Monday, September 24, 2018

Rainthroats of New Mexico's Costilla Creek by Taylor Streit

Note to our readers: With a yearlong closure imminent of the Rio Costilla for the Native Trout reintroduction project; I thought it would be a good time for a remembrance of one of my many days of guiding there.

Rainthroats of New Mexicos Costilla Creek
by Taylor Streit

I was to meet my client on the water; he would be driving a long pastel convertible with fins. Sounded fishy. But such a car makes a significant dust trail, and I saw the cloud rising above the pines well before the once luxurious vehicle emerged from the dark timber. The car swayed effortlessly up along the winding meadow streamdisappearing at times but finally emerging beside the lovely Costilla Creek. With but a slight wave of my hand the car slid to a halt at my feet. The expiration of the big pastel beast was followed by the chiming of miniature vodka bottlesclinking amongst themselves. And  I had a brief vision of an angel getting her wings--as each note lifted from the floorboards.
         The guide is nothing if not eternally hopeful for the day ahead. But as soon as the bottles stopped twinkling reality set in and my mood eroded quickly. I found out that it was my clients intention to fish from a lawn chair. (Not a commonor effective––stance for a fly fisherman). No, not so swell of an idea; until however he got out of the car and almost fell over. And then I realized that the chair might be a better option then holding him up all day. An experienced fishing guide is nothing if notto borrow a phrase from president Dona very stable genius! And a couple of spots came to mind that might suit our situation. And indeed, soon I had my fisherman positioned at the inside of a  bend pool. Actually  the lawn chain made for a low profile, and I kneeled in the grass beside him. Besides directing my anglers cast, I passed him his cigar and whiskey upon request and steadied the chair on the uneven surface.
         The chair started rockin when the official flailing of the waters as he called itbegan.  Amazingly he was fast to a fish after just a few flails. Things were suddenly all a-blur and I couldnt decide whether to attend to guiding or valet duties; namely should I protect the open whiskey and lit cigar and steady the chair-- or dash out in the stream to net the nice rainthroat trout. So I compromised and stuck the lit cigar in the clients left hand, the booze in his right and crammed the rod between his legs. I then made a dash out into the stream; intending to return hastily before the chair toppled over.
         But with the rods flimsy position the trout had the advantage and it was a while before the fish was landed. The client landed about the same time and both fish and fisherman were gasping and flopping in the grass. Once the fish was released and all put back in order my sport declared the expedition a success and soon we  retired after a very brief day.
         Anybody can catch trout on the Costilla! Drunk, old, weak, drunker, and even the very young. Beginner and expert are equally at home here too.  And its the kind of place where wives gladly tag along with their fly fishing-obsessed hubbies to absorb the quiet and famous beauty.
         And beautiful it is, with its pools and riffles flowing through a heaven of waving grasses and aspen groves, with evergreens highlighted against the Land of Enchantments blue sky. This is the Valle Vidal, a 100,000 acre special unit of the Carson National Forest. And although paralleled by a dirt road the Costilla is so far from any big city that it is seldom too busy. (Admittedly the stream is quite beset on the July 1; which is historically opening day.)
         During my long guiding career I saw about every technique imaginable deployed here and they all caught fish. And I once had a client who got out in the mid-stream and let all his fly line out the reel and then allowed it to wash down the creek. When it pulled tight he commenced to reeling it in slowly with tantalizing little jerks of the rod. Just as I was suggesting that fishing upstream with a shorter line was a better way to catchwouldnt you know he hooked a fish, thus ruining him for further instruction.
         Another fellow was equally spoiled when he was left unguarded with his own fly box, and he caught a couple of fish right off on a large purple fly he had tied––another instructional guiding opportunity stifled  by the willing fish of the Costilla. (And since he refused to change the dreaded purple he caught only a few more over the course of the day.) He would have likely done better with flies that looked like insects. But he wasnt into following orders; and I found in my decades in guiding business that many people seem delighted to pay several hundred dollars to show the guide how its done.
         I have to confess that the longer I guided the more I enjoyed fishing with the beginner––those with nothing to prove and no purple flies in their box (as yet). Theres no self-taught casts to unlearn. No ego to massage and maneuver around.  The Costilla is a wonderful proving ground; how delightful to see someone stunned to catch any fish, rather then it counting as just another notch on the cork.
         My guides and I have taken a thousand soon-to-be fly anglers to fish the Costilla. To this point in time all species of trout inhabit the stream and most regular ole fisherman are perfectly satisfied with that.  But a grand project is underway that will hopefully reestablish pure Rio Grande Cutthroats there. (We had large RGCT there two or three decades agoand there are some leftbut shortsighted stockings of rainbows just a few miles downstream have made the bows dominate; producing a rainthroat fishery.)
         This is an exceptionally ambitious project that encompasses over 100 miles of steams in the Costilla drainage both on Vermijo Ranch and the Valle Vidal. This final phase is a big deal for us fisherfolkand my guidesbecause it will close the federally controlled portion of the stream for one year. We hope it to be no longer than one year. There are any number of things that can threaten the project as there is just a few feet of cementin the form of a fish barrierbetween the promiscuous rainthroat and the 100% Rio Grande Cutthroats. (Fish that will of course, be stocked above the barrier after the water has been chemically treated and all other fish removed.) Man, beast, bird; or Act of God could move a rainthroat above the barrier. And besides these external threats, there have been blunders that have  happened in the process so far: including stocking the wrong species of trout and using incorrect amounts of chemicals.
         It is a big challenge to pull this off but the Rio Grande Cutthroat is our native trout and the state fish of New Mexico. A  more beautiful fish was never caught. If everything goes as planned we will be fishing for them in the Valle Vidal in 2020.

The plan is to close the water this fall and that will remain so until opening day of July 1, 2020. (Regrettably there is no signage on the stream at this time. And many out-of-state anglers will not be aware of this closure and make their annual pilgrimage to a shutdown fishery unwittingly next summer. But hey, we did what we could, and you heard it here at Taos Fly Shop and Local Flavoron-line.)

Friday, August 3, 2018

Fishing the Rio Grande: by Taylor Streit

Global warming has not been devastating to the Rio Grande—at least, not up to now. We have had nearly year-round fishing for the last few years, but there are record low water levels on the Rio now. Fortunately our grand river has many springs that feed the Rio and fishing has held up. But you need to be aware of poorer water conditions in high summer. This is caused by mud that washes into the Red River just below the town of the same name. Unfortunately the first event of this nature happened already—in early summer. Subsequent fouling’s will occur with the addition of virtually any rainfall. The ugly yellow water can be avoided by fishing above the Rio’s confluence with the Red—at Wild Rivers Recreation Area. (But that’s all a big deal of a hike so call Taos Fly Shop for the latest on conditions.)
Although I’ve written before that “canyon streams fish best when low,” I should have added, ‘well ya, to a point’. Such extremes will change the nature of a river—making what used to be pocket water—watch pocket water.  And what used to be productive riffle water–dry land. Keep that in mind when you imagine fishing on your favorite hunk of Rio. Following are various types of water found over the 50 miles of the Rio Grande from the Colorado border south. No matter the angler’s depth of experience there are few places that fish quite like the Rio Grande (the Pulmari in northern Patagonia.) This is where you really want a guide well-experienced on the Rio.
Slow sections should pretty much be avoided now. Low water usually equates to warm water and trout will gravitate to the fast white-water portions of the river where oxygen content is high. There are still trout in the slow water but unless they are rising it is impossible to figure out where the fish will be. Where there is a bit of a current that noticeably slides around a rock there may be a fish there. But generally you want to walk these slow portions and  just put a couple of casts beside rocks that have a visible flow beside them. And then get to the fast water.
Shallow riffle water is made up of smallish loose rock and usually has the most food and consequently the most trout. The fish won’t be as big there, as they will probably be in deeper water, but there may be surprises. This usually means fishing a dry/dropper and wading in as deep as you can––and as far downstream in the riffle as possible—to make the most of this good water.
Fish a “hopper/dropper” rig as it is a tried and true method that is used up and down the Rio and can be customized for various types of water. In this case the angler might want to start out in the lower, deeper portions of the riffle with a nymph three-feet down from the dry. Then shorten it as you move upstream into the shallow water. Make your cast of moderate length and fish systematically from one side to the other. Space your cast a couple feet apart. Keep the fly in the water as long as it is getting a good drift. (Don’t pick up and recast when you are still getting a good drift.) Let the fly swing to the surface occasionally as there are days when they will go for that.
Deep and fast water abounds in the Rio. If there are boulders throughout it you are in the good stuff. Such structure makes for funnels and eddies where food will be channeled. Chutes of medium speed currents are where the big fish live. This is very technical fishing and most experienced fly fisherman think that technical means casting far. Not so! such water in the Rio should be fished with a short line. With the short line there is a much better chance to hook  and land large trout because a long line tends to get wrapped around boulders as the fish is being fought.
Our standard rig is three flies with a large (#8) well-floating dry fly as your hand fly. The middle fly is more for weight than anything else and my favorite is the Poundmiester and/or a 12-14 red Copper John. For the deeper sections you would want this 30-inches from the dry. One foot below that should be the real fish catcher–an Olive Micro May in size 16 or 18.
That last little fly is what the big rainbows eat as they are partial to feeding on the free-drifting nymph of the Blue Winged Olive (BWO) mayfly. The big cutbows occupy those funnels to get the nymphs that pass by. The browns are more indiscriminate about what they eat and occupy different areas of the Rio. The browns are more in-shore and cover-orientated, while the bows like the deep waters of midstream. They will usually take the larger nymph–and sometimes the dry. And that brings up another critical component to fishing the Rio. Fish your side. It is tough to get a good drift on the far-side. You may raise fish on the far side but the fly will usually be dragging and the trout will seldom get hooked.
There is a certain type of water throughout the canyon that seems pretty boring to fish––medium speed  currents with quick drop offs from the banks where you cant see the bottom.  Not the most fun place to fish as you have to negotiate the boulders and pound long monotonous currents. Consequently this water is seldom fished and there’s miles of it. It takes a trained eye to figure where and how to fish this stuff. My son Nick will use two nymphs on an indicator rig fished quite deep. When you start catchin’ and outwittin’ such a plain and non-descript spot it feels like quite the coup.
When trout are rising in the caddis hatch this type of water is great to fish. As trout will cruise along the rocks and pick insects off them. If the angler stands back from the edge of the river about the length of the rod and skates and skims two flies around these rocks it can be exciting fishing. This type of water will also fish well near dark as trout prowl the edges.
When walking back downstream to the trail at the end of the fishing day tie on a dark streamer and slap it around these rocky banks. These stretches of the Rio are usually narrow enough to break the “don’t fish the other side” rule when streamers are fished in low-light. Trout can get very aggressive and they are gonna grab the big fly  right off—if they are a-mind-to.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Woman vs Fish
by Taylor Streit

Most guides in the fly-fishing business will tell you that women are easier to teach than men.
Women don’t have as much tension in their arms—tension that is detrimental to fluid casting.
Their egos aren’t all bound up with being “top rod.” I believe that it stems from the fact that they
really don’t care about “just fishing” and tend to enjoy nature more than men do. They’ll even
come right out and say, “I just like being here.” This has been proven to me on many occasions,
when a woman would actually put aside her rod and sit down to enjoy the wild world around
her—while the fish were biting! When I’ve suggested that it might be better to become inactive
when the fish are in a like frame of mind, they’ve usually replied, “You go ahead and catch a
few.” That is not a common male response. Here is a little story to illustrate the male and female

Bluegills and Bobbers

On the drive to the stream Bill tells one fishing story after another. These aren’t bluegill-and-
bobber stories. They’re fish tales of high adventure—salmon beyond the Iron Curtain, bill-fish
on the high seas, and huge sea-run trout of Tierra del Fuego. As we four-wheel over a jumble of
rocks and roots he talks about night fishing for the man-eating catfish of the Amazon. Wife
Gloria is in the back looking out the window cool and disinterested, as if her husband’s fishing
stories have traveled this road before—through one ear and out the other. She volunteers
something about their friends who fished at such and such a lodge and that their son worked as a
guide one summer. She’s certainly not unhappy with this trip into the New Mexico wilderness;
she just seems, well, along for the ride.
Our hike to the water takes us through a virgin forest, which seems to inspire wonder in Gloria.
She interrupts an epic marlin battle to ask the name of a tall, flashy wildflower. I tell her it’s
fireweed. Encouraged, I take them a few feet out of the way to where a beaver is making slow
but steady progress on a foul-tasting pine. The 3-foot-thick tree is gnawed about halfway through
its trunk, and a crack that runs up the tree has formed. On the sway of each breeze the crack
opens and closes as the giant moans its death song.
When we arrive at the stream, things look good. Mayflies are dancing up and down in shafts of
light, and a couple of yellow Wilson’s warblers flit about catching them. Bill glances at the
surroundings and utters the gruesome phrase that strikes fear into the heart of every guide: “Just
point me in the right direction. I can take care of myself.” I give him a couple of flies and the
tiny amount of instruction that I think he will accept, and take Gloria for her first fly-fishing
lesson. When away from Bill she confesses that she is doing this for him, as if I couldn’t already
tell, and that she will try it but asks me to go easy on her. I tell her that teaching is hard work,
and the less of it I have to do, the better.
She seems fairly bored with the 15-minute crash course in casting. Her attitude changes quickly,
however, once she starts fishing, because she somehow manages to drop her first cast on a fish’s

head. With the 10-inch rainbow attached to her fly she emits screams, squeals, and giggles that
echo off the canyon walls. She reels the trout right up to the end of the rod and is frantically
grabbing for it. Of course, the 6-foot space between her hyperextended hand and the end of the
9-foot fly rod creates a comical problem. When I stop laughing I suggest that if she can’t reach
the thing, she’d better let out some line so that we could get at it. That is just the start of things.
The little fishes are in such a reckless mood that she starts catching so many that it isn’t long
before I leave her on her own and go looking for the boss.

He is planted right where I had left him—and looking mighty out of place, zinging yards of line
up the little brook. Any fish that might be interested in his fly—unlikely because it is dragging
across several currents—would be thrown into a state of shock at the sight of his tall, well-
postured figure towering over their home.
Before I have an opportunity to speak to him, his wife comes into view from downstream. She is
now running on predatory instincts. We watch spellbound as she zeros in on her next victim. She
creeps low to the edge of the stream, slithers behind a boulder, and waves her magic wand over
the water. True, her cast is pitiful—limp-wristed and floppy—but it is perfect in the fast-falling
stream because her fly settles on the water with plenty of slack, giving the fly a drag-free float. A
wild slash of the rod and a loud shriek mean she has hooked another. Hubby’s ears turn red as he
slams a double haul to the next bend. This presents the perfect opportunity for me to do my job,
and I try to suggest a more appropriate way for him to fish that little creek. He isn’t too keen on
making the “bad cast,” and crawling is definitely beneath him, but before long he is slipping
along the stream like a 10-year-old boy—and catching fish.
As we are preparing to leave he hooks what looks like the fish of the day, but it comes loose at
the water’s edge. He pounces down on the squiggling creature and pins it between his hands and
knees. It pops out and into the drink. As this is catch-andrelease fishing I am surprised to see Bill
plunge in after the fleeing fish. After more squiggling, squirming, splashing, and crashing he
raises the fish aloft for our admiration. The capture of that 14-incher seems to put the family
hierarchy back in order, and he signals that it is time to go.
On the ride back Bill digs out a few more exotic fishing and hunting stories from far-off lands
and waters. Gloria returns to her backseat position and adds, “That was fun. Let’s do it again.”


Kids have that famous knack for catching fish when they aren’t supposed to be catching them.
Years of study indicate no apparent rhyme or reason for these little miracles. A kid will have line

wrapped around arms and legs one minute and be holding a wiggling trout the next. The fish
gods favor the child.
Unless a child is very motivated, wait, then start them fly fishing when they are 11 or 12. I’ve
noticed that many eager dads try to get their offspring fly fishing too early. The poor kids
stumble and bumble about and get so frustrated that they get turned off to the sport. You might
want to get them out there with the Snoopy Rod and bait first.
Kids are a pleasure to teach because their instincts haven’t been crushed yet, and they can get
into the flow quickly. I’ve seen some kids learn to fly-cast better in an hour than their parents
have in a lifetime. I must say that I sink a little when I find out that a gifted, spontaneous child is
heading toward a career in investment banking or some such colorful pursuit that will, in time,
cut him or her off from his instinctive self.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Fly Fishing—The Perfect Pursuit

By Taylor Streit

I just read an article about a guy who is going to snowboard down Mount Everest. Wow, that’s certainly not for everybody. There seem to be so many extreme sports these days that only fit the hardy types—hardy and foolhardy. Where will this masochistic race to—or from—the summit end? The ancient Mayans played a ball game that lasted for days, and when it finally ended the best player of the winning side got to have his head chopped off. (Isn’t there a similar TV show on Fox?) Is there anything exciting for the average Joe to do? I’m not alone; I’ve looked around and not many of you guys walking down the street are going to be honored for sacrifice.

The physical, metaphysical, and moral considerations of such sports keep participation low. Personally I’m blessed with a number of handicaps that keep me out of the running: actually anything evolving running is out, because if I sprain my right ankle one more time, wheelchair sports will be all I have left. I can’t paraglide because I’m afraid of flying. I can’t climb mountains because I have a fear of dying. I don’t have sufficient wind to mountain bike or money to ski.

And these radical sports simply don’t have the esteem of traditional sports. How you going to compare Frisbee golf with golf? The best sports weren’t even called sports when they started—they were too important for such flippant labels. When first man came in from hunting or fishing, and hadn’t scored, he and the family died—end of game. How you gonna call that a sport?

Hunting and fishing are just plain natural things for the human to do—it’s in our blood. But we are too “civilized” to hunt now, so that leaves me—and millions of other old defectives who find modern life sufficiently hazardous—with fishing. Although the poles are made out of graphite, instead of stick, the “sport” is still preformed close to the way they did it back in biblical times. The ancient Macedonians tied feather to hook thousands of years ago, and if you consider my rating system—where the longevity of a sport equals quality—that makes fly fishing superior even to something as noble as baseball.
It’s got to be fly fishing because modern man can’t relax long enough to just toss a worm in and await a bite. People presume that fishing and fly fishing are one in the same—but au contraire; fishing requires patience, but patience is the last thing you need when fly fishing. It’s very active, and the perfect pursuit for our impatient times—both physically and intellectually: figuring out what subspecies of mayfly the fishes are lusting after, then changing flies, casting here, wading there. Always questioning, pondering, and exploring. And executed with a stream crashing against your legs.

If you’re the patient sort, continue to relax. You won’t have to turn neurotic to participate. Although a dying breed, the “purist” is a fly fisher that sits placidly streamside and casts only to rising fish. This genteel form of angling is associated with tranquil water—where the ring of a rise, the sweep of the cloud, and the dart of a swallow are easy to see. There is an endless array of fly fishing styles to match the equally endless array of fly fishers: there’s water to suit the young, the old, the male, the female, the fit, or the fragile. The young “fun hog” can run down a jagged canyon and “rip some lip” while dashing over boulders and chasing big fish. The athletic type can become a tournament fly caster. The artistic can wax poetically about the endless combinations of feathers that form a fly, or write poetry from the curving lines of a graceful cast. And the academic, armchair outdoorsman can join in without even wetting a line: by learning the Latin names of the bugs, tying flies, and fussing with gear. Then join a fly fishing club where such behavior is encouraged.

People don’t even have to be good at it to enjoy themselves. Fly casting is a fun thing to do in itself. And since the fish are thrown back, there is no scoring. This opens the door for the not-so-gifted to stand on equal footing with their fishing partners. To quote from my book, “Instinctive Fly Fishing”: “Catch-and-release fishing allows the unlucky angler even greater victories. Putting him in a place where excuse isn’t needed. This place lies beyond the next bend in the river—from where your fishing partner can’t see you.” Just being near moving water is enough for some—and catching fish may even be considered a nuisance. One serene gentleman that I fished with became so enraptured by the gurgling stream that he secretly removed his fly, so as not to be bothered by a fish tugging on the line.

 I am from a generation and culture that doesn’t allow for a man simply hanging out of doors and do nothing--unarmed. Holding a fly rod will keep your red neck friends from calling you a “nature boy”. And it will also help fill the huge gap that has formed between our natural selves—that part of us that has been outside looking for something to eat for a couple million years—and the modern man who has so suddenly been locked indoors. This soul is so alienated from nature that his only relationship with it is through warfare with it--snowboarding down Everest, traversing Tasmania or crawling across Kentucky. Fly fishing is more about grooving with nature rather then trying to conquer it.

 There is something about fly fishing in secluded places that satisfies that lust for life, and lowers the ego--without putting your life in peril. I’ve witness over-amphed city folks have complete personality changes after a day on the water. They start the day with “goals” and nothing less then bagging a world record will do, but by sundown they say “we didn’t catch many; but it was such a pleasant day—who cares”.

You won’t hear such blasphemy from the saltwater fly fisherman! I worked in the bone fishing business for several seasons and my clients always knew exactly how many fish they caught and—more importantly—how many their companions caught. Maybe its the intense nature of fishing the flats: as fish are generally hunted, and the spotting and stalked—and occasionally hooking—can be stressful and that it brings out the materialistic, competitive side of the humble fisherman. It can be a frustrating game, and some fish, like the Permit, are so difficult to fool that it’s coup just having one just look at your fly.

Saltwater fly fishing is the answer for those looking for exotic outdoor thrills. On a recent trip to the wild Esperito Santo Bay off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico I caught snook, tarpon, bonefish--and had a permit inspect my fly. But it was the surroundings that made it special; there was of course, abundant sea life, and the untrodden jungle was always close by; with saltwater crocks and birds of wild color and design. Their piercing calls help create visions of jaguars lurking in the tangled bush. We didn’t do any lurking in the jungle ourselves but instead lived the high life at the lodge eating our way through the delicious fish species.

As a general rule of thumb; the more untouched a place is the better the fishing will be. This leaves the wildest places on earth to investigate and fish. Floating the wide rivers of Patagonian, to fishing beside griz in Alaska. Or you can arrange to go deep in the Amazon after furious Peacock Bass. So many fishes—so short a life.

 But we all ain’t got that kinda dough and time to flick our flies about the globe. And thankfully there is an incredible amount of exciting fly fishing here in the good ole US of A. There’s big Bones and tarpon in the Keys, and huge salmoniods in tributaries of the great lakes. Endless ponds and lakes filled with bass and pan fish dot the countryside. They are great fun to fish with the fly rod. But its trout that keep the average angler happy; and they reside by the millions in streams and rivers across the US, and where catch and release fishing is well established there will be good-sized fish. This is the case in much of the western US--where the scope and quality of the fishing—is staggering. What makes exploring all this moving water so interesting is that it all fishes differently, and every one of these creeks and rivers have their own character. Still waters may run deep but moving water has many personalities: Some gurgle, some laugh, some rage and others only whisper.

And the adventure angler with imagination may find secluded secrets near home. I once discovered an immense trout living in a hidden beaver pond not far from my home in the southern Rockies. It took a couple of hours hike to get into the place and three summers of intense fishing to finally outwit Ole Walter. He was so difficult to catch because he fed on one type of insect and inspected all flies with great scrutiny. And what made it all so exciting was that we could watch his every move from a hill that overlooked the clear, still water. My son Nick and I finally fooled him late one evening. The low light and his voracious appetite were his undoing. We threw the 27 inch trout back in the pond but he died of old age by the following spring. But finding treasures like ‘Old Walters’ hideout doesn’t always require a long hike. Some of the best fishing is often close to home in overlooked nooks and crannies. And from the Explore chapter of my book, “Many of the best fishing places that I have found are ones that are simply overlooked because everyone assumes that they are overused. The thing is that sometimes everyone assumes that and consequently, the place never gets fished. Even in the west, the best water can often be found where you would least expect it to be: next to houses, dumps, thrift stores.”
What turns people off to fly fishing is that it perceived to be a complicated and technical sport. And unfortunately many of fly fishing’s most prominent residence have a stake in keeping it a complicated game. There is an endless supply of gear that must be sold and theories that need pontification. Certainly it takes great skill to catch a tailing bonefish, or to get a big selective trout to eat a tiny dry fly. But catching bluegills in a farm pond or brook trout in a falling stream is easy. You don’t have to be proficient to enjoy yourself. I’ve guided thousands of beginners and most all of them caught fish their first day, and giggled while they did it. And don’t be afraid to pick up a fly rod because you might turn into another obsessed ‘trout bum”; leaving the wife and kids to sleep in the back of your truck in Montana. But be careful; it’s easy to be caught in the river’s flow, because there are no limits to the sport--outwitting nature is an endless challenge. There is always a bigger fish, a new way to catch it, and a new stream to find it in.

 Fishing is ever hopeful--every time that fly touches the water there is the possibility that a glimmering fish will rise up and inhale it. That’s always within reach. There isn’t much hope for me snowboarding down Everest—or being the best player in a Mayan volleyball game. And that’s OK with me.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Low Water Fishing 
by Taylor Streit   

     The smart fly fisher pays attention to fishing conditions and plans accordingly with both long and short-range goals in mind. It starts with arriving at the right stream––at the right time. Romantic notions often cloud rational thinking in this area and if you had a blissful day on Old Skuttlebutt Creek last year, that doesn’t mean it will be any good this season. Our guides at Taos Fly shop and the Reel Life in Santa Fe don’t fish Skuttlebutt when it’s gonna suck.
     Knowing where not to fish is obviously critical, too. This is pretty cut and dried in a low water year. The smaller streams are out. Sure you can still catch trout in your favorite little creek but more mileage will be needed because the trout will be ganged up in the few pools capable of harboring them. Also, you will likely spook the others in the pool once you hook one—so you’ll end up catching very few for your long walk. Many smaller streams may even suffer fish kills later in summer, although nature is practiced at dealing with extremes and they usually recover quickly. Even in the terrible drought of 2002, a fork of the Chama river went totally dry but was repopulated by aquatic insects and trout the very next year.
     Fortunately, we have a number of waters that stay relatively healthy because they have other sources of water than those supplied directly from on high. That would include streams that are below dams and those that are spring-fed. Spring-fed creeks are scattered across the state and would include most of the streams in the Valle Caldera national refuge, and the lower Red River and the Rio Grande.
     Yup, you heard right, the Rio Grande is a huge spring-fed creek and superb fishing in a low-water year! The springs are what make the Rio so rich and this year’s fishing has already been excellent. In low water years the spring water becomes the bulk of the Rio’s flow and this cool clean water makes for a healthy aquatic environment.
     Easier accessibility is another plus in low water years. Much of the Rio has excellent fishing terrain in the form of huge basalt boulders. Wading between these great rocks is impossible in higher flows but in low water the trout become much easier to get at. Of course we hope for summer rains but there is a negative element when there are downpours on the loose soils of the San Luis Valley. When that happens the Rio Grande will get muddy and then fish poorly for a week or so.
     A new factor of considerable importance is the addition of river otters to the Rio Grande scheme. They were introduced about 10 years ago and with no predators and an abundant food supply their populations have gone through the roof. It would appear that up to this point they have been prospering on crayfish, carp and chubs. Such ‘trash fish’ are competition to the trout and the otter seem to be doing the Rio some good here.
     Unfortunately, this is not the case in the spring-fed lower Red River where the otter have been dining on their favorite food––spawning trout. There was zero spawning activity in the Red last year and this is a big deal because this is the most important spawning ground for big wild trout in the state. Smaller waters like the Red do not hold ‘trash fish’ and trout are much easier for the otter to corner in the more confined water course of this narrow stream. The otter influence here is mostly a winter thing and good populations of smallish brown trout and stocked rainbows will be found in warmer weather.
     The Pecos Drainage amounts to a lot of stream, but there seem to be sufficient fishermen to accommodate all the space, so try and fish there on weekdays. Be sure to hit the Stonefly hatch in early June, because unfortunately, except for that spring fishing, the Pecos will probably not fish well this season unless big rains materialize.
     Another very important river for New Mexico fly fisherman is the Conejos just over the border in Colorado. Large trout eat dry flies here and insect hatches are prolific and predictable. Expect green and brown drakes starting in June and stoneflies around that time as well. Pale Morning Duns (PMDs) and caddis can hatch throughout the summer. Although the river is a tailwater much of the flow is from natural streams and those streams will be very low. The trout here suffer in low-water years unless lots of supplemental water is released into the system from Platero Reservoir. (And that is strictly an irrigation thing as water in the west is not used for the benefit of fish.)
     The free-flowing Chama River has been fishing very well the last couple of years. We do a lot of guiding in this great stream and we were about to write the season off as a big-time bummer! But screwy weather ain’t always a bad thing and an insane rain event there this spring has all of a sudden put a lot of water in the system. Fishing should start there in late May.
     Below El Vado Dam there are some very nice-sized trout and they are going to get even bigger as the water below Coopers El Vado Ranch was declared catch and release. Fish downstream with a cone head Slumpbuster and then fish back up with a Poundmiester nymph. Look for flow releases of under 200 c.f.s. for the best fishing.
     The Abiquiu section of the Chama has had decent fishing the last couple of years. This is primarily an offseason fishery (late fall and spring) and although the bulk of the action is for stocked trout there are some big wild browns as well. They are particular about their hidie holes and the help of a guide will be about the only way the average angler will latch onto one of these special trout.
     A couple of other Northern New Mexico waters that hold up well under such conditions are the tailwaters of the Cimarron and Costilla Creeks. Their respective reservoirs have decent amounts of water so fishing should be OK throughout spring and summer
     Remember to check the weather forecast and New Mexico streamflows on line before you head out the door. And here’s my last tip: Make it a good day by calling it a hike—just bring a fly rod along. If you do well, call it fishing.

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