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Old 05-23-2005, 11:56 AM
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Default Catching Brown Trout on the San Juan - By Mike Mora

[IMG2="left"][/IMG2] Catching Brown Trout on the San Juan
By Mike Mora

Rainbows, Cutbows, Cutthroats, and BROWNS!

These are the potential trophies that await you in the riffles, runs, and pools of the San Juan River in New Mexico. In fact, the San Juan is best known for its large rainbows and cutbows that cruise the upper stretches of this fantastic tailwater. However, if you want to catch some spectacular brown trout, the further down the river you go, the more prevalent they become. The water temperature slowly rises from a chilly 40 degrees near Navajo Dam to levels better suited for browns by the time you reach the end of the quality water. In recent years (2001-2004) the browns have moved further up into the quality waters as a result of drought conditions that forced many browns out of the extreme lower river section where water levels and temperatures became unsatisfactory. Last year I caught browns almost 4 to 1 vs rainbows in the stretch from Lunker Alley through Baetis Bend and down into Death Row. Many of them were hard fighting fish in the 15-19" range. However, given the excellent flow predictions for 2005, I believe the browns will most likely make their move back down river this year.

[IMG2="left"][/IMG2] Browns are no longer stocked on the San Juan and have been naturally reproducing in the river for many years now. The stretch between the end of the Cottonwood Campground and the Hammond Diversion nearly 11 miles downriver is home to numerous wild brown trout and the quality water restrictions are no longer imposed. From the end of the quality waters to the Gobernador Wash just below the Rainbow Lodge there are several public access options that allow the angler to fish for browns. However, the remainder of the lower river between Gobernador Wash and the Hammond Diversion flows through privately owned land and can only be accessed via special permit or via boat (with no stopping or anchoring allowed). The privately accessed section of the river is best fished with a guide who knows the river well as it can be a very temperamental section of the river and navigation of the river without trespassing can be very difficult. For the wading angler, there are public access options at Cottonwood Campground, Pump House Run, and the Aztec Bridge. There are several nice riffles below the bridge to Aztec (access from south side) and then the water converges into a long deep channel for the remaining section to the wash (access from across bridge and down in the Navajo Dam residential area). There is no doubt that many large browns cruise this run. Bait fishing is allowed here and I've seen many anglers with stringers of 16-20" browns. One nice advantage to fishing the lower river is that if you are willing to walk more than 100 feet from any of the popular access points the crowds dwindle significantly.

[IMG2="right"][/IMG2]The insect population in the lower San Juan also changes with the increased water temperature and resulting habitat. The angler hoping to catch a nice brown trout will change tactics accordingly. For fly fishers, expect to see mostly caddis (June
August) and baetis (April October) hatches, a few early summer stone flies, and some midges. Terrestrials come into play here more than in the quality waters and San Juan Worms can be very productive at times. Bait fish are also more prevalent in the slow, deep runs. Patterns like the Wooly Bugger, Muddler Minnow, and Sculpins fished deep and slow with an occasional twitch can bring some big browns to the net. Heavier tippets (3X and 4X) and more weight are the norm with the big flies, but don't be surprised to catch a 19" brown rising to an afternoon PMD hatch or an evening caddis hatch. For bait fishers it is hard to beat an earthworm or grasshopper. Spin fishers also have very good luck on Kastmasters, small Rapalas, and marabou or rabit hair jigs.

One of my most memorable trips ever on the river was spent floating the river from the Gravel Pit at the end of the quality water down to the Hammond diversion. I caught many fish that day and most of them came to the net on dry flies. The fish were very healthy and extremely feisty browns in the 13-17" range with a few near 20" and one just over 20". The solitude and beautiful, hard fighting fish were more than enough to keep me fishing the lower section several times each year. I love browns!!! Fall streamer fishing for large browns on the lower river is rumored to be fantastic. If you can get access, you've got a chance at some of the big, bad 6 to 10 pound browns that live down there! See you on the river.

This artiscle is courtesy of Mike Mora at The San Juan River Fly Fishing Site at

For more information on fishing the San Juan contact Mike at

© Mike Mora, Ifly4trout, 1997-2005


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