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Home » Reel Adventure: Your Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing the San Juan River

Reel Adventure: Your Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing the San Juan River

Sink your hooks into this in-depth article as we teach you how to fly fish like a seasoned pro on the historic San Juan River. We’ll dive into the fascinating biography of the river and its fishery, the best times to fish, and the five top spots to cast your line. We’ll reel you in with the best gear choices, guide you through selecting the perfect fly, and offer sage advice on the art of fishing. Finally, we’ll tackle the local laws and restrictions to ensure your fishing adventure remains within the bounds of the law.

The San Juan River: A Biography of Water and Scales

The San Juan River, a treasured landmark in the southwest, is a fly fishing paradise teeming with trout. Known for its year-round fishing opportunities, it boasts consistent water temperatures and an abundant food supply for the fish, making it an angler’s dream come true. While the river is fishable year-round, the best times are during spring (March to June) and fall (September to November) when the hatches are in full swing and the river is less crowded.

Perfect Places to Plunge Your Line

Here’s your GPS to the San Juan River’s finest fishing spots, and the top local guide shops to make your experience truly reel-worthy.

LocationHow to Get ThereLocal Guide Shop
1. Texas HoleTake NM-511 S to NM-173, turn right onto NM-173, turn right to stay on NM-173, continue onto CR 4275Soaring Eagle Lodge
2. Baetis BendHead southeast on NM-173, turn right onto CR 4275, continue to the fishing spotFisheads San Juan River Lodge
3. Death RoeHead west on NM-511 S, turn left onto NM-173, continue straight onto CR 4275Duranglers
4. Kiddie PoolFollow NM-511 S, turn right onto NM-173, continue onto CR 4275Reel Life
5. Simon CanyonTake NM-511 S, turn left onto Simon Canyon RdAbe’s Motel & Fly Shop

The Road Less Traveled: Low Traffic Fishing

For anglers seeking solitude, Simon Canyon is the best choice. Located downstream of Navajo Dam, this spot offers quiet fishing away from the bustling crowd. However, be prepared for a bit of a hike, as access is more challenging here. But the reward? A less pressured water and a serene, almost meditative fishing experience.

Hot Spot: The Busiest Fishing Spot

Texas Hole, without a doubt, takes the prize as the busiest fishing spot. Its deep pools and constant flows create an ideal habitat for trout, drawing anglers from far and wide. Despite the traffic, it remains a productive area due to the plentiful aquatic life.

Tackling Gear: Rod and Reel Selection

When choosing the ideal rod and reel for fly fishing in the San Juan River, you’ll want a 9 foot, 5-weight rod, which is versatile enough for most fishing situations. Pair it with a large arbor reel and a smooth, dependable drag system. Brands like Orvis, Sage, and Scott have models that fit the bill perfectly.

Match the Hatch: Year-round Flies Selection

Time of YearTop 5 Flies
WinterGriffith’s Gnat, Parachute Adams, San Juan Worm, Zebra Midge, Black Beauty
SpringBaetis, PMD, Caddis, Flashback Pheasant Tail, RS2
SummerAnt Patterns, Hopper Patterns, Streamers, Scuds, Stoneflies
FallBWO, Parachute Adams, Streamers, Trico, Egg Patterns

Techniques to Tackle the River

Mastering how to fly fish in the San Juan River requires a blend of skill, technique, and patience. Here are three effective techniques:

  1. Nymphing: This technique is effective due to the river’s rich biomass of aquatic insects. Fishing with a strike indicator and adjusting depth based on the river flow can yield great results.
  2. Streamers: While nymphing may be king on the San Juan, don’t underestimate the power of a well-placed streamer. This method can entice bigger fish from their hiding spots.
  3. Dry Fly Fishing: When the hatch is on, nothing beats casting a dry fly to a rising trout. This technique requires accuracy and stealth but can be immensely satisfying.

Rigging Your Rod: Detailing the Deets

Rigging your rod for fly fishing on the San Juan River begins with the right line. Choose a weight-forward floating line for its versatility and match it with a 9-12 foot leader, tapering to a 5X or 6X tippet. The water clarity and abundance of wary, educated trout in the San Juan demand these lighter tippets.

When nymphing, it’s crucial to get your flies in the feeding zone, usually 1-2 feet off the riverbed. Use split shot to adjust your depth and keep your flies in the trout’s line of sight.

Local Laws and Restrictions: Keeping It Legal

Before you get your waders wet, remember that a New Mexico fishing license is required to fish the San Juan River. Special Trout Waters regulations apply to the river’s Quality Waters, with a bag limit of one fish, and it must be over 20 inches and artificial flies and lures only.


Mastering the art of how to fly fish the San Juan River is a rewarding journey, filled with the thrill of the chase and the peace of nature. So, whether you’re a seasoned angler or a rookie casting your first line, this guide has you covered. Remember, the San Juan is waiting, so rig up your rod, pick your fly, and make your perfect cast. Happy fishing!

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