Rolling, Rolling, Rolling on the river...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Snowy Rainbows of the San Juan


After waking up early to find the excited troops already stirring, I was pumped.  Greg, Timmy and I were off fairly quickly, and out the door of the cabin by 7am.  Google maps told us it would take a little over 2.5 hours, so I must have been excited since we pulled up to Abe's Fly Shop around 9:05 (after pulling over to pull out a minivan from a snowdrift).  We got the licenses and were off, back up the road toward the tailwater.  

For my first time there, I was incredibly surprised by the size of the river.  I expected a large river, but did not expect to see one this large and relatively slow moving.  We pulled up to the top pullout, closest to the spillway to become the 7th car in the lot.  Greg and I rigged up quickly, and made out way down the zigzagging ice luge and then through the thick willows.  Timmy was moving like a snail, so we left him behind and told him to meet us on the river.  

First San Juan Rainbow into the net
Once we made it to the river, we could see Timmy still up at the truck.  Full of excitement, we trudged into the river hoping that we would have some in the net by the time Timmy made it on the river.  Not able to identify any particular seam or deep section, Greg and I made our way out into the middle of the river directly after it came back together from two braids around an island.  The water had an off-green color, that did not really allow you to know the depth.  I set up about 20 yards ahead of Greg, and began aimlessly casting upstream and to my sides as I watched intently for any signs of where the fish were hiding.  I knew my chances were good to hook up with the blind casting technique, since there are over 10,000 fish per mile in these sections.  Thankfully, I noticed a small bump in my small white indicator within five minutes, and pulled in a nice rainbow.  At about the same time, a small, I mean tiny, midge hatch started and the fish were paying attention to the adults floating on top.  

Beautiful colors and spots!

Healthy San Juan Rainbow
Since I did not have a robust arsenal of dries (after they all were stolen from my truck back in December), I tried various emergers paired with midge larva.  Within the first hour, I had nearly 10 hookups, with 5-6 to the net on various flies.  The day was looking great when things really shut off.  I switched between many #22-24 midge larva patterns in red, orange, green black and grey, trying to see what the ticket was.  I also tried various patterns with some flash, whether it was a flash wing, a bead, or a flashy body, but nothing seemed to be getting more love than the other.  The number of bent rods throughout the river was decreasing as well, making me feel slightly (only barely) better, that I too, was struggling to get any action.

San Juan Rainbow
As the action slowed down and the wind really picked up, I tried swinging streamers with no love whatsoever, and finally tried some of the dries that I had in my one remaining box of dries.  Thankfully I did have small flies, down to #22, but I still thought those would be seen as enormous compared to the tiny #26's floating by.  To add to the dilema, I did not have any midges, so I tried tying on a #22 spent trico after clipping the tails.  I also tied on a tiny black attractor with an olive green tail that I also trimmed down.  I could not help myself from targeting the risers that were coming up in all directions, sporadically, sometimes within 15' of me.  To my surprise, they did take notice, although the love came in more refusals than hook ups.  I was able to land 2 on the dries, and lose another 4 that I hooked into. Regardless, it was more fun to go down in flames trying than to have no love with the nymphs.  

The midge/larva box with flies from 20-24
The cold temps and heavy wind was slowly taking its toll on the fisherman.  We were trying our hardest to hang in there and not become a casualty for the day, as the river was slowly clearing out.  Thankfully, Greg packed a backpack full of beer that we drank in between our jumping jacks and jogging sessions on the shore to try and regain feeling in our lower extremities.  It appeared to work as we were in great spirits once the wind died down.  Just as the wind died, small dimples were appearing across the river, a nice gesture from the fishing gods to remind us why we brave the cold.  The three of us split up again, over about 150' to try our luck.  Together, we were able to hook into some fish on the dries, but could not get any to the net.  The wind started up again, this time from another direction, and did not seem to have any breaks in it like it did earlier.  I tied back on the nymphs in a final hail mary attempt, and was able to coax one nice rainbow to the net.  When the snowflakes were coming in sideways, and the size of quarters, we decided to hit the road back to the cabin.  

Now that I have experienced this river, I am excited to come back with an arsenal of small flies, and more layers to brave the cold and find the elusive San Juan Monster.  Hasta Pronto San Juan... 

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