Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Longtime Fly Fishing Guide and Noted Author, Van Beacham, Offers Fall Fishing Tips

Van Beacham relaxes by the John Dunn Bridge on the Rio Grande one fine, fall, day .
By Karl Moffatt
If it’s fall and you fish, it’s time to be on the Rio Grande enjoying a warm sunny afternoon chasing hungry trout on the state’s big river.

“It’s the optimal time of year to be fishing the Rio Grande and its tributaries,” says Van Beacham, a longtime Taos area guide and author of “Flyfisher’s Guide to New Mexico.” “The weather is ideal, there’s not too much wind, it’s sunny and warm and the fish are active, trying to fatten up for the winter.”

And unlike much of the fishing season when fishing is best in the morning and evening, fall fishing is best done later in the day when the water has warmed up and the bugs come out.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” says Beacham, 52, of San Cristobal, as he shares some fall fishing tips during a recent outing to the John Dunn Bridge on the Rio Grande just north of Taos.

Beacham comes from a long line of “fishing bums” and has been showing his clients the trick to fall fishing since he opened his first guide and fly shop in Red River back in 1983.

Beacham says the Rio Grande is most productive when fished with a streamer or spinning lures in the fall as these potentially bigger meals are much more appealing to hungry fish.

The Rio Grande, a big river lined with volcanic rock, is notorious for skunking anglers who fish it with traditional flies and nymphs.

And that’s because the fish have so many hiding spots down among the underwater rocks that getting their attention with such a small lure can be extremely difficult.

However, a twitchy streamer or flashy spinning lure is more apt to be seen and chased by hungry trout in the Rio Grande, Beacham says.

Beacham says there are no real rules to streamer fishing, the lure can be fished upstream, downstream or across with a fast, slow or balky retrieval. It can even be jigged along the bottom with an up and down motion.

“The key is to keep it moving and the rod tip low to the water,” he said. “And never stop retrieving until you can see the lure, it’s amazing how many times a fish will follow it right up to your feet.”

Streamers like wooly boogers and sculpzillas in olive and black and sizes 2 through 8 are good to have on hand and a good rod for the Rio Grande is a nine-foot, five or six weight.

When casting these bigger lures fly anglers need to adjust their technique to accommodate the extra weight. When retrieving the line, the angler strips it in with short bursts at various lengths using the free hand.

Strikes will be fast and hard and setting the hook requires an additional strip of the line, Beacham says.

The Rio Grande supports wild rainbow, brown and cutbow trout that reach sizes up to 20 inches or more, Beacham says. And pure strain Rio Grande cutthroat, trout have also recently been reintroduced to the river in an attempt to reestablish the state fish in its traditional, native, habitat.

Beacham advises those venturing down to the Rio Grande at locations such as Pilar, the John Dunn Bridge and the Wild Rivers Scenic area above Questa to avoid wearing felt-soled wading boots because of the slipperiness of the riverside rocks.

Anglers need to drink plenty of water, carry some basis survival needs such as matches, a space blanket and energy bars. They should dress in layered clothing such as a fleece jacket and a nylon shell and let someone know where you’re going as these are remote and potentially hazardous areas.

Those seeking a quieter afternoon’s angling might want to pass up the streamers and stick to nymphs and dry flies on any number of creeks feeding the Rio Grande that also fish well in the fall, Beacham says.

Streams like the Arroyo Hondo, the lower Red River and the Cimarron below Eagle Nest Lake all offer anglers good fall fishing for feisty trout on traditional tackle such a 8-foot, four weight rod armed with a short leader and a couple of flies.

Beacham recommends using a mayfly nymph tied up like a gold-ribbed hare’s ear, but in olive instead and without the gold rib. The fly can be rigged with a bead head or flashback in sizes 12 through 22.

Hung below an attractor pattern, such as an egg or worm, this can be a deadly combination when dead drifted through a pool or riffle.

And if bugs begin to hatch on the water then a size 18 to 22 olive colored or parachute Adams dry fly will usually suffice to attract a surface strike from a hungry trout most fall days, Beacham says.

Beacham says when anglers are failing to catch fish with nymphs, most of the time it’s not the fault of the fly but the size of the weight and the length to the indicator.

The nymph should be bumping along the bottom and if it’s not, either the weight should be increased, the strike indicator moved up or a combination of both. If the fly is dragging then the opposite would apply.

Successful nymph fishing requires a dead drift and good line control and one means of achieving that it to learn to high stick, a method Beacham spells out along with numerous other tips in a section of his book called Small Stream Techniques.

Beacham’s book, the second edition of which was just released with updates and a new section on pike fishing on the Rio Grande, is comprehensive in providing not only detailed information of where, how and when to fish New Mexico’s many different waters but also in providing important tips on what gear to use, additional equipment and handy packing lists.

When he’s not out fishing Beacham, who is single, enjoys dancing to western swing music and taking in the diversity of Taos’ music and restaurant scene.

Born one of three brothers and a sister to William and Jo Ann Beacham of Santa Fe in 1958, Van Beacham says he was warned as a teenager that he was doomed to be yet another one of the Beacham family’s notorious fishing bums.

“My dad warned that I’d better find a way to make some money doing it cause that’s how I was going to end up,” Beacham says.

Beacham’s great grandfather, William Beacham, was the first to sell fly fishing tackle from his hardware store in Santa Fe and sired a son who became a notorious fishing bum.

Another one of his elders, John Bengard, was the superintendent of fish hatcheries in New Mexico and designed the Lisboa Springs trout rearing facility near Pecos, Beacham says.

His grandmother was the trout hatchery superintendent’s daughter and his grandfather the fishing bum born to the hardware and fishing tackle store owner.

Beacham credits his dad, who also loved to fish, with teaching him the solitary sport at an early age.

“My earliest recollection of fishing is of him sticking a bamboo pole in my hand, a worm dangling in the water and telling me not to move,” Beacham says. “This was somewhere up on the Rio Grande.”

Later as a teenager living in Pecos where his dad was working with the state highway department, Beacham found himself frequently fly-fishing on the Forked Lightning Ranch, now in the hands of the National Park Service.

Beacham attended the Vo-Tech high school in Santa Fe where he was schooled in electronics, graduated in 1976 and first worked at Eberline Instruments, one of Santa Fe’s few industrial businesses in the factory now standing empty on Airport Rod.

Beacham tried attending an advanced electronics school in Arizona but bailed after a few months and found himself in Jackson Hole, Wyo., working as a dishwasher, shuttle driver and finally a fishing guide.

Upon his return to New Mexico his dad cashed in a life insurance policy he had taken out on his son, the fishing bum, and loaned him the money to start up his first fly shop and fishing guide service.

Beacham now provides guide services throughout northern New Mexico, southern Colorado and Wyoming and also offers membership in his private fly fishing club with leased access to private waters in all three states. See his website at www.solitaryangler.com for more information.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Trophy Tiger Muskies in Quemado, Bluewater Lakes make for Amazing Angling

Matt Pelletier of New Mexico Muskie's Inc at Quemado Lake, Fall 2010.Photo courtesy of Pelletier.
By Karl Moffatt
It’s New Mexico’s latest fishing craze, anglers trying to catch giant, 40-inch, 20-pound tiger muskies lurking in the depths of Quemado and Bluewater lakes where they’ve been stocked to prey upon undesirable fish.

“People are coming from all over the place to catch these,” says Matt Pelletier of New Mexico Muskies Inc., a newly formed, non-profit club, dedicated to the sport. “And it’s a real rush when you get into one.”

The predators, a cross between a muskie and a pike produce a sterile hybrid that can be raised in hatcheries and then stocked in lakes to help control undesirable fish populations.
 A tiger muskie falls victim to an imitation goldfish lure.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) has been stocking tiger muskies in Quemado and Bluewater lakes for the past several years to rid these waters of increasing populations of white sucker and goldfish.

These kinds of undesirable fish compete with sport fish, like trout, for the available habitat which in turn leads to reduced angler satisfaction at these locations. At one point Quemado Lake was virtually overrun with goldfish and trout fishing was almost nonexistent.

But the stocked tiger muskies have gone about their deadly work for several years, chasing down and eating their intended victims and some anglers have since turned to catching them, strictly on a required catch and release basis.

But the tiger muskies have done such a good job in reducing the undesirable fish populations at both lakes that the state Game Commission has recently ruled that anglers can now catch and keep a trophy size tiger muskie from either lake.
 Tiger muskies under 40-inches length have to be returned to the water.
For example, Quemado has seen its goldfish population diminish considerably as revealed during an August, 2010 NMDGF survey that picked up 34 goldfish an hour during electro-shocking. In 2008 the number was 157 goldfish an hour while in 2006 the number was much higher at 377 goldfish an hour, according to the NMDGF’s coldwater fisheries biologist, Richard Hansen.

Surveys results lead researches to believe that Quemado Lake holds a population of about 1,100 Tiger Muskies over 18-inches in length. During the fall electro shocking survey 30 tiger muskies were netted with the average size coming in at 33-inches and the largest weighing in at 19-pounds and 43-inches in length.

During the same survey 62 trout were caught with the average size being 18-inches indicating the popular sport fish is thriving in Quemado Lake despite the addition of larger predators to the environment.
 The trout have returned to Quemado Lake.
Pelletier says that’s because the tiger muskies like to eat exactly what they were introduced for, the goldfish and suckers.
That’s good news for trout anglers who in recent years may have given up on Quemado Lake.

An early November trip to the lake on a warm sunny Saturday revealed good fishing with several young tigers netted along with a trophy sized trout and a giant grass carp.
 A monster carp inadvertently hooked while trolling at Quemado Lake.
Bluewater Lake enjoys similar results and plenty of tiger muskies to be caught.

Pelletier says his organization was formed to help educate anglers about the sport and assist the state in improving, protecting and promoting the tiger muskie fisheries.

For instance, the club raised $5,400 through a grant from the Hugh C. Becker Foundation to purchase minnows to feed tiger muskies being reared at the state’s Rock Lake Fish Hatchery. This helps keep the young predators from preying on each other while raised at the hatchery.

The club boasts 56 members, welcomes new anglers and meets about once a month in the Albuquerque area. The meetings are open to the public, Pelletier says.

Anglers wishing to fish for tiger muskies should be aware of some special equipment needed to do so successfully.
 Tiger muskie lures come in all shapes and sizes.
Anglers will need at least a seven foot long, heavyweight rod capable of handling at least a 20-weight line an one ounce lure with an open face spinning or bait casting reel. Wire leaders are recommended and typical lures would include jerk baits that resemble goldfish, suckers and perch.

Anglers should be equipped with a pair of long, needle nose pliers for dislodging hooks. A pair of heavy nippers for cutting hooks off if needed and a pair of jaw spreaders to open the fish’s mouth and get at embedded hooks.
 Tiger muskie should be handled with extreme care due to their teeth.
A very large net or preferably, a sling net, in which the fish can be cradled in the water is a necessity for handling the fish properly without harm to itself or the angler.

“We practice and preach catch and release to conserve the resource,” Pelletier says.

Those fishing for tiger muskies need to practice patience and persistence as the fish feed on a limited schedule and anglers need to have their lures in the water when that occurs, Pelletier says.
 A boat is nice but most tiger muskies are caught right from the bank, Pelletier says.
Tiger muskies have a slow metabolism and after a good sized meal may not eat again for some time which accounts for their sporadic feeding behavior.

The key to attracting a strike from a tiger muskie is to capitalize on its opportunistic, predatory instinct with jerks and motion of the lure that imitate a wounded or struggling prey, Pelletier said.

For more information about the fish, catch and release techniques and some awesome photos check out the club’s website at http://www.newmexicomuskiesinc.org.
 An Osprey enjoys a fish snatched from Quemado Lake and is another sign of a healthy fishery.

If You Go: 
From Santa Fe take I-25 south to I-40, head west to exit 89 and NM 117. Head south through the Malpais, taking time to stop and check out the BLM visitor center, the natural arch and the black lava flows. Follow this lonly stretch of blacktop down to NM 36 and on to Quemado. Head west on US 60 a short distance past town and then take NM 32 to the turnoff to Quemado Lake. Campsites with restrooms are available in the forest on the far side of the lake off Forest Road 103.

For an alternate route home, don't leave the way you came in, instead keep going past the the lake on Forest Road 13, up across Slaughter Mesa and then drop down off the mountain onto Forest Road 218 which leads to State Highway 12.  Follow the highway to the intersection of US 60 at Datil. There's a bar, cafe, general store and gas to be had here. Follow US 60 past the very large array to Magdalena and on to Socorro and I-25 north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. A very scenic drive and then a quick ride home on the interstate.
 The Very Large Array on the Plains of San Augustin.

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