About an hour’s drive from Durango, the San Juan River tailwater, a result of the Navajo Dam completed on Navajo land in 1962, is another happy accident for trout lovers. It originates in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains on the western side of the Continental Divide, winds its way through northern New Mexico and Arizona, and ends in Utah where it empties into the Colorado River at Lake Powell. Although it crosses all 4 of the Four Corners, most agree the best place to fish is in New Mexico, below Navajo Dam at Navajo Lake.
While fishing is good for at least 10 miles below the dam, the most coveted area is a mere 3½-mile run. What this mileage lacks in length, it makes up for in fish. Known almost reverently as the “Quality Water,” many anglers consider this the holy grail of trout fishing. Releases from the dam keep the water temperature a near constant 42-45 degrees year round, and unlike the Delores, the San Juan can be experienced throughout every season.
Initially, New Mexico game officials stocked the river with brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout. Because the water is rich in nutrients and the conditions are so near perfect, the fish have flourished. Stocking rainbows has continued over the years although browns have reproduced on their own. This has resulted in one of the highest fish counts of any North American river, estimated at approximately 20,000 fish per mile in the Quality Water section.
Most of the year this section of river can be easily waded or fished from a drift boat, although it is strictly catch and release with a 2 fly limit on a single barbless hook.