San Juan River remodeled, not just renovated

For those of you who stopped fishing the San Juan River because of the lousy river conditions from the Kiddie Hole upstream, you need to rethink your position. I say this from recent experience.

I am one of those who said, “never again.” After watching it over the last 15 years go from a great fishery to one of silted-in holes, shallow runs and generally just not any fun, well, things have changed, and you need to get yourself down there.

Thanks to the leadership of Marc Wethington, San Juan River fish biologist with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, we have a newly remodeled river. The first thing you will notice as you drive into the Texas Hole parking lot is a new catch basin at the head of the parking lot. The old sand ditch has been removed, and a new catch basin to stop water, sand and gravel has been added. There is even a spillway on the basin to help with any major flooding.

The area from the Kiddie Hole across to the main channel, then upstream close to the upper flats, back across the river, then downstream to the Texas Hole parking lot is brand new. (So new, in fact, that we old curmudgeons need a river map.)

The project started in 2004 with a management plan for in-stream habitat work. River Bend Engineering, with offices in Pagosa Springs and Albuquerque, did design work. Wethington said River Bend sought input from Game and Fish and other people. Once the plan and cost estimate were done, the search for state and federal funds began. In this case, the search was relatively easy and quick. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson earmarked $250,000 for the Department of Game and Fish to be used for the San Juan River project, and the Feds kicked in another $100,000.

The general contractor was Albuquerque Underground, assisted by Aquatic Consultants, also of Albuquerque. Wethington said the two firms brought the project in on budget and on time. I guess they are fly fishermen and wanted to get on the new river as soon as possible.

So what was done? Dredging was done to allow more water into areas that hold fish. Existing pools were reworked and new pools created as more water found these areas. There now are 21 pools in the remodeled area. Old islands and barriers were removed letting water flow into shallow areas that now are deep and loaded with fish. Other areas that were nothing more than silted-in, shallow walkways between islands now are filled and shored up creating some new pools.

The old beaver dams were reinforced, plus two new dams that look like beaver dams were built. The new dams look so realistic that I had to ask Wethington to identify the two new ones. New islands and peninsulas are being seeded with grass. I was assured the seeded areas will be resistant to wind, rain and erosion. The quality of work on this project is second to none.

With wonderful new area to fly-fish, don’t delude yourself into thinking the catching will be any easier. I have been down there a couple of times, and I want you to know the trout are as finicky as they have ever been. In fact, I think the trout are enjoying the clear, deep pools so much that they are demanding a better selection of flies. Sloppy presentations no longer will be hidden by cloudy water and overgrown banks.

It is really nice to able to say, “The government, along with the private sector, has done a great job.” Be sure to thank those folks when you see them.

Reach Don Oliver at