Friday, September 23, 2016

Get to Know Your Guide: Christoph Engle

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.

 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.

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