Chuck Rizuto and Thaddeus Cano
A founding father of the San Juan River’s fly-fishing industry, Chuck Rizuto, has retired and sold his lodge and fly shop to guide Chris Taylor who is turning it into an Orvis operation.
“Now, I’m going fishing,’ Rizuto, 67, said during an interview at his longtime business in Navajo Dam just days before it was assumed by Taylor on April 27, 2010. “It feels good to be passing it on to somebody who cares. He respects the business, is a hard worker and loves fly fishing. It’s kind of like, looking in the mirror.”
Rizuto started guiding on the river back in 1970 when Abe Chavez, founder of the now legendary Abe’s Motel and Fly shop at Navajo Dam, turned him on to his first customer one afternoon.
Rizuto, who was a Marine Corp. vet and auto mechanic in Albuquerque at the time, fished the river frequently during those early days when trout grew quickly to amazing size in the clear, cold water flowing from the base of the newly built dam.
Rizuto said he first fished the San Juan back in the 1960s after learning of a fishing contest sponsored by Cooks Sporting Goods in Albuquerque. The store was giving away a complete camping package including tent, sleeping bag, stove and other gear to whomever brought in the biggest fish.
Rizuto raced up to the San Juan which was producing big fish – fast - in those days and landed a 28-inch, 7.5-lb Rainbow trout, threw it in a cooler and took it back to the store and won the contest.
Rizuto said he learned to fish in the high mountain streams and lakes of his native California where he grew up with three brothers and two sisters in the town of Garden Grove. His dad, an engineer for North American Aviation, had taught him to fish as a kid and Rizuto would later fish places like the Owens River at Bishop as a teenager.
Then One afternoon while fishing the San Juan River, Rizuto stopped in at Abe Chavez’s little store in Navajo Dam where the owner asked Rizuto if another customer, who wasn’t faring well on the river that day, could tag along with Rizuto for a while, just to learn the ropes.
Rizuto said sure and when he and the much happier customer later returned to the store, Chavez suggested Rizuto become a guide as he watched the customer slip a $100 bill into Rizuto’s shirt pocket.
And Rizuto did, for many years, before opening his own fly shop in Farmington and then buying his own lodge and fly shop on the river years later.
Rizuto made many friends while guiding on the San Juan including Jack Samson of Santa Fe, the now deceased, longtime Editor in Chief of Field and Stream Magazine, who once called the San Juan River one of the West’s best.
Rizuto spent many years traveling, writing, shooting photos and hosting televisions shows about fishing and published the how-to-book, “Fly-fishing the San Juan”, which has achieved cult status among some of the river’s older fly fishermen and can still be found at High Lonesome Books of Silver City.
Rizuto who got into bass fishing later in life says he’s now planning on spending some time on the tournament circuit and may end up living somewhere like east Texas where he’ll be close to some top bass fishing lakes.
“I may even take a job just to stay busy,” Rizuto says. “Who knows?”
That’s the joy of retirement, Rizuto added.
Taylor of Fisheads of the San Juan River guide service says he intends to put in a restaurant, a full service Orvis supplied fly shop and continue to bring in guests to Rizuto’s eight room lodge.
Taylor’s 10-year-old guide business received Orvis’ guide service of the year award in 2008 after just a couple of years working with the national chain.
Taylor will employ, Thaddeus Cano, 45, as his fly shop manager. Bubba Smith will remain his chief guide and brothers Eric and Josh Mesker will join the crew as assistant shop manager and head chef, Taylor said.
Taylor, 39, originally from Lowell, Mass. said he got his start in the fishing business after he was required to write a resume and a cover letter for a “dream job” during an English class in college.
“My dad who taught me to fly-fish said wouldn’t it be cool to fish for a living,” Taylor said of their discussion of what dream job he’d pick.
Then Taylor, who holds an bachelors degree in sports medicine from the University of New Hampshire, says he took it one step further and actually submitted the cover letter and resume to about 200 different lodges, outfitters and guides he gleaned from fishing magazines.
“I couldn’t believe it but got an interview with a lodge in Alaska,” he said.
Taylor spent the next two summers working and guiding clients at the lodge in Alaska where he also met Bubba Smith, who was a chef at the time.
The two hooked up to briefly run a restaurant in Rico Co. from where they often made fishing forays down to the San Juan River and got to know Cano from Abes.
Taylor then ended up working for Abe’s, doing anything and everything, before he got to guide clients. Three years later he set out on his own to create Fisheads of the San Juan River.
Chris Taylor. Photo Courtesy of Chris Taylor.
Cano, 45, who worked for Abe’s from 1991 to 2000 and then went on to manage the Ski, Bow, Rack shop in Pagosa Springs, Co. for nine years says he excited about returning to Navajo Dam where he intends to get involved in better promoting the river.
Cano said he was instrumental in starting a marketing program for Pagosa Springs that included stocking the river with big trout to keep fly fishing tourists happy and coming to town.
Cano said he learned a lot about politicking while attending county commission meetings, working with the chamber of commerce and local government officials and he wants to use that experience on the San Juan.
“It would be great if we could get all these businesses working together to make it better for everyone,” Cano said. “I’m hoping I can help with that.”
Cano noted that he doesn’t expect the new fly shop, restaurant and lodge to siphon existing business from others in the business community but rather bring in new clientele from its connections through Orvis and their own marketing campaigns and that should benefit everyone, he said.