San Juan river fly fishing in New Mexico by Mike Mora

San Juan River Fly Fishing in New Mexico with Mike Mora

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San Juan River Fly Fishing in New Mexico with Mike Mora
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Rainbow Lodge and Resolution Guide Service on the San Juan River!

 Mike Mora's map of the upper San Juan River
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Catch & Release (see map at the top of the page)

Description:  The first quater mile of the San Juan River below the Dam is designated as a Catch and Release or C&R area.  All fish must be returned to the river regardless of size and the barbless hook rule is in effect.  The C&R area ends where a cable crosses over the now narrow main channel.  The water normally flows through the turbines and exits the dam on the road side (South) of the river.  There are 2 exceptions to this general rule:  1) during Spring (May-June), the water is also realeased from the bottom of the Spillway, and 2) when work is being done on the power plant, flows are diverted to the spillway.

Access:  To get to the C&R water, park at Lot #1 on the map.  There is a foot trail that heads directly out to the upper stretch of the C&R waters.  There is also a trail that takes you down below the C&R area near the Cable Hole.  Follow the old road if you want to fish below the C&R area.   Note that there is no pay station at Lot #1.  The pay station is located on the North side of the road about 100 yards before you get to Lot #1.  Stop here first to get your day pass and then head off to lot #1.  There is a single small outhouse located here and one small trash dumpster.  No other facilities are available except for a parking for about 30 vehicles.

Insects: The water is colder directly below the dam since is is coming right from the bottom of the lake.  Consequently, the insect life consists primarily of midges and annelid with some leeches.

Flies:  creme midge larva, red midge larva, midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown), annelids/worms (orange, brown, red, or tan), and leeches (black, gray, or brown).  I have had decent luck with orange San Juan worms, OJs, Princess, Disco Midge, Midge Emergers of all colors, and orange or red annelids.

Notes:  This area holds a lot of large fish.   Since they all must be released, it is not uncommon to hook into fish over 22"!


Cable Hole (see map at the top of the page)

Description:  The Cable Hole is distiguished by a 1 inch steel cable that crosses the main channel. The cable is connected to a large pole on each side of the main channel and runs about 5 feet off the ground. It may have been used in the past to assist in crossing the river. It is a rather convenient landmark which signifies the end of the Catch and Release section. From the cable on down river for the next 4 miles the special regulations call for barbless hooks and a limit of 1 fish over 20 inches. The Cable Hole is a great holding area for trout with the main channel and 1 small riffle feeding its deep holes, channels, and drop offs. I've caught some of my biggest fish  in the Cable Hole, but the big ones can be quite a challenge here. There is some excellent leeching water here.

Access:  To get to the Cable Hole, you have 2 options:  1) Many fisherman choose to start in the C&R water and work their way down, or 2) The other option is to park at Lot #1 on the map and follow the service road down river until it ends at a small 20 foot bluff (a nice warm up walk). You can see the tail end of the cable hole from the bluff.  Head down the bluff and around the stagnant water at the bottom. Cross the side channel just above the small island and head up river 50 yards or so to the Cable Hole. Be careful crossing the side channel there are some deep holes you need to navigate around! Also be advised that unfortuneately, this hole is one of the more popular areas to fish on the river so don't expect to have it all to yourself.  Don't try and cross the main channel here.  It is too dangerous.

Insects: The water is still very cold here being so close to the dam. Consequently, the insect life consists primarily of midges, annelids, leeches, and if you are real lucky, some small numbers of baetis.

Flies:  Creme midge larva, red or orange midge larva, midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive), annelids/worms (orange, brown, red, or tan), and leeches (black, gray, or brown). I have had my best luck with orange San Juan worms/Realistic Worms and black bunny leeches early and late. Other patterns I've had good success with during the day include: Desert Storms, Disco Midges, Midge Emergers of all colors, and orange or red annelids. Chocolate and gray foam wing emergers work especially well in the Spring and Fall. During the Summer, fish the midges and during the Winter try worms/annelids and leeches.

Notes:  There is also some good flat water with nice braided channels below the Cable Hole on the other side of the lower island and beaver lodge. 


Upper Flats (see map at the top of the page)

Description: The Upper Flats is an area of the river made famous by the taping of an ESPN fly fishing show over 10 years ago. Some people even refer to part of the area as the ESPN hole. The flats are characterized by slower, flat water. There are numerous deep holes, ledges, and braids that hold a large abundance of trout. You seldom can see the bottom of the main channel and deep holes in this part of the river. This is one of the areas of the river where there are plenty of fish and plenty of water leading to a less crowded atmosphere. This section is home to the San Juan football fish. Many of the fish is this stretch are almost as fat in girth as they are long which can make for some great fly fishing battles.

Access: To get to Upper Flats, park at Lot #1 on the map and follow the service road down river until it ends at a small 20 foot bluff (a nice warm up walk). You can see the tail end of the cable hole from the bluff. Head down the bluff and around the stagnant water at the bottom. Stay on the road side of the river and follow the side channel down to where the main channel joins back with the side channel and the river opens up. This is the head of the flats! You can fish either side of the flats, but take care wading as there are numerous holes and drop offs that can get you in over your head in just a few steps. If you want to cross and fish the North side of the flats, cross at the riffle at the head of the flats where the side channel and main river join. Crossing anywhere else can be very dangerous and sometimes impossible (unless you are a good swimmer). There is a main current that flows through the middle of the flats and this is where the majority of the fish are. During hatches, the fish will spread out significantly in the flats. Fish can be found in the shallows and at the edges of pools and drop offs.

Insects: The water warms slightly here. Consequently, the insect life consists of midges, annelids, leeches, and finally, some decent numbers of baetis.

Flies: Red or orange midge larva, Princess, Zebra Midge pupa, midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive), annelids/worms (orange, brown, red, or tan), Baetis (cream/brown, gray, olive), and leeches (black, gray, or brown). I have had my best luck with orange San Juan worms/Realistic Worms and egg patterns as the attractor followed by a small midge pupa or emerger pattern. Some of the better midge patterns were the black magic and a clear bead black midge emerger. In 1998, there were some really nice BWO hatches in the Spring that provided some excellent dry fly fishing for fish over 20" (if you could get a good float using long casts and tricky currents). Chocolate and gray foam wing emergers work especially well in the Spring and Fall. During the Summer, fish the midges and during the Winter try worms/annelids, egg pattern, and leeches.

Notes: Fish here are a little more skittish than in other areas of the river. Especially when feeding in the shallows. The water is also a little slower, which gives the fish more time to look at your presentation. Longer casts and lighter tippets with excellent mending skills will provide you the best results during the hatches.


Middle Flats (see map at the top of the page)

Description: The Middle Flats is a high traffice area on the river that is full of thousands of hungry trout.  The area is characterized by shallower, faster running water with nice riffles, drop offs, flats, and many current seams that make great feeding lanes for the San Juan trout.  The thing to keep in mind here is the fact that the water is shallow and fish can sometimes be a little spooky in some of the side channels.  There are some areas at the upper end that open up and get wider.  These areas hold many trout and are hit hard daily by anglers.  This is not the section of the river to go to if you want some solitude!   However, if you find that the bigger riffles and runs are crowded, take a stealthy walk into one of the side channels and watch for big fish holding in each riffle.

Access: To get to the Middle Flats, park at Lot #2 on the map and wade upstream from the Kiddie Pool fishing the nice riffles and side channels as you go.  Almost all of the side channels will eventually get you to the middle flats if  you follow them.  You'll know you've reached the Middle Flat when you see a large open area where each of the little side channels comes from.   The area is about as big as a football field.   Wading is easy in the shallow water, but beware of the extremely slick slime covered sandstone flat rocks which have been known to twist many ankles.  A good pair of carbide studded, felt bottom boots all but eliminated that problem for me.

Insects: The insect life consists of midges, annelids, leeches, baetis, and even some scuds and craneflies. Note that over the years as I have researched the bugs and taken stomach samples, the fish in this area seem to feed heavily on a variety of the insects mentioned above.  Except during heavy hatches, they don't seem to key in on one particular insect.  This is quite different than in other sections of the river.

Flies: Red or orange midge larva, Princess, Zebra Midge pupa, cream midge pupa, dark brown midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive), annelids/worms (orange, brown), Baetis (cream/brown, gray, olive), and leeches (black, gray, or brown). I have had my best luck with are red midge larva as the attractor followed by a small midge pupa or emerger pattern. Some of the better midge patterns were the cream pupa and a clear bead black midge emerger. On cloudy days, some really nice BWO and midge hatches can provide some excellent dry fly fishing for fish.  A parachute BWO and midge cluster are among my favorite dry flies for this section.  A gray RS-2 and cream/brown baetis nymph also produce well during baetis activity.

Notes: The water is shallow and the fish are hit hard daily by many anglers.  6X tippets and smaller will bring you much more success in this area.  Also note with the shallower water and many feeding fish, this area is a great place for sight fishing.  In fact, sometimes that is the only way you can take them consistently. Don't forget your polarized glasses!!!  Unless you've found that killer fly for the day (good luck), changing flies often will usually bring better luck.


Upper Main Channel (see map at the top of the page)

Description: The Upper Main Channel begins a couple hundred yards below the Upper flats where the river splits into 3 channels. The Main Channel follows the North bank of the river and is characterized by deep, fast water. The Upper Main Channel ends when it dumps back into the Texas hole (the confluence again of 3 main channels). There area only a few riffles along this stretch. Most of the fish are stacked up along the banks in the back eddies and current seams. However, for the persistent angler with a lot of lead, there are some very large fish holding in the shelter of the boulders, rock shelves, and other underwater structures. The heavy water can be somewhat difficult to read sometimes, but the current seams and back eddies are a good bet on either side of the river. The main channel is less fished by anglers since it often requires more work to get to the fish. As such, you will find some healthier, stronger fish in this area if you are willing to work for them.

Access: To get to the Upper Main Channel, park at Lot #2 on the map and make your way across the river and many little side channels beginning about 50 yards below the Kiddie Pool (or 50 yards above the Texas Hole). It is easy wading until you reach the main channel. Here, you make the choice to fish the North side of the channel or the South side. If you pick the South side, just keep walking upstream until you find a good spot. If you want to fish the North side (less fished) you will have to wade upstream about 100 yards above where it enters the Texas Hole and very carefully make your way across. The best approach I’ve found is to wade upstream and then cross the river on a diagonal (trying to stay in the shallower water). There is some very fast water here so if you are not an experienced wader, stay on the South side and don’t try it. A wading staff is also a big help. If the water flows are above 800cfs, I don’t recommend crossing the main channel here at all. If you do fish the North side, you can only cross back over where you originally crossed or in an area about 50 yards above the start of the Upper Main Channel. Whichever side you choose to fish, just walk along the bank until you find a good place to try. Wading is usually easy since you can’t wade more than 5 or 6 ft out in most places due to the heavy, deep water (be careful). However, watch for some shallow areas which have some really nasty grooves cut through the sandstone that lines the bank (mostly on the South side). They can easily sprain an ankle.

Insects: The insect life again consists of the standard midges, annelids, leeches, baetis, and even some scuds. There are some good size worms hanging out in the river here and fish will line up along the banks for the midge and baetis hatches that occur throughout the day.

Flies: Red or orange midge larva, Princess, Zebra Midge pupa, cream midge pupa, dark brown midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive), annelids/worms (orange, red, brown), Baetis (cream/brown, gray, olive), and leeches (black, gray, or brown). I have had my best luck with orange San Juan worms as the attractor followed by a small midge pupa or emerger pattern. Some of the better midge patterns were the cream pupa, chocolate midge emerger/pupa, and tiny gray or brown flashback pupa. Dry fly fishing is not that productive on the main channel so during the hatches, concentrate on the pupa and emergers. A gray RS-2 and chocolate or black foam wings produce well during baetis activity.

Notes: The depth and heavy current flows of the main channel make for a great challenge once you hook up. Try to keep the fish pointed towards the bank if you can. If the fish does get into the main current, often you will have to make the trek down river to a more convenient landing spot. Regardless of the heavy water, the fish just plain fight harder in this area since they are caught less frequently than in other areas of the river. Good luck!


Kiddie Pool (see map at the top of the page)

Description: The Kiddie Pool is probably one of the most popular fishing holes on the San Juan river. Although recent changes to the lower half of the area (due to flood control work) have redistributed the fish, it remains loaded with hundreds of fish in relatively shallow waters. It really is "like fishing in a fish hatchery". The relatively smooth bottom and shallow water makes for some very gentle currents and dozens of fish can easily be seen with a good pair of polarized sun glasses. It is a fun place to take a first timer to the San Juan, just to let them see the numerous fish all holding in that one area. The upper portion of the Kiddie Pool fishes the best since the water is somewhat faster there and fish have less time to decide if that size 24 brown thing with a sharp shiny point is the real thing or not. Fish also tend to congregate in the riffles at the head of the pool during the daily hatches that occur. However, many newcomers to the San Juan can find this hole very frustrating. The fish in this area are not too wary of waders and are very educated. In fact, they just love it when a fly fisher wades into the water to stir up some bugs for them to eat, but be careful, fishing for the fish feeding at your feet is illegal on the San Juan! A large percentage of these fish have been caught and released numerous times during their lives. In the slower water, fish are extremely picky and can be very leader shy. While others at the head of the riffle are catching them left and right, you are wondering why you can’t get your fish to bite!?!

Access: The Kiddie Pool is the most easily accessible spot on the river. Just park at the upper end of the Texas Hole parking lot (Lot #2) and head straight out towards the river. If you find the sandy drainage arroyo at the top of the parking lot, just follow it down to the river and you are there! I’ve even caught half a dozen fish without ever getting my feet wet here. Wading is easy in this stretch. There are a few large submerged rocks to look out for here and there, but for the most part, it is no problem. However, be careful with the wading on the upper end on the road side near the Cattails and grassy island banks. The mud is like quicksand and you can sink in fast! Many find the best way to fish this area by wading to the middle of the area and fishing upstream on either side. Don’t expect to get any solitude here. In fact, if you are easily frustrated by crowding anglers, keep going upstream or head on out to the braided channels above and behind the Kiddie Pool.

Insects: The insect life again consists of the standard midges, worms/annelids, leeches, and baetis. There are some good size worms and leeches in the slow stuff. As the sun sets, fish will line up along the banks in the slower water for the all you can eat midge buffet. They will also start looking for the leeches that start to show under the low light conditions. The upper half of the Kiddie Pool is just loaded with all kinds of bugs to keep the fish happy!

Flies: Mornings fish well with red, orange, and cream midge larva. As the morning progresses and the midges get more active, tiny olive or brown midge pupa patterns will often draw strikes if presented at the proper level. The Zebra Midge pupa, cream midge pupa, dark brown midge pupa and olive midge pupa (WD-40s and thread midges) all work well here. As the hatch continues and the fish move up in the water column, try pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive). The brassie in size 24-26, and brown or black midge emergers with flash wings are great patterns for this hole. If you are set on using an attractor pattern instead of two small patterns, try a chamois leech, Orange SJW, or Egg pattern. The Kiddie pool sees mostly midge action (except for some great periods during the Spring when BWO hatches occur). Dry fly can be fun with the early evening risers on very tiny adult midge and midge cluster patterns dead drifted over feeding fish.

Notes: If you want to catch fish in the Kiddie Pool, expect to get technical. With the slower, shallow water, the fish can be very picky. Go to 6X or finer if you can. Keep the match the hatch flies small enough to mimic the size 22-26 naturals, and make sure you pay attention to the level the fish are feeding at in the water column and adjust your tactics accordingly! The Kiddie Pool is a good place to practice you site fishing skills.


Texas Hole (see map at the top of the page)

Description: The Texas Hole is most fished area on the San Juan and for good reason. The nearly 200 yard long run is home to thousands of eager trout including some of the largest in the river. The Texas Hole begins where the main channel and other side channels from the flats all converge to create one of the deepest runs on the river. The insect life is abundant and the deep water, rocky shelves, and back eddies provide a perfect environment for trout. The water is best fished with a deep water nymphing technique, but during hatches (especially during the Spring BWO hatch), some great dry fly and emerger fishing can be found here. The popularity of this hole combined with the fact that this is where the first put in for all the boats is found can create quite a site. Often you can count over a dozen boats floating and working the current seams while dozens of wade fisherman try their luck in the more shallow waters. Good presentations with enough weight and a good drag free float will bring you much success here.

Access: The Texas Hole is an easy walk from the Texas Hole parking lot (Lot #2). Just follow the foot path that leads almost straight to the river, but slightly downstream. There are 3-4 handicap fishing access ramps along the first half of the Texas Hole on the road side. The first is located at the very top of the Texas Hole and is a great place to get a look at things. When wading the Texas Hole, great caution is advised. This is one of the deepest runs on the river and there are several areas (especially on the opposite side) where there a underwater rock shelves that go from waist deep to way over your head in just one step! Most anglers prefer to fish the road side current seams and the head of the Texas Hole riffles. For the more adventurous anglers who wish to fish the opposite side, you can also cross the whole river about 100 yards upstream from Texas Hole during the lower flows (500-800cfs). However, be careful! Even during the lower flows, wading is tricky in the faster water of the main channel. If you own a float boat or other float craft, the Texas Hole is a good put in. There is a small dirt road right before the pay station that will take you to the put in. Just as with the Kiddie Pool, don’t expect to get any solitude here with all those boats and wading anglers trying to catch Bubba!

Insects: The insect life again consists of the standard midges, worms/annelids, leeches, and baetis. There are some good size worms and leeches in the slow stuff. There are even some scuds hanging out in the submerged weed/moss beds in certain areas.

Flies: Mornings fish well with red or orange San Juan worms or midge larva as attactors. As the morning progresses and the midges get more active, tiny olive, brown, or gray midge pupa patterns will often draw strikes if presented at the proper level. As the hatch continues and the fish move up in the water column, try pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive). The brassie in size 24-26, and brown or black midge emergers with flash wings are great patterns for this hole. As you approach the afternoon, the baetis will sometimes appear. At this time, a pheasant tail (18-20) or a gray or olive WD-40 (flashbacks too) will often work well at the top fly with a trailing midge pupa or emergers. If you are set on using an attractor pattern instead of two small patterns, try an Orange SJW, or Egg pattern.

Notes: If you want to catch fish in the Texas Hole, expect to experiment a little. The deeper water creates a little more of a challenge as you often cannot see the fish. You will have to experiment with strike indicator placement, leader lengths, and split shot until you find the level of the feeding fish. Often, a 10-12ft leader is required just to get the flies down deep enough here.


Middle Main Channel / 3 Island Run (see map at the top of the page)

Description: The middle main channel is formed at the lower extremes of the Texas Hole where the river again splits into 2 channels. The main channel water is characterized by deep runs with braids, shelfs, drop-offs, and large boulders. There are not many riffles in this section of the river and wading is limited. The water is typically deep and fast with some great back eddies and current seams. Towards the lower end of the main channel there are 3 islands in the middle of the river that constitute Three Island Run. This area is characterized by very slow and very deep, flat water with shelfs and drop-offs. This whole section of river is loaded with hungry trout. However, new tactics might be required because of the deeper, slower, and flat water. This whole section is also frequented by the guide boats since they have easy access to many of the drop-offs and shelfs that are not available to the wading angler. However, there is plenty of fishable water and it can be very productive for the wading angler as well.

Access: The easiest way to get to the middle main channel is to park at the Texas Hole (Lot #2) and follow the old service road down river until you hit the large gravel pile (visible to the left). The service road is about 60 yards from the river bank at the Texas Hole. When you hit the gravel pile, follow the footpath through the bushes towards the river. When you emerge from the bushes you will be at the lower end of the Texas hole near the split of the river back into 2 channels. You will have to follow the side channel down river for about 40 yards before you can safely cross over to the main channel. Once you cross the side channel, work back up river to the tip of the island formed by the channel split and then work your way down the main channel of the river. Again, this section of the river is not really good for wading. Most of your fishing will be in the current seams and back eddies along the bank. Occasionally, you will find a shallow ledge to wade out on and reach some real nice boulders and drop-offs near mid river. Crossing the river is not an option here. If you want to cross, do so upriver or at the lower flats.

Insects: The water warms slightly here again. Consequently, the insect life consists of midges, baetis, PMDs, caddis, annelids, and leeches. In the summer, there are lots of hoppers, ants, and beetles available too!

Flies: Red or orange midge larva, midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive), annelids/worms (orange, brown, red, or tan), Baetis (cream/brown, gray, olive), and leeches (black, gray, or brown). I have had my best luck pre-hatch luck with orange San Juan worms/Realistic Worms as the attractor followed by a small midge pupa or emerger pattern. During hatches it becomes critical to match the size/color of the real bug. Some of the better midge patterns were the black magic, gray micro flashback WD-40, and a clear bead black midge emerger. The chocolate and gray foam wing emergers work especially well during baetis hatches. The single black, gray, or olive midge adult in sizes 24-26 and size 22 parachute adams are great dry flies for the flat water, but you have to go to small tippets with delicate presentations to fool these wary trout.

Notes: The water can be very deep here and it is critical to get the flies down to the fish. Don’t be afraid to put the indicator 8-10ft up on the leader and add a lot of weight (especially in the morning). During hatches, adjust your indicator accordingly (which sometimes means take it off and fish greased 7X in the film!). In the lower extremes around three island run the water is slower which gives the fish more time to look at your presentation. Lighter tippets with excellent mending skills will provide you the best results during the hatches. There are a lot of tricky currents here!


Lower Flats (see map at the top of the page)

Description: The lower flats is located about half way down the quality waters. The river widens significantly here and is characterized by numerous drop-offs and braided channels. There are some real nice riffles and runs mixed in here too. The North side of the river is where the main channel continues to flow and consists of a nice long run with deeper and faster water for about the first 20-30 ft out from the bank. Mid-river and all the way to the South side of the river it gets more shallow. The lower flats has every kind of water you can ask for: riffles, flat water, runs, back-eddies, and pools. During the afternoon, the lower flats will fill up with guide boats and clients as they make their way down river. With the river being so wide at this point there is usually plenty of room for an angler to find a nice piece of water to fish.

Access: There are several ways to get to the lower flats. One of the best ways to get there is to park at the Lower Flats Lot (Lot #3) and follow the foot path in the Northeast corner of the lot to the top of the hill. Then just head straight out for the river while following the foot path down the hill and through some muddy areas (sometimes muddier than others). Eventually, you will hit the side channel just before it joins back with the main river. Cross the side channel and fish your way up the main channel to the lower flats. There is a nice foot path along the bank that will take you all the way up to the flats. Watch out for the hidden muskrat holes and the super sharp beaver trimmed sticks. You can break and ankle or tear those $300 goretex waders if you aren’t careful!!! Baetis Bend and Lunker Alley are along the way. They will be discussed in the next 2 months. Once you reach the flats, under normal flows that are less than 1000cfs, wading is possible almost anywhere (except the main current on the North side) if you are careful. There are numerous drop-offs and holes so watch where you step. If you run into hole that is too deep to cross, move around to the top or the bottom and cross there. I often can be found zig-zagging my way up the whole lower flats area.

Insects: The baetis really become a factor in this section of river. While the midges are ever-present, I have had days where I’ve successfully fished nothing but baetis all day. Of course, there are also PMDs, caddis, annelids, and leeches. In the summer, there are lots of hoppers, ants, and beetles available too! Watch carefully the type of water that you are fishing. The bugs are going to differ when you move from the riffles to the slack water!

Flies: Brown back baetis, Chocolate Foam Wing, Gray RS-2, Black Baetis, red or orange midge larva, midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive), annelids/worms (orange, brown, red, or tan), and leeches (black, gray, or brown). My best attractors for the lower flats have been the red/orange annelids, and realistic worms. During midge hatches an olive midge pupa and black magic are good choices. You can get some awesome dry fly action with parachute adams, olive comparadun, and para BWO patterns during the baetis hatches. A gray flash back WD-40 is often a killer choice for the top fly when nymphing during the mid to late afternoon.

Notes: The fish are spread out all over the area so wade carefully and make use of the polarized sun glasses (essential!) to spot the fish and sight fish to them in the shallow water before heading out to those "perfect" looking spots out in the middle of the river. Be willing to change flies often, especially with changes in the type of water, weather, time of day, etc.


Lunker Alley (see map at the top of the page)

Description: Lunker Alley gets its name from the numerous large trout that lurk the depths of this deep channel. The channel is formed at the end of the Lower Flats where the river again splits into 2 channels. One channel heads back towards the road and is much slower and shallower. The main channel continues to run on the Northern edge of the canyon. The first 100 yards of this deep and swift water is known as Lunker Alley. The channel starts out with some heavy white water that creates a giant back eddy on the North side of the river. This back eddy is a favorite hang out of guides and their clients. On both sides of the channel there are numerous back eddies and drop offs that provide great holding areas for large trout. There are also some nice submerged boulders creating some shelter in the rather heavy waters of the upper portion. Fishing the current seams on both sides of this channel is very productive. The lower extremes of the channel slow down significantly and large trout can be found eagerly sipping the midges and baetis in the surface film. These guys are pretty picky! There are some serious football fish hanging out in Lunker Alley but you have to be patient and willing to add weight to get the flies down. I once saw a spin fisherman outfish everyone on the river by casting large jigs (with a bunny leech tied to it) right out into the fastest part of the water and let it sink. As the heavy jig drifted down the swift currents, he would twitch it periodically. He must have caught over 20 fish in an hour or so!

Access: The best way to get there is to park at the Lower Flats Lot (Lot #3) and follow the foot path in the Northeast corner of the lot to the top of the hill. Then just head straight out for the river while following the foot path down the hill and through some muddy areas (sometimes muddier than others). Eventually, you will hit the side channel just before it joins back with the main river. Cross the side channel and fish your way up the channel until you reach the large beaver lodge at the tail end of   lunker alley.  Fish your way up from here. Watch out for the hidden muskrat holes and the super sharp beaver trimmed sticks. You can break and ankle or tear those $300 goretex waders if you aren’t careful!!! Wading is possible only along edges of the Lunker Alley since it gets deep and fast in a hurry!

Insects: The insect life consists of midges, baetis, caddis, annelids, and leeches. The baetis hatches are really fun to fish here during the early Spring and late Fall.

Flies: Red or orange midge larva, midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive), annelids/worms (orange, brown, red, or tan), Baetis (cream/brown, gray, olive), and leeches (black, gray, or brown). I have had my best luck pre-hatch luck with orange San Juan worms/realistic worms and black bunny leeches. The chocolate and gray foam wing emergers work especially well during baetis hatches. A size 22 parachute adams or an olive sparkle dun are great dry flies for the flat water, but you have to go to small tippets with delicate presentations to fool these wary trout.

Notes: The water can be very deep here and it is critical to get the flies down to the fish. Don’t be afraid to put the indicator 8-10ft up on the leader and add a lot of weight (especially in the morning). During hatches, adjust your indicator accordingly (which sometimes means take it off and fish greased 7X in the film!).


Baetis Bend (see map at the top of the page)

Description: Baetis Bend. The name says it all. This near 90 degree bend in the river is the home to many large rainbows and obviously many small baetis. The baetis are always there, but in the Spring and the Fall, you can almost always count on them. Baetis Bend has a few great riffles that flow into a drop off that the fish just love. Most of the water is deep and fast, but there are some nice back eddies and a few small side areas that fish well during the hatches. Early mornings can be tough at Baetis Bend, but you can get some great hatches as early as 1100am where the fish will literally stack up in the riffles to feed on the midges and baetis that make them so fat!

Access: The best way to get there is to park at the Lower Flats Lot (Lot #3) and follow the foot path in the Northeast corner of the lot to the top of the hill. Then just head straight out for the river while following the foot path down the hill and through some muddy areas (sometimes muddier than others). Eventually, you will hit the side channel just before it joins back with the main river. Cross the side channel and walk up to the first big bend in the river. If you hit the beaver pond, you’ve gone too far. Wading is possible but be very careful! The bottom drops off very fast in the middle portion of the bend. Wading is better at the top and the bottom of the bend. Baetis Bend is best fished from the road side, but there are always a lot of fish holding near the banks on the opposite side too. If you want to try fishing the opposite bank, cross at the lower extremes of the bend. Find the island that is in the middle of the river near the end of the bend and cross the river at riffles on both sides of the island. Don’t even think about crossing if the flows get up over 800cfs!

Insects: The insect life consists of midges, baetis, caddis, annelids, and leeches. The baetis hatches are really fun to fish here during the early Spring and late Fall.

Flies: Red or orange midge larva, midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive), annelids/worms (orange, brown, red, or tan), Baetis (cream/brown, gray, olive), and leeches (black, gray, or brown). I have had my best luck early morning luck with red larva and small red or orange annelids. Just before the baetis hatch, a cream/brown baetis nymph with a distinct black wing case can be killer! The chocolate and gray foam wing emergers and RS-2 work especially well during baetis hatches. A size 22 parachute adams or an Olive Sparkle Dun are great dry flies for the flat water, but you have to go to small tippets with delicate presentations to fool these wary trout.

Notes: Don’t let the name fool you. Sometimes you can’t buy a fish in Baetis Bend on any baetis pattern in your box. However, try your favorite midge pupa/emerger pattern in olive, brown, or gray and hold on!


Frustration Point (see map at the top of the page)

Description: Frustration Point. Not exactly sure about the origins of this name, but rest assured that if you try and cross the river here, you will get frustrated and wet! The name could also have something to do with the fact that there are usually many dozens of fish visibly feeding on or near the surface here but they can be difficult to reach when wade fishing. The "point" is the tip of the island formed where the main channel and side channel from the lower flats meet again. The water is slow and flat. As you move from the banks out into the water, the river bottom drops off rapidly. You can often find 2 or 3 guide boats patrolling this area for a few more fish before making the journey on down through death row to the take out point. Wade fishing the quality waters below this point is much more difficult as the river stays focused into one main channel that is often deep and slow.

Access: The best way to get there is to park at the Lower Flats Lot (Lot #3) and follow the footpath in the Northeast corner of the lot to the top of the hill. Then just head straight out for the river while following the foot path down the hill and through some muddy areas (sometimes muddier than others). Eventually, you will hit the side channel just before it joins back with the main river. Wade across the side channel and when you hit the island, keep walking left for 20-30 feet where you will be standing on Frustration Point. While best fished from a boat, there are some good evening hatches throughout the year that can bring the fish out closer to the banks for better wade fishing access. I have also seen some serious leech fishing going on where the side channel meets the main channel. This is also a popular area for spin fisherman since they can effectively get the "hardware" further out than a wading fly fisherman. I’ve heard stories of numerous large fish coming out of this area when fished deep with heavily weighted bunny leech, streamer, or bugger patterns.

Insects: The insect life consists of midges, baetis, caddis, annelids, leeches and some occasional baitfish.

Flies: Midge pupa and emergers (gray,black, brown, or olive), midge clusters and single adult patterns (black, gray, olive, or cream), Baetis emergers (cream/brown, gray, olive), Caddis (blonde or peacock, summer only), bunny leeches (black, gray, or brown) and streamers (buggers and clousers). I have had my best luck in this area fishing the evening hatches with tiny midge emerger patterns sight fished to risers and also using bunny leeches in brown or black fished deep as well as stripped through the shallows.

Notes: In the Summer, the Caddis hatches can be great here and skipping a caddis dry across the surface on the South side bank can be fun, but wading access is tough. If you are feeling adventurous, cross the river at the island below baetis bend and walk down and fish the North side of the river.

Don’t forget that there is another mile of quality water below the areas described above. Fishing the lower quality waters can be a challenge and access is not always easy, but there are some huge fish down there that don’t get pounded on as often as their little brothers upriver.

Lot 1 - CLOSED after 9/11. Park near pay station located 100 yds before lot on left side of road.  No restrooms.

Lot 2 - Turn at the Church. Most popular spot on river. Pay station. Benches.  Restrooms.

Lot 3 - Turn near the bottom of the hill on 511. Pay station. Picnic table near big rock.  Restrooms.

Note - There are many other turn offs and very small pull off parking areas in between each one I've shown.Look for the landmarks and facilities I've noted in lots 1-5 to make sure you get the right one.

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San Juan River Fly Fishing

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