San Juan River Fishing Map

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San Juan Stream Improvement Projects

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San Juan River Access - Navajo Dam to Lower River
The San Juan River Quality Water is accessible from Highway 511 on the south side of the river in its entirety and by County Road 4280 on the north side of the river where only the lower part of the Quality Water is accessible by vehicle.  Foot trails on the north side of the river allow fishermen to get to fishing spots upstream from the Simon Canyon parking lot up to near the dam over a 3.0 mile trail - the trail can be difficult at times.   To support anglers in the Quality Water there are multiple parking lots on the south side of the river provided by Navajo Lake State Park where anglers pay a daily vehicle fee for parking.  Most of the NM State Park parking lots and pay stations supporting fishermen are on the South side of the river, with the exceptions being at the Navajo Lake State Park campgrounds at Cottonwood, Pine River site and Sims Mesa.  For those who are camped at one of the Navajo Lake State Park camping facilities, the vehicle camping fee also covers the parking fee for the Navajo Lake State Park daily parking facilities on the south side of the river.   Foot trails from the Navajo Lake State Park parking lots on the south side will get you to the river, usually a short walk but at times up to about 1/4 mile.  In some locations on the south side the parking facilities are located 40-60 feet above river level which adds a grade to the trails around the parking facilities.  On the Lower River on the south side highway 511 is about 60 feet higher than the river in the area of Cottonwood Flats and the area below Browns Corner.  Fishermen do fish the south side from highway 511 near Cottonwood Flats, the south side of the river immediately below Browns Corner is not reachable from highway 511 due to the steep slope. 

Navajo Lake State Park supports anglers through day parking, restrooms and camping sites (Cottonwood Campground, Pine River Site, Sims Mesa Site).  When parking in the parking areas within Navajo Lake State Park, motorists are required to purchase a daily parking/camping fee for each vehicle.  This parking fee applies to most of the Quality Water and there are pay stations located at the parking lots where fees apply.  In addition, there are pay stations at the State Park camping facilities and at the Navajo Lake State Park office just north of the dam at Navajo Lake. 

Navajo Lake reservoir can be accessed through the marina off Highway 511 just north of the dam (Pine River Site), and on the south side from the marina near Sims Mesa.  The Sims Mesa marina is remote but is accessible from County Road 490 off the south side of the lake.  To get to Sims Mesa marina from the town of Navajo Dam you need to travel around the east arm of the lake on County Road 363 (accessible off NM Highway 539 on the South side of the dam) to County Road 527, then proceed north to CR 490.  The Sims Mesa site is also accessible from Chama, NM via NM Highway 64 and NM Highway 527. 

Terrain and Wildlife
The San Juan River runs through high desert canyon country, in some areas near the river annual precipitation may be less than 10" per year.  The river itself flows through a valley that ranges in width from about .5 miles near the dam to over 2 miles near the town of Navajo Dam, about 6 river miles downstream from the dam.  On both the north and south side of the river large sandstone mesas rise several hundred feet from the river floor as the river flows downstream.  The elevation gain from the riverbed to the tops of some of these mesas near the river can be as much as 700 feet.  In the mornings and evenings, the changing sunlight casts beautiful light patterns with changing "colors" on the canyon walls to provide an opportunity to photograph the magic or simply enjoy the moment. 

The river itself changes the dominant high desert landscape into a lush riverbed.  In many areas large Cottonwoods, well over 100 years old, provide shade and nesting for native desert animals and birds.  This river ecosystem supports fish, birds, plants and animal species of which some do not normally exist in the high desert environment.    The immediate area supports deer, elk, black bear, coyotes, mountain lions, osprey, bald eagles, blue heron, canada geese, ducks and many other plant and animal species, some of which are present only in the riverbed ecosystem rather than in the surrounding high desert canyon country. 

The footpaths around the river are at times impacted by the steep terrain near the riverbed.  On the north side of the river upstream from Simon Canyon, the mesas descend steeply to the riverbed making the footpath challenging at times all the way to near the dam.  You can get where you need to go but don't expect it to be easy.   There are some challenging moments on the foot trails near the Simon Canyon parking facility on the south side of the river also.  

The valley south of the river has several swampy areas which should be avoided.  The footpath near Cable Hole goes through some of this swampy terrain on a well worn path - if you stay on the path you will be OK.  The terrain south of the Lower Flats area also has an extended swampy area - if you get off the beaten paths you will wish you hadn't. 

The San Juan River supports a large and diverse insect population that changes as one moves downstream and water temperatures increase.  The water near the dam is cold year round (near 40º F- 42º F) and supports large populations of Midges in various sizes and colors, as well as smaller populations of Mayflies, annelids and scuds.   Insect populations in this area are stable and hatch year round as the water temperatures do not change significantly with the seasons in this area.  Close to the dam water temperatures are determined primarily by depth in Navajo Lake, as one moves downstream past Cable Hole water temperatures tend to increase and are influenced to a greater extent by seasonal conditions. 

As the water warms and responds more to the season it provides improved habitat for more seasonal insects including Mayflies.  Various Midges are available to trout nearly every day of the year in the upper and mid sections of the river mixed with smaller populations of Mayflies and annelids.   As you move downstream, the water gradually warms and is influenced more by seasonal conditions resulting in larger Mayfly, Caddis, Scud and Golden Stonefly populations. The progressively warmer water of the Lower Flats and below supports increasing populations of Mayflies and as you continue downstream past Simon Point,  Caddis begin to show up seasonally as well as Golden Stoneflies further downstream.  Scuds are also present in the lower Quality Water in weed beds in slower water.   Midges in the Quality Water are common regardless of the season and are considered the primary food source for rainbow and brown trout most days of the year. 

Fishing Information
The San Juan River is one of the most consistent rivers in the country for fly fishermen.  The relatively constant temperatures from the lower reaches of  Navajo Reservoir provide year round cold water with only minor temperature changes from month to month.  These cold temperatures support year round Midge and annelid populations in the Quality Water and provide a fishery which can be successful 365 days a year.  To be successful you should be prepared to fish Midges and annelids year round, as well as traditional mayfly Nymphs and duns more seasonally.  Caddis are present in the lower quality water most years as well as golden stoneflies further downstream.  The summer season generally brings traditional terrestrial patterns into the mix including beetle, ant and grasshopper imitations fished on top.  Attractor patterns including Nymph, Egg, Dry Fly, Terrestrial and Streamers can be successful during most seasons.

Cable Hole Area - the dam to Beaver Flats - the Upper River parking area is 4.4 miles upstream from the Hwy 173  /  Hwy 511 intersection
The approximately 6 miles of the river from the dam at Navajo Lake to the community of Navajo Dam at Aztec Bridge features many water and bottom types.  Up near the dam the river spreads into large runs with some deeper holes.  There are many large fish in this area.  As the river enters Cable Hole it narrows and picks up speed forming a fast run for the main channel on the north side and slower water on the south side with the water flowing around a large and small island.  There are many different types of water in this area including fast and slow, and deep holes.  As you move downstream of Cable Hole the water spreads out and slows forming a large flat called the Upper Flats.  There are deep holes at the top side of this area flowing past the islands at Cable Hole and becoming more shallow at the upper and mid portions of the Upper Flats.  This area has many small holes and current seams along with runs near the 3 small islands near the main channel on the north side.  Large numbers of quality fish are present in this area and can be caught on Nymphs, Dries and Streamers.  The most consistent fishing is done by imitating the prevalent Midge pupa below the surface and midge emerger/adults on the surface.   The Quality Water (STW - Special Trout Water) begins in this area near the bottom of Andy's Island.  The water immediately below the dam to the booms at the bottom of Andy's Island is restricted by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and no fishermen are allowed in this area. 
  Cable Hole Area Image

Texas Hole Area - Beaver Flats to the Upper Chutes -
the Texas Hole parking area is 3.8 miles upstream from the Hwy 173  /  Hwy 511 intersection

The river from Beaver Flats to the Upper Chutes has many different characters from the main channel on the north side of the river to the slow shallow water of the Braids, the deep powerful runs at the top of Texas Hole followed by the 300 yard long pool from Texas Hole to the Upper Chutes.  This water is the busiest area of the Quality Water and provides the starting point for most drift boat trips.  The river enters this area from the slower, relatively shallow water of the Upper Flats where the main channel continues on the north side past a number of islands forming the top of the Braids.  At the top of this area the south side of the river moves through the Sand Hole followed by the Braids.  The slower and shallower water on the south side including the Sand Hole and the Braids supports large numbers of fish sipping on Nymphs and adults in water that is easily waded.  The water from the Braids empties into the Kiddie Hole which provides a great place to catch fish and for youngsters to learn to fish, thus the name.  Water exiting Kiddie Hole flows through Audie's Run where the river narrows, picks up speed and rejoins the main channel as a powerful run on the south side of Texas Hole.  As the main channel rejoins the water from the Braids,  large,  deep, powerful runs are formed with long current seams that eventually smooth out providing a long, relatively consistent pool all the way to the Upper Chutes.  The current in this pool is moderate, although wading can be difficult in many areas due to depth and the nature of the footing.  There are large weed beds in this area and most of the way to Lunkers  which can provide difficult footing for wading.  NM Game and Fish is involved in stream improvement projects in the Braids from early Nov 2011 to mid Dec 2011.  Construction work will close parts of this area during this time. 

  Texas Hole Area Image

Lower Flats Area - Upper Chutes to Frustration Point - the Lower Flats parking area is 2.7 miles upstream from the Hwy 173  / Hwy 511 intersection
The long, deep pool at the bottom of Texas Hole divides into a north channel (main channel) and three smaller estuaries on the south side of the river forming several large islands along with many smaller islands.  Most of the river flow is through the main channel on the north side although there are good fish in the estuaries catchable in shallower water.  As the main channel flows past an island at the top of the Upper Chutes and several named holes it empties into a large flat where it is rejoined by the Upper Estuary above Bathtub Hole.  There are several named holes in the main channel of this area above the Lower Flats before the main channel rejoins the Upper Estuary starting with the Upper Chutes, Pearl's Revenge, Steady Rock, Three Island Run and Hell Hole.   As the main channel rejoins the Upper Estuary it forms a large, relatively shallow flat that is named the Lower Flats and provides a generally wade able area with moderate currents and considerable cover for fish on the largely cobble bottom of the Lower Flats.  The river divides again at the bottom of the Lower Flats forming a main channel to the north and the Lower Estuary on the south side.  The Lower Estuary does hold fish and provides excellent opportunity for sight fishermen on its way to rejoining the main channel below Baetis bend at Frustration Point.  The main channel exits the Lower Flats on the north side through a powerful run appropriately called Lunkers Alley followed by slower water and a bend to the left at the top of Baetis Bend, rejoining the Lower Estuary at Frustration Point.   A third estuary, the Gas Well Estuary, forms the southern boundary of the river from its split off of the Upper Estuary just below the bottom of Texas Hole and rejoins the main river below the Lower Flats at the upper portion of the Lower Estuary.  Flows in the Gas Well Estuary are low most of the year reducing its impact on the fishery. 

Warmer and more seasonal water temperatures in the Lower Flats are more favorable for Mayflies than the colder water nearer the dam so insect populations here include Midges, annelids and a larger population of Mayflies.  As the main channel divides at the bottom of the Lower Flats the main channel goes through a deep, fast run called Lunker Alley.  This hole is aptly named because of the large trout that hold deep in the run/hole.  From Lunker Alley, the main channel slows and then bends left a little into a popular dry fly fishing area called Baetis Bend, an area that supports good numbers of Mayflies.  The water that leaves the main channel at the bottom of the Lower Flats forms the Lower Estuary, which flows around a large island and rejoins the main channel from the north side at Frustration Point.  Frustration Point is the beginning of an area featuring deep. slow water that is difficult for anglers without boats or floatation devices to fish.  There are large fish in this area, but without "floatation", you probably can't cast to them. 

  Lower Flats Area Image

Simon Canyon - Frustration Point to Last Chance Riffle - the Simon Point parking area is 2.6 miles upstream from the Hwy 173  /  Hwy 511 intersection
As the San Juan flows downstream from Frustration Point it enters a long, deep pool called Death Row.  The current is slow here, the water is deep, and the fish are large.  Fishing Guides rowing boats through this area with upstream spring winds appropriately named the area Death Row.  As is the case with Frustration Point, without floatation it would be difficult to cast to these large fish.  After going around a bend and passing ET Rock, the river at Death Row empties into shallower, faster water at Cannon Run and then proceeds to a deeper, more powerful run at Simon Canyon Run.  This run is very close to the BLM parking lot at Simon Canyon.  A major wash enters the river on the north side from Simon Canyon and can discolor the river downstream from Simon Canyon after hard rains.  The run below Simon Canyon through Muskrat Row can be fast and deep enough to be difficult to wade, although below Muskrat Row all the way to Last Chance Riffle much of the river is wade able under normal flow conditions (about 500 cfs).    Muskrat Row empties into the Lower Chute and is the area of the river where you begin to see Caddis in the summer.  In some years there are significant summer caddis hatches in the Lower Chute area down through Doc Johnson's Bank, Caddis Corner and Last Chance Riffle.  In addition to Caddis, there are Midge, Annelid, and Mayfly populations in this area.  Following Last Chance Riffle, the Quality Water (STW - Special Trout Water) ends above the turn at Crusher Hole and you enter the regular regulations section of the river near Cottonwood Campground.  This is also the takeout point for most Quality Water Float trips on the River.  The next public take out point for drift boats isn't an option until the bottom of the Lower River past Brown's Corner. 

  Simon Canyon Area Image

Cottonwood - Last Chance Riffle to Walt's Riffle - Cottonwood Campground is accessed via CR 4280 just west of Aztec Bridge on the North side of Hwy 173
The river around Cottonwood Campground supports a large number of fishermen including both fly fishermen and bait fishermen.  The New Mexico STW (Special Trout Water), locally called the Quality Water ends upstream of Cottonwood Campground at the bottom of Last Chance Riffle, before the turn at Crusher Hole.  Cottonwood Campground provides numerous improved campsites, fresh water, rest rooms, angler day parking and a Group Shelter to provide services to large numbers of visitors.  Most fishermen access the river in this area on the north side from Cottonwood Campground as the access from the south side of the river requires a decent down a very steep embankment.  At the top end of this area the river bends south sharply forming a deep hole with powerful currents on the west side of the river.  The powerful water in this area is called Crusher Hole.  Just downstream of Crusher Hole is a boat ramp which is the exit point for most Quality Water float trips.  After leaving Crusher Hole the river proceeds south past a Gravel Pit area with islands on the east side and then widens and divides around a large island.  At the bottom of this island the river is traveling southwest and bends west entering the Cottonwood Flats area.  This is a large flat area that is popular with bait fishermen with faster, deeper water on the south side of the river.  There is structure in the Cottonwood Flats area and current seams providing good cover for trout. 

Lower River - Walt's Riffle to Gobernador Wash
Below the water at Cottonwood Campground the river moves downstream in a westerly direction until it divides forming a large island at The Big Y.  The Big Y is located within walking distance of Float 'N Fish to the north and west.  On the north side of the river (main channel) is Doc Rose's Hole, once the site of the NM state record rainbow trout.  Following the island at The Big Y the river forms again into only a main channel and turns south going under Aztec Bridge (Highway 173 to Aztec) down to Brown's Corner.  At Brown's Corner the river turns west again traveling toward Blanco.  The area of the San Juan open to public fishing access ends in this area about Gobernador Wash.  The San Juan below Gobernador Wash runs through primarily private land with restricted access.  The river is accessible in most areas in this section with public parking just east of Aztec Bridge and down near the boat ramp above Gobernador Wash.