Monday, August 11, 2014

Fish like water

While at the market or post office—on one of our rare and joyous rainy days-- I am often quizzed by the fishing public with “hey Super Fly, what does all the rain do to the fishing?” As a proper explanation would be much too long my reply is usually “fish like water”. I would gladly refer them to the paperback edition of my book Instinctive Fly Fishing but I missed this subject in there. (If you have the book please print this article out and staple it in the “conditions” chapter.)

Our recent midsummer rains came at the perfect time. Extensive rains raise the water table and provide consistent flows for healthy year-round stream levels.  The long term effects of lots of moisture are good for the fishing in most all watersheds—except one of great note locally—the Rio Grande. Because, under low water conditions the “Rio” is largely spring fed with a water of far better quality then the oxygen-starved, silty sludge coming down from Colorado. And a raging Rio forces the trout to occupy cramped quarters along the edges; and fish and aquatic insects thrive in more moderate currents. Rain in the mountainous is one thing, but the Rio (especially south of Taos) runs through much sandier, overgrazed soil that gets easily washed into the river.  When the Monsoons subside in the Fall, The Rio Should be great as no fish have been bothered there all summer.
Notice the sandy (silty) nature of the Lower Rio Grande Canyon 

Although the silting is usually man made there are places where siltation happens naturally –like the upper Red River with its geo-thermal scaring. Two 100 year rains within a month in 2007 sent yellow silt downstream and raised the PH of the water and killed a lot of fish in the Red and Rio Grande. The mine tailings downstream of that yellow earth also have a high PH value and contributed to this PH problem.  But the Red is healthier now than it has been in decades.  Big Cutbows have made a comeback down in the canyon and the Molybdenum Mine has closed its doors for good.  With the cleanup scheduled to start soon, fishing there (and on the Rio Grande below) should continue to improve.

When you consider where to fish when it has been raining a bunch; think below a dam, or an unlogged road-less stream. In the Taos/Santa Fe area this would include the Costilla and Cimarron tail waters.  (Remember that wet weather often makes the tail waters too low; as the rain decreases the need for irrigation water.)
Fishing streams that come out of the vast Pecos Wilderness is smart because the pristine watershed remains largely unaffected by downpours. (Although there were bad fires in the last few years at the mid-elevations of the Pecos River itself which of course messed up the river below there.) The Santa Barbara on the north end of those mountains and Las Casas at the east side are good choices as well.

The upper portions of the Chama river (in Colorado)-are good above the campground. The forks of the Conejos likewise. (But bear in mind that the Platero road is all dirt and turns the main river muddy after heavy rain). The Brazos is relatively undisturbed so it doesn’t stay muddy for long. As is the case with the streams in the Tusas Mountains west of Tres Piedras.

Streams that run through arid lands and are consequently marginal fisheries—the Rio Pueblo de Taos notably—and need years of consistent wet weather to support trout after big silt events. Unfortunately a few years ago a severe downpour over the way-to-wide subdivision dirt roads there sent silt knee deep all the way to the Rio Grande. In actuality, the silt addition from that stream turns the Rio Grande into a lesser fishery below the two rivers confluence. Siltation is a big deal. So let it rain—but not too hard, and only on ground unaltered by man.


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