Greetings and my best to all my friends and readers for a great 2019!! It’s been a very fulfilling and fun year writing my blog. As well as providing an admitted excuse to go fishing and explore remote places, my main goal is to help reinforce and build the constituency to preserve and protect these wild and wonderful places. Given the current state of politics in the country and multiple threats to our environment and natural resources, it’s more important than ever to take a stand and do whatever we can to protect Mother Nature.
An added and very satisfying benefit has been connecting with people and making new friends around the USA and the world—readers from over 60 countries. As of Dec. 31, the blog has had over 40,000 views and 16,000 visitors, a 50% increase over 2017.
Now it’s easy to figure out why most of my readers are from English-speaking countries, but who am I to ask why someone from the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Brazil, or Turkey would take a look.
As the year comes to a close, I found it enlightening and gratifying to look back on the best, the bummers, and the blood-curdling moments of 2018 from a piscatorial perspective. Here you go….
Taos, New Mexico, is the first stop on my annual migration from Colorado to the Everglades where I spend the winter chasing snook, reds, and tarpon. It’s a short four-hour drive from my summer haunt near Salida, Colorado. I haven’t been to Taos
for over twenty years, and the place has changed plenty since. Downtownis still picturesque, although crowded, with rush hour traffic jams. Now nasty residential and commercial sprawl pocks the outskirts of town, formerly the realmof elk. But the lure
of fishing the mighty and pristine Rio Grande deep in a gorge just outside of Taos keeps me in a good frame of mind—the river looked positively entrancing as I pass over it on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge on the way into Taos.
I set up my mobile fishing camp in the surprisingly quiet and bucolic Taos Valley RV Park, only 10 minutes from the downtown plaza, then head to the Taos Fly Shop just down the road, fly fishing central in this part of New Mexico.
The affable owner, Nick Streit, gives me a friendly welcome and shares the skinny on what flies are hot. He recommends a double nymph rig—his local pattern called a Poundmeister in Size 6 (tied to represent a crane fly larvae) and a Size 18 red micro mayfly—both dangled below a big dry to serve mainly as a strike indicator, although Nick notes that there is still some hopper activity in the gorge so I might get surprised.
From the Colorado border to below Taos, there are over 30 miles of good water to choose from on the Rio Grande. Where to go?? I tell Nick I am looking for some solitude as well as hungry fish and mention that I read some scuttlebutt online that a stretch of the river in the canyon reached via the Miners Trail is a good candidate (some guide books call it the Cedar Springs trail, but the Cedar Springs are on the other side of the river and there is no trail from there to the river). Nick recalls his guides saying it’s been a little off lately, but I would probably have it to myself because of the steep hike in…but if I go, for the best fishing be sure to hike downstream a piece from where the trail intersects the river. That will prove to be excellent advice. I get a dozen of the various fly patterns he suggests, a copy of his father Taylor’s excellent book on New Mexico fishing, my license and with a few hours of daylight left, decide to scout out the Miners Trailhead. Glad I did.The route to the trailhead is circuitous. From downtown Taos, I follow directions I find online in an article in the local paperabout hiking the Miners Trail. I take Highway 522 north turning off left (west) on B-006, a good gravel road just before you get to the hamlet of Arroyo Hondo.
This takes me west down to the John Dunn Bridge across the Rio Grande. The climb out of the gorge from the bridge is a rough road with tight switchbacks. When I hit the rim, I drive another mile or so until I see a sign on the right indicating the Colorado State Line is 34 miles to the north, turn there and proceed about another 1.5 miles till the road forks just beyond the last house. The fork to the right is TP (Taos Plateau) 219, but the sign has been torn off the post. Keeping the faith, I turn and in a half mile or so I see a sign that has survived the vandals. From the fork it is about 2.5 miles to the trailhead. The road becomes progressively rougher and heavily rutted in spots—I wouldn’t want to navigate it when muddy. A high-clearance vehicle can make the trip, but leave the family car at home. My Xterra SUV has no problem, but after hitting a couple of deep potholes that rattle my teeth, I slow to a steady 10 mph.
The sun is setting as I find the trailhead and peer down into the canyon. It’s a fairly short, if steep trail, only a little over a mile one-way. The trail is rocky but decently maintained, so I make a decision to hike in the next day wearing my waders and fishing vest. Then I head back to my trailer to rig up and get an early start.
Nicolas Creede hit the silver motherlode in 1870 high in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. He sold out the aptly named Holy Moses Mine for millions and headed to California, leaving behind a boom town named for him. Now the mines are gone, and Creede is a fishing, tourist, and second-home mecca.
In the 1960s I caught my first trout on a fly up here on the Rio Grande Del Norte—the Great River of the North to Spanish settlers. It was on the one and only out-of-state vacation and break from our Kansas farm our family took as I grew up. Plowing was done, and I somehow persuaded my Dad to rent a little camper and make the 500-mile drive to what an article in Outdoor Life claimed was the least populated county in the lower 48, chocked full of hungry trout. Six of us slept in that little camper for a week! I had taught myself how to fly cast from a Sports Afield book borrowed from the local library. I practiced up in local farm ponds casting cork poppers to hungry bluegill and bass. I hadn’t been back since 1976 when I took a horsepack trip into the Weminuche Wilderness Area. With the promise of a week of Indian Summer fall weather, I figured it was time to revisit. Anyway, I needed to shed the five pounds I had gained at my 50th high school class reunion.
I stop in Creede, now a bustling little mountain town with a year-round population of only about 500, but replete with a decent grocery store, an acclaimed summer repertory theatre, and two fly shops. The venerable Ramble House was the main place to get fishing and camping gear in the 1960s, and it still is today, run by the same extended family. I duck in and get the local skinny on patterns and places from a fly fishing maven Stacia, a young woman who obviously has lots of
on-the-water experience. Her advice will turn out to be right.
Now it’s mid-afternoon and I am hustling off to set up my mobile fish camp at the Antlers Lodge and Campground, just a few miles outside Creede. It not only has spots for travel trailers but also a nice one-mile stretch of private water on the Rio Grande plus a gourmet restaurant. Who said fly fishing the backcountry has to always be a hardship!!
I sample the water, catch some nice brown trout that dominate on the lower section of the river, then start packing up for my expedition to the headwaters of the Rio Grande, a long drive from here up to near the Continental Divide. With visions of trout dancing in my head, I set the alarm at 5:00 a.m. so I can be on the water by 9 a.m.–then nod off.