Thursday, June 25, 2015

San Juan River, New Mexico: Duranglers, Les Vance and High Country Boats

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Fishing with Friends

Just recently, in Durango, Colorado, I was visiting former Patagonia clients, and now good friends.   One of these friends, Les Vance, is a guide and works out of Duranglers Fly Shop  In the off-season, Les builds drift boats and is the co-owner of High Country Boats; a new company offering drift boats with glass bodies and aluminum hulls.  A few things to say about my visit and fishing:

  1. I stayed in Durango, Colorado.  What a great town! 
  2. I was so very glad to have fished the San Juan River with Les.  His knowledge of this river, the stretch below Navajo Dam, allowed me to have one of the most productive fishing days in my life.  Within an hour, I caught enough fish to make anyone happy.  What really blew me away, was how we caught the fish.  Never in my life have I used such flies and tactics.  Take away message = you can DIY fish this river, but it may take you days/weeks to unlock its secrets; or, hire a guide and instantly get plugged into fish.
  3. In my life, I have been on a few drift boats.  From the moment I stepped onto his High Country drift boat, I knew something was very different.  Think rock solid, barge like stability, extreme comfort, combined with surgical precise agility.       

San Juan River Facts    

  • Length:  383 Miles.
  • Origin: Southwest Colorado, San Juan Mountains.
  • Termination: Colorado River and ultimately the Pacific Ocean.
  • Tributary:  Animas River, located in Colorado, is the largest.
  • Location: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. 
  • Fishing Season: Online, please visit CO, NM, UT Fish and Game Departments.
  • Species:  Holds both warm and cold water species (e.g. carp and trout).  In the trophy section, there are +10,000 fish per miles!  
  • Trophy Section: Fly fishing, catch-n-release only. Below the Navajo Dam, located in New Mexico, there is a 4.25 mile stretch, filled with thousands of trout. Dam is bottom release (tail-water), so the water is always cold, even when outside temp is 100 degrees.
  • Floating: Yes.  Please check local regulations for permit/fee's. 
  • Walk-Wade Difficulty:  You can walk-wade the river, but in each state, be aware of public access vs. private land regulations.
  • Weather:  Can be very sunny and warm during the summer months.  
  • Fly Rods: Single Hand 4wt - 6wt.  Two handed rods (switch-spey) 3wt - 5wt.
  • Fly Lines: Floating. 
  • Flies and Fishing Tips:  Sorry folks; out of respect for Les and other guides, I will not share specific details.  

DIY walk-wade anglers fishing the first run past the dam.  This stretch is well known/popular = it can get crowded.  I think having your own drift boat or hiring a guide with a drift boat would allow you to access the best spots, and avoid the crowds.
Big Rainbow Trout, one after another.  How?  Les knew the best spots and let me fish with his rod and line/fly set-up.  If I had DIY fished on my own, it would have taken days to figure out the best spots and line/fly set-up (I only had one day).
My other friend and previous Patagonia client.  She caught the biggest bow of the day. 
Les tells me the Brown Trout are naturally re-producing in the river.  Always feels good to catch a non-stocked fish.
We fished for a 1/2 day.  I caught +20 fish and more than 50% of the fish were +20".  Les said this was an unusually productive day.  Was it luck or good guiding?  Even with +10,000 trout per mile, I lean towards good guiding.
Les with his pride and joy (Drift Boat and Brown Trout).

Final Word

With +10,000 fish per mile, one may think fishing the San Juan would be extremely easy.  I can tell you from personal experience, it is not.  Fish are picky; if you are not using the right flies, rigging, and making good presentations, you'll catch zippo.  So, even for you die-hard DIY anglers, if you want to have a successful fishing trip, I would strongly think about hiring a guide.  

Hope you enjoyed reading this post.