The sun crested the mountaintops as my trucked roared northward on the I-17 towards Flagstaff. Through the bug splattered windshield I could see the desert around me change as I climbed in altitude until the desert was swallowed up by the tall ponderosa pines. I made the turn onto I-40 heading east to the New Mexico state line and with a quart of coffee in my system, I was finally able to think through the next few days. I was headed for the blue ribbon trout fishery of the San Juan River.
The San Juan River is a tailwater that flows out of Navajo Dam right outside of Farmington, New Mexico. The ice cold water that runs out of the dam provides quality habitat for a few miles and sustains an amazing fishery that boasts ginormous rainbows and some beefy browns. The river is a destination fishery that pulls fisherman mainly from the “Four Corner” states (New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah), but also from around the United States. Because of its consistent flows it is said to fish very well all year round which means fisherman flock to it’s banks when the rivers back home are running high and muddy.
I pulled into the small cluster of buildings known as the community of Aztec right around 1:30 and stopped by Fishheads, a fly shop that had been recommended to me by some other Arizona fly fishermen. Peggy, the shop manager/guide sat down with me and went over maps, rigs, flies, and local camping accommodations with me. I was extremely happy with the level of service that the shop offered. I noticed the restaurant in the back and made a mental note of their hours of operations. I bought my New Mexico fishing license and made my way up to the campground to get my base of operations up and running.
With the tent set and ready to go, I rumbled my way down to the “Texas Hole” parking lot and could not find a spot. Trucks were there from every Southwestern state and beyond. Finally I found a spot, rigged up a two fly rig under an indicator (ironic, I know) and waded into the water. There were so many fisherman lined up at the Texas Hole and right above that run in what is known as the Kiddie Hole. Literally, it was shoulder to shoulder fisherman. I was amazed that they could actually cast while standing so close together.
I wandered around trying to find likely looking runs but everywhere I went there were other fisherman steadily flogging the water. I finally found a likely looking spot and positioned myself for the remaining few hours of daylight. While drifting my two #24 fly rig my indicator paused and I lifted the rod to find life on the other end. Awestruck that I had actually tricked one of these finicky rainbows, I fumbled to get the fish on the reel and safely brought the strong trout to the net.
As I released the fish back into the icy water, I was grinning ear to ear. I continued to fish until dark and surprisingly fishermen continued to leave as the fish started to porpoise and eat midge emergers near the surface. I left the river at dark with two more fish brought to the net and the satisfaction that I sort of knew what I was doing.