Fishing Tips for Pagosa Country
by Norm Vance
with Thaddeus Cano, Ski and Bow Rack
and Gary Willmart, Colorado Fishing Adventures Outfitter
No, I wasn’t kidding. Fishing on the San Juan River in the town of Pagosa Springs can be pretty darn good! The River Restoration Project of 1995 is showing its worth by producing excellent fishing throughout town, and there is an active fish-stocking program paid for by local businesses.
Good fishing can be found in two small lakes behind the River Center and the Ski & Bow Rack in east Pagosa Springs. The conditions are excellent for kids, and one of the ponds is handicapped accessible. Fishing in Pagosa is limited to two fish and you must have valid fishing licenses.
The stretch of the river between Pagosa Springs Town Park, east to the River Center shopping center, is residential, and, therefore, private property. Those fishing must stay on the river. This can be accomplished by using waders, walking the shoreline or stone-stepping the large boulders put in during the river restoration project. Do not enter or exit the river on private property, as you will be in someone’s yard. This area allows a more private fishing experience while still fishing in town.
If you are fly fishing, there is a predictable stonefly hatch the first two weeks of June. Caddis hatch constantly from spring thaw through late fall. Tent-wing olive caddis in a size 14 and mayflies #16 and #18 are great choices for dry fly action on the river. During the summer months, yellow and olive grasshoppers are a must in sizes #10-14. Wooly Buggers will find trout in deeper holes. Nymph staples here are #14 prince nymph, hare’s ear, pheasant tail and copper johns.
Be careful wading in the river, the rocks can be very slippery. To save yourself a dunking, it is best to have shoes or waders with felt bottoms.
Pagosa Country has an abundance of trout, rich streams and lakes. Local fishing shops can help you find a suitable spot based on current conditions. Beadhead patterns imitating stonefly and caddisfly nymphs are very productive. A beadhead prince nymph in sizes 14 or 16 is a good choice if there is no surface activity. Small lures, spinners and bait work well in the small lakes.
The world famous San Juan River Quality Waters, below Navajo Lake Dam in northern New Mexico, is a little over an hour drive and can be well worth the time. Here the trout average 16-19 inches with many over 20 inches. Later in the summer and fall, a grasshopper pattern fished near the banks will often get exciting strikes. But, the Quality Water is known for nymphing. Extremely small patterns, sizes #20-22 in gray and brown imitating beatis and sizes #22-26 in gray, black, red and green midges can be very productive. For surface activity try #22-24 gray, olive-gray and olive Adams, comparadun for beatis, #22-26 black and gray in any midge pattern and Griffith’s gnat.
Examine a San Juan National Forest Service Map, and you will find many streams and lakes. Most people fish within a half mile of the road; so if you are willing to put in a little time hiking, you will often find good fishing away from the crowds.
For safety reasons, always let someone know the area you plan to fish, and when you plan to return. In fact, it is always safer and more fun to go with someone that you can share the experience with.
A good way to learn the country and its waters is to hire a guide for a day or more. There are several good fishing guides in the area to choose from. Make sure they are licensed and permitted for the area they are guiding. You may want to really get away from crowds and have a wilderness adventure with an outfitted horseback pack trip. Again, local fishing shops can assist you.
If you are fishing on your own, be very careful not to trespass onto private property. Keep your map with you and know where you are at all times. Trespassing is a serious offense in Colorado.
Please remember to limit your kill, so the next person can have a great fishing experience also. Check with local fishing shops for up-to-date conditions and information.