Saturday, May 2, 2020

New Zealand: Part Two by Nick Streit


My second day in New Zealand could not have been more different from my first. After staying up late and drinking way too much bourbon with our new friends at Cedar Lodge, I awoke from a mediocre night’s sleep with a formidable hangover. The wind was howling outside, and a front was moving in from the West. Taking a look at the bad weather and considering my poor condition, we decided to let the fish have a break and make the day a “travel day.”

I had 2 weeks to fish the South Island and wanted to see as much as possible. This would not be an easy task considering there are several lifetimes worth of water to explore, so we decided to concentrate on getting a quick look at the different zones. We figured we could head south, back through Queenstown and make it down to the Southland Region. From there we could fish our way back north up the West Coast Region to Christchurch, where we would be catching our flights home.
So much of the South Island reminded me of my time in Argentina. Like the Andes in Patagonia, the
Southern Alps rise fast and steep from the Ocean, squeezing out moisture as it slams into the range
head -on. Large natural lakes are abundant in the interior of the range, and big rivers drain the lakes to the dry side of the island. And like the dry side of the Andes, the East side of the South island can
generate some impressive wind. Any fishing attempted today, with this amount of wind, would be futile.

After stopping in Queenstown for groceries and some pies (think pot pie or empanada… Delicious-
usually filled with meat and cheese, available fresh at gas stations and cafes everywhere) we made our way into Southland where steep mountains gave way to rolling hills. Farmland and lush green pastures dotted with countless white sheep were intersected here and there with medium sized streams . The wind seemed to be dying down a bit, and Evan knew a spot that he had fished earlier with some friends that he wanted to check out.

It was getting late in the day by the time we reached the small river. My hangover had become
somewhat bearable by now as we strung up our rods. We headed downstream where I spotted a good
sized fish feeding in some willow branches hanging into the current. I got the fish to eat but quickly lost him in the branches he was taking shelter in. We saw a few more fish, but between the wind and the bad visibility, we couldn’t get anything going. We found a campground to pitch our tents nearby and Evan cooked some pasta for dinner. Not bad, but as I crawled into my tent for the evening, it was
increasingly obvious that my first 24 hours in New Zealand- guided fishing by helicopter and gourmet
dining- were long gone.

I appreciate the challenges that come with “do-it-yourself” travel. Anglers attempting DIY fishing trips need to understand what they are getting themselves into. Without a local to take you directly to the “hot spot”, you will have to waste a lot of time figuring out where- and how- to fish. With no guide to tell us what to do, Evan and I were now left with nothing but a guide book and some maps to help us figure out where to fish next.

We had gotten a tip from my Uncle Jackson (Evan’s father) about a small meadow stream in the
mountains that had huge browns hiding in under cut banks ready to eat a dry fly. It had been years
since Jackson had fished the stream, and as we pulled up to the parking area for the fisherman’s access we found, it was obvious the secret was out. There was a car parked in every beat marker.

New Zealand has come up with a genius solution to deal with overcrowded rivers. Because there are so few fish there, one angler fishing upstream of you will pretty much render the water you are fishing
useless. So, on popular rivers like the one we were trying to fish, each access point has multiple beats
(stretches) with a sign and a map to explain the boundaries and rules. Anglers wishing to fish a beat
park in front of the designated sign, signaling to other fisherman that the beat is occupied. We drove to several different access points that morning before finding a unoccupied beat.


The wind had picked back up, and by the time we hit the water is was a full-blown gale. We spotted a
few fish, all of which either spooked or refused our flies. It was obvious that these fish- unlike the fish
we were catching on our day of heli fishing, were familiar with people trying to trick them. These fish
were smart- and with the wind howling, Evan and I were taking a licking. We fished hard, covering
about 8 miles of river. I had one big brown come out from a undercut bank to eat my Cicada dry, but by the time the fish got to the fly, it was dragging, and his mouth opened and closed just a quarter inch behind the fly. I didn’t even bother setting the hook. Almost completely dejected, we fished are way back to car. I spotted a fish down deep that I fished to for a while, though he was completely uninterested. Evan went upstream to hit one last pool before we were going to hang it up for the day. 

A few minutes later I heard him shout and I looked upstream, surprised to see his rod doubled over. I yelled “need the net?” and got no answer. Assuming it was a small fish I slowly made my way up to him. But when I got about 100 yards away I could tell he was tangling with something serious. I sprinted the last 75 yds and arrived -huffing and puffing- with my net ready at my Cousin’s side.
Kiwi fisherman do not relate size of fish in length as Americans do, but rather in weight. In my time
there, I caught some beautiful fish that may have gone 24-26 inches but were skinnier and not as heavy. Other fish, like the one Evan was currently hooked up to, had shoulders, hips and a beer belly. At first glance, judging by it’s length, the fish didn’t seem that huge. It was BIG, no doubt- at least 2 feet long –but after 15 minutes, Evan still could not get the fish’s head up. I waited patiently with the net until I decided to take a shot and get the net in front of the fish. I timed the scoop well and the fish spooked and swam right into the back of the net. When we weighed the fish it was obvious we he had fought so hard. 8 pounds! (for those of you who have only guessed a trout’s weight but have never actually weighed one, think 12 pounds).



It was the biggest trout of Evan’s life. We took pictures, hugged and high-fived and headed back to car to celebrate. We drove up the dirt road for a few miles before coming to a lake we had decided to camp at. Already in a great mood from Evans catch, things got even better when out the car window as we drove along the lake, sitting by a campfire, we saw our friend Matt, the chef from Cedar lodge. We pulled over and started to chat and no sooner Bobbi and Eli pulled up as well. The Cedar Lodge staff was taking a bit of a vacation themselves. It was good to see them. We camped together, shared some more stories and retired to our tents as it started to rain.


Evan and I awoke early the next morning. Our plan was to fish the same river as the day before, but in it’s upper reaches where the river was isolated from vehicle access. We wanted to make sure we would get the beat and parked our car in front of its sign before anyone else got there. Sure enough, we were the first car there, and parked our car in-front of the sign for an isolated beat of water. Feeling adventurous and confident from Evan’s catch the night before, we signed ourselves up for a giant day by choosing this remote beat. We would need to walk 6 miles to get to the lower boundary of our beat from where we would fish the 3 miles of river allocated to this stretch then walk the other three back to the car at the end of the day. We loaded the packs with plenty of food and ibuprofen and set off.

The river was beautiful. It’s a small stream that meanders through a large valley with mountain peaks all around. Though the walk was long, anticipation grew with each step. By the time we got to our beat we were rearing to go. The fish, however, were not. We spotted fish here and there as we worked our way down stream, spooking many of them. We got a few casts at fish before they saw us, and they were completely uninterested. Any confidence we had form Evans fish the night before was now totally shaken.

We finally got to the bottom end of our beat. Now the only thing left to do was turn around and fish our way back to the car (6 miles away) through the same water we had just walked and had not even gotten a strike on. We decided to take a break, have some lunch and come up with a strategy.
Fresh out of ideas, I suggested the only strategy I could come up with- and its one that has served me
well in the past- keep fishing! We were determined to beat these fish into submission or die trying.
Walking back up stream, as the light across the valley started to get a bit lower, we were now seeing
some fish get a little more active. Had the water been too cold all morning? Was there some kind of
hatch happening now? Do they feel more comfortable in low light? All these questions were going
through our minds as it was obvious the fish that we were seeing were definitely more excited. We
even got a few to look at a dry fly and I hooked one very large brown on a nymph that wrapped me on a rock and broke off. We were still skunked but we were making progress! And we were seeing more fish now, too. Fish that were likely hiding under banks, logs or rocks earlier in the day were now coming out of their hiding spots. 

We found one fish in a shallow riffle on the inside of a bend pool. I put a cicada dry over him and he came up, looked at it for a few seconds and then refused it. Finally, someone to play with! I changed flies a few times, each time getting some interest but no commitment. Not seeing any bugs on the water to imitate, I decided to try one of my go to pain-in-the-ass-fish patterns, a small beetle. The fish came up and sipped it on the first cast. After some tussle, we had the fish in the net. After about 9 miles of walking, and 8 hours of fishing, we had finally caught a fish!


We worked our way upstream with a new found sense of excitement. From a high bank, I spotted a
huge brown sitting on an undercut bank on the far side of the river. This fish was feeding. Problem was he was holding in a seam only about 8 inches wide between the bank on his right and the fast current on his left. Any kind of a drift was going to be nearly impossible. It was Evan’s turn this time and I stayed on the high bank to spot for him. Evan made the decision to cross the river below the fish and fish up to him, attempting a cast straight up the seam along the bank. This would require all 25 feet of his fly line and his 12 feet of leader landing in a perfectly straight line in the narrow sliver of slow water just along side the bank. His first few attempts were good, but not good enough. The fly would land a inch or two too far to the left, catch the fast current and be out of view of the fish. Or his line would land a few inches too far to the right – on the bank itself - and the fly would drag.
But persistence paid off and eventually Evan made the perfect cast. As I watched in amazement, the
small dry fly landed in front of the fish, drifted perfectly downstream and the fish slowly came up and
sipped the fly. Fish on!

What happened over the next 10 minutes is a bit of a blur. Evan and I ran up and downstream, around
rocks and back and forth across the stream. Without any sugar-coating, we yelled instructions and
obscenities at each other. There is nothing like having the fish of a lifetime on your line- after working so hard to get him on there, you are completely aware of how weak your 5x tippet is, and how easily your size 16 hook can come loose. In the time it takes for that fish to hit the net, you will talk to God, Buddha and Allah just to cover your bases. You will promise to stop drinking, swearing, or whatever it takes. Just please let me land this fish!

Evan and I were both holding our breath as the fish slowly started to get tired. Evan eventually got the better of him and I slid the net under the 10 pound beast. Screams of joy and laughter echoed across the otherwise quite and peaceful valley. We started the long walk back to the truck, with smiles all around.


What a day. 12 miles walked, 2 fish landed and a memory that will last a lifetime.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

New Zealand: Part One by Nick Streit


NEW ZEALAND: PART ONE
by
NICK STREIT

A year ago, my Cousin Evan told me he was quitting his job and going to New Zealand to fish for 3 months.  I promptly congratulated him and told him id love to tag along for a few weeks if he would have me. 
New Zealand has been at the top of “my list” for a long time.  I cannot say if it was the promise of huge trout in crystal clear water or the endless mountain wilderness that captured my imagination more. Or that it just felt so foreign.  Almost as if it were on a different planet!
 And so, as I flew over the South Island heading into Queenstown, I peered out the airplane window with the enthusiasm of a child seeing Disneyland for the first time. Flying over endless mountains, glaciers, and river valleys, I could barely contain my excitement.

My cousin Evan picked me up at the airport.  I was tired and jet-lagged after the long trip, but adrenaline kept me going.  And driving through windy mountain passes on the wrong side of the road helped to keep me awake! Luckily, Evan had gotten accustomed to the driving, and I was able to enjoy the view.  We drove north out of Queenstown a few hours and arrived at a small fishing lodge on the banks of the Makarora river.  Cedar Lodge is a small, 4 room fishing operation in a ideal location to fish some of the South Islands most remote waters.  And the Helicopter parked in the front yard will help get you there!


We met our hosts Bobbi and Eli, a young couple from Idaho that had recently been hired to run the lodge.  Matt, the lodges Chef would quickly great us as well.  Soon, we would be enjoying a delicious dinner prepared by Matt, drinking South Island Pinot Noir, and talking about what river we would be taking the helicopter to fish the next morning.


If your wondering how a lowly fishing bum like me finds himself in this scenario, you are not alone!  I went to bed that night feeling like I was in some kind of dream.  Just a day ago I was home and now I’m in a fancy fishing lodge about to go heli fishing!
I’ve never been in a helicopter.  I have seen them fly overhead, and of course seen people in movies fly around in them. Most of them seem high-tech and roomy.  I did not realize they made tiny ones. I’m not a small man, either.  And jamming myself into the front seat of the little helicopter was not easy.  I must admit I was a bit nervous, but our pilot seemed confident and was very friendly.  I reminded myself he was a professional, took a deep breath and buckled my seatbelt.  As we started to take off, our guide (also named Nick) who was in the back seat with Evan jokingly asked if he could fly today.  Our pilot said, “sure mate, its easy- like balancing a cue ball on the tip of a pool stick.”
And so, we lifted off and headed up the Makarora Valley.  Seeing the mountains of New Zealand from a helicopter is and experience I will never forget; Gin-clear rivers below, glacier capped, rugged mountains and waterfalls all around.  We flew up the river valley until we gained enough altitude to cut through a narrow mountain pass and into the next river drainage.
We entered the wide, wind- swept river valley from a small side canyon.  The first look I got at the river we would be fishing was enticing to say the least.  Meandering through a large glacier plain, the river looked exactly like the classic New Zealand trout stream.  Clear water, long riffles, and occasional deep pools. 
Through the headsets, the guide and the pilot communicated about the best place to land.  Our guide Nick was interested in fishing a beat that had not been hit in a while and figured with the current condition and the lack of angling pressure, fishing should be good.  We landed on a small grassy bank next to the river, hopped out and got our stuff together.

We got rigged up and started walking upstream.  I had told Nick that Evan and I were accomplished anglers and guides but like all good fishing guides he knew better than to trust our summation of our own talents.  He put me in a riffle and had me fish up it blindly, drifting a fly along a seam that to me looked mediocre.  I realize now he wanted to see how I fished and let me warm up a bit before he put me on a good piece of water.  Within a few casts a fish came up and ate my dry- nothing to write home about, a brown maybe 18 inches or so- but it was my first New Zealand trout! And I must have passed my fishing skills evaluation because after I released the fish, Nick quickly said “lets head upstream and find a big one.”
The first thing that American anglers must get used to is that there are very few fish compared to home waters.  It’s not uncommon in a US river to spend several hours in one run, with feeding fish in front of you the whole time.  In New Zealand, each run typically holds one fish, sometimes two but many times none.  And because of the “unstable” nature of a lot of the rivers (unstable is a term they use to describe rivers that flow through wide flood plains where rock slides and flood events continuously scour the river leaving few pools and many miles of shallow, featureless water), good runs could be separated by a quarter mile or more of un productive water. 

The next 8 hours were spent repeating the same motions. Nick would walk the banks slowly, looking for fish as we worked our way upstream.  Evan and I took turns casting at spotted fish.  I learned a few hard lessons right off the bat.  When it comes to trout in Kiwi country, you cannot be overly cautious with how you approach to them.  Our guide Nick was dressed in full camo, and for good reason. Fish in New Zealand apparently have eyes on the back of their heads.  One step too close and the fish would spook.  And because many times you would spot a big trout in a completely random spot (the side or tail out of a pool, often in very shallow water), we would have to work slowly and methodically, scanning the entire river for a fish. 

When a fish was spotted, presentation was everything.  We donned the standard South Island rigs, 12-14 ft stout leaders with a single dry fly at the end.  With the clear water and the surprising lack of insects to distract the trout, your first cast always promised to get attention.  And a bad toss or an untimely mend would spoil the deal.  It was important to evaluate the currents and anticipate how your fly would drift- or why it could potentially drag BEFORE you made your first cast.  The first shot at the fish was always your best chance. 

 Evan and I both missed a few fish to start off, but soon had the timing of the slow takes down.  It takes some serious nerve to watch those fish come 10 feet or more to slowly eat your dry and not yank it out of their mouths too soon.  We traded back and forth as we worked our way up miles of river.  We took some licks, but for the most part we were a formidable 3-man team.  Nick would spot them; we would catch them. 

It was getting late and I was starting to dread the long walk back to where the helicopter dropped us off.  I figured we had fished about 3 or 4 miles of water and it would take 2 hours or so to hike back. So you can imagine my joy when our guide nick pulled a radio out of his pack and called the Heli pilot.  “we’re ready Steve, come get us.” 5 minutes later our chariot arrived.  We climbed in and took off.  Flying back down the river valley, a few hundred feet in the air, it was impossible to not look for fish out the helicopter window.  Yes, the fish are so big they can be spotted from a helicopter! 
The winds had picked up so our pilot decided to take a different rout back to the lodge.  He maneuvered the chopper through a tight mountain pass, with waterfalls gushing down steep rugged mount sides right out the side window. 
Bobbi and Eli were waiting for us back at Cedar Lodge. Grinning from ear to ear, Evan, Nick and I cracked open cold beers and toasted to an incredible day. And it was not over yet!  Our chef Matt, learning the night before about my passion for wild game meat, fixed us a meal ill never forget.  With full belies and happy hearts we sat around the outside table late into the night, drinking and telling stories.  


Eventually it was time for the party to end.  I strolled back to my cabin, quite tipsy, and took a moment to gaze up into the stars.  The jagged peaks all around were visible in the crisp starlight, and the sounds of the river echoed across the valley.  Something came over me and for no good reason I yelled into the nighttime sky, “Holy shit, I’m in New Zealand!”

Thursday, May 2, 2019

From Tennessee to Taos by Emily Roley


       From Tennessee to Taos
      by 
    Emily Roley
        
           In October of 2014 I found myself sitting in a boat on a deep and and lazy stretch of the Colorado River a few miles from the entrance of the Grand Canyon. On either side deep red cliffs towered a thousand feet up, ending in a small sliver of sky  which ferried a soft light down onto my shoulders. It was my 35th birthday and I had spent the last week chasing trout up and down this river alongside my two best friends. The engine was gently idling and we were all sipping whiskey, laughing at our good fortune, when our guide suddenly cut the motor. Instantly, we all fell silent and a profound stillness invaded. In that moment my life changed forever. I heard a voice as crystal clear as the waters below me. Go become a fly fishing guide.

            For some, to simply pack up and shelve a seemingly normal life in exchange for an uncertain one would be insane. For me, however, it was inevitable. I was living in my hometown Nashville, Tennessee, working a normal job, living in a house I owned, surrounded by family and lifelong friends. It was a good life, safe and predictable. I would go about my day as my familiar self, thinking repetitive thoughts, performing predictable tasks, laying out plans and expecting the sun to inevitably rise. But below the monotony there was something brewing.

            Fly fishing has been an integral part of my life since childhood. I was introduced to the sport by my father, a man equal parts southern preacher, poet, musician and trout bum. He held the belief that life was wide, deep and full of wonder and it was on our weekly trips to the river where I learned to look for magic in everything. Selecting which fly to fish became a devotion on the freedom of choice. Getting skunked was a lesson on temperance. The sound of the river was the most ancient song. What was catching trout? Well, that was the greatest gift from the gods. As I stumbled through my teens and limped through my twenties the river became the place where I would go, wade through the turmoil of youth and eventually find peace. Flash forward to a woman halfway through her 30’s adrift in life, as on a boat, in the middle of the Colorado with a metaphorical lighting strike still smoldering at her feet.

            What happened after the lightning strike? That magical moment turned instantly into practical planning, a laundry list of tying loose ends. Becoming a fly fishing guide would take tenacity, a lot of luck and a complete overhaul of my life. So immediately upon returning home to Nashville I began sprinting toward this goal. I did research, made phone calls, heard myself again and again trying to explain my epiphany to deaf ears. Finally, in a mix of determination and fate, I found a job with the Taos Fly Shop and six months later had boxed all that was important, sold all that was not, told my family I loved them and headed west.

            From the outside the fly fishing guide life is romantic, it is barely a job at all. Ultimately, we get paid to go fishing right? Not exactly. As newly minted adults must learn how to fend for themselves their first year of college so must first year guides adjust to the reality of what the job entails.  My first season was eye opening. Yes, there is romance to be found but mostly there are impossible tangles, errant casts, hooks in trees, hooks in your clothes, hooks in your skin, sunburn, swift currents, loose rocks, mosquitoes and rattle snakes. However, if you can handle these challenges and happen to be on the river when the fish are feeding it’s the greatest job in the world. I am four years in and I can say, without exaggeration, that guiding a beginner into their first fish on a fly rod produces a feeling that has, so far, been unmatched in my professional life.

            This is due, in part, to the holistic essence of the experience. Fly fishing is not only about catching fish. It is about the ritual, the ceremony. Laying all your gear out the night before, making sure you have everything. Waking before the sun, warming the car, pressing the coffee and checking the map. It’s about solitude. Being alone on the river, carrying everything you need and leaving all else behind, spending hours with the sound of the current as your only companion. It’s about friendship and family, taking time out from the day to day to make new memories and perhaps establish new traditions. It’s about nature. Knowing a river so intimately you can walk it with your eyes closed. Spending every season on the same stretch, observing what changes and what stays the same, identifying the flora and fauna. And yes, it’s about catching trout, whether your first or your 10,000th. As a guide I get to foster this experience and as I said before it gives me a reward that is unparalleled.

            My most memorable trip to date was in my first year guiding. The clients were a mother and young, teenage daughter. The first thing I observed upon meeting them was their contagious enthusiasm. They were fulfilling a dream, checking a box on the bucket list. The second thing I noted was the transparent, playful and entirely unique nature of their relationship. They would alternate between stinging jabs and sincere compliments. It was only an hour into the trip when the mother grabbed my arm as we were walking up the river and said, “I can’t tell you how special this is for us.” I remember that we caught fish, although I can’t tell you how many. What I can tell you is that a deeper bond was created between mother and daughter that day, a bond that will bless them both for the rest of their lives. In the intervening 4 years I have guided these women 8 times and had the privilege of watching that teenage girl turn into a young woman.

            This mother and daughter story is not uncommon. Time and time again I watch as the river becomes a conduit, reconnecting you and I to one another by tethering us for a few short hours to nature. It truly is something to watch. If you are reading this and find yourself curious I urge you to give it a try. Maybe you have passed by the river for your entire life and always wondered what it would be like to learn how to fly fish but never knew where to start. Perhaps, like me, this is your adopted home and you find yourself in a limitless landscape and are craving adventure. We have no time but the present. After all, the days are long but the years are short. The river, however, is ancient.
           
            As I’ve told my story over the years I often get asked, “Why Taos?” The simplest answer? Taos picked me. It is vast and full of magic. In April of 2015, I pulled my travel trailer up from the south on Highway 68. There was construction and I was halted just below the crest of the mesa. As I sat mashing on my brakes I could see the very tip of Wheeler Peak and felt my heart start to thrum in my chest. The traffic started to inch forward, slowly, and I was treated to a tempered reveal of the landscape like a scroll being rolled open inch by inch. The Sangre De Cristo Range came down from the sky and met the sage covered mesa into which the Rio Grande had cut a giant, jagged slash. I was instantly in love. Years later I can still feel the gravity of that moment. I had followed the river and it had finally brought me home.

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.)


 
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