Friday, August 26, 2016

Rio Monsters of the Taos Box by Taylor Streit

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


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?

     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: 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
     Micro mayfly
     Pheasant tail
     Parachute Adams

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 Costilla

The Costilla is about the perfect stream visually; being a friendly twenty five feet wide, its pools and riffles wind through meadows of luxurious grasses and wildflowers. These fields then climb to surround aspen groves; and just a bit higher up the slope, dark stands of evergreens are highlighted against furious blue sky.
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.)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Patagonia Wader Review

This year Patagonia decided to re-engineer their waders from top to bottom. With improvements such as: 4-layer fabric, a streamlined fit, updated gravel guards and the Wader Task Force specifically created to continually improve design, this new line of waders are on the top of our list.

Two of our guides were given a pair of Gallegos II to put to the test. Here is what they have to say:

Chris Cantrell: The Taos Fly Shop

My first impression stepping into them was that they fit exceptionally well.  In the past I have had a hard time finding the perfect fit because I am tall and thin and have had to compromise comfort in the chest with either too much or too little room. Although the suspension system took a little while to get used to I ended up loving it, especially now with the warmer weather approaching I have been wearing them as pants and find that all the features are still accessible even when worn as such. The interior pockets for boxes are well designed as is the fully waterproof interior pocket for cameras and phones. My only critique is that at times the waterproof pocket can be hard to close. The newly designed rock guards are superior. The elastic around the bottom along with the sticky band along the inside grips the boots and make them stay in place.  The kneepads are a bonus and make netting and releasing fish more comfortable for the guide and the merino wool lined booties are warmer and they come off easier than neoprene. At the end of the day I feel secure in that they are backed by the Patagonia Ironclad guarantee although I doubt I will need any repairs as I have already put 25 hard days into them without fail. Overall the design, fit and quality is exceptional and I would absolutely buy another pair.

Peter Mosey: The Reel Life

            I have put these waders through the extensive wringer of guiding and professional fishing. First off, I am hard on gear. I am not the weekend warrior and I do not sit in boats. Most trips that I take are in the 3-5 mile range and I traverse brushy, thorny canyons loaded with sharp everything. I expect my gear to hold up and in the case of these waders I was impressed. I could instantly tell the quality when I stepped into them.

            The H2NO waterproofing worked perfectly. It kept me dry and yet they were breathable so I was not sweaty at the end of the day even though I was hiking long distances. The convertible drop down is a great feature. I did find that the straps were a bit cumbersome and hard to get into and out of. The knee pads are awesome, genius really. For those of us that fish spooky waters, this feature is a godsend. The interior pockets are well thought out and I find that I used them in conjunction with my pack, which is something that I have never done before with other waders. The warranty is the single strongest feature and in my opinion separates these waders from all other waders that I have owned.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Fishing The Cimarron

The Cimarron is a small-tail water fishery that comes out of Eagle Nest Lake. Although it is small and close to the highway, it does have a lot of trout and excellent insect hatches. The water from the Cimarron is used to irrigate hay fields to the east. The streams all-important flow rates are based on agricultural needs downstream, and the flows are often counter to what one might expect. For example, expecting the river to be high from rains may not be the case because rain curtails demand for irrigation water––as does haying. In addition, many times, the water is coming out sparse from the dam, but fishing is OK downstream a ways, as small tributaries add to the flow exponentially. In fact, there is usually a sweet spot of several miles where the flow will be good, especially below Clear Creek. There are two gauges at either end of the stream, and you can pretty much figure all this out before you leave the house. (The ideal flow is about 30 to 40 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) out of the dam.) The great thing about the Cimarron is that it often fishes best when other streams dontnamely, during the spring runoff in May and June.
         Since its the handiest trout stream close to Texas, there can be lots of fishing pressure. Luckily, its rarely so crowded that you cant find a little personal stretch to fish, and much, if not most of it, is so thick with brush that it discourages a lot of people. So dive into the brushthen wade right up the middle. Do whatever it takes to get your fly in there––resort to dapping a single dry fly tied to a very short leader. A bow and arrow cast is often good to use. Another handy maneuver is to take a weighted fly and swing or lob it in the deeper pools. This is especially deadly in eddies. The water load is handy as well.
         The Cimarron sling is the most important cast in this stream and is described in greater detail on page 39 of my book, Instinctive Fly Fishing II: A Guide to Better Fishing. Because false casts and tight loops catch lots more branches than trout, the best cast is an ugly short strokea half-cast/half-roll that starts with a half-assed water load. This cast is performed by letting the flies drift past you and then, just before they get tight in the current, slinging them forward with a rounded-out half stroke. This is a one-time deal––make no false casts!
         The special regulation section at the upper end of the river has a gravel bottom, moderate flow and beaver ponds. Key in on mayfly hatches here. Downriver, the water becomes faster and rockier, and stoneflies and caddis flies are more prevalent. The stone-fly hatch is very important on the lower sections of the stream and commences in late May to early June. If you see a hatch flutter past you, tie an imitation one on your line. The best time to be on the lookout is around noon. At that time of day a black stonefly nymph will do very well also, but most stonefly nymphs are far too heavy for the shallow Cimarron. Be sure and get the lighterand smallest choices.
         The stream is 45 minutes east of Taos on Highway 64. One passes by Eagle Nest Lake on the drive. Although it has fished poorly the last few years, historically, the lake produces lunkers. If you pass by it when the water is calm, be sure and drive down and see if there are fish rising close to shore. Beware that there are a lot of carp and they are easy to confuse with trout to the average fisherman. But even the carp are a challenging and fun fish, too!  More on them in a later report.

By Taylor Streit