|Angler Mike Lee of Arizona and Marc Wethington, Fisheries Biologist on the San Juan River for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, pose or a photo on the Lower Flats in Dec. 2013.|
“This is some of the best fishing in the west,” said Lee, a 62-year-old retired school teacher, as he chatted with Wethington on the banks for the river below Navajo Dam. “All the fish that I’ve caught here have looked really healthy and there’s been plenty of them.”
|Mike Lee of Arizona shows off a nice Rainbow trout he caught on the San Juan River in late winter of 2013. Lee spent a total of eight weeks fishing on the river that year. Photo courtesy of Mike Lee.|
But that’s just what Wethington and the state Game and Fish Department (NMDGF) have been preparing for over the last decade.
“It’s reassuring to see that many of our habitat improvement projects have worked as intended,” said Wethington, 50, who has been stationed on the San Juan since beginning his career with NMDGF back in 1995.
Wethington has since overseen four major habitat improvement projects on five miles of the state’s prized trophy trout waters to improve fish habitat and maintain high quality angling during lower flows.
“We’ve been champions of this work since day one, “said Larry Johnson of the San Juan River Guides Association.” And they’ve really paid off.”
|Larry Johnson of Soaring Eagle Lodge rows while fishing buddy Tim McCarthy of Albuquerque fishes on the San Juan River in late December 2013.|
And there’s great fishing to be found right on the door step of the Gravel Pit take-out due to improvements in the area below Simon Canyon.
“Back in the old days we’d just row right through there without stopping, it was so dead,” he said.
Now the river below Duranglers Corner features lots of fish and some of the best dry fly action on the river, Johnson said.
|An angler casts for trout in a rejuvenated area of the San Juan River below Duranglers Corner in 2013. Habitat improvements there have created excellent fishing with dry flies.|
The latest project involved narrowing and deepening the two back channels running between Texas Hole and the Lower Flats and on down to Baetis Bend to improve habitat for trout and angling for the public.
|Marc Wethington, NMDGF Fisheris Biologist for the San Juan River below Navajo Dam in northwestern New Mexico surveys habitat improvements on the back channel below Texas Hole in December 2013.|
Workers added cobble and other natural material to the banks to narrow the channel and dug out some of the pools to allow fish that find their way into the back channels to thrive there even under lower flows.
|Cobble added to the back channel banks narrowed the channel to increase depth and provide better habitat for trout.|
The same project also resulted in the expansion of a marsh upstream of the Baetis Bend parking lot where several interconnected ponds were created and native vegetation introduced to provide more wetland habitat for waterfowl.
But it may be the Department’s efforts some 14 miles downstream of Navajo Dam at the Hammond Tract that could prove to be the most alluring to anglers as it opens up a whole other stretch of river to fishing.
|The far bank is what this area looked like before crews took to cutting down the Salt Cedar and Russian Olive trees last year.|
But the riverbank there has long been impenetrable due to dense stands of water robbing, non-native Salt Cedar and Russian Olive trees and the boat take-out was nothing more a small opening hacked through to the river.
Only the hardiest of die-hard anglers frequented this spot due to the conditions.
But last year work began on clearing the riverfront area of the invasive trees thanks to funding from the state forestry division. The work has since opened up the entire south bank of the river and continues on the north side this year.
|Crews cut a swath through the dense underbrush and trees alongside the San Juan River at the Hammond Tract. Photo courtesy of Marc Wethington.|
|One of the nice runs at the Hammond Tract on the San Juan River.|
The San Juan River has long been a top trout fishing destination for anglers due to a huge population of large trout of and many miles of public access. The river’s draw brings in an estimated $40 million to the state’s economy annually, according to a New Mexico State University economic study.
|The author shows off a fat San Juan Rainbow trout picked up on a dry fly during a Baetis hatch on the Lower Flats of the San Juan River in December 2013. Photo courtesy of Tim McCarthy.|