Thursday, May 29, 2008

Two Flies Only - New Rule on the San Juan River

Navajo Dam ripping along at 5,000 cubic-feet-per-second (CFS). The water is scheduled to drop back down to its usual flow of about 500 CFS by early July.

Anglers are now restricted to the use of just two flies while fishing in the quality waters of New Mexico's trophy class, blue ribbon trout stream, the San Juan River.

State Game Commissioners adopted the new rule at a May 29, 2008 meeting at San Juan College in Farmington, NM.

“We’re thrilled,” said Larry Johnson of the San Juan Guides Association and owner of the Soaring Eagle Lodge. “Anything we can do to protect the economic impact of the river is important”

Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the new rule limiting anglers fishing in the upper four miles of the San Juan River just below Navajo Dam to the use of two flies.

Advocates for the rule change hope it will limit the number of trout inadvertently injured or killed from foul hooking by multiple hooks and entrapment in broken off lines.

Previously there was no rule limiting the number of flies an angler could use on the quality waters of the San Juan River where an estimated 70,000 trout, averaging 18-inches in length reside.

The San Guides Association in seeking the rule claimed some guides were arming clients with multiple fly rigs in order to improve their catch rate at the expense of the trout.

The association’s members reported increased sightings of injured and dead fish that they and their clients found repulsive and unsportsmen like.

Opponents to the rule argued that the multiple fly rigs, when used properly, were a traditional and accepted practice that hadn’t been scientifically proven to be harmful to fish.

A local fishermen and one San Juan outfitter spoke in opposition to the new rule at Thursday’s meeting at San Juan College in Farmington but they were outnumbered by numerous guides and businessmen who turned out in support of it.

“ A lot of the problem is barbed hooks,” said outfitter Art Martinez. “ We need to better educate the public about that.”

One of the new rule’s supporters, Tim Chavez, of Born and Raised Guides and Abe’s Motel and Fly Shop told commissioners the issue was a “no-brainer.”
“It’s a matter of sportsmanship and ethics,” he said.

Johnson, of the guides association, noted that the San Juan’s trophy class fishing contributed $25 million to the state’s economy, according to a recent study at New Mexico State University.

The angling organization, New Mexico Trout, which had initially opposed the rule change when if was first brought before the commissioners in February was not represented at Thursday’s meeting.

Commissioner Jim McClintic, also a member of New Mexico Trout, stated that the group had decided to compromise and support the rule if it was limited to just the San Juan’s quality waters.

The latest version of the rule provided commissioners with the choice of either applying it to just the quality waters or for 15-miles downstream.

McClintic made a motion to adopt the rule for just the quality waters and it was unanimously approved with commissioner Alfredo Montoya absent.

Advocates cheered the rule change outside the auditorium.

“It’s a positive move,” said Arron Carithers of Anasazi Anglers. “Anything we can do to protect the resource is positive.”

Marc Wethington, the state Department of Game and Fish’s fisheries biologist on the San Juan said he expects anglers and guides will police themselves as far as the new rule is concerned. The rule officially takes effect in mid-June.

Noticeably absent from the hearing was popular, independent, San Juan fishing guide, Jude Duran, 29, of Flora Vista, who was a outspoken opponent of the rule.

Duran remains in federal custody in Denver awaiting a detention hearing following his federal indictment on a single charge of bank robbery stemming from the May 13, 2008 holdup of a Montrose, Colo. Bank. Duran faces up to 20-years in prison if convicted, according to Jeff Dorschner, spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver.

In his presentation before the commissioners, Wethington unveiled research showing the San Juan River’s trout population sustains up to 200,000 hours of fishing annually with a fish caught about once an hour and a trout over 20-inches or more taken about 8-percent of the time.

The river see most of its angling action from out-of-staters and 95-percent of anglers on the river practice catch and release.

The San Juan is one of the West’s top trout waters, a legendary, trophy-class trout fishery fueled by consistent flows and clear, cold water.

The river lures anglers from all over the world to fish its quality waters.

The first quarter mile of the river below Navajo Dam is strictly catch and release and the remaining four miles have a bag limit of one trout over 20 inches with the angler required to stop fishing once they have taken a fish of that size, that day.

The use of barbless hooks on flies is required in the quality waters.

Below the quality waters, anglers can use bait and the normal bag limit is in effect on public access to another 3.5 miles of the San Juan River including the Cottonwood Campground area.

This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section. It also appeared in the news section of the online flyfishing magazine -

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NM News -Two Fly Rule is Back & Jude Duran Jailed

The two fly rule is intended to reduce foul hooking fish by reducing the number of hooks in the water at any given time.

A proposed rule to limit the number of flies an angler can use while fishing on the San Juan below Navajo Dam is going back before the state game commission at an upcoming meeting in Farmington.

Meanwhile, one of the rule change’s most vocal opponents, independent San Juan River fishing guide, Jude Duran, has been locked up in a Colorado jail on charges stemming from a failed bank robbery(see San Juan Guide Jude Duran jailed below).

State Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) staff have revised an earlier proposal to limit anglers to the use of just two flies statewide in an effort to reduce unintended injury and death among game fish.

The amended proposal limits the rule to just the San Juan River and NMDGF staff are expected to present to commissioners more evidence to back up their request.

Commissioners shot down the proposal in February citing the proposed statewide application of the rule and a lack of scientific evidence showing the use of multiple fly rigs were harming fish populations.

Proponents of the rule change includes a number of longtime guides and fly shops on the San Juan River. They claim the use of the multiple fly rigs is damaging the state’s premier trout fishery by foul hooking and ensnaring fish, causing unintentional injury and death.

The proponents report increased sightings of dead fish and entangled waterfowl as their reasons for requesting the rule change on the San Juan River. NMDGF then expended the proposal to include the entire state.

“I think we think we have a much better chance this time now that its been restricted to just the San Juan, “ said Larry Johnson of Soaring Eagle Lodge and treasurer of the San Juan Guide Association.

There is currently no limit on the number of hooks or flies an angler can use when fishing and independent fishing guides like Duran claim it’s a legitimate technique which when used properly has not been shown to harm fish.

And representatives of organizations like New Mexico Trout who argued before the commission in February noted that the use of three fly rigs are a widely used, traditional and appropriate practice in the fly fishing community.

They questioned the need to restrict its use without scientific evidence to prove its harm and found statewide enactment of the rule too far reaching.

The next NMDGF presentation before the commission is slated to include an overview of management activities and trends on the San Juan River including fish population information, habitat improvement projects, interagency coordination, and angler preferences, according to a commission briefing paper about the proposed rule change.

The briefing paper can be found along with the May 29th meeting agenda and other related documents on the NMDGF website at

It is estimated there are 70,000 trout living in the quality waters of the four-mile, upper reach of the San Juan River.

Anglers spend 215,000 hours per year stalking them, with a fish is caught once an hour and for every fish landed, at least three break off and get away, according to the briefing paper.

Every fish in the San Juan’s quality waters is thought to be hooked at least once a month, the report states.

Thus any additional hooks in the water may increase the number of fish hooked or landed and thereby induce additional stress on the fish population, the report concludes.

The briefing report’s data appears to be an attempt to address concerns of angling groups that questioned the lack of scientific basis for instituting the rule.

Nonetheless, Mike Maurer, President of New Mexico Trout says he’s still not convinced and thinks the issue is more about politics than science at this point.

In his recent letter to commissioners Maurer stated the rule would only be acceptable if it limited flies to three rather than two.

“This then would not make outlaws of most fly fishers who like to use an indicator fly and two droppers,” he wrote.

If a two fly rule was enacted NM Trout would want it studied in comparison with other mortality factors such as; handling stress, deep hooking, old age, disease, and egg retention to see if it were effective.

Maurer noted that some published studies show that number and type of hooks have little effect on trout mortality but that conditions such as how trout were fought, handled and released, played the most important role in a trout’s survival.

But proponents say the rule should have little bearing on a competent angler’s success on the San Juan River while providing the heavily fished trout population a much-needed measure of relief.

Nonetheless, the whole rule change effort may be a moot point by now, says independent fishing guide, Jerry Saiz, of Jerry’s Guide Service out of Bloomfield.

With all the recent debate surrounding the two fly rule most guides have now voluntarily ceased using them because of the negative perception.

“And you know, if they (proponents) had simply approached us all, one on one, in the parking lot and asked us to quit using them, that probably would have been the end of it anyway,” he said.

Saiz, like Duran, is an independent guide with no affiliation to any particular guide shop.

The San Juan is one of the West’s top trout waters, a legendary, trophy-class trout fishery fueled by consistent flows and clear, cold water. The river lures anglers from all over the world to fish its quality waters.

The first quarter mile of the river below Navajo Dam is strictly catch and release and the remaining four miles have a bag limit of one trout over 20 inches with the angler required to stop fishing once they have taken a fish of that size, that day.

The use of barbless hooks on flies is required in the quality waters but the number of flies on a single line is currently not restricted.

Below the quality waters, anglers can use bait and the normal bag limit is in effect on public access to another 3.5 miles of the San Juan River including the Cottonwood Campground area.

The fishery is estimated to contribute approximately $25 million to state’s economy annually, according to a 2003 New Mexico State University Economic Impact study.

This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.

San Juan Guide, Jude Duran, Jailed

Jude Duran, 29, of Flora Vista has been indicted on federal charges of bank robbery stemming from the May 13, 2008 hold-up of the Vectra Bank in Montrose, Colorado. Photo Courtesy of the Montrose Poice Department.

The typically busy chat room on Mike Mora’s San Juan River website at is conspicuously silent these days.

Temporarily silenced due to too much talk about the arrest of popular fishing guide, Jude Duran, and apparently, too little “positive and constructive” talk about fishing New Mexico’s premier trout stream.

Duran’s arrest for bank robbery in Colorado last week dominated the Internet chat room at Mora’s website for days and fueled much of the mystery behind the affair.

“It’s so totally out of character for him, I don’t know what to think,” says a friend of Duran’s, Jerry Saiz, 39, of Jerry’s Guide Service in Bloomfield. “ I’m shocked. He’s such a helpful and nice guy. For him to do something like that, something bad must have happened.”

Saiz said he knows Duran well and saw no signs of financial duress, family problems or anything else that would indicate why Duran would do such a thing.

And while business on the San Juan River had slowed considerably for some guides due to extended high water conditions, Duran had remained busy and his business prospered, Saiz said.

“It’s a mystery to me why he’d go and do something like that,” he said.

And so far information in the case has been long of speculation and short on answers.

What is known is Duran, 29, of 95895 Highway 16 in Flora Vista, NM is being held in the Montrose County jail in Colorado in lieu of $250,000 bond, $100,00 of which must be posted with cash, according to Sgt. Dean McNulty of the Montrose County Sheriff’s Department.

Duran is charged with aggravated robbery, theft and felony menacing in connection with the May 13 robbery of the Vectra bank at 1200 S. Townsend Ave. in Montrose, Co., a city of about 13,000 people located on US 550 about 150 miles north of Flora Vista.

Montrose police say a masked robber armed with a semiautomatic handgun walked into the bank, pointed his weapon at employees and demanded money, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant filed in the case.

At one point the robber told an employee that “it’s not worth it, I’ll blow your (expletive deleted) head off,” the affidavit states.

The robber then fled with an undisclosed amount of money.

A witness reported seeing the robber driving a white Ridgeline Honda that was later stopped by police and Duran taken into custody.

Money and a gun were recovered from the vehicle and Duran allegedly admitted to having committed the robbery, according to the affidavit.

Attempts to reach Duran at the jail were unsuccessful, he has yet to retain an attorney and his wife declined to return calls seeking comment.

Saiz says Duran has a loyal following of devoted customers, some of whom have indicated their intent to raise money for Duran’s defense.

Others in the small knit community of Navajo Dam where Duran worked would only speak off the record about him and much of what they had to say wasn’t very flattering.

Saiz says Duran success and popularity earned him some detractors in the community especially among those guides associated with the fly shops.

Duran was a hard worker who made good use of Mike Mora’s chat room to spread his name and develop a following.

He frequently offered information on water releases, fishing conditions and commented on politics related to the industry, such as spirited opposition to the proposed two fly rule (see Two Fly Rule is Back above)

Thus his downfall has been a matter of much discussion among his peers.

The FBI is now investigating the case and thus no information can released, said Jane Quimby, Special Agent out of the Grand Junction Office, Co. which is handling the case.

Quimby declined to comment when asked if Duran was a suspect in any other bank robberies.

Bank robbery with a firearm is a federal offense, which upon conviction can result in a maximum 20-year prison term.

Meanwhile, Saiz says like any good friend would, he’ll reserve judgment until he’s heard from Duran himself and has had a chance to consider all the facts in the case.

This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Chasing Bass back East

T.A. Phillips and one fat bass.
The day I headed back east to visit friends and family it was still snowing in Santa Fe.

The rivers and steams here were running high and muddy from a bountiful winter and the frozen lakes were just starting to melt.

The raging spring winds would soon follow.

But down in Virginia where an old college buddy of mine,T. A. Phillips, was working the weather was nice and warm.

And the fish there were just starting to bite.

And it was so good I just had to check it out.

So off I went.

We’d be looking for bass in some choice ponds out on the Virginia Peninsula along which the James and York rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

We fished from a 14-foot, aluminum, johnboat propelled by an electric trolling motor.

A flat bottomed Johnboat makes for a great fishing platform.
It was a quiet way to slowly tool around the warm, dark waters of these shallow ponds. Towering Loblolly pines, heavy limbed oak trees and flowering Dogwood tees created a lush green, canopy around the ponds.

The surrounding woods resonated with a symphony of bird’s calls, their chirps and screeches seeming to echo in the jungle.

The crack of a twig revealed deer grazing in the dense underbrush, they stopped and stared at us for a moment before bounding off to safety.

A pair of frolicking muskrats splashed about and then stopped to peer at us before slipping under the water and out of sight.

The woods were teeming with wildlife but it was the turtles that dominated the pond, some as big as a sack of pinto beans.

We were under constant surveillance by these curious creatures that would pop their heads up out of the water to watch us float by and then swim off in a muddy swirl, a trail of air bubbles marking their escape.

When fishing we cast gray, two inch, imitation minnows formed of soft plastic surrounding an iridescent weighted hook.

These “swimming shad” wiggled and flashed as we reeled them in and proved to be irresistible to dozens of crappie.

 A nice sized Crappie.
We used medium weight rods with open face spinning reels and braided line for strength and sensitivity. I expected nothing less from a man like Phillips.

During our first few days on the water it seemed we caught Crappie on every other cast but we didn’t see any of the largemouth bass Phillips knew inhabited these waters.

That was until Phillips spotted an Osprey over the water.

“There’s your bass now,” he yelled.

I looked up to see perfectly outlined against the hazy, blue sky, the dark outline of a bass clutched in the talons of this great bird, her outstretched wings slowly undulating in an effort to gain altitude.

I fumbled for my camera tucked deep in my daypack as the bird circled back at the end of the pond and headed right back over us again, straining to gain altitude as she went.

As I tried to focus in on the bird with my camera, she alighted high up on the limb of a tree protruding out over the narrow, far end of the pond.

We watched as she pecked away at her catch and then groaned in disappointment as she lost her grip and the fish fell below with a loud splash.

Undeterred the Osprey dived down to the pond and scooped up the fish and once again made a run over our heads.

I never did manage to get a picture of the bird in flight, even when given a second chance.

As we trolled about the pond we could see the beds where bass had spawned along the shoreline.

They used their tails to swish off a clean spot on the sandy bottom where they could lay their eggs. The beds were easy to see in the shallower waters but so far we hadn’t seen any fish near them.

So we kept catching Crappie, rode out a couple of rain showers and then as dusk enveloped the pond, T.A. made a cast into some brush in the dark corner of a cove.

As he was slowly reeling it in, Phillips felt a heavy tug and set the hook.

He howled with glee as he realized from the violent shaking on the end of the line that he had finally found his quarry.

Reeling furiously, Phillips brought the line closer to the boat and then suddenly a gaping, white mouth emerged from the muddy waters.

It was a bigmouth and a good one too!

The big fish jumped and thrashed violently in an attempt to spit the hook, knocking itself against the boat with a thud.

Phillips, fearing the hook wouldn’t hold because we'd smashed the barbs down to make releasing the Crappie easier, made a desperate grab for the fish.

He grasped the struggling bass by its chin to still her, slid a wet hand under its belly and held her up for a photo.

And this time, I had the camera ready.

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