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.)

1 comment:

  1. I fished here 2 years ago. I bought some flies at Reel Life in Santa Fe. Ivan Valdez help me get set up. I caught 4 rainbows and 2 cutthroats. I want to fish there again.

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