My girlfriend and I had been diverted south from our Colorado wanderings by an early snow to New Mexico. Being a typically ignorant yankee concerning matters of landscape, I didn’t even know that there was running water in New Mexico. Let alone a “Big River” running down the middle of it. But on the second day I was ever in wondrous New Mexico my course was set for the next fifty years by a Santa Fe motel clerk, who told me that there were “huge trout in the Taos Box.”
Santa Fe was a sleepy village then—but it’s changed now, and the fellow at the hotel is now a “consiglieres” and not a clerk. And what was once the historical center of Americas West’ has now been reduced to one of the world’s great shopping destinations. It was too much of a town for me even back then—let alone now, and when we drove north and peered into this mysterious Taos Box we rented a house for $35 a month—as close to the “Box’ as possible.
But I couldn’t figure out how to catch the big trout. Not until a fisherman named Charlie Reynolds showed me how. But that was still on the outskirts of “the Box” and the suspicions have existed for me as to what type of Rio monsters swim in those ten miles I’ve barely fished? Few people—way few—go in there. In fact, probably less fish it now then back in the olden days. Yes many have rafted through it and they have hooped and hollered against the suffocating solitude but that is drowned out by the roar of spring thaw cascading towards the ocean. When the Rio is in shape to be fished the water has subsided and the river is quieter. Floating it a low flows is suicidal.
But why would one bother to go to that dreadful place of suicide--rock, rattler and rapid—anyway; when you can go “Santa Fe Style “ and shop your trout; hire a strapping young guide who will pick you up in his range rover and drive you to a manicured pool. Catch fat fishes that are hand-fed; without all the bother of butting up against such raw nature.
But we are running low on clean water and space to fish; so this is a sensible future to trout fishing. It is great that we have this arrangement as the wild trout fishery can’t take that much pressure. And fishing for pet fish has become accepted by even experienced anglers. And in truth stocked trout wise up just like wild ones if they are educated by being caught, and then, released.
But we haven’t gone totally pretend yet and I can assure you that this same guide—of the waving flaxen hair, shinning teeth and Range Rover, is fishing someplace wild like the Rio Grande on his day off. And when he has really had it with the current state of civilized fly fishing he might even venture into the Taos Box! But even few guides—including yours truly-- have penetrated much of “the Box”—nor do we do trips there. There is plenty good fishing on the Rio Grande in places far easier to reach.
So when ya need a dose of untamed it doesn’t get any rougher. And the dozen miles between Manby Hot Springs and Taos Junction Bridge remains untouched—except by the span of the Gorge Bridge. Geographic hardship in the form of sheer cliff has made it so. There are no elevators, (although someone wants to put a Zip Line) no established trails, no little cabins, no springs or flat ground to camp at, and certainly no hand-fed trout. There are a number of places where a healthy young person can get in and out. Only a few know the way, like Taos’s own John Nichols and Taos Fly Shop guides Nick Streit, Ron Sedall and Chris Cantrell. Some of the trails are on the east side and that is all Taos Pueblo land, now closed to all. The west side is BLM, and although there is a road, you’re only supposed to walk in.