PBD Fish Reports
While wandering the braids above Texas Hole is a great experience, it is not the only way to explore the outstanding fishing available below Navajo Dam. A day long float offers a completely different take on this river.
The float starts at Texas Hole. Drift boats put in and guides row a short distance upstream to where the rapids enter Texas Hole. At that point, guides set clients up with a deep running two nymph rig and float slowly down with the current to the put-in area. Most days you will pick up a fish on this short drift. Your guide will then row back up and repeat the float. This may be done several times. And every guide does this so at 9am it can be a bit crowded with drift boats lining up one after another. Many rainbows to 18 inches or more are caught every day by this procession. Once the guide judges that the clients have had enough, they move on downstream.
The run from Texas Hole to the first riffle can be rather boring and slow, that is, unless there is a hatch. A BWO hatch will bring hundreds of trout boiling to the surface. You will not know which fish to aim for, there are so many. Usually, a 20 or 22 parachute Adams will work well but these trout can be extremely picky at times. It may be the fly or it may be the presentation but do not be surprised if trout after trout rises to your fly, only to turn away at the last moment. Or nose your fly and look at you as if to say: “you expect me to take this obvious fake?” These trout have seen everything.
The best refusal I have ever experienced over my many years of fly fishing was along this run. Fishing a 20 parachute Adams, I had caught several respectable rainbows along a slow current as I waded. But there was one just a bit further out that was set up on a break in the complex current. I tried to get the cast just right and failed several times. The cast would be a foot off or the current would drag the fly in the wrong direction. But finally I got it right, the current cooperated and I had a perfect float. No drag. With great anticipation, I watched. Surely this drift would fool my problem trout. Well, it did, in a way. The rainbow rose slowly, opened its mouth, and engulfed in my fly with a mouth full of water. That fly hung in a pool of water in its mouth for what seemed minutes, a slow motion movie. I had him, or so I thought. At the last instant, his head still out of water, he spit out the water and my fly with a great shower of spray. I laughed and laughed. What could be better? The one that got away, forever etched in my mind.
On my most recent float, my guide Aaron from Float 'N Fish, did the usual thing and set up a drift just below Texas Hole with the other guides. One drift and Aaron had had enough. “Let’s move down to more interesting water” he suggested. I readily agreed. Aaron rowed past all that slow water, past the place of my great refusal, and to the first riffle. We both kept a keen eye on the shoreline as we went, but there were no rises evident.
Setting up on the outside of the riffle, we nymphed the slower water next to the fast current. When I got the drift right, I was rewarded with a nice rainbow. After a couple of fish were landed and released, we moved across to the other side of the riffle and fished the slower current there. From then on, we drifted nymphs down with the current, stopping at pockets and runs that Aaron knew held trout.
At one spot, we set up in faster water and Aaron told me to cast to a slower water pocket next to shore. A surging complex current beyond a fast one made getting a good drift difficult. After several tries, I got a hit, and landed a modest rainbow. Suggesting I try again, Aaron said that there should be a big fish in the pocket. There was. My indicator disappeared. I set the hook and a bolt of lightning shot off upstream. I just caught a glimpse, but it looked like a good fish. Once it felt the resistance of my well bent rod, it decided that downstream may be a better option. It bolted toward the heavy current and a big boulder. Fearing the worst, I put a little side pressure on this rocket. Fortunately, it turned and went under the boat. As I swept my rod tip around the bow, the trout thought that deep was the way to go to get rid of this annoying pressure corralling him. This not being successful, he bolted upstream again. After several similar maneuvers he tired enough to lift him near the surface. Aaron and I gaped at a much larger fish than either of us expected. Having none of us, the trout bolted upstream again. Twice I got him near the boat, only to have him bolt again. Finally I got his head up and Aaron slid the net under him. A fat 20 brown gleamed in the morning sun. Photos and high fives were accomplished in record time and this beauty was returned to its home.
Moving on, we searched for rising fish as we nymphed the currents. Shortly, we started spotting rises in pockets of slower water. These trout we taking tiny midges. It was dry fly time. Working these pockets is often very challenging. Complex currents make a drag free drift difficult. Then there are the highly educated trout. These fish have seen everything a fly fisher can throw at them. They are extremely deft at the refusal. For every fish that took my fly, there were probably three that refused it. Often a trout would seem to take my fly, but when I set the hook, nobody was there. Still, I fooled more than enough to keep me happy.
We worked down two long riffle and run systems, exploring pockets of rising trout along the way. Then the stream opened into a large flat. Usually, this flat was full of rising fish, but not today. Below the flat is a riffle that often produces. Again, not today.
This riffle leads into a long run called Baetis Bend. The trout were rising but the word was out and a number of fishers were wading the area, having walked in from the Muñoz access site. Not wishing to get in people’s way and expecting more rising trout further on, Aaron moved through the area fairly quickly.
Around the bend, we found a couple of risers but we could not fool them. That was it for rising trout. Moving along through unproductive slow water, past ET Rock, we approached the last major riffle on the float. Aaron set up on a pocket in the middle of the fast water. “There should be a big fish in there” Aaron said as he switched my rod back to nymphs. We worked and worked, adding weight to the line and changing flies. Finally, I had a hit. Not what we hoped for. A 12 inch rainbow came to net.
Moving on Aaron told me this last section was not very productive as last summer a big storm deposited tons of sand in the river. We floated over sand flats a foot deep that where vibrant habitat the year before. The State has plans to do a stream restoration project here and it sure needs it. We had caught the last fish of the trip at that last riffle and took out at Crusher Hole.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable float. A big brown and lots of nice size rainbows on dries punctuated with beautiful sandstone bluffs and song birds singing in the shoreline willows.
Paul B Downing, March 2015
The San Juan River below the Navajo Dam in New Mexico has a well deserved reputation for producing lots of trout. Many fly fishers ply the main channel in a drift boat. Others walk wade the edge of the river. Recently, wading opportunities have been expanded significantly. The State biologists have completed a stream restoration project that allows a fly fisher to walk among pods of feeding fish.