Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dates Change, Plan Stays the Same, San Juan River and Navajo Lake to Close

Despite a change of state employee furlough dates Navajo Lake and the quality waters of the San Juan River will still be closed for five days in the next four months beginning with a shut down on Thursday, Christmas Eve Day and again on Friday, Jan. 15, 2010.

Three other days furlough dates have since been changed to allow the parks to close on several Tuesdays in February and March while all other state employees will continue to be furloughed over several Fridays in March, April and May.

The changes were made to allow parks across the state to remain open during busy weekends and holidays.

Yet perhaps nowhere will the impact of the closures be felt more, regardless of the dates,than in the small community of Navajo Dam where virtually every business in town is dependant upon Navajo Lake state park for their livelihood.

The park and its year-round, trophy-class trout fishery draws anglers from all over the world and contributes an estimated $30 million to the state’s economy annually.

But many businesses including fishing guides, fly shops, hotels and restaurants are also being forced to take Christmas Eve day off along with the state’s employees because of the state’s furlough plan.

The park and 34 others across the state will be closed a total of five days in the next four months and any day the river and the lake at Navajo Dam are closed essentially puts locals out of business.

“It’s just plain stupid,” says Chuck Rizuto, one of the longest serving guides on the river and owner of a lodge, fly shop and guide service. “They haven’t even bothered to think about what this will do to our tourism.”

What Rizuto finds particularly galling is the fact that the park will have a skeleton crew on duty on Thursday to keep people out.

And then the following morning on Christmas Day they’ll have another skeleton crew come back in to open the park gates again.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” he says. “Why not just leave it open if they're going to have to these guys down there anyhow.”

And that’s the problem many who work on the San Juan River are having with the state’s furlough plan.

“This is ridiculous,” says Larry Johnson of the San Juan River Guides Association. “If anybody in private business ran things this way they’d go broke.”

Johnson, in a letter to state parks director, Dave Simon, said he understood the state’s need to reduce costs in the face of budget shortfalls.

But Johnson argued that the closing of the state park which includes Navajo Lake and the quality waters of the San Juan River will not only cost the state much needed revenue from lost user’s fees, but also harm local businesses dependent upon park visitors for income.

“I don’t understand why they can’t just keep the park open with a skeleton crew instead of closing it for an entire day,” Johnson said.

That’s exactly what they’re doing in Colorado where state employee furloughs have also been ordered to cut costs due to budget shortfalls.

“Our state parks are a part of everyday life for many people here,” said Deb Frazier, spokeswoman for Colorado State Parks. “And it seemed to us that the best solution was to keep them open with skeleton crews on duty.”

And that’s exactly what Johnson and others on the San Juan River have been lobbying New Mexico’s State Parks to do.

“I’m aware of and share the concerns of the guides and businesses on the San Juan,” Dave Simon, Director of State Parks says. “I sympathize with them but that (skeleton crews) wasn’t an option that was made available to us.”

Simon says after Governor Bill Richardson issued his executive order calling for the
furlough days, his parent agency immediately sought a way to keep the parks open.

Simon says he never spoke directly to Richardson about the furlough plan but that his boss, Secretary of Energy Minerals and Natural Resources, Joanna Prukop, argued his agency’s case for keeping the parks open.

Prukop was unavailable for comment and is slated to retire Dec. 31st.

Simon says his understanding of the situation was that Governor Richardson wanted to reduce the “complexity” of the furlough plan, which is why the state parks weren't allowed to use skeleton crews to keep them open.

Simon says his understanding of the furlough plan was it was designed to maximize savings by having as many state employees off, and their offices closed, on the furlough days.

The plan is estimated to save the state about $11 million while the overall budget shortfall is pegged somewhere at about $650 million.

The governor’s spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos, said the governor’s furlough plan was devised to limit exceptions to the rules but he praised Richardson’s willingness to allow the state parks to close on alternate days to reduce the impact of the shut down.

There were to be few if any exceptions to the plan except for situations impacting the public’s health, safety and welfare, Gallegos Said.

Gallegos declined to address questions regarding why staggered schedules couldn't be employed to allow the state parks to remain open with skeleton crews in place.

"I don’t have anything more to add, except this: Had Governor Richardson signed the budget proposal passed by the Legislature during the special session, the state would have had to close state parks, which would have had a truly devastating impact on local economies," Gallegos wrote in response to questions submitted by Outdoors New Mexico .

The governor's original furlough plan called for most of the closings to fall on Fridays before other holidays thus creating four day weekends for furloughed state employees.

But the original plan came at a great inconvenience to the public.

For instance, a park such as Elephant Butte Lake State Park, which sees upwards of 100,000 visitors over the Memorial Day weekend would have been closed to early birds who showed up on Friday to find a camp site.

Gallegos said Richardson showed “great flexibility” in allowing state parks to change their closure dates to allow the parks to close on Tuesdays in February and March instead, while the rest of the state employees had to adhere to the other schedule.

State parks will be closed Thursday, December 24, 2009, Friday, January 15, 2010, Tuesday, February 9, 2010, Tuesday, March 2, 2010, and Tuesday, March 23, 2010.

All other state offices will be closed Thursday, December 24, 2009, Friday, January 15, 2010, Friday, March 5, 2010, Friday, April 2, 2010, and Friday, May 28, 2010.
(for more info see press release).

But some businessmen at Navajo Dam find the alternate schedule of little consolation considering that any day the river and lake is closed they’re essentially out of business.

“I book some of my biggest trips in March, during the week,” says Rizuto. “That’s when most out-of-state tourists want to come, to avoid the weekend crowds. What am I supposed to tell them, the river’s closed for a day?”

Many Navajo Dam Businesses were equally upset that much of the planning for the closures was kept under wraps and done without public involvement (see related story ).

Sen. Steve Scharer, R-San Juan says the state parks and businesses at Navajo Dam are simply pawns in the governor’s ongoing battle with the legislature over the budget.

“This just another case of his total disregard for the citizens,” he said. “He doesn’t care about them. It’s all about him.”

Scharer said that by closing revenue generating state parks and doing the same to related businesses is counterproductive to the state’s economy and senseless considering the minimal budget savings it produces.

The furloughs are another in a series of moves crafted by Richardson to address the budget shortfall including a state hiring freeze, layoffs of political appointees and suspension of all capital outlay spending including his own $250,000 allocation for habitat improvement projects on the San Juan River at Navajo Dam.

That money was earmarked for a diversion at Rex Smith Wash at Texas Hole to keep silt and sediment from washing into the river and destroying fish habitat.

The Governor's furlough plan comes on the heels of his veto of a legislative budget fix offered during a special session last fall including a 7.6-percent across the board budget cut and a reduction of politically appointed positions within state government.

In the meantime state park rangers will be on duty during the state park closure dates to keep trespassers out and will issue citations if necessary, Simon says.

Anyone convicted of criminal trespass while hunting or fishing could see their fishing privileges administratively revoked for up to three years.

Governor Bill Richardson issued the following press release on Feb. 5, 2010

Governor Bill Richardson Announces State Parks Will  Remain Open During Furloughs

SANTA FE- Governor Richardson today announced that all New Mexico State Parks will
remain open during the remainder of state employee furlough days. Governor Richardson
announced the change after receiving dozens of requests from New Mexico residents, local
municipalities and businesses asking to keep parks open because of concerns about the negative
economic impact closures could have on local economies.

“New Mexico State Parks offer fabulous scenery, a variety of family-friendly activities and are
great tourist magnets that drive economic development in our local communities,” Governor
Richardson said. “This plan will not only enable the state to continue saving money but will keep
our parks open for everyone to enjoy.”

Listening to constituent concerns, Governor Richardson worked with State Parks and the State
Personnel Office to come up with the plan that will still require State Park employees to take
three remaining furlough days. Those employees who are needed to work to keep parks open on
designated furlough days, will be required to take alternate furlough days.

Monday, December 07, 2009

San Juan Lock Down - River, Lake to be Closed by Furloughs

Anglers headed up to Navajo Lake State Park for a little fishing the day before Christmas might be surprised to find the river and lake closed to the public due to state employee furloughs imposed by Governor Bill Richardson.

“This is ridiculous,” says Larry Johnson of the San Juan River Guides Association and owner of the Soaring Eagle Lodge.

Johnson argued that closing of the state park which includes Navajo Lake and the quality waters of the San Juan River at Navajo Dam will not only cost the state much needed revenue from user’s fees but also harm local businesses dependent upon park visitors for income.

“I don’t understand why they couldn’t just keep the park open with a skeleton crew instead of closing it for an entire day,” Johnson said in a telephone interview.

Ironically that’s what Navajo State Park employees will be doing the following day when they open the gates back up again on Christmas morning.

The river and lake is also slated to be closed to anglers on Jan. 15, the Friday before Martin Luther King, under the governor's furlough plan.

Johnson said he first heard about the closings from the local state park employees who had been informing local fishing guides and other businesses in the area about the impending closings.

Outdoors New Mexico had heard the same rumors and had been attempting to confirm the reported closings last week but was stymied by a wall of silence from the governor’s appointed public information officers and state agency directors.

Simon, the governor’s state parks director, declined to respond to calls for details about the reported closings and his response to emails was to refer all questions to the governors’ office.

The Governor’s primary spokesman, Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Gallegos, initially dismissed questions about the reported state park closings.

“We have not yet finalized the furlough plan that will be presented to the State Personnel Board which means it is premature to speculate on the impact to state parks or any state services,” Gallegos wrote in a Dec 2, 2009 response to our inquiry.

But by Monday Dec. 7 Gallegos was issuing a press release stating that State Parks would be given a reprieve to allow staggered furlough dates so the state’s 34 parks could remain open during “popular holiday weekends in the spring.”

The press release notes that the furlough plan is still subject to approval by the State Personnel Board.

The board, all governor appointees, is slated to meet Dec. 16, 2009, in Albuquerque at the National Hispanic Center at 1701 Fourth St. SW at 8:30 a.m. to consider the furlough plan, said Sheila Zamora, Board Administrator for the State Personnel Board.

The meeting is open to the public and anyone who wishes to comment on the furlough policy could send emails addressed to the board through her at sheila.zamora@state.nm.us.

The Director of the State Personnel Board, Sandra Perez, also a Richardson appointee, declined to return calls and email messages seeking further specifics about the board’s policy making process.

The governor’s latest furlough plan includes not only the day before Christmas but four other dates in the upcoming year including Jan. 15, March 5, April 2 and May 28.

Two of those dates fall in line with other holidays which effectively create four day weekends for furloughed state employees.

One of those dates is in conjunction with Memorial Day weekend and Johnson had questioned the logic in closing a state park such as Navajo Lake State Park the day before the beginning of one of the summer’s busiest outdoor recreational weekends.

“Imagine showing up to claim a campsite the night before and finding the gates locked,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

Such a closure at Elephant Butte State Park in southern New Mexico which routinely sees upwards of 100,000 visitors on Memorial Day weekend would have wreaked havoc, Johnson noted.

Apparently state parks administrators thought so too, and were successful in sparing themselves such a scenario but not before unchecked rumors and misinformation had already been spread.

Now anglers hoping to get a jump on the yuletide holiday by visiting the San Juan on Christmas Eve are officially out of luck.

Marti Niman, Public Information Officer for State Parks, finally confirmed on Monday that park gates to day use areas on the river at Navajo Dam would be closed on Christmas Eve day but she couldn’t say whether anglers slipping past the locked entrances, some just installed, would be treated as trespassers.

Niman said she hoped to have an official press release regarding the Christmas Eve day closure and others out sometime this week.

The river and lake will also be closed an off limits to anglers on Jan. 15, the Friday before Martin Luther King, under the furlough plan.

Initial reports from state park employees about the closing on Navajo Lake State Park suggested that security guards would be hired to patrol the lake and the river to keep trespassers out because park rangers would have the day off.

All of which drew scoffs from some like Johnson who questioned the logic behind the state’s plan in a Dec. 4, 2009 guide association letter to Simon.

“Does the costs savings of furloughed onsite employees outweigh the loss of revenue, hiring of security officers to prohibit the public’s access to the parks, and the costs of constructing new physical barriers at multiple park access points? ” Johnson asked.

Simon had yet to reply to the guide association’s letter by the time the governor’s office issued its latest press release.

Yet despite the park’s closing, fly shop owner, Ray Johnston of Float and Fish in Navajo Dam, says he will still be open Christmas Eve day.

“That’s my customer appreciation day,” Johnston says.” Been doing it for years.”

The shop will be open as usual and will be serving up free red chile stew, pinto beans and tortillas for customers.

“We usually get a pretty good crowd,” he says. “People come from all over to fish the river during the holidays you know. That’s why I just don’t understand what they (state parks ) were thinking.”

Johnston said he'd have to cancel some fishing trips he had scheduled for Christmas Eve day and will have to do the same for upcoming furlough dates too.

The world class San Juan River brings in thousands of fly fishing fanatics each year to chase big trout on small flies and contributes upwards of $30 to 40 million to the state's economy.

And while news of the state park closure might keep some anglers away, others might see this as an exciting opportunity to sneak down to the river and have the place all to themselves for a change.

In the meantime, Richardson’s battle with the state legislature over a projected budget shortfall of about $650 million continues.

Richardson called the state legislature in special session recently where lawmakers crafted bills calling for 7.6 percent across-the-board cuts to all state agencies and a reduction in the number of Richardson’s politically appointed positions.

Richardson declined to sign the laws and instead offered up his own executive remedies including the furloughs which are expected to produce about $11 million dollars in savings.

Richardson is also laying off 59 state employees holding politically appointed positions, has left another 49 politically appointed positions vacant and had already imposed a freeze on all state government hiring.

This comes on the heels of reports that state government has grown a reported 50 percent during Richardson’s two terms.

Richardson has also ordered a freeze on all legislators’ capital outlay projects not already underway including his own $250,000 allocation for habitat improvement projects on the San Juan River.

That money had been earmarked for use in diverting runoff from Rex Smith wash at Texas Hole, a primary source of silt and sediment coming into the river which many blame for a perceived decline in the fishery’s quality.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oryx Hunt on Ted Turner's New Mexico Ranch Special Event for a Lady

Photo Courtesy of Diane Gilmore

It wasn’t the kind of story you might expect to hear upon walking into a biker bar like Silva’s in downtown Bernalillo, New Mexico on a Saturday afternoon.

The lady behind the horseshoe shaped bar was running about, talking excitedly and offering up samples of the oryx she’d bagged just a day or two earlier.

On Ted Turner’s Armendaris Ranch in southern New Mexico of all places, she said.

Turner is the largest private land owner in the country and has several big ranches here in New Mexico including the Armendaris, the Ladder and Vermejo Park bordering the spectacular Valle Vidal in northern New Mexico.

And hunting or fishing on one of them would normally be way out of reach for most people, I thought.

But for Diane Gilmore, 54, of Albuquerque, a night of bartending at a National Wild Turkey Federation banquet last winter led her to the remote Turner ranch and a way of life she’d missed for many years.

See, Gilmore, a laid-off computer technician who moonlights as a bartender, used to hunt and fish all the time with her husband of ten years, Vern.

Many times they went fishing with Felix Silva Sr., proprietor of the fabled watering hole in downtown Bernalillo where Gilmore tends bar.

Photo Courtesy of Diane Gilmore

But she lost her passion for the hunting and fishing life after her husband was killed by a wrong-way driver on a highway in Texas during a cross-country motorcycle the pair were taking in 1995.

Gilmore labored on through the years without her partner and best friend until one day her girlfriend, Ann Salmon, invited her out to attend a National Wild Turkey Federation banquet.

Salmon’s boyfriend, Mike Jasper, is the organization’s regional field supervisor and he invited Gilmore back to tend bar at a state leadership conference banquet last January.

“Going to the banquets, I got the itch to hunt again,” Gilmore said.

And that’s where she came across the opportunity to hunt for an oryx, an African native that was brought to New Mexico in the 1970s to develop a herd on White Sands Missile Range for hunting purposes.

The big antelope have done well here due in part to the lack of any natural predators to keep their numbers down, thus hunting is one of the only ways to effectively manage them.

Hunters can apply through the state Department of Game and Fish for a reasonably priced, once in a lifetime license to bag one of the big animals on White Sands Missile Range or they can try their luck at drawing an unrestricted, off range license to hunt oryx on public lands surrounding the range.

And then there’s private land hunting permits issued by the Department to landowners for use on their own property.

Typically those permits are available through outfitters who offer guided hunts to the public for premium price.

Which brings us back to Gilmore who while serving drinks at the National Wild Turkey Federation banquet noticed a bucket full of a dozen custom knives up for auction.

Attached to each knife was a raffle ticket for a guided oryx hunt on the Armenderis Ranch, normally a $3,000 proposition.

“I got all excited thinking about the chance to go after one of those majestic animals,” she recalls.

So Gilmore picked out three knives, plunked down $330 and waited for the drawing.

“I screamed like a maniac,” the New Jersey native says of the moment they called her number. ”It was surreal, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest.”

Gilmore had won and arranged to go on her hunt the following fall.

As the date of the hunt got closer, Gilmore grew more nervous.

“You know how it is,” she said.

Gilmore borrowed Jasper’s .300 WSM rifle and went out to the city’s range for a little practice and found her aim was still true.

And then the day of the hunt finally arrived.

Gilmore had stayed at a friend’s house at Elephant Butte the night before and awoke early to make the drive over to Engle and where the gate to the big ranch stood.

Accompanied by Jasper and Salmon, Gilmore met up with her guide, Amado Hernandez, who gave her an orientation, took her to ranch firing range to check her shooting skills and then they went for a drive.

The group searched the sprawling ranch for several hours before they finally spied a herd far off in the distance.

Upon driving around the base of a small hill to get a closer look they suddenly came across a lone oryx observing them from about 215 yards away.Photo courtesy of Turner Enterprises Inc.

Gilmore got down to see if she could get a shot at her but watched in dismay as she began to walk away.

Guide Hernandez gave a shrill whistle and the animal stopped to look back.

Gilmore took her shot and dropped the big antelope on the spot.

“My friends were yelling `she’s down’ and I was all excited,” Gilmore says with emotion. “This was my first hunt in twelve years and I was smiling so much my cheeks hurt.”

Gilmore says the best part of the hunt had to be after the kill because in all her years of hunting with Vern she knew the real work came in harvesting the animal.

“Amado did all the work,” she says. “That was special,”

Hernandez says he guides about 50 or 60 oryx hunts on the 360,000 acre ranch east of Truth or Consequences every year and remembers Gilmore because she was so ecstatic about her hunt.

“She was pretty thrilled,” he says. “And she did a good job too.”

Gilmore says she’s got a freezer full of good, lean organic meat processed by Gordon Mishler of Mishler Meat Cutting in Williamsburg and has a beautiful trophy mount for her wall on its way from Ken Watkins of High Sierra Taxidermy in Truth or Consequences.

But for Gilmore the best part of the hunt was that it rekindled in her that long dormant passion for the sport.

Jasper says that’s exactly what the National Wild Turkey Federation is striving to do, conserve wildlife and preserve the heritage of hunting.

And making exciting trips like this available is one way to do it, Jasper says.

“To let an average, everyday, person have a shot at a trophy hunt like this is priceless,” Jasper says.

Jasper says banquet auctions like the one Gilmore participated in have allowed numerous men and women around the state to go on such hunts while also raising much needed funds for the organizations’ mission.

And it couldn’t be done without the generous contributions and donations of people like Ted Turner whose ranches not only provide the habitat for many game species but the opportunity to hunt for them too, Jasper says.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Governor Giveth and the Governor Can Taketh Away

A habitat improvement project designed to reduce silt and sediment and improve fishing on the popular San Juan River has been put on hold in the wake of Governor Bill Richardson’s decision to freeze all capital outlay projects.

“It’s on hold,” says Marty Frentzel, Chief of Public Information and Outreach for the state Department of Game and Fish.

Up until the Governor’s order came down, the department had been working on issuing a formal request for proposals (RFP) for engineering plans to install habitat improvements in the Braids section of the blue ribbon trout fishery and to divert Rex Smith Wash to keep silt laden runoff from dumping into the river at Texas Hole.

The habitat improvement project had been one of Richardson’s own initiatives that he undertook at the behest of local guides last year for which he sought and obtained $250,000 in funding from the legislature.

But Richardson has since become embroiled in a budget battle with the legislature over an estimated $650 million budget shortfall and he has now ordered all capital outlay projects frozen, including his own.

The move comes on the heels of a recent special session of the legislature during which lawmakers crafted bills for Richardson’s consideration that includes deep cuts to state agency budgets and a reduction in the number of Richardson’s paid, political appointees.

In ordering the capital outlay freeze, Richardson says he took exception to the fact that legislators did not make any effort to trim its inventory of taxpayer funded projects.

“I am taking this bold action since the Legislature chose not to cut even one dime of its pork projects,” Governor Bill Richardson said in his October 26 press release. “These pork projects should be the first to be cut before we take any action that affects people.”

Only those projects that already have third-party agreements will be honored as of Oct. 23, the press release states.

The freeze on capital outlay projects will remain in place through the next legislative session in January when the issue can be revisited, the press release concludes.

The press release notes that the freeze applies to all capital outlay projects, including the governor’s.

The freeze came just weeks after the state Department of Game and Fish announced that they would be seeking new bids for the habitat improvement project on the San Juan (see related story ).

The department had declined to hire one of the two firms, out of about six that had been solicited to submit proposals this past summer.

The department decided it would be best to pursue the more formal process of requesting proposals before proceeding.

“The Department determined that a broader solicitation was warranted in order to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved,” Frentzel said at the time.

The Braids and Rex Smith projects were called for by a working group of San Juan River stakeholders during a meeting earlier this summer.

Funding for the projects came as controversy raged over the perception that fishing conditions on the river had declined due to low flows implemented by federal operators of the dam over the last decade to accommodate endangered fish downstream.

It now remains to be seen whether funding for the habitat improvement projects will be reinstated or if after more than a year of behind-the-scenes political lobbying, intense public debate and other efforts to help the river, have all been for naught.

In the meantime, Governor Richardson is taking public comment before making any decision about the cost saving bills the legislature sent him during the special session.

Richardson has until Nov. 12 to make his decision.

And while he decides, the Albuquerque Journal reports that the state budget has grown more than 50 percent under Richardson’s watch. The state now has 24.5 state workers for every 100 in the private sector, compared with the national average of 16.22. About 400 state workers were added to the state’s payroll last year alone at a cost of $1 million every two pay periods and 468 political appointees have joined Richardson’s administration during his two terms, the Journal reported.

To register your views on the budget situation email the governor at Special.session@state.nm.us.

Or call the Governor's office at 505-476-2210.

You can also write a letter and send it to: Office of the Governor, 490 Old Santa Fe Trail, Room 400, Santa Fe, NM 87501.

To visit the Governors website go to www.governor.state.nm.us

Friday, October 16, 2009

State Seeks More Bids for San Juan Habitat Improvement Projects

State Game and Fish officials have decided to seek additional bids for engineering services before proceeding any further with long-awaited habitat improvement plans to the trophy-class trout fishery at Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.

The department solicited and received proposals this summer from two firms to develop engineering plans for a runoff diversion at Rex Smith Wash and in-stream habitat improvements in the “Braids,” both areas located just above “Texas Hole.”

The two projects were called for by a working group of San Juan River stakeholders earlier this summer after the state legislature, last winter, appropriated $250,000 for the habitat improvements on the San Juan at the request of Governor Bill Richardson.

The funding came as controversy raged over fishing conditions on the river due to low flows implemented by federal operators of the dam over the last decade to accommodate endangered fish downstream.

The department solicited bids from about a half-dozen engineering firms to do the engineering work and received proposals from two firms interested in performing the job, said Marc Wethington, the San Juan’s Fisheries Biologist for the state Department of Game and Fish.

After review of the two proposals, department officials decided to seek more proposals through a formal request for proposals process

“The Department determined that a broader solicitation was warranted in order to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved,” says Marty Frentzel, Chief of Public Information and Outreach for the state Department of Game and Fish.

Frentzel declined to elaborate on the decision.

One of the firms that applied was Freestone Aquatics of Littleton, Co. in conjunction with Goff Engineering of Durango, Colo.

They submitted a bid to do the work for close to $62,000.

Freestone Aquatics is owned and operated by a couple of fishing guides who formed their own company in 2006 to do fish habitat work, according to information contained within their proposal and posted on their website.

It was noted in Freestone’s proposal that they had done a preliminary analysis of the San Juan River this summer on behalf of the San Juan River Foundation, a non-profit organization recently formed to raise money in support of habitat improvement and other projects on the river.

The foundation’s president is Bubba Smith, a San Juan fishing guide widely credited with drawing Richardson’s attention to the river and for working closely with state Game Commission chairman, Jim McClintic.

Freestone Aquatics referenced its preliminary work with the San Juan River Foundation in describing their work experience, stating in their proposal that “Freestone Aquatics is involved in a large scale restoration project on one of the premier gold-medal tail water fisheries in the West.Working with the San Juan River Foundation and the state of New Mexico, Freestone has been asked to provide expertise in managing this high profile, high use fishery.”

The statement goes on to say that “Freestone Aquatics employees are currently in the data gathering and design phase that will eventually be applied to this highly valuable fishery. Installation of Freestone-designed structures will function to transport sediment resulting in the recovery of thousands of square feet of macro invertebrate habitat.”

Freestone Aquatics is not currently working for the state of New Mexico in any capacity with regards to the San Juan as may be inferred from this statement in their proposal, said Lance Cherry, Assistant Chief of Public Information and Outreach for the state Department of Game and Fish.

The low bid for the project came from Riverbend Engineering, a river restoration firm with offices in Albuquerque and Durango, Colo., who submitted a proposal in partnership with Aquatic Consultants of Albuquerque.

They offered to perform the engineering services for just under $50,000.

Riverbend Engineering also provided reduced cost engineering services for the in-stream habitat work recently completed in the Cottonwood Campground area of the San Juan River, Wethington said.

The firm was not involved, though, in the oft-criticized habitat improvements done below Simon Canyon a few years ago, he said.

Those were designed by the Army Corp of Engineers, Wethington said.

An angler fishes during the summer of 2008 among the much maligned but highly effective habitat improvements installed below Simon Canyon.

Riverbend’s partner in their proposal is Aquatic Consultants which has been involved in numerous projects throughout the state including trophy sport fishing and commercial fisheries management projects at Cow Creek Ranch on the Pecos River, Don Imus’ ranch near Las Vegas, N.M., and Isleta, Sandia and Eagles Nest lakes.

Paul Cassidy, founder and president of Aquatic Consultants, was the state Department of Game and Fish’s Northwest Area Fisheries Manager for 11 years before leaving the department to form his own firm.

A new request for proposals for the Rex Smith and Braid’s habitat improvement projects is forthcoming and these firms may apply again, Wethington said.

In the meantime, the department awaits the outcome of the upcoming special session of the state legislature called for by the Governor to consider the state’s $650 million budget shortfall.

Frentzel said the department is not anticipating loss of the previously appropriated funds for the San Juan projects but noted that the any funding decision rests with the state legislature and governor.

One suggested method of covering some of the state budget shortfall includes recouping previously appropriated capital outlay funds that have yet to be spent.

However, Linda Kehoe, Capital Outlay Analyst for the state’s Legislative Finance Committee tells Outdoors New Mexico that the San Juan River’s funding appears safe for the time being.

“We’re not looking at those (from last year) right now,” she said. “But I would suggest that they (NMDGF) get a plan and start spending because as soon as this next session starts, we’ll be looking again.”

Even under a worst-case scenario, the San Juan projects appear to remain a priority.

“The Department views these projects as important,” says Frentzel. “And (we) will have to evaluate our budget situation and ability to move forward on them should the current funding be lost.”

And in the future, the department may have an additional revenue stream to rely upon rather than the generosity of the legislature to complete projects on the San Juan River.

Frentzel said the department is in the process of drafting proposed legislation, as directed by the state game commission, to authorize an additional habitat stamp for those who fish the quality waters of the San Juan River.

That idea came out of public discussions last spring regarding ways to improve fishing conditions on the San Juan River (see related article).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Dream Hunt

As the fall approached I began having the dream again, sometimes in vivid color, sight and sound and other times just blurry images and a fast fading, foggy memory of it upon awakening.

Then this morning I snapped awake feeling frantic and agitated.

I lay in the dark listening through the bedroom door as my aging and now slightly demented dog, Wiley, padded back and forth across the living room floor.

Then there was the slap, slap of the doggy door as she went outside to continue her rounds.

I struggled with my fleeting memory as the dream evaporated with the slowly brightening room.

From outside I heard our newspaper land in the driveway and the delivery truck speed away.

One thing I knew, it was essentially the same every time, reliving the actual events, but with an unnerving twist.

We were out on our hunt, having drawn tags for cow elk, up in the high country above Eagles Nest.

I was there with my buddies, Mikey Giddings and his uncle and Glenn Jaramillo and his son.

It was our second year in a row hunting in this location.

The year before we had been very successful and stocked our freezers full of good, lean organic meat (see related story here).

But this second year was different and I haven’t told the story until now.

We had been scouting at dusk along a forest road crossing the valley floor when we came across a herd headed back up the mountain.

They crossed the road right in front of our trucks.

“You know where I’ll be tomorrow morning,” Glenn said.

The elk were following an old logging road and we talked excitedly about our plan to catch them coming down or going back up again in the morning when the hunt officially began.

We were there at first light, Mikey on the far left up on a little knoll watching the draw that spread out before us into a large meadow.

I was hiding in the tree line a couple hundred yards away, covering the middle of the meadow, right where the logging road began its climb up the mountain.

And Glenn and Jonathan went ahead, around another tree covered knoll, to the cover the other side of the meadow.

As we waited, a few trucks motored by loaded with hunters heading off into the forest and the grey light of dawn gave way to the sun.

The elk should be moving off the watering holes and meadows down below us and heading back uphill soon, I thought as I waited.

Then a rifle shot cracked through the air and Glenn was on the radio.

“I got one,” he whispered.

They had slipped in right before us, coming up the draw and skirting the meadow by walking through an opposing tree line.

Glenn was in the right spot to see them working their way across us and picked off a young, antlerless, male.

We went back to camp and got to work skinning it and were eating grilled tenderloin with fried onions by lunch.
The next day brought a good dusting of snow which help revealed plenty of tracks and sign all over the valley floor, up the logging roads and on top of the mountain.

But we weren’t having any luck at all in actually seeing them.

So the next day we climbed the mountain in my little four wheel drive Geo Tracker with Glenn riding shotgun, bouncing up and over the rock strewn logging roads, and we went looking for them.

For miles we drove along snow covered forest roads, enjoying the beauty of the frosted mountain, the late afternoon sunshine and discovering new places.

Then we came across a wide meadow on the uphill side of the road. A little, two track, jeep trail ran up through it.

Glenn advised me to follow it.

We dropped the transmission into low gear and began idling up the muddy trail.

On our right a deeply forested hill rose, shaded from the sun and still covered in snow.

To our left, scrub oak, evergreen shrubs and stands of aspen bathed in the sunshine.

As we motored on up the meadow, she came out of the south facing treeline and began across the trail.

Glenn swore as I slowly came to a halt, turned off the engine and applied the parking brake.

She was now standing in the middle of the trail, just at the crest of the hill, broadside and looking straight at us.

Glenn swore again as I slowly pushed open the driver’s side door and eased my Dad’s model 1898, Springfield Armory, 30.-40. Krag from between the front seats.

I dropped to a knee, rested the rifle in the crook of the door frame and thumbed off the safety.

I couldn’t believe she was still there when I sighted down the barrel.

Glenn hissed, “shoot her, damn it.”

I took a breath, held it and then began steadily pulling the trigger.

Then she suddenly leaped off the road and bounded towards the safety of the snow covered pines.

I still had her in my sights when I heard a shout in my head.

“Run, girl, run!”

That’s when I usually snap awake.

This morning I lay there thinking, again, why I never took that shot.

I could take some solace in the fact that I hadn’t taken a risky shot, that we didn’t have to follow a wounded animal off into the woods, near dark, in the hopes we could recover her body.

I did the right thing I argued to myself and others after the hunt.

I just didn’t feel comfortable taking the shot.

But someone couldn’t help but snicker that maybe I would have if I had only been carrying my camera.

So as we prepare for this year’s hunt, in the same place for the same animals, I wonder about that shout in my head.

Did that happen or was it really just a dream?

After the elk had escaped that day we had gone up into the tree line and found their beds amid the grass, some still warm, their pellets soft and moist, we’d just missed them.

Maybe she’d slept late that afternoon and was the last to leave.

Maybe she’d been dreaming too.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fly Fishing on a Bubble - What a Hoot!

This summer I was invited up to the lake to do some fly fishing with some good ole boys I know from Missouri.

But I balked at the thought of blowing out my arm trying to cast to rising fish just out of my reach.

No, No, No, they told me.

Forget the fly rod.

We’ll be fly fishing “hillbilly” style, with a bubble and a spin casting rig, that is.

Knowing I was about to enjoy some fine company, even better camp cooking and lots of good fishing, I was digging out my bass rod in no time.

Now when I first got into fly fishing I’d had the occasion to meet an older, Hispanic, gentleman from Taos up at Shuree Ponds on the Valle Vidal in Northern New Mexico.

He was tying up Wooley Boogers off the back of his old Jeep so he could go after one of those lunkers the boys from state Game and Fish like to stock up there.

He swore you couldn’t beat dangling one of his boogers below a bubble if you were serious about catching one of those big, high country fish.

But I was new to the game then and lacked a spin casting rig so I spent my time and effort making long laborious casts with a fly rod and watching as my caddis fly landed just out of reach of some big risers.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t catch fish at the lake with a fly rod but it requires a long leader and incredible diligence, squinting at your fly out there on the still water and waiting, always waiting, for that strike to come.

And sometimes the wait pays off, like the time I took a moment to clamp the rod handle between my teeth so I could free up my hands to unzip my pants and take a much needed whiz.

As I’m fumbled about in my shorts, I saw a snout break the surface to sip at my fly.

I whipped my head back in a futile attempt to hook him and watched as he dove out of sight.

Self induced whiplash, a blown out shoulder and too many near misses diminished my enthusiasm for fly fishing on lakes and I only indulged when necessary.

But now I’ve seen the error of my ways since meeting up with the Davis brothers at the River’s End Campground at Taylor Reservoir in Colorado this summer.
From left to right: James Davis, 72, of Coldwater Mo. is a retired manufacturing maintainance technician. Bud Davis,70, is a retired trucking company manager who lives in Jackson, Mo.. Raymond Davis, 66, of Imperial Mo. is also retired from the trucking business. Edward Page, 69, retired from the automotive industry and his wife Ellie, a homemaker,live in Scroggins Tx. They are cousins to the Davis family. Eddie Davis,63, of Patterson Mo. is a retired school teacher. The Davis brothers all teach Sunday school and are avid hunters, anglers and cooks. The author with his trusty dog, Wiley, 17, of La Cueva, N.M.

I happened across these camo clad, back slapping, good ole boys during a roadtrip to fish the Taylor River’s trophy waters last year. I was up there to see how some of our neighbor’s tail waters stacked up against New Mexico’s legendary San Juan River.

And boy was I happy I did (see related article).

So when they invited me back again this year I quickly emptied the spare change jar and left the sweltering, summer days of Santa Fe behind.

I arrived to cool mountain temps, afternoon thunderstorms and a hearty welcome.

I would be fishing with my Abu Garcia, Cardinal 100, a six and half foot long, medium action rod with a factory matched, five ball bearing, #102 spinning reel.

I picked it up one day while wandering around the Sportsmen’s Warehouse in Albuquerque. I was there hunting for a general purpose spinning rod for bass fishing and upon seeing the huge selection available, I asked a fellow customer, who looked like he knew what he was doing, to pick out a good rig for me.

He did and I’ve been happily hauling in bass and walleye from the boat ever since.

But fishing for trout with it was something new and the first thing Ray Davis did was hook me up with some new line on my reel, Mr. Crappie, six-pound test , camo line from Bass Pro Shops.

We then threaded the line through a medium sized, clear, plastic bubble and then added a swivel, making sure it moved freely in the mouth of the fat end of stem inside the bubble.
You fill the bubble up by pushing the skinny tip of the stem back inside the bubble, I used the flat blade of my knife to push down on it.

Then you dip the bubble in the water with the little hole at the tip facing up. Air bubbles should emerge from the little hole at the tip as it fills up.

Fill it about half way or for even longer casts, about three quarters full. Jam the stem back into place in the hole and you’re done. Keep in mind that you’ll have less flotation and won’t be able to see the bubble on the water as well, the fuller it is.

And the length of line you use to attach your fly will depend on the fishing conditions but as a rule we just peeled off a piece of line about the length of our outstretched arms and tied the fly to one end and made a small loop knot in the other and hooked that to the swivel.

I found it helped to cut this piece of line off the spool before attaching the bubble.

I also found casting side arm really heaved it out there with less slack line to reel up but I also enjoyed watching the rig fly like a mortar shell when I lobbed it overhand out in front of me.

Once the bubbles sets down, reel in the slack until you see the bubble shimmy on the water and the line grows tight, then slowly, with the rod tip down and pointed in the direction of the bubble or just off to the side, reel it in, stopping occasionally to let it settle or to jig it a little.
Strikes on the bubble are subtle and many times I felt a slight tug or bump on the line but found they were long gone before I could set the hook.

You have to develop a feel for the fish and need quick reaction to set the hook I was told - a number of times.
Gazing off at the surrounding mountaintops as the clouds rolled over and bird watching didn’t help my fishing success either.

But during our trip to a Mirror Lake above the little mining town of Tin Cup - a scene straight out of a Clint Eastwood western - our group of seven caught and released well over a hundred stocker rainbows and wild brookies while fishing on the bubble.

Most were hooked on the lip and released with no harm done.

And during much of that time you could hear Bud Davis crooning into his walkie talkie, “fire in the hole, there’s another one on Moffatt’s high country special.”

My winged, pheasant tail, bead head, nymph proved to be deadly on that trip and tying up some for the group earned me plenty of accolades and my breakfast in the morning.
Now I've just got to get back up to Shuree Ponds before the season ends and see if those Wooley Boogers on a bubble really work.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Fishing and Camping on the San Juan River

The author shows off a typical rainbow trout that can be caught in the San Juan River of northwestern New Mexico. 
Our vision of the river shimmered in the 95 degree heat and a wave of dry, hot air enveloped us as we came to a dusty stop in a parking lot on the legendary San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico.

My fishing partner, T.A. Phillips, eyed me suspiciously as I rooted around the back of the aging GEO Tracker and tossed a beat-up set of hip waders and a pair of thick, wool socks in a heap at his feet.

“It might be hot out here but it’ll be cold in there,” I said of the river fed by bone numbing, cold water, released from the base of nearby Navajo Dam.

I watched as Phillips wrestled on the waders, shrugged his way into a fishing vest and then sprayed a heavy dose of aerosol sunscreen about his head.

He followed this with an equally misty, dose of bug repellant, clamped on a high-tech, booney hat, rolled down the sleeves of his lightweight nylon shirt and tied on an old fashioned neckerchief around his neck.

I chucked him a couple of liter bottles of water, an apple, banana and a few trail bars and we were  ready to enjoy a long summer’s day on one of the best trout streams in the West.

The best place to beat the blazing heat on the San Juan River during the summer is in the incredibly cold water.  
Staying well hydrated, remaining in the cold water, creating your own shade and eating light is the key to beating the high desert heat and blazing sun that makes this one of the West’s better known winter fisheries.

But here in the summer, anglers who know how to handle the hot conditions will enjoy great dry fly action, lots of sight fishing in incredibly clear water and a really memorable experience, especially in the weeks following the annual spring flush.

The San Juan River’s flows are managed in part to maintain a downstream, endangered fish’s habitat so the flows normally run at about 500 cfs (cubic-feet-per-second) most of the year except for in the spring.

Then they crank it up to mimic the natural spring time runoff found on free flowing streams and send out about 5,000 cfs for a week or more depending how much water Navajo lake is holding and how much more is flowing in from feeder creeks and rivers.

Navajo Dam unleashing a torrent of stored water during an annual spring high volume release.
And when they bring the water back down to normal the river really turns on!

We spent four days during the second week of July,  2009 on the river. The first couple of days the water was flowing at a nice pace of 850 cfs and then it was increased to 1,000 cfs for the last two days of our stay.

But even at the higher flows we were still able to negotiate most of the river in hip waders, crossing at specific spots known to be fordable under those conditions.

I prefer using three ply,  lug soled,  hip waders on the San Juan because I have done a lot of hiking while fishing there, sometimes covering several miles in a day.  I have found  insulated, canvas and rubber  hip waders to be nearly indestructible when bush whacking and they are well ventilated when worn with shorts, an important consideration in the summertime.

And even if I do happen to step in too far and fill my boots with water I find it refreshing to lay down on the bank on my back, raise my legs and let the cold water run down into my shorts.

In the hot, dry, desert sun they’ll dry out in no time at all and I’ll be all that much cooler for the slight discomfort of my swampy boots.

We began our trip at Simon Canyon where one can usually find the river deserted during the week and there’s plenty of shade to be had among the great cottonwoods that grow here.

Phillips is a great warm water fisherman but still new to fly-fishing, so we wanted to let him work on his casting, mending and fishing with flies on a quiet part of the river.

Simon Canyon is also just a pleasant place to fish. You can stroll down the bank chucking a roll cast out  into the current and letting your rig dead drift down to an occasional trout lurking below.

It’s quiet here with remarkable scenery and plenty of action if one knows how to fish it.

The San Juan River below Simon Canyon.
We did fairly well that afternoon, fishing downstream of Simon Canyon, picking up some very nice rainbows and an equal number of browns lurking in and around the strategically placed boulders installed by  the state Department of Game and Fish recently  to improve fish habitat and water quality.

We had luck on top with #12 and #14 stimulators, #16 caddis and #22 and #24 parachute Adams.  We found a #22 grey CDC emerger tied off the back end of the dries also logged a number of additional hits. A #18, copper beadhead, flashback pheasant tail nymph tied off a pale yellow egg worked well off the bottom.

Anglers should be note that there will be plenty drift boats floating through this area later in the afternoon as guides head  down to the takeout area at the gravel pit just around the corner.

An umbrella is another good way to ward off the scorching sun while enjoying a day on the San Juan River below Navajo Dam in northwestern New Mexico.
Here below Simon Canyon one might also meet a fisherman armed with a spin casting rig working his way upstream from the bait waters below.

A polite inquiry about the angler’s gear and a friendly reminder that to fish up here it's catch and release with a  single, barbless hook  is usually enough to send most back downstream to the “bait and take” waters down below the gravel pit.

At Simon Canyon anglers will find a couple of fine, primitive camp sites under the trees that allow an early riser to get first crack at the water.

And at the end of the day the flickering light of a campfire, dancing off the overhanging cottonwoods at Simon Canyon is enough to make one think they’re in their own “Old Milwaukee” commercial, where “it just doesn’t get any better than this.”

It should be noted this is primitive camping here with no trash pickup or water but there's  vault toilet in the parking lot.

And the noisy, gravel, parking lot here can get busy with visiting anglers, other expectant campers and hikers seeking the old Indian kiva up Simon Canyon.  A lot of locals, out for an evening drive, like to swing through here too, just to check things out.

But when the timing is right and things quiet down, this can be a great place to own a piece of the river for a few nights and really experience the San Juan at a different level, free of the crowds and the noise found at the full service campground down the road and the mobs of anglers staked out on the upper stretches of the river.

There's  also a hiking trial that leads upstream to the deep water at ET Rock and then on through the woods to emerge on the far bank at Baetis Bend for some equally fine fishing.

ET Rock above Simon Canyon on the San Juan River below Navajo Dam in northwestern New Mexico.
The following day we fished the back channel at Baetis Bend looking for those trout that had moved in during the high water and would hang around as long as it stayed that way.

We found some great dry fly action and plenty of sight fishing to be had along with some much appreciated solitude.

Geese enjoying some shade on the back channel between the Lower Flats and Baetis Bend on the San Juan River below Navajo Dam in northwestern New Mexico. 
We emerged from the back channel into the wide expanse of water found at the Lower Flats where we picked up several nice fish hanging out in the usual places along the edges of seams, in the faster water or on the bottom of pools.

We worked our way further upstream past Three Island Run all the way up to Jack’s Hole where we spotted a couple of bigger trout hanging out at the tail of a deep pool below a shelf where the water churned  in.

Through the gin clear water we could see the fish seesawing back and forth in the current snatching passing food. We choked up our rigs to dapple the goods right before them and had one on in no time.  But trying to pull them out of the heavy, deep current took time and effort and those became our last for the day.

We headed back down to Baetis Bend along a dirt access road and arrived back at our camp tired and ready for a few ice cold beers.

It’d been a good day.

But the next day turned out to be even better as we went upstream and fished down the back channel between the bottom end of Texas Hole and the Lower Flats. It was here that Phillips landed the best fish of the trip, a big bruiser laying up in the shallows.

And she was caught on a little, green, flashback emerger we tied up just that morning.

There’s something to be said for sneaking around those back channels and the lower flats where you can see the fish you’re trying to catch.

And there’s just no substituting the thrill of seeing that  flash of white as a trout opens its mouth to take your fly and then the explosion of water and color as it of bolts with its back cutting a swath through the shallow water.

It was great to see that in just a few days Phillips had mastered the art of catching these elusive back water trout, reeling in one after another, like he’d been fishing here for years.

On our last day on the river we elected to go upstream to the Upper flats and the Cable hole where the majority of visiting anglers here tend to fish.

We tiptoed in our waders across the upper flats to the far bank to get away from the crowds and were rewarded with a couple of very nice fish.

T.A. Phillips shows off a nice rainbow trout caught off the far bank of the Upper Flats of the San Juan River below Navajo Dam in northwestern New Mexico.
But it just wasn't as much fun fishing up here as it had been downstream and in the back channels .

It was uninviting to look out across the river and  see  a line of stationary, well appointed anglers, spread out along the edge of a seam, standing in the same spot hour after hour.

And there was no solitude to speak of as the cheers and remarks of anglers echoed across the water whenever one of them hooked up.

So we’ll probably stick to those downstream stretches the next time we come back to enjoy the trophy class fishing found on the San Juan river below Navajo Dam in northwestern New Mexico and maybe you should give them a try too.

Summer fishing and camping tips for the San Juan River.

Sunscreen and lots of it:

Only a fool goes out on this river without sunscreen and lip balm. Use it and forget about the macho sunburn to prove you’ve been on vacation, let the pictures do the talking.

Bug spray and lots of it:

Deet based sprays seem to work best for mosquitoes although those pesky gnats don’t seem to be deterred by anything here.

The bottom line is expect to be swathed in the stuff for days on end and make sure you have it with you in your fishing vest.

And don’t leave the screen door in your tent open for long, you’ll regret it later when you find yourself trapped inside with all those guys buzzing around and feeding off you.

Water and lots of it:

You’ll never feel yourself sweat here because it evaporates so fast. Thus you may never realize how much water you’re expending. So it’s imperative to stay hydrated. If you find your piss is really yellow or a pinch of your skin doesn’t bounce back then you're probably already dehydrated. Other signs include cottonmouth, tiredness and mental fatigue, headache and lightheadedness. Do not disregard any of these symptoms, cool yourself off with a dunk in the river, get into the shade and rehydrate!

Don’t venture out onto this river for any length of time without at least a couple of liters of water. Carry a lightweight water filter if need be but most importantly drink plenty of water and do it before you become thirsty, before you head down to the river.

Remember! Your stomach and body is your best canteen.

Limit caffeine and alcohol intake as they contribute to dehydration. Pack a baggie of powdered Gatorade in your fishing vest to add to your water for more rehydration power.

Ice and lots of it:

Ice melts fast here so keep your cooler out of the sun, if it’s in the car, crack the windows to let out the buildup of heat. Use sun shades in the windows. Anticipate the track of the sun and park accordingly. Keep the cooler wrapped in a sleeping bag or blanket for added insulation. Take one cooler for food and another for beverages, use block ice if you can find it, the stuff lasts forever. Don’t dump out the cold water in the bottom of the cooler until absolutely necessary. It’s what’s holding the cold. Put your food in doubled zip-lock bags to keep the water out and store standing up. Use a beer can coozie to keep your beer cold while your mouth is busy talking about the fishing.

Food :

The days are long out here and most folks are usually rolling in late and they’re beat! So keep dinner simple.

Fry up some burger with some garlic, sliced onion and green pepper, add a can of Ranch Style beans, top it off with some shredded cheese and sop it all up with fajita-size tortillas. I’ve lived for weeks on this stuff and it only takes one skillet to cook it up and eat out of.

Live off fruit, especially apples, trail bars, peanuts, crackers, tuna fish and beef jerky during the day.

Expect to find yourself sitting at the local bar or restaurant  looking for someone else to make you dinner at least once during your trip to the San Juan so bring money and don’t look at the prices.


A wide brimmed, well ventilated hat is essential to deflecting the sun and keeping cool. I love those big straw hats with the ventilation holes woven in along the brim but always have to remember to apply sunscreen to my scalp to avoid a funny looking and nasty sunburn. You’ll see some great hats on this river but many don’t belong. Remember it’s all about ventilation and shade.

Wear long sleeved, lightly colored shirts to protect your skin and deflect the sun. Nylon and other synthetics are lightweight and dry quickly.

Carry a neckerchief. It can be dipped into the water and slung about the neck to cool down. Use it regularly to soak your head too, a slight breeze across a wet scalp is natures’ swamp cooler.

Remember it’s not a fashion show, leave that to the posers up in the Texas Hole parking lot.

Take shorts and sandals and expect to live out of them for days on end.

Camping Tips and Tricks:

Bring a spray bottle and a couple rolls of paper towels for cleaning up yourself and your cooking utensils. The spray bottle also comes in handy for applying a cool, refreshing mist to the head and body. It’s even better at cruising speed!

Bring a toilet kit with your own nice, soft, toilet paper and a package of those personal towelettes so you can stay comfortable and clean for days on end.

Sleep on top of your sleeping bag under a light, cushy blanket, it’ll be more comfortable when you first go to bed when it’s still warm outside. Don’t add the rain fly to your tent unless you’re sure it’s going to rain, it’ll be much cooler and breezy inside. But keep it nearby, just in case.

Make sure you bring a sweat shirt, rain coat, jeans and sneakers, just in case the weather turns nasty.  If you don’t, it will.

Bring all of your pillows, a good book and reading light and use ear plugs, if needed, to assure a good night’s sleep. Bring extra batteries because you will fall asleep with your reading light on.

Embrace the hum of the oil and gas rigs, they provide the fuel we use every day to run our vehicles, cook our food, and heat and cool our homes. Until something better comes along don’t knock it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thirty Years of Thrills and Spills with New Wave Rafting

They started out with a used rubber raft, a beat up station wagon and a hunger for some cash and kicks.

Thirty years later river guides Steve and Kathy Miller of New Wave Rafting in Embudo are still going strong, providing passengers great whitewater adventure on the rivers of Northern New Mexico.

And they aren’t quitting anytime soon.

“We’re having too much fun,” Steve says during an April 2009 interview at the couple’s modest home located on the big river between Espanola and Taos.

Miller, whose rugged good looks, full head of hair and energetic demeanor belie his 69 years, lives a life many who visit the Southwest might find enviable.

During the spring and summer the Millers and their crew of experienced guides provide customers waves of excitement and adventure on the best rafting rivers New Mexico has to offer, the mighty Rio Grande and the idyllic Rio Chama.

And when the season ends the Millers typically unwind with a relaxing, three-week float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon or spending some time fishing down at Padre Island.

But then it’s back to work, this time teaching skiing up on the slopes of Taos for the winter.

“It’s a lifestyle we’ve worked hard to make a living at,” says Kathy, 58, while flashing a brilliant smile amid a sea of freckles and bronzed skin.
The two who expect to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this July, met at a party in Tesuque back in the late 1970s, when real hippies could still be found wandering the scene in Northern New Mexico.

Steve Miller was an intense, rugged, outdoor type with long hair and beard and wearing authentic Navy bell bottoms jeans, the ones with the buttoned flap on the front, Kathy says.

“He was a very exciting, outdoors type,” she says.

Miller had come west from New York City to ski and then learned a host of other outdoor skills which led him to a career with Outward Bound and a stint with state government creating a similar program for criminal offenders.

The program took groups into wilderness settings where they learned to challenge themselves and work together to overcome difficult situations involving mountaineering, rock climbing, river rafting, canyoneering, camping and wilderness travel.

Prior to that Miller had attended the University of California at Berkeley and received a Master's Degree in anthropology from Harvard University. He also taught anthropology at New Mexico Tech in Socorro for several years and chaired the Department of Physical Recreation where he ran outdoor adventure programs.

Kathy Hamerlee had gravitated to New Mexico from her hometown of Simi Valley, California, where she had at one time considered a career as a marine biologist but got caught up in the “tune in, turn on and drop out” nature of the times.

“She was your classic, cute, little hippie chick with two kids then,” Steve says of their first meeting.

They hit it off, got married and have been having a ball ever since.

“I was not an outdoor person,” Kathy says. “But he (Steve) taught me to kayak, backpack and fish. He really opened up the outdoor world to me.”

Miller says he was heavily influenced by the environmental movement at the time including the works of author Edward Abbey whose books “Desert Solitaire” and “The Monkey Wrench Gang” inspired many Southwestern environmentalists.

“I was rock climbing in Moab during the sixties,” he says.

During the 1970s and 1980s Miller says he and Kathy became members of the radical environmental group “Earth First” and ran rivers with its founder Dave Foreman.

“Abbey was one of our early heroes,” Steve says. “Everyone nurtured fantasies of blowing up Glenn Canyon Dam. It (the dam) was the single clearest affront to those who loved the Southwest. There are people still trying o do something about that.”

The couple and Earth First’s founder, Foreman, parted ways with the group after other members became increasingly involved in eco-terrorism, Steve says.

The two got their start in the river rafting business after the Southwest Outward Bound School they worked for in Santa Fe went under in the late 1970s.

They purchased one of the school’s surplus rubber rafts, a 13 ½-foot long Campways Miwok , slapped it on the roof of their beat up Mazda station wagon and opened their own business.

“Our motto was the river’s are free and we’re as cheap as can be,” Steve says.

The early days during an outing on the Arkansas River in Southern Colorado, notice the sheared off bow of the kayak.

But business was so bad their first year due to low water from a drought that they finally just packed up and headed over to Idaho to float the Salmon River with some fellow Earth First members.

But the following year they got serious, employing the use of a booking agent, Jim Manning, who maintained a kiosk in the lobby of the La Fonda Hotel in downtown Santa Fe.

“Because of him our business grew considerably,” Steve says.

By 1995 they had a fleet of about 30 boats, employed about 20 guides, carried 9,500 passengers and generated a half million dollars in revenue.

“We hit it big time,” Steve says. “But I was under so much pressure I had to see a shrink.”

Steve says those were the days of big water on the Rio Grande, when springtime runoff routinely ran at 3,000 to 5,000 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) and the movie thriller “River Wild” was a big hit at the box office, and a big boost to business.

But the good times took a tragic turn for the worse in June 1997 when Kathy’s son, Brahm Reynolds, 23, lost his life while kayaking on the south fork of the Payette River in Idaho.

Reynolds was following in his mother’s footsteps and working on the river and at the slopes at the time.

“He was born to row, it was literally in his blood,” Kathy says.

Having been brought up on the river, Brahm had all the skills needed to make it on his own.

“He embraced the lifestyle we were enjoying but wanted to experience the big rivers,” Kathy says. “He was looking for adventure like any young man his age.”

Kathy says the only consolation she can find in her son’s death is that he died doing what he loved.

“I like to remember him for his love of nature, his self assured, quiet confidence, his ability to make people feel comfortable and safe,” Kathy says. “I miss him terribly.”

Brahm at 7-years-old and already an experienced river runner.

Kathy now finds some peace in having finally having achieved her goal of living on the river.

“It’s something I’ve been scheming on for years,” she says.

With a little luck, a lot of savings and the help of a small family inheritance, the couple was finally able to make their move.

And at the start of the 2008 season, as gas prices soared to four bucks a gallon, the Millers were bailing out of Santa Fe and moving their rafting business north to Embudo and a new home down on the Rio Grande.

No more running school bus loads of customers fifty miles from the “City Different” to the boat launch at Pilar, Steve noted with a sigh.

“We didn’t lose any business and significantly improved our profitability,” Steve says.

The Millers attribute much of their success to their dedicated, longtime employees like Dave “New Wave Dave” Wassil, Mike Boren, Britt Huggins and Neil Oberheide, just to name a few.

They also credit their many repeat customers with helping keep the business afloat during the change in location.

Asked about some of his more notable clients over the years, Steve remembers most former Governor John Connally of Texas who was sitting next to then President John F. Kennedy when he was shot and killed by a sniper as the politicians rode in a motorcade through Dallas back in 1963.

Steve says Connally showed him his scar from the wound he received from one of the sniper’s bullets that passed through Kennedy.

Steve says actor John Travolta and his family also rode with New Wave as did fellow actor Beau Bridges while Steve’s son, Ethan, had the pleasure one time of guiding members of the band, “Z.Z. Top” down the river.

Ethan, 41, Steve’s son from a previous marriage, now lives in San Francisco where he works in computer programming and design and has three children.

Kathy’s daughter from a previous marriage, Laina, 36, also lives in San Francisco and has two children and with a Ph.D. in Peace Studies works for the organization, Partners for Democratic Change, which is engaged in peace and confliction resolution in emerging democratic countries.

Steve is also president of the New Mexico River Outfitters Association which represents the majority of Bureau of Land Management-permitted outfitters on the Rio Grande and the Chama River.

The association presents a unified voice on behalf of the industry and seeks to maintain the highest standards of safety and service, he says.

The Taos Gorge Bride over the Rio Grande. Photo by Britt Huggins of New Wave Rafting Co..

Steve is also an accomplished photographer whose work is featured in his book “The Grand: The Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, a Photo Journey,” published by Wilderness Press and the Grand Canyon Association.

Photographs in the book were taken over the course of 13 trips through the Grand Canyon, dating back to 1971 and represents some incredible work. Check out the Miller's website at www.newwaverafting.com for more info.

And to what does Steve Miller attribute his longevity and good health?

He fishes regularly and comes from good stock. His mother is still alive and kicking at the tender age of 102 and his father lived to the ripe old age of 94.

(All photos courtesy of Steve Miller of New Wave Rafting Co., Embudo, New Mexico 1-800-984-1444

Monday, May 11, 2009

Meeting Produces Workable Solutions for Improving San Juan Fishing

It was one of those days that old time anglers of the San Juan’s quality waters like to talk about.

A Baetis hatch that caused the river to roil with rising fish and anglers to howl with glee.

The day began dark and drizzly with low, threatening clouds and a quiet calm that held the promise of such a hatch.

And the river didn’t disappoint this early spring day.

“My God, look at all of them,” a voice exclaimed from downriver. “They’re everywhere.”

I turned from my spot below the island at Baetis Bend to see a couple of late arrivals trudging up the bank, talking and pointing excitedly.

I returned to my quarry, a big rainbow, steadily sipping Baetis bugs off the surface and ignoring every fly I cast her way.

She was wary of me as I had already caught and released several silver-sided, stockers in her immediate vicinity.

These future “hall-of-famers” greedily attacked my flies and fought like crazy but they were hatchery trout, leftovers from a recent, well intended but ill conceived stocking event designed to appease some guides during this controversial period of the river’s life.

As far as I was concerned, all they were doing was getting in the way of my catching a classic, river reared, San Juan rainbow, 18 inches of beautifully colored attitude and fight.

In the end she took a bigger Adams than I would have thought and my day was complete as she broke the surface, shook mightily, spit my fly and swam off unharmed.

As I headed back to the parking lot I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the river’s more vocal critics had been on the water this day, would they still harbor their negative view of this great fishery.

Because in an afternoon of fishing the back channel, the lower flats and the wadeable water at Baetis Bend, I caught on dry flies, plenty of good looking, hard fighting, Rainbow trout.

And while fishing deep with a big nymph and an emerger for a dropper, I managed to snare several of the lower river’s more predominant but stealthier brown trout, with most taking the nymph and steamrolling into the depths.

On this day, it felt like the river had vindicated itself, rejecting the notion that she was in poor health and doomed to die because of the lower flows over the last decade.

And it was apparent that many of the river guides, angler’s groups and others felt the same way at a state Game Commissioner’s Meeting in Farmington just a day before.

Over two hours of public comment about the river produced plenty of constructive suggestions on how to improve the fishery and little of the negative and misleading rhetoric that has dominated some flyfishing forums and the mainstream media of late (see related article ).

Mike Sloan, Chief of Fisheries for the state Department of Game and Fish opened the meeting by providing commissioners with an update on the department’s public outreach efforts in recent months.

The department is gathering feedback as it mulls numerous proposals to improve fishing conditions on the state’s world class, blue ribbon trout stream.

Angling on the river accounts for as much as $40 million a year to the state’s economy and a $250,000 legislative appropriation was earmarked by Governor Bill Richardson for habitat improvements on the river this year.

Sloan advised commissioners that the department has recently sought public imput and comment from groups such as New Mexico Trout, The San Juan Fly Fishing Federation, the San Juan River Guide’s Association, several Trout Unlimited chapters, the group Concerned Citizens for the San Juan and it’s newly created fellow organization, the San Juan Quality Waters Coalition, and Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen.

Sloan said almost everyone seemed to agree that the river has changed due to lower flows imposed just under a decade ago and silt and sediment has built up.

Many said they were seeing more crowding in productive fishing areas, tougher fishing due to warier fish and reduced insect hatches.

“But I also got feedback that the fishing remained excellent,” Sloan said. “And it’s still the best place people want to go to.

James Dominguez, Fisheries Biologist with the State Department of Game and Fish shows off one of the San Juan River's prized trophy trout during an electro-shocking expedition in November, 2008.

To improve conditions, groups like New Mexico Trout, the San Juan Flyfishing Federation and the San Juan River Guides Association said they wanted to work with the department on more in-stream habitat improvements like those that have been installed below Simon Canyon and at Cottonwood Campground (see related article).

One possible project under consideration involves narrowing the river channel and adding gravel, cobble and boulders into areas immediately below the dam to provide fish and insects more habitat in which to thrive.

A silt and sediment diversion at the Rex Smith Wash inflow area adjacent to the Texas Hole parking lot is another project under consideration which could have an immediate and positive impact on the river.

Other proposals include imposing a catch and release only rule on the river’s entire 4.5 mile stretch of quality water where an angler can currently harvest a single trout over 20-inches each day but must cease fishing once they’ve taken that limit.

Proponents argue that the vast majority of San Juan anglers practice catch and release and eliminating any harvest on the quality waters would help reduce poaching and mortality among fish being measured for possible harvest.

Another proposal involves the creation of a San Juan stamp added to state fishing licenses for those who fish the quality waters, something along the line of $3 to $5 with all revenues raised earmarked specifically for San Juan river projects and to fund assignment of a full-time game officer to the river.

Other proposals include improved hiking trails along the river to encourage anglers to spread out, better picnic areas and boating facilities and more trash containers.

Meanwhile, the Concerned Citizens of the San Juan and San Juan Quality Waters Coalition continued their demand for an independent study of the river and higher stream flows.

It was apparent from commissioners remarks, especially after hearing from Bureau of Reclamation and Land Management officials, that commissioners clearly understood that they had no control over the water flows or the oil and gas industry operations on surrounding lands.

Those issues were better addressed by agencies with jurisdiction over them and as far as the commissioners seemed to be concerned, they would concentrate on problems they could actually solve.

Chairman McClintic even went so far as to suggest that those groups seeking an independent study of the river should consider paying for it themselves.

The department has already conducted studies and issued a white paper addressing concerns about the river (see related article )while also continuing to survey insect populations and analyze sediment data for a better idea of what’s going on down on the river.

And for these efforts, San Juan Fisheries Biologist, Marc Wethington and his boss, Sloan, were applauded by commissioners and audience members.

Others in attendance, like oil and gas opponent, former game commissioner and San Juan Quality Waters Coalition front-man - Oscar Simpson - weren’t so fortunate.

Simpson was publicly chastized for his involvement in stirring up negative publicity about the San Juan river to further his political agenda (see related story ) and his tactics and efforts were openly rejected.

And notably absent from the meeting was Associated Press Reporter, Susan Montoya Bryan, whose attendance had been promised and was widely expected.

Many in attendance expressed disappointment, as they were looking forward to her providing coverage of this other side of the San Juan’s story - the one she overlooked when writing about Simpson and the river recently.

For more details and comments from the April 16, 2009 Farmington meeting see the game commission minutes posted on the department's website .

In the meantime, a working group of San Juan River stakeholders is slated to convene shortly to hash out a plan on what projects to pursue so the department can settle back down to doing some real work on improving the river.

To get involved contact your state game commission .

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