Making its headwaters in the Colorado high country not far from Wolf Creek Pass, the San Juan River actually travels the majority of its overland journey through Utah and New Mexico.
By the time the San Juan reaches Pagosa Springs, it is already a wide flowing river. If you keep following it downstream another 25 miles or so, it empties into the Navajo Reservoir.
The San Juan in Colorado flows rather conveniently through Pagosa Springs, providing easy access to the local hot springs as well as excellent trout fishing conditions.
An angler can fish all morning, break for lunch and maybe a soak in the hot springs, then get right back out on the river for the evening hatch.
- About Upper San Juan River
- San Juan River Fishing Access Sites in Colorado
- Best Places to Fish the San Juan River in Colorado
- San Juan River (Colorado) Flow and Current Conditions
- Best Time to Fish the San Juan in Colorado
- Best Flies for San Juan River (Colorado)
- Fly Fishing Tips
- San Juan River (Colorado) Fishing Reports
- Trip Planning Tips
About Upper San Juan River
Fly Fishing San Juan River in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Follow the San Juan all the way to the Navajo Reservoir, and you will need to have a New Mexico fishing license. The legendary trout of the San Juan are generally found below the dam at the Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico, and it is well worth the time and effort if you don’t mind making a day trip from Pagosa Springs.
San Juan River Fishing Access Sites in Colorado
Best Places to Fish the San Juan River in Colorado
Access to the headwaters of the San Juan River can be achieved via the National Forest Land off Highway 160 west of Wolf Creek Pass if you want to hit the West Fork. East Fork anglers should take Forest Road 667 east of Highway 160 for about 10 miles south beyond the pass.
The easiest spot to get to the San Juan is in Pagosa Springs, where the river passes right through town. The town of Pagosa Springs actually has a standing agreement with the local riverfront property holders that allows anglers permission to fish and access to the high-water mark.
Since this is not typical of Colorado law in other towns, you should take advantage during your visit to the San Juan. Additionally, there are quite a few parks in town that provide access to the river, too.
South of Pagosa Springs, you will be in Southern Ute territory, and you need both tribal permission and a special license to fish the waters of the San Juan on their land. Last but not least, the real river monsters can be found below the Navajo Reservoir Dam, right on the border between Colorado and New Mexico. Make sure you have licenses for both states before setting out.
San Juan River (Colorado) Flow and Current Conditions
SAN JUAN RIVER AT PAGOSA SPRINGS, CO
- Streamflow: 94.0 ft³/s
- Gage height: 3.75 ft
Best Time to Fish the San Juan in Colorado
The upper San Juan fishes best after spring runoff which typically occurs in late May / early June. July through September is prime time with consistent caddis hatches. PMDs make an appearance in late July, and the blue-winged olives come off in September and October.
Best Flies for San Juan River (Colorado)
Popular fly patterns for the San Juan River include:
- Woolly Bugger (brown, black, natural #8, #14)
- Lynch’s Double Dot Egg (orange blood dot #18)
- Griffith’s Gnat (black, olive #18)
- Rojo Midge (gray, olive, brown #20 to #22
- Rosenbauer Parachute Beetle (#black #10 to #24)
- Cartoon Hopper (gray, olive, brown flash #6 and #8)
- Poly Wing RS2 (brown, black, gray #18 to #24)
- Foam Wing RS2 (brown, black, gray #18 to #24)
- Bunny Leaches (black, olive, gray, natural, white #6 and #8)
- Egg Patterns (chartreuse, orange, red, pink#8 to #22)
Fly Fishing Tips
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the main stem of the San Juan River. For the smaller waters of the East and West Fork San Juan River 3- or 4-wt rod is plenty. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
San Juan River (Colorado) Fishing Reports
There are a number of area fly shops that publish San Juan River fly fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
- San Juan River Colorado Fishing Report |Duranglers
- San Juan River Colorado Fly Fishing Report | Trouts Fly Fishing
- Pagosa Springs Area Fishing Report | Williams Creek Angler
Trip Planning Tips
The closest airport for the Colorado section of the San Juan is the Durango/La Plata Airport, though if you don’t mind the drive you can fly into Albuquerque, NM 2.5 hours away. Flights are also available to Farmington, NM that will cut the drive down to as little as 40 minutes if you are looking to fish the southern reaches of the San Juan as well.
As for places to stay, the best accommodations period are going to be in Pagosa Springs. You can walk from where you are staying and get right to fishing. There are bed and breakfasts, motels, hotels, and all manner of other accommodations to suit any budget or personal taste.
There are also many campgrounds along Highway 160 as it follows the San Juan for the more adventurous, and of course there are also ski resorts within an hours drive that can provide off season accommodations for bargain prices.
Don’t forget to check out local private vacation rentals either, as they can yield excellent stays for far less than you’d spend at a comparably appointed hotel.
Looking for more places to fish? Visit our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Colorado.
Winter: Winter provides some of the best fishing on the San Juan. Spring: Spring has higher water than normal during the runoff but trout can be taken and parts of the stream even waded during the high water.What is the best time of year to fish the San Juan River? ›
Winter: Winter provides some of the best fishing on the San Juan. Spring: Spring has higher water than normal during the runoff but trout can be taken and parts of the stream even waded during the high water.Where is the best fishing on the San Juan River? ›
The legendary trout of the San Juan are generally found below the dam at the Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico, and it is well worth the time and effort if you don't mind making a day trip from Pagosa Springs.How do I become a good fly fishing guide? ›
- They Help you Organize Your Fly Fishing Gear. ...
- Double-check the Knots. ...
- Make Sure the Hooks are Sharp. ...
- Hold a Practice Session to Help You Master the Art of Casting. ...
- Start Fly Fishing from the Water Near the Banks. ...
- Tell You to Let Fish Eat Before Setting the Hook.
Standard flies on the San Juan range from #24's on the large size down to #30's. Some anglers prefer to fish #32's, if they can find the hooks. Fishing for 20-inch trout with a size #30 fly has its challenges. There is not much hook on such a small fly to grip the lip of the trout.What is the best time of day to fly fish a river? ›
During the summer most fish species are hungriest at dawn and dusk with dawn being the most advantageous for a bite and dusk hours being the second-best time of day. During colder months the fish are found during the warmer parts of the sun's cycle including the middle of the day.What is the best day to go fishing? ›
New Moon is generally a very productive time for fishing. Dark nights mean that many predators feed more actively during daylight hours. The combined gravity of sun and moon during New Moon days has a stronger effect on all water bodies, leads to increased food availabilty and hence better fishing.How many fish per mile in the San Juan River? ›
Located in the northwest corner of New Mexico, the San Juan River below Navajo Dam is world renowned for providing some of the most steady action year round. With 15,000 fish per mile how couldn't it?What is the best fishing capital of the world? ›
Florida remains the Fishing Capital of the World because of great resources and responsible management. With a huge variety of fish, fishing waters and fishing styles to choose from, along with year-round fishing weather, there is little doubt that Florida will remain the place to go fishing.What kind of trout are in the San Juan River? ›
There's a wide variety of fish that is offered at the San Juan River such as rainbow trout, brown trout, cutbow trout, bass, carp and northern pike. Fishing for trout in the quality waters try using a tiny size #24 and #26 dry flies can work, but more often nymphs and emergers do a better job.
Fly Fishing is certainly not a sport you can just jump into one day, and you're coming home with loads of Rainbow Trout that evening. You'll spend a few trips getting to know your gear, and learning how to cast properly, along with learning how to find the right spots.Do you tip a fly fishing guide? ›
Additionally, if your guide provided exceptional service or went out of their way to ensure that you had a memorable experience, it's appropriate to tip accordingly. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to tipping, a general rule of thumb is to tip between 20-25% of the total cost of the trip.What is the most popular fly for fly fishing? ›
The Woolly Bugger
Classic. One of the best bass or trout lures ever and can also work on saltwater fish. This is one of the world's most well-known flies and it does service anywhere.
|Blue Winged Olive||Apr-Jun & Oct-Dec||DRIES: BWO's, Parachute BWO's, Parachute Adams.|
|Pale Morning Olive||Apr-Aug||DRIES: PMD's, Parachute PMD's, Light Cahill.|
|Caddis||May-Jun||DRIES: Elk Hair Caddis.|
Try pupal and larva forms of naturals for the area you're fishing dead drifted close to the bottom, as this is where most of the fish will be - especially Bubba. Patterns would include San Juan Worms, small annelids, baetis Nymphs, Scud and Midge pupa patterns.Which month is best for fishing? ›
There are two fishing seasons: January to May and September to November.What season is best for river fishing? ›
Most rivers and streams fish best in the spring and fall when water temperatures are cooler. Few rivers and streams are stocked, so you'll likely be fishing for naturally reproducing or wild fish. As the water gets warmer, look for trout in faster riffles where the water gets re-oxygenated as it tumbles over rocks.What time of the year is it best to fish? ›
Typically, spring and fall are the best seasons for fishing. Again, this is directly tied to fish biology. Because fish are cold-blooded and less active in very warm or cold water, that makes spring and fall the sweet spots for many freshwater fish.What month is best for San Juan? ›
The best time to visit San Juan is from April to June. During the springtime, temperatures are comfortable, and rain showers tend to be brief. What is this? This is also outside peak season for tourists, which is December to March, so you won't have to deal with as many crowds and lines.