Some people say that fly fishing is a dying sport. The ones who don’t, are fishing on the San Juan. Most of my fishing experiences have been higher in the mountains, but sometimes I get the bug to go catch a bunch of big fish. What a better place than one of the world’s best stretches of river? Here is the issue. When you park your car and get ready to saddle up with all of your gear (or in my case pockets), you get subtle glances and the occasional glare or sneer. For the beginner fly fisherman, this is quite intimidating. My first visit to the San Juan was when I was 16 years old. I remember it vividly. My cheap, neoprene waders, my hiking boots that I converted to wading boots, a vest from wal-mart, and a $40 rod and reel combo made up my arsenal. I got stares and looks from a lot of people (still do), one guy even told me, “you are going to go fish like that?”. Oh, I did, and it was very unpleasant. When I finally made it to the river, people stared at my “old school” ways of doing things and mocked my repeated lame attempts at a 30′ cast. I think one of them was a guide on the river too. Please allow me to meander to present day. Throughout the years, I have learned one very important thing about this river. When you start catching fish, be prepared to be crowded by a few people. The “kiddie hole” is notorious for this. I still get the looks when I fish this river today. I think that scares a lot of novice types away. For those thinking about going there for the first time, just remember that all of these people are from Texas and you won’t ever see them again in your life. I’m totally kidding here, the Texans are the friendly ones, usually. In fact in the summer, I like to refer to Red River as “Little Texas”. Don’t think about the glares or what might be said of you on the river, just fish. Enjoy your time there even if you come out fishless at the end of the day. We are all in this for the same reason. (Disclaimer: I hate to stereotype, but lots of fly fisherman on this river are jerks who spent loads of money to fish there and become angry when they don’t catch, most fly fishing people are super friendly but there are some bad eggs in the bunch) To the local guys, let us try to keep our attitudes subtle and helpful. Most of these people are visitors to the state and in these tough economic times, the tax dollars and other state revenue will help our other fisheries and restoration projects. If there is a struggling person, ask if they might need help and be nice about it. Who knows, you might make a friend.
For those of you looking for other places in New Mexico to fish with less people, here are a couple of suggestions of “must visit” water.
Coyote Creek: Not the premier place in NM for giant fish, but last time I visited, I caught right around 100 fish. Check the stocking report often because I can imagine it being fairly slow when they don’t. http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/recreation/fishing/index.htm Also know that the state park isn’t the only place to fish. There are lots of fishing easements to the north of the park and a couple ponds that are perfect for the beginner. There is the occasional holdover in there so be prepared for that 20″. Otherwise, the fish are very aggressive and become packed into the runs and pools. If you intend to keep, you can catch your limit in a 6’x6′ hole in less than an hour. Again, check the stocking report. Here’s a link to the map too http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/PRD/documents/Coyote_001.pdf This is one of New Mexico’s cleanest parks and it truly was a pleasure. The officials are good people too. Great place for the family.
Ramah Lake: Known in the past to hold monstrous fish, a couple years ago this lake turned over and killed all of the fish. Since then, NM has been restocking this lake with triploid rainbow trout and the results have been quite surprising to me. Last year, I visited this lake for the day after my brother caught a bunch of fish the previous week. This lake has an extremely healthy ecosystem and will produce a 15″ fish on average. Bring your float tube or kayak to get around because it is difficult to get around on the bank. Before you go, ask around to make sure that there are still fish out there. Lots of locals go out there often and have their fingers on the heartbeat of the lake. When I go out there again, be sure that I will mention it.
Good luck to all out there on the water! Hopefully, I’ll have some fishy pics and stories to share after my car gets out of the shop!