My first adventure into the legendary trout stream below Navajo Dam was a memorable one. Superbowl weekend produced less crowds than is customary and with weather above freezing, some fish decided to eat. I decided to breakdown my thoughts on the river into separate categories.
This trip I was without my usual dirtbag friends. In fact, this trip I was taken along by some old men, who, because of their elevated status in society will remain unnamed. They had fished these waters since the late 70’s and gave me a history of not only the fishing, but the local fables as well.
They treated me right, we had sandwiches for lunch and cold beers after a long day. To keep me warm they urged me to consume enough Crown Royal and Maker’s Mark to make an irish man blush and for that I thank them. While being a dirtbag is a way of life, the old men certainly have a way of making life a bit easier on yourself. I tip my hat to the old timers, and hope they liked having the “young gun” around.
We spent our time at the Soaring Eagle Lodge located on the river just downstream of the quality water. If you are accustomed to primitive fly lodges then this place will pleasantly surprise you. Our cabins were roomy, offering satellite TV in our living rooms and each unit had 2 Lazy Boy recliners, talk about awesome.
The beds were comfortable, and unlike the lodges in Almont this place had clean sheets and no insect life in the cabins. We ate breakfast there everyday and had Superbowl dinner there as well. The food was fantastic, cooked to order breakfast and about 3 pounds of ribs for dinner. Needless to say our lodging was superb and I would recommend this place to anyone, especially with the offseason pricing available.
Fishing overall was ok. We had warmer temperatures but high winds and a lack of hatches kept the fishing in check. Most of the fish fell victim to eggs, with the remaining being caught on a variety of midges and woolly bugger type fare.
We spent the first two days in the quality section, focusing our efforts on the lower upper flats and the braids. I loved the braids, the limitless runs and riffles, the various holding areas and the large volume of water provided different challenges around every corner. The upper flats provided ample dry fly action and some slow water nymphing, it was a nice change of pace from falling on your ass through the braids all morning. It wasn’t until later in day two that we stepped into the Texas Hole and I got my first taste of what everyone has been talking about for twenty-five years. This place is totally ridiculous and if you think that sitting in a boat on the Texas Hole counts as a serious fly-fishing “experience” you are insane.
After our bout with the upper river we picked our way into Simon Canyon. Fantastic fishing without the burden of homonoids, this place had some nice pools and riffles that held some fish. The best part was that there was a lot less snot on the river bottom so I wasn’t on an ice skating rink.
There are a lot of these things everywhere up there. They boast about having 15,000 fish per mile and while I think that is an exaggeration there were boat loads of them. With ample habitat even for a tailwater and the food source to keep them happy, these fish at times make the river bottom appear to move.
A lot of them are the square-faced pellet head variety but being as we are south of Bozeman that is to be expected. I would put their fighting ability up there with the rainbows on the Yampa, the fish like to take you for a ride and with small flies and light tippet it tests your angling prowess. Acrobatics was not their method of choice like the Yampa bows, rather they preferred to turn and run your ass halfway to Mexico testing your drag like few freshwater trout can. The bigger fish on the San Juan are without question some of the better fighting fish I have hooked into and provide a unique challenge.
If this is within driving distance for you then I’d say you would have a nice little stream to keep you busy. For me I thought the experience was better than the fishing, there are a lot of places I can go that are closer to home where I can have a similar fishing experience. I think the San Juan is unique in the fact that it is in the middle of nowhere and the entire development in the area is based on fishing. Everywhere you go the focus of the visitors and residents is fishing, and it reminded me of a grown up version of summer camp. No cell phones for work to interrupt your day, when you are on the San Juan, you are fishing. The San Juan boasts great dry fly hatches, and its remote location coupled with great accomodations and good food will make it a place I will venture again. As we left the canyon and drove towards home I couldn’t help but think that this surely is a country for old men.