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Most Western trout anglers are familiar with the San Juan River tailwater located below Navajo Reservoir in northwestern New Mexico. The famed tailwater is a year-round trophy fishery that attracts anglers from afar. It has been covered in these pages many times. The San Juan fishery that has not been covered by this newsletter is located upstream, across the border in Colorado where the river passes through Pagosa Springs, a backwater town that offers some of Colorados best mountain scenery and outdoor recreation alternatives for nonangling companions. I think of this section of the river as the other San Juan.
The San Juan River, of course, is a major tributary of the Colorado River. It rises in two forks (the East and West forks) at elevations of more than 12,000 feet in Colorados spectacular southern San Juan Mountains. As it flows westerly, it picks up major tributaries and changes character from a medium-sized mountain stream bordered by evergreen and aspen forests to a high desert river passing through the rocky terrain of New Mexico and Utah. Ultimately, it meets the Colorado River in the Lake Powell/ Glen Canyon impoundment upstream of the Grand Canyon.
The appeal of the other San Juan is about three parts ambience (extraordinary scenery and luxurious downtime lounging in riverside hot springs) and three parts fishing (best in the fall to large migrating brown trout). And get this – some of the best fishing locally during this period is right downtown in an area I will tell you about in a moment.
Pagosa Springs is located a few miles west of the continental divide, at an elevation of 7,000 feet. The town is bordered to the east and north by the soaring peaks of the San Juan Mountains, part of the three-million-acre San Juan National Forest. The adjoining Weminuche Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado. This extensive area is rich in wildlife and retains a rugged backcountry character symbolized by the fact that prior to their reintroduction into Montana, the last grizzly bear in the lower 48 states was killed nearby in 1979.
Pagosa Springs is named for the sulfur springs located along the river in the center of town. The mineral-rich waters are fed by the Mother Spring, which is reputed to be the worlds deepest geological hot spring. The Ute Indians called the springs pah gosah, meaning healing waters, and the springs continue to attract visitors from around the world.
In the late 1980s a discussion began concerning the potential to restore the river within the town limits. The in-town stretch of river was accessible to the public for fishing and rafting; however, access points were scarce and in some cases hazardous. In addition, the river had scoured to bedrock many stretches and offered minimal habitat for trout. Town leaders hired fisheries consultants to develop a habitat improvement plan. It called for creating rock weirs, stream deflectors, and a winding streambed to enhance fish habitat and to provide rapids for rafters and kayakers. The physical work required the addition of rock structure as well as the removal of bedrock areas to create depth. The plan also called for the creation of a new five-acre riverside park with two fishing ponds and an all-weather walking and jogging trail along the river.
In 1992, the town applied for and received a U.S. Fish and Wildlifefunded grant of $157,000 from the Colorado Parks and Wildlifes Fishing Is Fun program. It took an additional two years to obtain state and federal permits for the in-stream work. Fortunate timing of a road-widening project on nearby Wolf Creek Pass provided a trove of huge boulders for placement in the river. The public augmented funding of the project through an Adopt a Rock program. Work to fully implement the restoration plan is ongoing.
the town have created a much-enhanced fishery. The river is heavily stocked and the town has augmented Department of Wildlife stocking with