Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Head East to Lake Sumner for a Winter Angling Oasis

Bosque Redondo Lake is a pretty place to stop on the way to Sumner Lake.

It was the only bright spot in what was otherwise a dismal, mid-winter, fishing report.

The walleye were supposed to be biting out at Sumner Lake, a little known fishing hole far out on the plains of Eastern New Mexico.

A high-pressure system had been parked over the state for a whole week and daily temperatures were soaring into the sixties, sunshine was abundant and the winds were nowhere to be found.

It was too much for me to handle as I muddled through another day of home schooling in website design, digital photo editing and everything else I needed to know to survive my transition to the new media.

I squirmed as I dialed up my wife’s office and begged her for permission to flee.

Once she heard my whining she was all too happy to send me packing.

I was out the door and down the road within minutes, a tuna fish sandwich in hand and my trusty dog, Wiley, nipping at my heels.

I’d never been out to Fort Sumner before despite having lived and traveled throughout the state for close to 30 years.

I was too busy chasing trout, women and work back then.

But now that I’ve settled down some and learned the joys of warm water fishing, I’ve discovered a whole new slate of fishing holes to explore.

But my wife, Wren, suggested that if I was going out that way I needed to stop and see the state’s Bosque Redondo Memorial near Fort Sumner first.

As a reporter with the Farmington Daily Times, she was a member of a three-person team that earned an E. H. Shaffer award for investigative coverage of the Army’s 1860s’ forced march of many Navajos from their homelands in the Four Corners to an ill-suited reservation by the Pecos River.

Painting of "The Journey of Despair" by artist Carlos Ortiz at the Bosque Redondo Memorial at Forst Sumner State Monument.

Being a longtime student of history, I knew I’d want to stop at the memorial so I decided to take my time and enjoy the drive, bask in the remarkable weather and take in some scenery too.

Heading east out of Santa Fe on I-25, I jumped off at U.S. 285 south and proceeded south along a two lane ribbon of blacktop through cattle country.

Bordered by tawny, juniper and piƱon studded pastures and the occasional red rocked butte, I found myself humming the “Rawhide” theme song, as I ripped down the road.

Some 50 miles later I rolled into the truck stop straddling I-40 at Clines Corner.

Gas was thirty cents a gallon more here and a quart of oil set me back something like five bucks, but the gift shop had the most amazing assortment of New Mexico trinkets I’d ever seen, so it was a wash.

I’d have to remember this place come Christmas time, I thought to myself as I headed over the interstate and continued south on 285.

Here the road opens up to two lanes each way and runs through some long, fast, flat stretches.

By now I’m listening to AM radio and the last of the right wing pundits who still don’t get it.

Thirty miles later I hit US 60 at the neat, little town of Encino and head east again, chasing a long freight train strung out along the plains.

At one point I jump off the highway and bounce down a narrow, rocky, two track heading down to the tracks. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get a closeup picture of the lead engine bearing down the tracks toward me.

I arrived in a cloud of dust but I am just a few seconds too late. I could only watch as the cars lumbered by, the ground quivering under my feet as I take the opportunity to piss in the sand.

With the tinny squeal of the tracks fading, I lean against my little Jap Jeep and let the silence of the plains envelope me.

Out here the sweeping, uninterrupted grasslands dominate the faded, blue horizon, the only interruption, an occasional speck of a far off head of cattle.

I think what a bummer it would be to have to walk anywhere from here.

Back on the highway I soon cover the 20 miles to the town of Vaughn, a once thriving little railroad town that now looks like its just barely hanging on.

Here two rail lines intersect with one heading northeast and the other jogging south and later east again.

I continue east across the flatlands for a 60-mile dash to Fort Sumner, having lost my companion train to the countryside. But the map shows the tracks reconnecting with the roadway at the little town of Yeso.

I’ll stop here for lunch and get my picture.

I park behind what looks like an old hotel and what had once been the post office.

Leafless elms stand like silent sentries around the run down property. A lone wall made of small rocks leans precariously at an adjoining ruin.

Here I eat my sandwich as a light breeze plays through the open window, the dog leans out, reading the wind and then stares at me and my sandwich for a while.

I give her a potato chip, she bites it and it explodes across the seat.

The train finally arrives and I get my picture, once again enjoying the thrill of standing close to the thundering train as it screeches down the rails.

The conductor rewards my attendance with an extra blast of his lonesome sounding horn.

I return to my seat behind the wheel and shoot a picture of an empty rock house across the road. I wonder who lived here, what did they do and where have they gone?

The plains and abandoned buildings of Eastern New Mexico do that to you, make you stop and wonder.

I finally roll into Fort Sumner, visit their pretty little town hall on the hill, find the old railroad station, stop in at the Billy the Kid Museum for directions, check out his gravesite at another location and then make it over to the memorial.

The parking lot is empty but I can see they’re doing some construction inside so I walk into the building only to find the gift shop closed and no one around.

A lady comes out of a back office and says I can look around but I don’t have to pay because of all the inconveniences of the construction.

I read all the interpretive boards and feel ashamed to be white as I leave the place.

No wonder the Indians act the way they do sometimes, I think to myself.

I sure hope they bring a lot of kids here. Wren was right, we all need to see this.
The Fort Sumner museum at the Bosque Redondo memorial.

I take a quick detour to the Bosque Redondo Lake before heading off to Sumner Lake.

It looks like a great place to hide out for an afternoon and the sign says it’s stocked with 14- to 16-inch catfish with a bag limit of two.

The smell of cattle is thick along this bottomland, with little farms and pastures bordering the road leading back to town.

I finally made it out to Sumner Lake late in the afternoon, passing along the way a windmill farm, way off in the distance, gently producing electricity and hope.

“This is one of the best places for bank fishing and taking the kids,” Shawn Denny, Southeast Area Fisheries Manager for the state Department of Game and Fish says of Sumner Lake. “You can almost always catch something here.”

Sumner Lake has one of the highest fish densities in the state, second only to Caballo Reservoir and is well stocked with walleye, a particularly aggressive fish, a fine fighter and tasty too, Denny says.

Anglers will also find good populations of large and small mouth bass and crappie too, he added.

Denny is a 1995 New Mexico State University graduate with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Management. He has been with the Department of Game and Fish for the past 12 years and has been the Southeast Area Fisheries Manager since 2001. He works out of the Roswell Office.

Denny says the primary food source for fish in the lake is crawdads.

“And with the warmer weather it won’t be long before they’ll be moving around and getting up into the shallows,” Denny said. “Then you’ll be able to really whack them (the fish).”

Denny says if the weather remains warm anglers can get a jump on the spring season and get into some really good fishing from now through the end of April.

A lone fisherman navigates his way across Sumner Lake.

The lake is productive all summer and into the fall too, he said.

Denny says good spots to fish include down by the gauging tower on the face of the dam, off the rocks in the cove opposite the dam and in the flats on the east side of the lake.

And if the wind gets up and pushes folks off the lake as it’s been know to do, anglers can hide out on the Pecos River below the dam.

The stilling basin there is chock full of trout and is regularly stocked with catchables every other week or so, Denny said.

Powerbait and salmon eggs are the choice of bait here, he said.

Some of these trout even sport cash tags which can earn a lucky angler a cash reward from the nearby Hide Away restaurant, bar, grill, tackle, grocery store, RV park and motel.

Proprietor Mary Sena said supporters chip in every year to tag fish with colored chips that can be redeemed at her store located by the state park entrance.

Yellow tags bring $10, red for $20 and a green tag will earn $50, she said.

Sena said they planted $250 worth of the fish this year and anglers have only redeemed $160 as of mid-February.

The Peco river emerges from below the dam at Sumner Lake.

Sena, a Vaughn native, said she and her husband have been in business at the lake for the past 35 years and absolutely love it.

“And we’ve had a beautiful winter so far this year,” she said.

Sena’s operation is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and provides visitors to the lake with most needs including nightcrawlers and minnows.

Visitors will also find plenty of camping at the state park including RV spots with electricity and a dump station and primitive lakeside tent sites for those seeking a more natural experience.

Sena’s bar overlooking the 2,800-acre lake is within easy walking distance of the camping areas.

Park Ranger Derek Drew says the weather and the fishing has been spectacular and anglers have reported seeing a lot of shad in the water thus minnows have been working well. Red curley tailed jigs sporting a nightcrawler have also worked well in deeper water where 16- to 24-inch walleye have been found lurking at about 20 feet, he said.

The author with a nice walleye.

The park features several boat ramps and docks for public use and the east side of the lake has been producing well for boaters, Drew said. However, those fishing from the bank have also experienced success especially down by the dam, he said.

There's also hiking and biking trails and plenty of wildlife viewing to be had at the Sumner Lake State Park.

For more information about the lake check out the state parks site website at www.emnrd.state.us

If you Go: Take I-40 out of Albuquerque to the US 84 turnoff to Fort Sumner. From Santa Fe take I-25 to US. 285 south to U.S. 60 to Fort Sumner and north of US 84 to the Sumner Lake turnoff. About 150 miles one way from Santa Fe.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Don't MIss the Big Event !

If you like the outdoors then you don’t want to miss Bob Gerding’s Outdoor Adventures annual Hunting and Fishing Show next weekend at the Fairgrounds in Albuquerque.

“With the economy we’re concentrating on staying close to home this year,” Gerding says of his 11th annual show. “So we’ve got a lot more local and regional exhibitors and many are offering great deals.”

For three days, outdoor enthusiasts can find hunting and fishing guides, lodge operators, outfitters, outdoors equipment retailers and nonprofit organizations manning booths at the Manuel Lujan Complex on the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque.

The doors open on Friday, Feb. 13 at noon and close at 7 p.m.. The show picks up again the following day, Saturday. Feb 14, (Valentine’s Day) from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. and again on Sunday, Feb. 15, from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m.

Admission is $7 for adults while kids under 12-years-old get in for free. Parking on the grounds is $4.

And there’ll be plenty to keep the kids busy while Mom and Dad are chatting up the exhibitors including a rock-climbing wall, a BB gun shooting range supervised by hunter safety instructors and face painting, Gerding says.

Adults can try their hand at shooting a single action pistol, rifle or shotgun or learn to cast a fly rod in the casting pool.

Folks will be able to check out the latest equipment including recreational vehicles, boats and all-terrain vehicles.

“And we’ll have a guy I’ve been trying to get down here for years who sells outdoor gear bags, backpacks and duffel bags at really reasonable prices,” Gerding says.

And with Valentine’s Day being celebrated there’ll be plenty of gifts available for the ladies too including jewelry and beauty products from Martha’s Body Bueno of Albuquerque, Gerding says.

There’ll be over 90 exhibitors including knife makers, cooking ware demonstrators, makers of unique outdoor clothing and taxidermists, including one who will mount a complete deer over the course of the show.

Seminars will include a presentation by Stephen Ausherman, author of “60 hikes within 60 miles of Albuquerque” and Colleen Sloan of Log Cabin Grub, a noted outdoor cook and specialist with the Dutch oven who will share some of her culinary secrets, Gerding said.

Most exhibitors will also be conducting raffles for all sorts of gifts including hunting and fishing trips or equipment like fly rods or float tubes, Gerding says.

And door prizes to be given away will include a guided Tiger Muskie fishing trip to either Bluewater or Quemado Lake with Bob and T.J. Trout of 94-Rock.

A weekend getaway including two nights stay at the Elk Horn Lodge in Chama and a trip on the Cumbres and Toltec Rail Road will be awarded to some lucky ticket holder too, Gerding says.

And a two night stay at the San Juan’s River’s newest lodge, Ayalas, will also be given away to some lucky angler, he added.

There’ll be officers with the state Department of Game and Fish will be on hand to advise the public about hunting and fishing regulations and answer any other questions.

And many of the state’s sportsmen’s groups and other outdoor related, non-profits will be on hand to educate and inform the public.

So who is Bob Gerding anyhow and why does he do this?

“I just love it, these are my people,” Gerding, 70, of Albuquerque says.” It’s like a family reunion. It’s fun work.”

Gerding’s family and friends are all involved in making the show work, as are many of the business associates he’s come to know over his years from his work in the outdoor arena.

You may know Gerding from his deep, distinctive voice, tall stature and mane of silver hair.

He hosts the weekend television show “Wild New Mexico,” talks fishing on 94Rock radio every Thursday and takes calls from viewers of KRQE-TV 13’s noon, news show on Wednesdays.

He’s even done some voice-over work for commercials over the years.
Gerding says he ended up on the bawdy, heavy metal, radio show because the popular DJ, T.J. Trout, likes to fish.

“He’d come into the store and one day I asked him why he didn’t do a feature like TJ’s Trout picks or something like that on the radio?” Gerding said. “And he said ‘why don’t you?’ ”

Gerding has made a lot of friends during his 20 years of working the counter at Charlies Sporting Goods in Albuquerque where he also taught fly-fishing, fly-tying, and published some books.

Then about 10 years ago he left the Domenici family business to start one of his own, putting clients together with outfitters through his company, Bob Gerding’s Outdoor Adventures.

Gerding got the idea for the annual hunting and fishing show while attending outdoor shows in Arizona and Colorado where he was marketing a book.

He decided it was time to find a show closer to home and the idea was born.

The shows have proven to be very popular with up to 7,000 people attending last year, he said.

“And that’s not counting the kids,” he adds.

With all the friends Gerding has made over the years, has he every considered going into politics?

Gerding says he did in college for a brief time but after dabbling in the process a bit he decided it wasn’t for him.

“I realized I had too many ethics and not enough money,” he said.

Gerding is a longtime Albuquerque resident who graduated Highland High School. He holds a business degree from the University of New Mexico where he has been named to the Anderson School of Business’ Hall of Fame.

He is an Army vet who served in the reserves during his college years and spent his two weeks of active duty each summer down at Fort Bliss in Texas.

Gerding followed in his dad’s footsteps by going into the insurance business after college but he didn’t like the work and soon found himself managing Albuquerque’s first Orvis fly shop before moving on to Charlie’s.

Gerding and his wife, Harriet, a retired financial advisor, have two sons, Patrick, of Phoenix and Mike, of Denver, both of whom work in the business field.

A daughter, Laura, died at the age of 40 due to breast cancer, Gerding said.

He has a twin, Dick, a Farmington attorney whose likeness to his brother has come in handy on occasion.

From left to right, brother's Dick and Bob Gerding in 2008.

“I’ve had him fill in for me once,” Gerding says of an instance involving a family emergency. “He did some live (television) interviews and nobody knew the difference.”

Gerding said he and his brother took an interest in the outdoors as kids and their dad accommodated them with vacations to places like the Brazos River near Chama.

There the boys learned to fish from mentors like an elderly spinster from Albuquerque who took summers off from her job as a bookkeeper to relax and fish on the river.

Gerding said in those days they learned to fish with worms, salmon eggs and flies like a gray-hackled peacock or the Rio Grande King.

Inevitably, they stuck to fly-fishing out of pure laziness because it was easier than baiting a hook all the time, Gerding said.

As teenagers, the two boys then got jobs at the Lazy Ray dude ranch up in the Jemez mountains. Located on the Rio Cebolla above Seven Springs Fish Hatchery, the ranch was where Gerding took on his first client, in teaching a woman to fish.

Gerding said he liked that job because he got to fish twice a day, once in the morning while the clients were getting ready to go out and later in the evening while they were all at happy hour.

He turned out to be such a good fisherman that one of his additional duties was to provide trout for the traditional Friday night fish fry, Gerding said.

It was here that he also discovered the beauty of the Valles Caldera. The ranch was then known as the Baca and was a neighbor of the Lazy Ray’s.

The ranch hands were free to visit and fish on each other’s property in those days and they all took full advantage of the opportunity, Gerding said.

Nowadays Gerding still returns to the Valles Caldera to conduct fly-fishing clinics for the public visiting the preserve.

And while fly-fishing might be a very popular outdoor pursuit today, it wasn’t always so, Gerding said.

It was a little known fishing method back when he was a youth, he said.

“I’d be fishing down on the Rio Grande by the Taos Junction bridge and people on the road would stop just to watch,” he said. “I’d draw a crowd.”

Then fly-fishing really took off after the Robert Redford’s movie “A River Runs Through It” came out in the 1990s, Gerding said.

The yuppie era’s lifestyle and affluence also helped fuel interest in fly-fishing and other outdoor recreational pursuits, he added.

“I can’t tell you the number of outfits I sold and people I taught whom I never ever saw again,” Gerding said.

Gerding figures he’s taught over 2,000 people how to fish during the course of his career.

Gerding speculates that the next “undiscovered” outdoor activity in New Mexico would be small-mouth bass fishing and Navajo dam would be the hot spot for pursuing that sport.
The author shows off one of Navajo Lake's "Future Hall of Famers", a fiesty, little smallmouth bass caught in the spring of 2008.

Gerding says the state needs to do a better job of promoting recreational tourism.

“Outdoor recreation in New Mexico is the most important rural industry we have,” Gerding says.

In the meantime, Gerding is doing his part promoting the industry and one of the primary benefits of his show is potential clients have a chance to personally meet guides, outfitters and lodge operators in the business.

“And there’s no one in these exhibit halls I wouldn’t personally recommend,” he says.

If You Go:

Take I-25 south to Albuquerque, get off at the Louisiana exit and follow it down to Lomas, turn right and head down to San Pedro, take a left and head down to the fairgrounds (now called Expo New Mexico). If to hit Central, you’ve gone to far. The show begins at noon on Friday, Feb 13th and runs until 7 p.m. It picks back again on Saturday, Feb. 14th,(Valentines Day) starting at 9 a.m. and continuing until 6 p.m. and then again on Sunday, Feb. 15th, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and kids under 12 years old get in for free. Parking at the fairgrounds is $4.

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