Sunday, December 13, 2009

an angling initiation

Took the boy out for his first trip on the Juan, he was positively giddy at the prospect the entire week leading up to the trip. I had been hesitant to bring him up in the past, trying to gauge his growing interest in fly fishing against the technical fishing, low catch rates that could potentially derail his enthusiasm before it's even off the ground.

But I had forgotten the heady effects the Juan has on the uninitiated, no need to worry really. I had seen it before in my own father's singleminded stalking the resident pigs of the Cable Pool, my brother's manic casting his newly-minted emerger pattern to huge pod of smutting risers. The Juan can have that affect, the size and sheer numbers of fish creating a fever of sorts not unlike Bogart's in the Treasure of the Sierra Madre. And this of grown men!

So the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, I began the boy's initiation to the Juan, first and foremost with some important introductions. I showed him around my favorite fly shop on the river- Float 'N Fish, sorting amongst the huge selection of flies for my favorite midge patterns. Afterward, we posed for pictures at Abe's Fly Shop, a mecca on the Juan. To complete the preamble, we fueled up for the day's adventures at Abe's diner, the boy marveling at all the ginormous fish mounts between bites of his angler's breakfast.

how many pictures taken at this door?

Mid-morning found us gearing up at the Texas Hole parking lot, the boy receiving approving nods and even words of encouragement from some of the grizzled Juan veterans. I swear he walked a foot taller on the way down to the river!
fishing buds

We proceeded across the lower reaches of the Kiddie Pool, taking note the Game and Fish folk must have recently stocked this reach judging by the numbers of planters rising literally all over the place. I stop midstream to remind the boy to look down around his feet. Sure enuf, a pod of fish slowly meander up to take station below us, picking off insects we've scuffed-up into the water column. Eyes grow wide in amazement as the boy slowly counts more large fish schooling within a rod's reach than he's seen in all his born days. Yep that's the Juan my boy!

We set up shop on one of my favorite pools, I have the boy spotting risers while I finish rigging up the rod we'll share for the day. I cast a coupla times, to give the boy the idea of the line and drift mind you ;-), manage to hook our first trout for the day before I could even get him started. The boy struggles in playing a nice 18" bow, the fish literally leading him hither, yon around the pool before he's brought to net. I laugh out loud at the sight of my boy massaging his cramped arm muscles, recognizing a familiar gleam in his eye as he recounts the play-by-play of the fight. C'mon Dad, let's go get another! Thus the San Juan sets its hooks into another angler...

We manage to hook two, beach one more in our first pool before I move us on up to the Honey Hole. I regale the boy with tales of fishing exploits at the Honey Hole, namely of his Dad and Uncle pricking no less than 10 fish in a pool the size of a residential bathroom, only to return later in the day to do it all over again. We negotiate the beaver-made trail thru the willows leading to the Honey Hole, only to startle a majestic blue heron upon emerging. The boy's mouth hangs agape as he tracks the heron's stately flight on downriver- Ahhh Coool! Yes indeed, it's a fine day to be on the river.

The Honey Hole proves a bit less than its spectacular self, but reliable nonetheless, with 2 fish brought to hand. Our tour around the middle flats basin then continues at a leisurely pace, taking time to explore and explain likely holding areas in the various braids. We break out of the braids and tinker in the larger pools of the upper flats area, gaining no real success other than marveling how you can be constantly trailed by a pod of trophy fish, and yet sometimes catch none at all when you get down to business.
the braids of the middle flats

Late afternoon, we make our way back towards the parking lot, and encounter a rare sight on the Juan: the Kiddie Pool and not a single angler plying the water, huh. Seizing the golden opportunity, I set the boy up at the head, fish are dimpling the water all around the pool the size of your backyard. Schweet, nice midge hatch kicking up. I couldn't resist showing the boy how to hook the first one, then step back to hover at his shoulder while he proceeds to hold forth on some willing pupils.

Now most San Juan anglers dabble at some time or another in the Kiddie Pool, though mostly for novelty's sake only. I've been known to stalk it myself, sight fishing to the bigger fish in shallow water maybe 12" deep. While it can be a fun way to close the angling day, the Kiddie Pool mostly serves as a nursery of sorts for the smaller plants introduced into the river. There's a ton of fish to be had, but most fall well under the Juan 17" average in size. The big fellas are to be found, but they get chased around a good deal by the frequent crowds. Ergo it remains a place to marvel about, but quickly loses its shine for more seasoned anglers and headhunters.

That Saturday, I finally realized the Kiddie Pool's true potential, unlocked when experienced thru the eyes of my boy. True to its name, the Kiddie Pool offers unbridled encouragement to the young angler. All the components to learning the larger river are represented, in smaller scale: current seams, foam slicks, prolific midge hatches, finning trout on the feed, all bound in wadable water upstream and down.
mending line

No sooner do I hand the rod to the boy and step back to frame a picture, than the line is tight and already streaming from the reel. The first of what would be many trout that afternoon dashes around the boy as he endeavors to bring all the heat his skinny 7-year-old arms can muster. Late that glorious day, we commence that familiar ritual I myself had only witnessed before on the Juan: the son casting, hooking, wrestling trout as long as his leg; the proud father laughing and lunging to net each and every catch.
giving em the business

All too soon, the day is done, both of us now talking over ourselves as we make our way back to the truck, reliving the day's exploits, added now to the annals of the fabled San Juan.

We'll be back, a promise easy to keep.

captura y libera- mjh


  1. Very nice! I (unfortunately) completely screwed up my son's initiation into fly fishing which I will be forever sorry. It looks like you got it right--kudos! Great blog (I've added you to my blog roll and RSS feed)--I'm looking forward to more exploits from your part of the Mountain West.

  2. Many thanks for your kind words Scott! Still getting the hang of the blog thang, appreciate the encouragement. Been a fan of your writing and photography for some time, means a lot to be rep'd on your site! Mike