(30 Inches of brown trout, curtesy of a red larva fished deep in the water column)
Spring has sprung here in Northwest New Mexico and it's one of the goofiest times of year on the San Juan. The water is dirty and the fish seem to change their mind about what they want to eat and where they will be every other day. While some dislike the the "spring roulette", others embrace the chess game. Do not fear the dirty water or the seemingly stubborn trout, spring can be one of the best times of the year to fish the good ole San Juan.
Here are some things that keep me sane during the guide day, I hope they help you put trout in the bag until the water clears and the sight fishing returns.
1) Trout Move
It sounds simple but trout moving is often overlooked by anglers. Trout are motivated to move by things like water temperature and the availability of food at the given time as well as spawn (which is tied to water temp.) In the spring temperature and hatches vary throughout the day and throughout the spring months. Overnight cold snaps could have fish dropping back into slower deeper sections of rivers and creeks. The eruption of a Baetis or midge hatch can have trout moving up into shallower areas to feed. With hatches, trout also will move vertically though the water column as well. Thinking about where trout are in the river sectionally and then where the could be in the column is key. This can be a challenge on rivers with off colored water. Seeing your favorite river at low clear flows will pay its dividend when the water gets high or stained.
A lot of shoulder season trout fishing is done with attractor style patterns. The classic induced take vs trout actively feeding scenario. Generally, the shoulder seasons on the San Juan River don't have as much bug activity was when the river warms via ambient air temp. This is not always the case and may not be the case on your local water. Remember that there are always mayfly nymphs, midge larva, scuds, ect. moving around the lower third of the water column on the San Juan. While the trash rigs still produce in the Spring, an influx of active midges and mayflies definitely catch the trouts attention. A trash rig is a guide slang for things like eggs, leeches, worms and generally loud patterns that aren't imitative.
Trout will begin to suspend and many anglers that are fishing heavy trash rigs in the lower third of water column will be fishing under the trout happily eating in the middle and upper third. Many times the difference between a great day and a tough one is a couple sizes of split shot.
My favorite small mayfly pattern for the San Juan!
3) Mix It Up
Mixing it up means trying different things, fishing different areas or fishing a combination of trash and imitative patterns. Maybe the trout moved to deeper water because of cold snap, your trash rig stopped working? Try bugs. Before changing flies, either lighten up your weight or go heavier. Generally I like to start low and work my way up the water column, but it all depends on the day and the conditions presented.
Remember to have fun. Think about trout movement via location in the river and water column. If somethings not working don't be afraid to mix it up with the rig or try fishing a new water type.
I hope this quick blog post helps you put a couple more trout in the bag on the San Juan this Spring.
See you out there