San Juan River

San Juan River – Trip Report 2017

Just got back from a quick over night trip and two days of fishing on the Juan. Let me tell you the beauty of the place is unmatched and is one of my favorite places to fly fish. I haven’t been able to get down there in a couple years so this trip was long over due. As Usual I had my road dog with me, my best friend and fellow guide at The Blue Quill angler Jerry Vigil. I will get to the fishing report towards the end, the Juan can be very challenging and it didn’t disappoint us this time with the challenge. In fact it was a straight up bastard but lots of fun and a great challenge. First I will go over the trip stuff and give you some options as far as travel and stay options. If you haven’t been to the Juan it is a great idea to do some homework, this post will help you or at least I hope it does. Fly Shop

There are a couple different ways to get to the San Juan From the Denver Metro Area. I would highly recommend using highway 285. We took this way back and the roads where pretty damn good and it is a little faster then going the I-25 route. There is a pass when you turn off I-25 on Highway 17 before you get to the New Mexico border. It Pretty much made me and Vigil shit our pants. Blowing snow and white out conditions, I won’t take that route again. Stick with the 285 route and you will be fine they keep the roads maintained a lot better. We stayed at Abe’s Motel & Fly Shop. They have a gas station and fly shop as well as lodging right off the river. The stay is what I call rustic, but that’s the way I like it, and not to expensive about $75.00 a night. They advertise a restaurant but it was not open. So we got some grub across the street at Fisheads San Juan River Lodge. Let me tell you dinner was great and we picked up some breakfast burritos the next morning and they where fantastic! Great people working there as well. They are helpful and very polite and inviting, I was very impressed! As far as travel goes its just over six hours down to the Juan but it’s a beautiful drive and lots of time to talk fly fishing. I recommend taking more than two days down there my trip was a quick last minute trip. You will want the extra time down there to see all that the river offers.

San Juan RiverFishing Report – Let me tell you, we went balls to the wall for two days! We normally do this on trips but this time around we kicked it into high gear and worked a shit tun of water. It was legit fly fishing and you had to work you’re ass off for every fish. The water clarity was not good at all maybe a foot. In normal Colorado circumstances not an issue, just throw on some big shit with color and your good to go. Well folks not on the Juan even though we tried and it did work at times but nothing constant that we could lock in on.  Water temps where cold hovering around 39 degrees, I don’t think it made for steady feeding conditions. So you put the dirty water together with the cold water temps and you have some issues. Then on top of that you have a bug problem, by this I mean small is an understatement, People think we fish small bugs in ColoraFly Fishing Bugsdo, no way the San Juan bugs make our bugs look like giants. As you can see in the pic to the right I took several seines, and you  guessed it small as shit bugs. Even the damn aquatic worm are super small and very thin. With bug life this small and you mix it with very dirty water you have to put your drifts right on the trouts head, but you don’t have the option of sight fishing. So now things get really interesting, right? Your asking me “WTF do I do then?” I tell you what we did. Cover a shit tun of water looking for hatches and make a ridiculous amount of drifts.  Change your bugs up a lot and constantly change your depth in the water column. It was a damn chess match between us and the fish the whole time. This is the fun of the Juan though, and we loved the challenge. We had many discussions throughout the day on how to solve everything that was working against us. I love a challenge and the Juan put it to us time and time again including, a flow drop on the second day. For those of you new to fly fishing, flows go up usually better fisSan Juan Rainbow Trouthing, flows go down, it can get ruff real fast.

I did a lot of nymphing with and without indicators. I also ran a streamer rig a lot throughout both days. Tried a dry fly rig with zero success on that.  Here are some of the nymphs and streamers that did work;

Shafer’s Ella’s Beast #10 (Olive Brown, Black, Brown),   Shafer’s Thin Blue Midge #22-20,   Shafer’s Tricky Bug #26-22,   Shafer’s Scud #22-20,   Pearl Jam #22-24,    Rubber Midge #24-20 San Juan River Rainbow Trout

Between Vigil and I we tried just about everything small in our boxes. Just FYI we both carry thousands of bugs on us. Some other notable flies where; #10 Autumn Splendor, #10 Pine Squirrel Leech and #24-22 Black Beauties. 

We fished many different sections and explored a lot of the different access points. In the upper quality water section we fished from the Texas hole up staying primarily in the main channel. We fished the braids section a little but the crowds where heavy and I’m not much for crowds when I’m fishing.  The point here is when you go there explore, move around try and find hatches coming off, you will see all the great water that the Juan has to offer. When I have gone before to the Juan the site fishing was incredible. Usually the water when I have gone is clear and you can see all the beautiful fish but with Navajo Reservoir turning over the conditions didn’t permit site fishing.

Closing this thing out we both talked on the way home about getting to the Juan more often and I’m sure we will. There is something to the Juan, maybe it’s the beauty, maybe it’s the challenge, I don’t know but it has a special place deep down inside for me. Hope this helps you, I highly recommend the Juan as a winter trip. If I had to do it different I would have made sure the water quality was better before I went down there but I wasn’t disappointed at all it’s always a good time on the Juan. Please leave me any questions or comments and check out some more pics from the trip below.


San Juan River San Juan River Rainbow TroutSan Juan RiverSan Juan RiverSan Juan RiverSan Juan River

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