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
San Juan River Fly Fishing News, Facts, and FAQs

Travel | Accomodations | Regulations | Equipment | Miscellaneous | Facts

Click here for a link to the BoR site that provides more info on Navajo Lake / San Juan river management plans.

SAN JUAN NEWS(12/23/07):

Vinny Villavicencio has compiled a nice set of aerial photos that show some of the San Juan silting problems and some of the contributing factors.  Thanks very much Vinny!  Click here to see the photos and see some of Vinny's comments.

SAN JUAN NEWS(12/14/06):

In response to a concerted effort by concerned San Juan fly fisherman and with the cooperation of NM Parks and the NM Game & Fish, the large sand and silt deposit in the once popular "Kiddie Pool" has been partially removed.  This is only the first step in a new effort by several organizations to address the silting problem on the river.  Many thanks to Andreas Novak for organizing and reporting on behalf of concerned fisherman.  Click here for an update on the situation from Andreas.

SAN JUAN NEWS(11/06/06):

The habitat improvement project on the San Juan River approximately 3 miles downstream of the dam is now complete.  Click on the link to see the plans for what they did.   Habitat Improvement Project

SAN JUAN NEWS(10/13/02):

Read some important and interesting info on low flows, the draft Environmental Impact Study, and a recent presentation by NM Game and Fish on the future management of the San Juan fishery.  Click here for the article.

SAN JUAN NEWS(1/12/00):

Whirling Disease was confirmed on the San Juan River this month.  Please read my article and visit the referenced links in the article for more information.  Click here to read my article.

Travel FAQs

Q. How far is the river from popular travel destinations?

A. From Albuquerque Airport to Navajo dam is 190 miles (3.5 hours), from Farmington it is 35 miles (45 minutes), from Aztec it is 25 miles (30 minutes), and from Durango it is 60 miles (1 hour).

Q. What roads do I take from Albuquerque to get to the San Juan River?

A. From Albuquerque go north on I-25 and get off at Exit 242 and turn left (Bernalillo) to Highway 550. Then continue north on Highway 550 to Bloomfield. Take a right at the first light and head east on Highway 64. Follow 64 until you see the turn off at the bottom of a small hill for Route 511. The turn off is well marked. Take a left and head north on 511 until you reach the dam (13mi) or your favorite spot.

 San Juan River Driving Map
Click here for a basic driving map.

Q. How do I get to the San Juan by air?

A. The closest major airport is the Albuquerque International Airport (Southwest, Continental, Delta). Rent a car to drive the rest of the way. Or, some choose to fly into the smaller airports (Farmington and Durango) on commuter flights and then rent a car.

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Accomodation FAQs

Q. What are the overnight camping options near the river?

A. Cottonwood Campground is located on the north side of the river. Accessible by dirt road (stuck city after heavy rains!) most of the way (3mi) and then paved towards campground. Around 20 campsites. Has bathroom, water, & telephone (showers at main camp 20 min away). Tent, campers, or RVs OK. A second site that is convenient is Pine River Campground located at Navajo lake and is actually closer to the dam. Pine River campground also has restrooms, water, and telephone (showers in main camp 3mi away). Overnight camping is $10.  Check out the Navajo Lake State Park Site for more information and if you are web savvy try the NM State Parks Camping Page to reserve a spot online.  If you just want a place to hookup without the camping atmosphere, you can also park your RV at Abe's Motel and Fly Shop or the Dam RV Site along 511 just before the Aztec Bridge on the right side as you are heading towards the dam.

Q. What are the overnight lodging options near the river?

A. There are several lodges near the river:  Soaring Eagle Lodge, Rainbow Lodge, Enchanted Hideaway Lodge, Octagon Inn, Abe's, Rizuto's, and a few others. Soaring Eagle and Rainbow Lodge have some great food if you stay there and choose their meal packages.   Abe's has a small restaurant and the Sportsman's Inn bar serves a good green chile cheeseburger, but there is no where else to eat near the river. Click here for some great lodging options.

Q. What are the alternative overnight lodging options within fair driving distance of the river?

A. There are many options for the budget restricted fisherman. There are hotels/motels in nearby Farmington (45min), Aztec (30min), and Bloomfield (35min). Farmington has the most selections and lot of places to eat. Aztec and Bloomfield have some fast food joints and a few local restaurants that are good.

Q. I fish the SJ several times each year. Where do I purchase the annual day use permit so I don't have to pay the $5 every time?

A. You can purchase one from the Navajo State Park Game and Fish office at the lake, or if you live in Albuquerque, you can purchase one in advance at the Rio Grande Nature Center. There is also a new purchase online option.  Don't forget to have your license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration handy.  Annual Day-use permits are $35 for one vehicle (includes all NM parks) and $10 for an additional vehicle; available to state residents and non-residents.   Free to state resident veterans who are 100 percent disabled.  Without a permit, day-use fees are $5 a vehicle.  Permits are valid from the date of sale through Dec. 31, 2005.

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Fishing Regulation FAQs

Q. What are the special regulations on the San Juan River?

A. The first 3.75 miles below the dam is designated a special trout water. Only flies and artificial lures are allowed with a single barbless hook. The first quarter mile downstream from the dam to the cable hole is catch and release only. In the remaining 3.5 miles of the quality section only 1 fish may be kept if it is over 20 inches long. If you keep a fish from the quality water and you want to continue fishing, you must either go to the C&R section, or fish below the quality waters where the normal limit of 6 trout over 6 inches applies and bait fishing is allowed.

Q. What is the fishing season?

A. The river is open to fishing 365 days per year, 24 hours a day.

Q. What about a fishing license?

A. A New Mexico fishing license is required for everyone over 12 years old. Licenses can be purchased in Albuquerque (Wal Mart, Target, Charlies, The Reel Life, Oshman's...) or on the river at (Float'N Fish, Soaring Eagle, Durangler's, Abe's, or Rizuto's). You can also get them in Farmington and Durango (I don't have a list of where yet). You need a new one each year starting on April 1st.

Q. What does a fishing license cost?

A. A 2005 New Mexico fishing license for a non-resident costs $39 and depending on where you fish, you may need a $5 habitat improvement stamp (not for San Juan). The resident costs are $17.50 and $5 respectively. For both resident and non-resident, a one day license costs $8 and a 5 day license costs $16. The vendor may also charge a nominal fee (usually $1).  NEW:  Get your fishing license online (extra $5 fee).

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Fishing Equipment FAQs

Q. What rod/line should I use on the San Juan?

A. I've seen flyfishers using everything from a 7wt to a 1wt on the San Juan. However, I think in order to face the challanges of windy days, long casts, and big fish, a 9 ft., 5wt rod with a weight forward floating line is the rig of choice. I use a Sage 9ft, 3wt when the wind isn't too bad.

Q. Do I need waders for the river?

A. Yes!!! Chest waders are are necessity for full river access. Canvas or rubber waders are OK in the Summer, but I recommend a 3mm or 4mm pair of neoprene waders to keep you the most comfortable for year-round conditions.  A good pair of waders/boots can run from $100-$300. I have owned 2 pair of Hodgeman waders in my last 15 years of fishing. The first pair is still usable but I outgrew them (too many home cooked meals). If you take care of them, they will take care of you. If you choose Goretex, canvas, or rubber waders, please use a belt to ensure that if you fall in the water won't immediately fill you up and pull you under. We had a teenager drown several years back because of this and the cold water.   An even better choice now is breathable waders, especially for summer.  I've used a pair for several seasons now and will never go back to neoprene. They are so comfortable!   They are expensive at $250-350 per pair, but I am very satisfied with my Simm's.   In the summer I just wear shorts under and in the winter a poly liner with fleece pants does the trick.  I also highly recommend a good pair of studded felt sole wading boots.  They are the only kind that have kept me from slipping on those flat moss covered sandstone areas.

Q. Do I need a landing net?

A. With the size of the fish, and the fact that you are almost always in the middle of the river, a landing net is a good idea. Some prefer very small light weight nets. I have a large mouth aluminum net with a scale integrated in the handle for weighing the fish and I love it. The large mouth makes landing the big fish so much easier that I will never go back to a small one. Please also consider a soft net weave to minimize the chance for damaging the fish.  I have actually modified my net with a rubber net basket to minimize damage to the fish.  The flies rarely get stuck in this net.   A little heavier, but worth it in my opinion.

Q. How should I rig up for fishing?

A. The short answer: 1ft butt section (10-15lb amnesia), 6ft 4x, 2ft 5x, 1ft 5x, first fly, 18" 5x tied to eye or bend of first fly, 2nd fly. Weight above top fly just above the second 5x knot to keep it from slipping. Greased poly yarn indicator at 1.5 times water depth. Go to 6x if fish are not hitting. If you are going to fish dry flies, go with a 9ft tapered leader to 5X and then add 18" of 6X tippet.  Click on Tips and Techniques for more tips and detailed information.

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Miscellaneous FAQs

Q. What is the best time of year to fish the river?

A. It depends on your priorities. Fishing is generally good all year round with some key caveats: 1) Spring, from April thru June, the flows can be high from runoff releases and fishing access tough unless you fish from a guided boat. Monitor the flows closely during this period, 2) Summer months are hot and there are daily hatches with lots of fish activity (many claim the best fishing of the year), but the crowds can be very very large (especially on weekends), 3) Fall is the most beautiful time with great weather and fishing and the crowds start to die out  during the middle of the week, and 4) Winter, the crowds are smaller except for holiday weekends and weekends where the weather is predicted to be nice (I like fishing during winter best because of reduced crowds and I have caught bigger, but not necessarily more, fish).

Q. What does a guide cost?

A. There are many guide services for the San Juan. They can be contacted in Albuquerque, Farmington, Durango, and near the river. From what I have seen, they typically charge in the neighborhood of $275-325 for a single person float trip and around $250-300 for a single person wade trip. Add around $50 for each additional person for either trip. They usually provide a streamside lunch. Some provide free flies, others make you buy.  Don't forget to budget for a tip which can run anywhere from 10-30% depending on how hard your guide works for you and how much you enjoy the trip.

Q. How can I get in touch with a guide service?

A. There are so many! I have banner links to some really good ones that I have personally done business with. Click on Guide Services to find their web sites and e-mails.   Tell them Mike Mora sent you!

Q. What am I fogetting to bring to the river with me?

A. If you've got your fishing equipment, you've got it all -- Right? I have learned that there are some essentials that will make the experience more enjoyable. Always remember your hat, wool socks, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen (summer), bug repellant (summer), rain/snow pancho, and drinking water. Also, don't forget to have some $1 bills handy to pay the day use fee at the parking lots. If you tie flies, bring your vise and some really small hooks!

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San Juan Facts

Fact: Navajo Dam was contstructed in 1962 and turned into a special trout water in 1966.

Fact: The river holds rainbow, cutthroat, cutbows, and brown trout.

Fact: NM Game & Fish reports the average fish size is a fat 17-18 inches.

Fact: San Juan trout can grow as fast 7-9 inches per year.

Fact: With such heavy pressure, NM Game & Fish estimates that 99% of the fish have been caught.

Fact: A NM Game & Fish Census estimated over 80,000 trout in the 4.25 mile quality water section of the San Juan.

Fact: The river is stocked to maintain trout populations. Natural reproduction is limited. Fish are stocked at 3-5".

Fact: The water temperature at the dam stays nearly constant year-round at 40-42 degrees.

Fact: The lower sections of the river hold more browns because the water temperature is warmer.

Fact: Brown trout have not been stocked for years.  All in the river are naturally reproducing.

Fact: Nearly microscopic midges make up the majority of a San Juan trout's diet.

Fact: Midges and baetis hatch year-round on the San Juan.

Fact: There are estimated to be an average of 100,000 insects per square meter in the river.

Fact: Fishing the San Juan is highly addictive!  The average angler hours per year is 240,000.

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San Juan River Fly Fishing

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