Memories Of The San Juan River

By Dave Hart

August 2010

Andy Babchak and Bill McCallum were very active members of Central Jersey Trout Unlimited around the year 2000 and began to talk to us about the great fishing at New Mexico’s San Juan River. Andy said that fishing there is “like dying and going to heaven.” Some of us in the chapter began trips out there. I got Leon Cheeka to go there on one of our weeklong trips and we had an exciting time and even met some Central Jersey fishermen there.

Bob Powell ran our second trip to San Juan for eighteen of our members staying in Abe’s motel and using Born and Raised Guides and Anasazi Angler Guides to float or walk the river with us. Most of our eighteen members had a guide take them on a boat ride the first or second day in order to learn the river. Fish were sizes 14-20 inches with an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 fish in the first four miles below the dam. That is about 20,000 to 25,000 per mile in that area. A rich insect life continued to offer an incredible source of food for the fish. Many fishermen landed hefty rainbows and browns on tiny flies. Water temperature was in the mid-forties. Cold water insects, midges, mayflies and caddis were ideal for fly selections. A nine foot rod with either 4X or 5X leaders were ideal for nymphing with a lighter rod for dry flies. Abe’s had a restaurant, store and fly shop as did the Sportsman’s restaurant nearby and restaurants in Durango, Colorado also served fine dinners.

My third trip to San Juan was with my twelve-year-old grandson, Daniel. We spent a day there with a guided boat trip and a walking tour the second day. For part of this trip the guide brought Daniel to a beaver lodge where he caught a number of fish including a 20-inch brown on a small red midge fly. There was a small beaver kit running around on top of the beaver lodge, which was very exciting for Daniel during that time.

We spent a couple of days later exploring past Indian reservations at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and Mesa Verde in Colorado. These were ancient dwellings that the Indians deserted over a hundred years ago. Daniel loved the fishing and the Mesa explorations very much.

Bill Mc Callum and Andy Babchak were great fishermen who fished heavily and got a lot of people to enjoy various new places in our west. We were very sad when Andy passed away a few years ago.