Bears Ears National Monument supporter Garon Coriz travels to Taos, New Mexico to learn how President Obama's 2013 designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument has affected access for Native Americans, hunters, anglers and more. What he found may surprise you.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Rio Chama below El Vado Lake
To fish the El Vado section of the Rio Chama head to Cooper’s El Vado Ranch. It’s about a mile below the dam. They charge a nominal fee to park, and have camping, a tiny store and cabins. These cabins are thoroughly booked in summer as many people come here to bait fish. But don’t let that scare you because there is a lot of river and it is heavily stocked with 12 inch rainbows that grow fast in this rich environment. In just a few months time the trout may gain a couple inches and no longer even resemble a stocked trout, and engage the angler in a vigorous combat.
If your fishing needs to be close to the car there are a couple of very easy and productive runs right adjacent to Coopers. To fish them it is best to get on the far side and walk down a ¼ mile and then fish back up with nymphs. What makes them good spots is that the water has sufficient depth to harbor trout and an even, unbroken flow--one gets a long drift with a moderately weighted nymph. Most of the fish here will just be stockers but a good brown is always possible. (Especially in fall.)
The water above Coopers is broken and fast. If you try and fish up on the east side you will get walled out by a long cliff, so to fish it properly you must be on the west side. You can drive upstream to the end of the campground and cross the river there; but beware that it is not an easy crossing and try it only at flows below 200 cfs! An easier way to get across—albeit a longer walk-- is to simply use the foot bridge that is visible from Cooper’s.
Far fewer fishermen will be found down below Coopers. This is where the river widens and slows down to a riffle/pool structure. But there is virtually no vehicular access below Cooper’s, and it’s 26 miles to the next access/take out. This is a famous place to float—unfortunately it is not a place to float/ fish because the floating flows are much too high (800+) and muddy to provide good fishing (contact Taos B.L.M. for floating permits).
The group Rio Grande Restoration (.com) is working to stabilize these flows to improve the health of the river. If the flows were consistently at a moderate level of something like 300 cfs it would be likely that the river could be float/fished. Another huge environmental factor here is that silt buildup reduces trout numbers as one proceeds downriver. The Nutrias drainage that comes in from the east is largely responsible for the silt-- but there are still several miles of excellent water that receives only light pressure.
Trout in this El Vado stretch are more numerous than most fisherman realize because they are a temperamental, nomadic and finicky lot of fish! They may feed variously at times and then develop lockjaw. There seems to be a generous amount of food; so lots of time on the water is required to encounter the fishes on the feed. So being there when conditions are optimal is important. Not only should you check flow levels, but also contact the Cooper’s Ranch store and ask what the water clarity is. If the flow has been very high it takes a week or more for it to clear once lowered; and even then the water is really never clear--but if it is a greenish color it will be OK to fish.
Like the Abiquiu section of the Chama River downstream this is primarily an off season fishery. With the best fishing likely to occur in late fall—November/December when the water is low and clear and the large browns are moving about spawning.
This clarity factor dictates the way the river must be fished. Although hatches can be profuse, it is rare to find fish rising. Visibility is a factor and beadhead flies that have sparkle built to catch the trout’s eye are wise to use. But if the fish are feeding they are not particular about what they eat. One way to go is to fish downstream from Cooper’s stripping streamers as you go, then fish back up with nymphs. You want to fish much larger flies here than you might be used to using elsewhere. My favorite fly for fishing downstream is an olive Slumpbuster in size 8, my favorite nymph for fishing back upstream is—you guessed it—the Poundmiester. Fly selection is not near as important as sink rate; so have these flies tied with different sized beads to accommodate the river’s speed and depth. Be aware that large browns and rainbows can be about any where’s in the faster water here, and I have caught 20 inchers in small pockets that didn’t look worthy of a cast. The fish are extremely healthy and put up powerful fights.
Fishing here requires long casts and long hikes; making this a poor place for beginners.
Wading is somewhat treacherous here too. And as the water is cold you will need chest waders and studded wading shoes.
Tight lines—Taylor Streit
Friday, September 23, 2016
GET TO KNOW YOUR GUIDE
Christoph Engle (Toph-Man)
1 When did you learn to fly fish?
Back in the Midwest, where I’m originally from, I used to do a lot of off-road bicycling. You would be hard pressed to call it mountain biking being that the terrain there was quite flat. When I moved to Taos in 1997 I experienced what true mountain biking is, and frankly, I didn’t enjoy it much. As they say at the ski valley, Taos is a four-letter word for steep. Still wanting to get out though and enjoy and explore Northern New Mexico, I spent a lot of time hiking in the mountains and down in the gorge. The sights were amazing and there was certainly a sense of accomplishment summiting a few peaks, but hiking for me was still just “there and back”. In the meantime, I meet a friend who was always talking about fly-fishing and how fantastic it was. I hadn’t fished since I was a kid at summer camp but I asked him if I could tag along one day. I got myself a day license, rented some gear, and we headed down to the Red River. Having no idea what I was doing, I didn’t catch a thing. Hell, I didn’t even see a fish. But, by the end of the day, I was absolutely hooked. It was the excitement of the hunt combined with the song of the river that grabbed me. After that day I began the long and mysterious process of trying to teach myself how to fly fish. Today as a fishing guide, I often tell my clients that are new to fly fishing that it took me about a year to figure out on my own what I have taught them in one day.
2 Why did you become a guide?
To be honest, I never really decided to become a guide. It was a gift that sort of fell into my lap; for which today I am very grateful. I guess though that I could say that I continue to work as a fishing guide because I enjoy meeting folks from all over the world, showing off my beautiful back yard, and sharing with them both my experience and knowledge about fishing and the excitement of hooking a fish with a fly.
3 Where are you from and how did you end up guiding in Taos?
I grew up in the Chicago area and lived there until I was 28. Having been introduced to the Rocky Mountains and Taos through skiing, it was always my desire of mine to one day leave the city and live “at altitude”. When the opportunity came up in 1997, I quit my job as a furniture designer and moved out to Taos to start my own business designing and building custom woodwork. My business grew and so did my passion for hunting trout with a fly. My copy of Taylor’s book, Fly Fishing New Mexico, became my go to source and was definitely worn and weathered. In 2006, I had the privilege of attending one of Taylor’s weekend workshops of fly tying and fishing with A.K. Best. By then, fly tying had also become an interest (as it should be for any serious fly fisher) and A.K. was as much of a legend to me as Taylor was (is). At any rate, at the end of the weekend Taylor and Nick approached me and asked if I was interested in doing some "off-season" part-time guiding for them. Even though my business as a custom woodworker was doing pretty well, I was so honored I just had to say “Sure! I’d be happy to guide for you!” Well that part-time work quickly turned into full-time as the Taos Fly Shop grew and now, in 2016, I’m beginning my 10th season as a fishing guide.
4 What is your most memorable experience as a guide?
A few years back, I guided an older gentleman, probably close to 80, who had done a lot of lake fishing with bait but never fly-fishing in a river. Catching a trout with a fly was on his bucket list and he hoped to accomplish it while still on this earth. Being that he couldn’t see very well and had a difficult time getting around, I took him to a spot I know on the Hondo River that we could drive right up to and fish from the bank. When we arrived, he looked at the 8-foot wide creek with its skinny clear water and exclaimed, “Really? Is that worth fishing? There aren’t any fish in there!” I led him across the grass to the edge of the water, handed him the fly rod with a single Royal Wolff tied on, and, pointing to a spot 6 feet away, I said, “Put the fly there.” Sure enough, a little wild Brown trout materialized out of the bubbling water and ate his fly as soon as it hit the surface. This 80-year-old man was as excited as a 10 year old boy while he played that fish with the 2-weight rod and we landed it on the bank. After releasing the fish, he turned to me and asked, “Do you think there’s another one in there?” We proceeded to catch 4 more Browns from that pool without even moving our feet. I’ll always remember as we drove along the river at the end of the afternoon, this man pointing at the water and saying, “Do you realize how many fish we’re driving past right now? There’s got to be hundreds!”
5 What is your goal when you take clients on a guide trip?
I enjoy sharing with my clients all the knowledge and experience I have accumulated over the years fishing and exploring Northern New Mexico. In addition to striving for a safe and enjoyable day on the water, it’s my goal to make the client, beginner or advanced, a better angler.
6 What is your favorite river to guide and why?
My favorite river to fish myself is definitely the Rio Grande. However, guiding on the Rio can often be an agonizing affair. It’s a demanding, unforgiving river, that requires persistence and for me to be at the top of my game. That being said however, the days on the Rio when my clients and I are in sync, fish are eating, eagles are flying overhead, and herds of bighorn sheep are nonchalantly grazing the banks are some of the most amazing days I have experienced as a guide.
7 What are your top five go-to patterns?
I learned much of my fly knowledge from Taylor, inventor of the Shit Fly (some brown dubbing with a bead on a hook). But even Taylor says sometimes it takes a little more to fool the fish. The flies I use consistently in a variety of situations are the Madam X (yellow or royal; best searching dry-dropper), Bloom’s Parachute caddis (easy to see, great profile), Flying Ant (for fish who have seen it all), Poundmiester (I also tie a non bead version), Micro May nymph (tungsten, a must have for Rio Grande cut-bows), Batman nymph (like candy to stockers). Wait a minute, that’s six…
8 What do you love about fly fishing?
I love the hunt and the art of fooling fish. To find a fish feeding confidently in a foam line or off a shelf, present my fly to that fish, and have it take that fly just like it was one of the naturals… To me that’s what it’s all about.
9 What is the one place that you want to fish before you die?
I have been fortunate to have already fished some pretty fantastic places. Recently, salt-water flats-fishing has also expanded my horizons. What comes to mind though is the stonefly hatch in Gunnison Gorge. I have heard some amazing stories about that trip. Iceland also looks pretty cool.
1 What do you enjoy doing when you are not on the water?
I still enjoy working in my wood shop building furniture and doing other woodwork. I spend a lot of time with my new bride, skiing, hiking, and traveling. And of course I also enjoy filling out guide questionnaires.
Friday, August 26, 2016
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.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
GET TO KNOW YOUR GUIDE: NICK STREIT
When did you learn to fly fish?
I'm not sure really. I remember fishing when I very young with the spinning rod. I think I got serious about fly fishing when I was eight.
When did you become a guide?
When did you become a guide?
I started following my dad on trips when I was probably 12 or so. I would carry lunches, clean the car and help guide clients a little. Back then we were doing a lot of guiding on small mountain streams. I could help people catch fish but a lot of folks had a hard time listening to a 12-year-old. Guess I can't blame them. My first solo guide trip was when I was 14. We got a lot of big fish that day! Luckily my clients didn't mind driving because I didn't have a license yet.
Where are you from and how did you end up guiding in Taos?
As a good friend once said "I came to Taos on the day I was born." There was some thought to pursuing other careers but they were short-lived as fishing was what I was always passionate about. When I was 17 I was selected to be on the United States Jr. Fly Fishing team. That put me in a position where it was hard to look at anything else besides the fishing industry for a career.
What is your most memorable experience as a guide?
It's really hard to say. There have been some really good ones and some really bad ones. One of my favorite memories in recent history took place down on the Rio Grande in the upper box. I've been guiding the Johansen family for about a decade and they love adventures and big fish. A few years ago, one of the Johansen brothers hooked a monster Cutbow in some very rough water. We had already lost some nice fish and had failed to land a big one to this point. Kyle fought the fish well but I could see that the fish was headed over a waterfall downstream. I knew once the fish got over that it would be all over. So I went to net it as the fish passed by me. Not knowing how deep the water was I took a leap of faith. It turns out the river was much deeper than I thought and I went fully under the water. I popped back up soaking wet and with the beautiful 4 pound Cutbow in the net. There were high fives all around. Check out the video here: https://www.facebook.com/taosflyshop/videos Click on the video titled "Cutbow."
What is your goal when you take clients on a guide trip?
I try to make sure that my clients have an experience that they won't forget. To me fly fishing is a lot more than just catching fish. I try to take people to places that they will enjoy and teach them new things. I like to help them interact with Mother Nature in a way that they usually are unable to do.
What is your favorite river to guide and why?
The Rio Grande hands down. It's the most dynamic river I've ever fished. It has something for everybody whether it's big wide open riffles, class 5+ rapids, or big deep slow pools. There are trout, smallmouth bass and Pike. And there are places in the canyon that probably don't get finished more than once every few years. When you hit it right, it's one of the best trout fisheries in the west. But hitting it right is the hard part. And maybe the best part of the whole experience is the solitude down there.
What are your top five “go to” patterns?
Red copper John
What do you love about fly fishing?
What's not to love? Fly fishing has taking me to some of the most beautiful and wild places in the world. The people I've met along the way are amazing. Looking back on the last 25 years, I remember the people and the places more than the fish.
What is the one place that you want to fish before you die?
It's a long list! I'd like to see New Zealand. British Columbia and Russia are also high on the list.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not on the water?
Photography and bow hunting are my two other passions. But spending time with my amazing wife Chrissy and our awesome kiddos is by far the best way to spend a day.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
The upper part of the stream is in the Valle Vidal; a 100,000 acre special unit of the Carson National Forest. It was threatened by gas drilling a few years back, but so beloved is this peaceful place that a coalition came together that cut across all political and social lines. And the cry “Save the Valle Vidal” was heard all over the state and within just a couple of years Washington enacted a law banning drilled there forever. It was a true testament to what can be done when the land and water are put first. (See “My Valle Vidal” in Man vs Fish by Taylor Streit.)
And we in the fishing business like that because it’s our ‘go to’ tail water for guiding; as it is crammed with trout. And it’s everyman’s kind of place: be they old or weak, young or strong,-- beginner or expert —everyone likes fishing it. But it’s also the kind of place that makes you feel as if you don’t have to fish. And wives gladly tag along with their fly fishing -obsessed hubbies to absorb the quiet.
Although all species of trout inhabit the stream, cutthroats are the big draw and a project is underway that will hopefully reestablish pure Rio Grande Cutthroats. We had large Rio Grande Cuts there two decades ago but stocking of rainbows just a few miles downstream have made the bows dominate; and we now have a hybridized trout that is mostly rainbow. A “rainthroat” to be exactly imprecise.
But they can be tricky to catch, as about two weeks into the season the trout revert to a unique mode of self-preservation unknown to other waters. (And certainly rare for the normally gullible cutthroat subspecies). When faced with fishing pressure these fish spit a fly out ultra-fast--about as fast as you would when you discover a hook in your mouth. It’s faster than a guide can say “strike” that’s for sure. Snap-of-your-finger fast.
The lower portions of the stream-- in Rio Costilla Park-- provide nearly as good fishing as the Valle Vidal but it is rather heavily grazed. The water is open year-round—no waiting till July 1st---as is necessary in the Valle Vidal. The park is the still-intact 80,000 acres of the original Spanish land grant that the original hires still own. (These being the residents of Amalia and Costilla just down the road.)
This park may not have quite the numbers of fish as the Valle Vidal but it actually comprises more fishable water then does the Valle Vidal section. All the Rio Costilla is leased by New Mexico Game and Fish from Rio Costilla Park starting at the cattle guard at the mouth of the canyon. The road is tight to the stream in the canyon section--with the first mile being very brushy and the water being real fast. Consequently it gets far less fishing pressure then the upper, more open areas. It’s a great choice in summer after the more exposed stretches have been hammered. When in the thick stuff use a single dry and try just dapping it in the eddies and slightly slower places. This is a good spot for your bow and arrow cast.
Fishing that brushy stuff is an especially good plan for a weekend, but if it’s a weekday there are some pleasant pullouts and gentle pools just upstream of the brushy stuff. (This area is heavily stocked and regular catch and keep regulations apply.) Half the fish you would catch here fly fishing will probably be wild cutbows however. Throw them back please. To identify the stocked trout look for faint complexion and missing or messed up fins. If you keep fish thump the stockers on the back of the head to mercifully end their synthetic lives. Basically they have been manufactured for this outcome anyway, so don’t be sad. It’s like taking a clones life—and not really a sin.
At the head of this canyon of the lower Costilla is where Latir Creek joins the Costilla. That stream is only a couple of feet wide and pretty cramped but does have some nice cuts in it—bigger than one would expect. At the bridge that takes you up Latir Creek --and eventually take you to Latir lakes-- there’s a tiny store with some firewood and other assorted supplies. This is also where you pay to camp and fish Latir Creek and Latir Lakes. One can camp upstream from here on the Costilla also by paying the fee there at the store. (Campers take note: there is no camping along the streams in the Valle Vidal. And once in the Valle Vidal you would have to drive way over by Shuree Ponds-- to Cimarron campground.)