Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to the San Juan River New Mexico

If you ever plan on fishing the San Juan River, you are going to need to fish imitations of
midge pupae and larvae. The bottom of the river is covered with them. That is what the trout
eat 95% or more of the time. That is what you can catch trout on 365 days a year. It is not
the only thing they will take. They can be caught on other flies occasionally. They can even
be caught on streamers. It's just that your odds of success is usually far better if you fish
imitations of midges. You can fish from the banks in some places, wade or fish from a drift
boat. Wading will usually get you just as many fish as the drift boat will. I am certain some of
the guides would disagree and probably not like me pointing that out, but this river has so
many trout, catching them is usually not a problem anywhere you try. Now that I have said
that, please be advised that the drift boat will let you see far more of the river and catch as
many fish. There is nothing wrong with fishing from one and many anglers may prefer that.

Now don't let the midge fishing turn you off if you happened to not like fishing midge flies, or
if you have never fished them. It is not that complicated and if there was ever a stream to
learn on, it is the San Juan River. It is not very much different from fishing nymphs. In fact
you can fish tandem midges like you can fish tandem nymphs. You do have to use a tippet
small enough that you can get it through the eye of a size 18 to 22 hook. You wouldn't be
able to run a 4X tippet through one, for example. The trout are not that leader sensitive in
the San Juan River. It is just that you must use the light tippet, either 6X or 7X, depending on
the fly size used, to make the flies appear natural and to actually get the tippet through the
eye of the hook.

The best way to fish these tiny flies is to first of all, use the gear we recommend in the Gear
Section of this site and secondly, use the following methods. If you are wading, the most
likely areas to catch the trout are in areas where some current runs into a flat or pool. You
can catch them anywhere on occasions, but that will put you in a good type of area. You
want to fish from about the middle to the end of the current running into the pool or flat, not
the fastest water you can find. You want the fly, or bottom fly if you are fishing two, right on
the bottom. Most of the bottom is gravel and sand. There are some rocks but mostly nothing
to get hung on. By the way, that is another reason that this is a good river to learn on. The
fish usually have no where to run to break your tippet.

The best way to rig for that is to use split shot a few inches above the fly or top fly in the
case of two. Now some anglers run the top fly off of a short section of tippet attached to the
leader.  I usually don't. I usually just put the flies directly on the tippet. Adjust the weight to
match the current and the depth of the water you are fishing. The bottoms are usually more
uniform and not so up and down like many trout streams. Getting just the right amount of
weight is important. Add a strike indicator on the leader to where it drifts right and allows the
fly to touch the bottom. You don't want the bottom fly suspended off the bottom and you
don't want it to drag the bottom - just touch it. Set your drag correctly, about 75% of the
breaking strength of the tippet.

Cast up and across and quickly mend the line by throwing line up stream, not coiling it like
some anglers do dry fly fishing. The idea is to get the indicator well upstream of the fly or
flies. It may take two mends to get used to it. Get your fly line well upstream or above the
indicator. You may want to strip out line and let the fly keep going downstream if you can do
that in the particular area you are fishing. As long as you can keep the flies drifting right, let
them go.

When the trout take the fly, the indicator usually just stops drifting. It may not shoot under for
a  few seconds. Don't wait on it. If it stops, make a long slow sweep of the rod tip to set the
hook. All you need to do is just tighten up the line. The tiny hooks set very easy. If you don't,
you will break the tippet. When the trout feels it is hooked, it will take off. Just keep some
tension of the line and let the drag do the rest. Hold the tip of the rod high in the air. Don't
reel until the fish stops running. It may make several runs before you get it near you. When it
first sees you, it will take off again for sure so be prepared for that. I suggest you use a
landing net because most of them are lost within reach. Remember, the average size trout
you will probably catch is about 14 to 16 inches and it may be much larger.
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San Juan River
New Mexico