100 Best: San Juan
Location: Northern New Mexico
Type of stream: Tailwater
Angling methods: Fly, spin
Species: Rainbow Trout
Supporting Services: Navajo Dam
Short take: Zillions of midges with ‘bows to match
Handicapped Access: Yes, Texas Hole
Closest TU Chapter: Truchas
If it’s peace and quiet you want, you won’t find it on the four-mile San Juan tailwater immediately below Navajo Dam. From the end of May when melt water clears the river, into October, the angler hatch is incredibly prolific. The lure, of course, is big rainbows. This section is managed as a trophy trout fishery and your chances of catching a true lunker of four to six pounds are reasonably good.
The special trout water section of the river is easily accessible and wadeable. Rainbows almost exclusively inhabit this stretch. When the water is up, trout move into myriad side channels. A stealthy angler can sneak up on them. A short precise cast with the double nymph rig favored by many who fish the San Juan regularly will often turn the trick. You can see the fish turn and take your offering. How cool is that?
No matter how crowded the special trout water section of the river, there’s always room for another angler or two.. But if you want to get away from most others, float the river for 14 miles down to Blanco. Below the Route 173 bridge in the village of San Juan, the river begins to hold more browns. You may find some dry fly action, but nymphs and streamers fished though deep runs are very productive.
Vagaries in water releases have accelerated siltation and inhibited insect hatches and spawning potential in the trophy trout water above the village. In 2008 a number of stakeholders including Trout Unlimited formed a working group to address the issue. Since then a number of j hooks and similar instream structures have been installed. Bank stabilization has become a priority. And New Mexico state recreation agencies are working closely with the bureau to ensure appropriate flows. Trout fishing in the San Juan, it turns out, beings more than $20 million a year into the local economy.