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Anglers say the Four Corners, particularly the San Juan River, offers some of the best fishing in the country

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series that highlights popular outdoor activities that anyone — from a novice to an expert — can try out. Stories will publish on the last Thursday of each month this year. If you have a suggestion or a story idea, email City Editor Maggie Wegrzyn at mwegrzyn@daily-times.com.

NAVAJO DAM — Bob Fitz grew up in Wisconsin — a state known for its lakes and fishing opportunities  — but the Farmington man says the Four Corners actually has better fishing.

"I catch more fish in the Four Corners area than I catch back in Wisconsin," he said.

Fitz has several hypothesis for why fishing is better in the Four Corners, including a longer growing season and less fishing pressure. It could also stem from the style of fishing Fitz relies on locally.

Nowadays, Fitz almost always uses a rod while fishing — something he never did in Wisconsin. A member of the San Juan Fly Fishing Federation, Fitz also coordinates the Youth Fly Fishing Adventure on the San Juan River.

"We're blessed with one of the best fisheries in the country, maybe even in the world, for fly-fishing," he said, referring to the Quality Waters of the San Juan River.

That section of the river has become the center of the economy for surrounding communities, such as those of Navajo Dam and Turley. Located at the base of the dam along the San Juan River, the agricultural communities started offering more fishing opportunities after the dam was built.

Now, those businesses include Float 'N Fish, a shop that specializes in fly-fishing. Raymond Johnston, who grew up fishing in San Juan County, opened the shop about 16 years ago.

Johnston has studied the fish and the insects in the river, and he ties flies based on the aquatic life in the river. He said the main source of food for the fish is midges and mayflies.

"People come from all over the world to fish the life cycle of these insects," Johnston said.

He explained that people often start fly-fishing in the morning, using flies that mimic a larval form of the insects. In the evening, they tend to use the adult form of the insect.

Dozens of anglers fished on Tuesday in the Quality Waters. Bill Byrd, of Hobbs, and Scott Newcomb, of Las Vegas, Nev., were two of the anglers at Texas Hole, a popular fishing spot beneath the dam. Neither had fished the Quality Waters before Tuesday, but they had read about the river.

"It seems like there are plenty of fish rising," Byrd commented.

Most of the anglers earlier this week were fly fishers, but there are many other forms of fishing. Float 'N Fish carries a small variety of baits, and other businesses offer equipment like spinning reels.

Fitz said the method anglers choose is based on what they want to get out of the fishing experience. A spinning reel allows the angler to relax and wait for a fish to bite, while fly-fishing is much more involved.

"It's not fishing where you can sit back with a six pack," Fitz said of fly-fishing.

Instead, fly fishers have to learn about the current, the fish's habits and the bugs in the river. The angler then tries to make his or her lure look like a bug that is either floating on the river or landing on the water.

Fitz said there is a thrill in watching the silver streak of a trout emerge from the water to grab the fly.

"Every fish is a new experience," he said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

Equipment

Fishing license: Anglers older than age 12 are required to purchase fishing licenses from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. New Mexico residents who are 70 or older are eligible for free licenses. Licenses can be purchased at wildlife.state.nm.us, by calling 1-888-248-6866 or through a licensed vendor

Clothing: The waist-high or chest-high waterproof boots known as waders help keep anglers dry when they head into the river. Fishing vests with numerous pockets help anglers carry their gadgets and gear. 

Rod and reels: The rod and reels, which attach to the rods, are strung with fishing line. 

 

Tips for beginners 

  • "There's fishing and there's catching. If it's all about catching, fishing is a frustrating sport." — Bob Fitz, San Juan Fly Fishing Federation
  • "Ask lots of questions." — Scott Newcomb
  • "Have a lot of patience." — Bill Byrd
  • "You have tough days. That's why they call it fishing. Persistence is the key." — Matt Van Sickle, Float 'N Fish
  • "Get your rod and go out and have some fun." — Raymond Johnston, Float 'N Fish

Three places to fish

San Juan River: Located beneath Navajo Dam, the Quality Waters of the San Juan River are famous for a healthy population of trout, including German brown trout and rainbow trout.

Lakes: Navajo Lake is reservoir that boasts a healthy fishery with bass, northern pike, trout, salmon, catfish, perch, bluegill and crappie. Farmington Lake in east Farmington offers a fishing dock and opportunities for night fishing. Jackson Lake is a small lake off the La Plata Highway that has a variety of fishing in a secluded setting. And if you're looking to get farther out of town, Vallecito Lake, located 18 miles outside of Durango, Colo., has a wide variety of large fish, including northern pike, German brown trout and rainbow trout. There is an access fee of $3 for a single-day permit or $30 for an annual permit. To fish at Vallecito, anglers must have a Colorado fishing license, available at cpw.state.co.us.

Fishing ponds: New Mexico Game and Fish stocks trout at several ponds in Aztec, including the pond at Riverside Park, located at the end of South Lightplant Road, and Tiger Ponds, located off of Old Spanish Trail.

 

Where to buy fishing licenses and equipment

Abe's Motel and Fly Shop: 1793 N.M. Highway 173 in Navajo Dam

Ace Hardware: 1947 W. Broadway Ave. in Bloomfield 

Big 5 Sporting Goods:  910 E. Main St. in Farmington

Big R: 908 E. Main St. in Farmington and 1500 W. Broadway Ave. in Bloomfield

Dick's Sporting Goods: 5050 E. Main St. in Farmington

Duranglers: 923 Main Ave. in Durango, Colo.

Fishheads: 1796 N.M. Highway 173 in Navajo Dam

Float 'N Fish: 4 County Road 4251 in Navajo Dam

Hi-Power Sports: 100 S. Fourth St. in Bloomfield

K-Mart: 3000 E. Main St. in Farmington

Navajo Dam Enterprises: 1448 N.M. Highway 511 in Navajo Dam

Sims Marina Inc.: 12 County Road 527 in Navajo Dam

The Sportsman: 1808 N.M. Highway 173 in Navajo Dam

Sportsmans Warehouse: 4905 E. Main St. in Farmington

Walmart: 1400 W. Main St. and 4600 E Main St. in Farmington

Fishing license fees

Annual license: $25 for New Mexico residents, $56 for non-residents

Single-day fishing: $12 

Five-day fishing: $24

Junior annual fishing: $5 for New Mexico residents, $15 for non-residents

Senior annual fishing: $8 for New Mexico residents, not available for non-residents. 

Annual license for people with disabilities: $8 for New Mexico residents, not available for non-residents

If you go

What: San Juan Fly Fishing Federation fly-fishing seminar

When: 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 30

Where: Cottonwood Campground, about four miles below Navajo Dam at Navajo Lake State Park

Cost: Free

More info: Go to sjfff.org.

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