Fly Fishing the San Juan River. When is the best time?
Fly fishing the San Juan river is best during early spring before heavy runoff and late summer when the snow runoff has ended.
Where to fish
North of Pagosa Springs, you can hike along the East Fork (within the San Juan National Forest) for cool, remote high country fishing. If you like headwater fishing, you can hike all the way to the river’s origin about 10 miles from the East fork campground. The West Fork is surrounded by private ranches, so you won’t be able to access this section of the river via public access.
Through town, you’ll find easy river access at a number of public put-ins, which also serve as the gateway to floating the river south of town. The float window for the Upper San Juan is only about a week and a half, so be sure to keep a close eye on the water flows. Further south and west, the San Juan flows through private and Southern Ute Tribal Land until it reaches Navajo Reservoir. Expedition Outside has secured access to a lovely private stretch in this area called the Diamond Bar M Ranch.
You can purchase permits to fish these waters at the SUIT website or in person at our partner fly shop Duranglers directly in downtown Durango. [Due to COVID restrictions in 2020, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe did not issue any permits for non-tribal members, so be sure to check with us first.] Below the Navajo Reservoir Dam is some of the best tailwater in the country, and the most popular (and crowded) section of river for fly fishing.
Expedition Outside has private access to several high quality fishing spots on this stretch.
San Juan River Flies & fish
Early in the season, the San Juan is a great place for salmon flies and stoneflies, since a lot of stonefly nymphs are swimming in the springtime. There are also good midge and blue winged olive hatches in the area.
Above Navajo Dam, you’ll find medium-sized brown and rainbow trout (and the occasional carp). The section below the dam (in New Mexico) is well-known for brown and rainbow trout in the world famous tailwater sections.
Each week on Thursday mornings we will be updating our blog with a new location and some advice to help you make the most out of your weekend fly fishing trip.
That said, spring conditions can be volatile. Before you head out, you’ll have to be very pragmatic when choosing which river you intend to fish, be well aware of its specific turbidity, and understand the runoff of the winter snow melt. To have a safest, most enjoyable experience, we always recommend going out with experienced local guides.