, it’s amazing how many comfortable days there are for those properly prepared for these conditions.

There is no closed season to the fishing on the San Juan. Below the Quality Water standard NM state regulations apply.

Winter Fishing on the San Juan

Fishing the San Juan in the winter months (Nov-Jan) can provide some extra challenges. So here are a few tips to help make it a little easier.

Clothing

When choosing your attire, be prepared for the coldest of conditions. A good pair of thermals and combined with plenty of clothing layers is a good start. For warm feet try a polypropylene liner sock with one or two pair of wool or wool blend socks on top for insulation.

Cover you head for sure and be ready with a face covering on the worst of days. Good wool or neoprene gloves are a must for the days when ice forms on the rod guides every other cast. And don’t forget a rain jacket for those snowy days or to help cut the wind chill down.

The biggest key to staying comfortable is to make sure you don’t get wet!  There are so many neat new materials out there on the market today. Some for wicking, some for insulation, some for wind blocking. The price tag can be a little shocking on some of these materials, but I’ve found it is well worth it. Since I’ve bought my polypropylene liner socks, wool blend insulator socks, fleece wading pants, breathable waders, polyester underwear, wind proof / water proof jacket, and face mask, there are few storms that can keep me from the river!

Winter Hatches

The baetis hatches are usually insignificant if any hatch at all (except on very warm winter days). The midges still hatch, but the hatches start later in the morning and can be very sporadic throughout the day. Fish begin spawning and their colors are beautiful. Put all this together, and it leads to a new strategy. Worms, eggs, and leeches in the morning and mostly midges for the rest of the day. Another hint is that the San Juan Worms change colors in the winter and a good portion of them are a light tan, light flesh, or off-white color. There is also a very distinct slow period almost every day when the fish won’t seem to hit anything. The time it starts and its duration varies some, but it usually happens for 1-2 hours in mid to late afternoon. See my previous tips on how to handle the slow periods.

A Day on the Water

The tailwater of the San Juan starts below Navajo Lake on the Colorado/New Mexico border. Primarily a rainbow fishery, the first ½-mile below the dam is catch-and-release water.
Below this the regulations allow you to keep one fish over 20 inches, but I’ve never seen anyone kill a trout here.

Fish average 16 inches — no, that is not a misprint — with 20-inchers fairly common. The trout are big and plentiful, and make for an interesting but not impossible challenge.

The weather is cool, sometimes cold at night, but usually sunny and pleasant during the day.

There are two distinctive types of water here and each fishes quite differently. Facing upstream, the main current runs to the left. This is big water, 3 to 8 feet deep, with swift runs over gravel and boulders.

On the right side are a series of braids and side channels seldom more than 2 feet deep. They, like the main channel, are full of fish.

Cable Hole

To access Cable Hole, park at the lot closest to the dam just beside Highway 511. There is a modest parking fee.

A trail leads across marshland and a side channel, then bears to the right to reach the large open area of water known as Cable Hole.

Below a cable hung across the river is a gravel bar emerging from the middle of the river.

To the left of the bar (looking upstream), the main flow forms a swift run. To the right the water forms a slower run emptying into a fairly deep pool.

The waters of both runs merge over a series of shallow gravel bars with modest holes before being forced mostly to the left by a small island.

This complex is full of rainbows and is a very popular place to fish. When on, it can truly be spectacular.

One February afternoon I caught two 25-inch fish on successive casts just above the little island. When off, it can drive you crazy.

You can see large trout moving about feeding, but no fly or presentation you have will tempt them.

To fish the Cable Hole area I use a two-fly nymph rig. Tie two size 26 gray, brown or black midges on 6X tippet about a foot apart.

Place a split shot 6 inches above the top fly and a strike indicator on the leader about 6 feet above the sinker.

Cast the rig upstream and mend a lot to get a natural drift. Your flies should be ticking bottom, bringing up some moss occasionally.

Look for current breaks or spots where the water flows over shallow gravel into somewhat deeper, slower water.

A number of anglers are always working this popular hole, fish are not spooked by them.


What
Getting out on the San Juan River tailwater during the winter months for some amazing fly fishing for big trout.

Where:
The San Juan River tailwaters below Navajo Lake.
There are several distinct fisheries here between the main river and the shallow water channels, all chock-full of healthy ‘bows.

When:
February and March can provide some incredible, although challenging, fishing.

How:
Small flies are the key on this catch-and-release section of river.
There are times where bigger nymphs will work, but mostly you’re talking sizes 20 to 26.
Often you’ll want to fish them in a two-fly set-up.

Who:
For more information and accommodations, contact Abe’s Motel and Fly Shop (505-632-2194) or Rizuto’s (505-632-3893).
One of the best equipped fly shops in the west is Float ‘N Fish (505-632-5385).
They all provide excellent guides.

Texas Hole

To reach Texas Hole, drive downstream from the dam on Highway 511. The first side road to the right leads down to the parking lot.

Texas Hole is the largest, most productive hole on the river. The water runs swiftly through a narrow gap into a huge pool that is 8 feet deep or more.

To the left of the fast water is a huge backwater eddy; to the right (on the parking lot side) is a smaller inlet around an island and a smaller eddy.

This complex set of currents provides several opportunities to fish. On the right side, you can wade and fish the edges of both the main and side channels.

Lower down you can fish the current where the back eddy meets the main current.

Wade carefully across the main channel well above Texas Hole to fish the big eddy.

The main current is too deep to wade but you can use a drift boat or a personal pontoon boat to fish.

To fish Texas Hole, rig your line with a fairly heavy weight, a big strike indicator and at least 8 feet of leader between the weight and the indicator. This will get you down to where the fish are.

In addition to tiny midges, this area supports little red worms, as well as bigger nymphs and worms. The famous San Juan worm fly works well here.

In the morning, guides on all-day drifts put in here.

They row up to the left side of the main current, have their clients cast to the edge of the current and drift downstream, often hooking a fish each drift.

It’s quite a sight to see. As one boat drifts downstream the next guide moves in. At the end of the drift, each guide moves their boat to the left and rows back up to the head of the pool for another drift. Several drifts through this area will usually get their clients some good fish.

By midmorning most of the guides have moved on, but the fish are still feeding. Copy the drift with your pontoon boat. You should catch a lot of fish.

Below Texas Hole

Below Texas Hole is a long flat. It looks deep, and it is in some places, but there are shallow bars at various locations along shore. Behind these bars are deep holes.

Fish will feed where the shallow bar drops off into the deep water.

Use your Texas Hole nymph rig here too.

In the early afternoon there may be a blue-winged olive hatch. A size 20 comparadun often works well.

Below this flat the river divides again, with most of the current flowing to the left along Three Island Run. This area consists of deep runs similar to those below Texas Hole.

Next the water opens into a large flat with fast water running over shallow bars, like you found at Cable Hole.  Fish it with the Cable Hole rig, but try some slightly bigger flies.

The last fast, deep run, known as Lunker Alley, is just below this flat. It’s difficult to wade.  The fish are almost always just a little beyond my casting range. Also, the currents are complex, making it difficult to get a good drift.

Most anglers use flies, but I saw one spinfisherman who was very successful at Cable Hole.  He was casting a weighted jig upstream and allowing it to bump the bottom as it drifted down the run. I’m sure that would work in Texas Hole and the other spots I’ve told you about.

The weather is usually in the 40s and standing in the cold water can quickly bring on a chill, so dress warmly with wool socks, long johns under your waders and a knit cap on your head.

By afternoon the sun will warm you nicely.

San Juan River Maps

san juan river map
San Juan Fishing Map (click to enlarge)
San Juan River, New Mexico Fishing Map
  • 2 Pages - 06/01/2017 (Publication Date) - Map the Xperience (Publisher)
San Juan River Guide
  • Lisa Kearsley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 96 Pages - 04/24/2023 (Publication Date) - Shiva Press (Publisher)
Guide To The San Juan River — Montezuma Creek to Clay Hills Crossing, Utah
  • 34 pages are printed on tough waterproof and tear-resistant synthetic paper
  • Covers the 102 miles from Montezuma Creek, past Bluff and Mexican Hat, to Clay Hills
  • Many new photographs!
  • RiverMaps (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

How To Books

Sale
San Juan River: A Fly-angler's Journal
  • Hardcover Book
  • Twarog, Richard (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 88 Pages - 03/30/2006 (Publication Date) - Frank Amato Pubns (Publisher)
Fly Fishing in Northern New Mexico
  • Martin,Craig (ed) (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 286 Pages - 04/19/2024 (Publication Date) - University of New Mexico Press (Publisher)
Fly Patterns of Northern New Mexico
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Denison, Karen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 05/04/2000 (Publication Date) - University of New Mexico Press (Publisher)

Resources

San Juan River fly patterns
www.ifly4trout.com/flypatterns.htm

San Juan River map
Great map of the river from local guides from www.fisheadsofthesanjuan.com
www.fisheadsofthesanjuan.com/san-juan-river-map/

San Juan River Outfitters
from San Juan river outfitters
www.sanjuanriveroutfitters.com/

San Juan Map from Abes Motel & Fly Shop
1791 Hwy. #173, PO Box 6428, Navajo Dam, NM 87419; 505-632-2194
www.sanjuanriver.com/map-of-the-san-juan

To top