On San Juan, quantity beating size right now

An anonymous source has always told me that it is not size that is important, but the quantity of fish that makes a fun day of fly-fishing.

Iím not sure I totally buy into that theory. However, at the end of the day, I do prefer to sit at the back of the truck and brag about catching a large number of small fish when my fishing partner can brag about only one large fish Ė a fish that took him all day to catch.

Not long ago, several people were asking me why there seemed to be an inordinate number of small trout in the San Juan River. To them, it seemed the numbers of big trout that usually would follow behind them, like big Labs, eating the food in their shuffle, werenít as numerous.

Being the professional that I am, I realized some on-site investigation was needed.

It took this inquiring mind two trips to fish the San Juan, several phone calls and multiple stream-side interviews to establish if there really was a problem, and if so, what was causing it.

I can say, after exhaustive research, there are lots of small fish and maybe fewer large fish.

I also can report that the cause is aliens. Yep, they flew in one night after partaking in Coloradoís new marijuana laws, scooped up all the big fish, then returned to Colorado. Colorado is a great state! The new law is attracting not only new tourists, but aliens that formerly lived in Roswell, N.M. That makes a much funnier story than what really is going on.

Seriously, after my two fishing trips to the San Juan, it was apparent that anglers were catching more small fish than large ones. Further, the small fish were holding in large schools eating anything that came their way. The flies they were taking ranged from small dries to emergers fished just below the surface.

When these schools appeared, it was a feeding frenzy that produced lots of fun-to-catch trout that were 10 inches or smaller. Catching a big fish had the angler dredging the bottom using lots of weight and nymphs. And I didnít see many big ones taken.

After experiencing this, I made a call to the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and talked with Marc Wethington.

He told me that in normal years, the game and fish department releases between 80,000 and 100,000 5- to 6-inch trout into the San Juan River. The release dates are in January, February and March. This year, some of the fish were ready for release early. So in September and October, 40,000 stockers were released. The remaining 60,000 were released during the usual three-month period.

In addition to those 100,000 stockers, there were some holdover trout at other hatcheries. Those fish also were released into the San Juan. That is what produced large numbers of small fish earlier than usual.

Why this early release seemed to make the bigger fish disappear, I donít know. But the two events did happen simultaneously.

So, there you have it. No aliens, just sound management by the game and fish department.

I learned something else. All the fish stocked in the San Juan are sterile. I have no idea how trout are made sterile, but it could mean more fly-fishing, I mean, research is needed. I was assured the sterile fish would grow to large sizes, just no babies from the existing hogs.

With that new knowledge, I want to remind everyone to handle all the fish on the San Juan very gently. It takes a long time to grow big trout.

Reach Don Oliver at durango_fishing@frontier.net.

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