Thursday, December 04, 2014

Pecos River on the Mend Latest Fish Count Shows

State Department of Game and Fish staff assisted by volunteers from the Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited search for fish in the Pecos River at the Pecos National Historical Park (PNHP) in October 2014. Photo courtesy of Bill Zenger.
The fire and flood ravaged Pecos River is on the mend with evidence of trout moving back into devastated areas to help revive the popular fishery.

“It’s recovering and we’re optimistic it’ll come back around in another year or two,” said Richard Hansen, Cold Water Fisheries Supervisor for the state Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) following a recent survey of the river. “It looks much healthier than it did last year.”

The river suffered a major blow in the wake of the big Tres Lagunas Fire last May when summer rains raced off blackened, barren hillsides and flooded the river with mud, ash and debris. 

Native fish and insects were smothered in the onslaught and the river was essentially dead for many miles. 

Sept. 2013 Flooding on Glorieta Creek, a tributary that joins the Pecos River just below the Forked Lightning Ranch House within the park. Photo Courtesy of PNHP.
The fire and flooding caused so much damage downstream at the Pecos National Historical Park that its popular fly fishing program had to be suspended after a post fire NMDGF survey found only one small trout in three miles of river within the park. 

A previous survey of the same water in 2010 revealed about 250 trout in those three miles, Hansen said.

An angler fishes on the Pecos River below the Forked Lightning Ranch House at PHNP back in 2010. ODNM File Photo.
The angling program will remain suspended until conditions improve, said Park Superintendent, Karl Cordova.

In the meantime the survey conducted this October by NMDGF staff and volunteers from the Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited showed some promising signs of recovery on the river , said Art Volmer, Vice President of the club of about 500 members.

“There’s still lots of sediment in some of the deeper holes and it’s not anywhere near what it was.” Volmer said of the river and trout population in the park. “But generally speaking things looked pretty good.”

Silt, sediment and other fire debris smothered the Pecos River in the wake of the  Tres Lagunas fire last summer.
The survey crew found plenty of bugs in the water, a variety of species of fish including stocked rainbow and natural reproducing brown trout and bait fish like chubs, dace and sucker fish as well.

The fall survey discovered 29 fish of varying sizes including a 14-incher among some 16 Brown trout found, Hansen of NMDGF said. The crew also discovered 13 Rainbow trout of which the largest was a 17-incher, he added.

One of the Brown trout found by crews surveying the Pecos River  within the Pecos National Historical Park in October 2014.
Hansen said it was his understanding that the two private ranches just above and below the park’s boundaries stock Rainbow trout for recreational fishing purposes and that some of those fish may have migrated into the park.

National Park Service policy precludes the park from stocking non-native game fish such as Brown or Rainbow trout in its waters and the river’s condition is not suitable for stocking with native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout, Cordova said.

Which is why the survey crew found it most encouraging when they came across evidence of spawning activity by resident Brown trout, Volmer said. 

The crew found a freshly created “Redd” where a fish had cleared off an area in the gravel streambed upon which to lay eggs.

Volmer said he would like to see some restoration and improvements to the fishing habitat in the park while the river is on the mend.

Volmer suggested that the placement of rock structures in the water to improve depth and flow could help move sediment along and the planting of shady cottonwood trees along the banks could also help cool the river during hot summer months which would be beneficial to the trout.

Cordova said no such projects are currently in the works but that he looks forward to working with TU in the future on issues regarding the river’s health.

Mark Cordova at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Photo courtesy of Joey Chenoweth of the Coolidge Examiner.
Cordova is the park’s new superintendent having taken over in July. He hails from Pueblo Colorado and is a 22-year veteran of the National Park Service.

Cordova most recently served at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in southern Arizona. Prior to that he served at Rocky Mountain National Park and did a two stint in Washington DC as a legislative Affairs Specialist.

Cordova’s first posting was to Yellowstone National Park and he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Outdoor Recreation and a Master’s Degree in Park and Protected Area Management from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He is married and the father of two sons ages 10 and 12 and lives with his family in El Dorado.

The NMDGF survey also took in other areas of the Pecos River devastated by the fire including the Windy Bridge recreation area where crews found 38 Brown trout compared with 103 during the last survey in 2004, Hansen said.

At another stretch of the river adjacent to the department’s Lisboa Springs Fish Hatchery crews found 9 Brown trout compared with 117 since the last survey in 2004, Hansen said.

Richard Hansen, NMDGF Cold Water Fisheries Supervisor. 
But while the overall number of fish may be way down the fact that Brown trout are back in these damaged areas is encouraging, Hansen said.

Brown trout were stocked in New Mexico waters at one time but haven’t been in decades so their presence is a good sign that the resident trout are reproducing and repopulating in those damaged areas of the river, Hansen said.

These areas may see some additional stocking with Rainbow trout to supplement angling opportunities now that water and streambed conditions there have improved, Hansen said.

NMDGF only stocks non-reproducing hybrid Rainbow trout in part to reduce crossbreeding with native Cutthroat trout that are being reintroduced throughout many areas of the state.

Volmer of the Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited urged the angling public to release any Brown trout caught from the Pecos River in the fire damaged areas to help the resident Brown trout population rebound.

NMDGF Staff stock rainbow trout in the Pecos River at the Jamie Koch Recreation Area at the confluence of the Pecos River and Willow Creek last summer.
In the meantime anglers will find that the upper stretches of the Pecos River above Tererro have been heavily stocked by NMDGF and continue to provide anglers with plenty of opportunities to catch fish. 

And barring any further environmental disasters anglers may find the lower Pecos has rebounded to its old self within just a few more years, Hansen said.

Read more about the fire and its effect on the Pecos River and the park's fishing program at:


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Take a Drive & Enjoy New Mexico's Fall Colors

US 64 between Tierra Amarilla and Tres Piedras New Mexico. Photo by Karl Moffatt.
There’s no better time than autumn to see some of the best scenery in northern New Mexico and with the changing of the leaves there’s no better excuse for a road trip.

Some prefer to leave the driving to others like those who ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad out of either Antonito Co. or Chama NM to see the fall colors. Check out their website at for more details.

Passengers aboard the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad abandon their seats for the open car shown here about six miles out of Chama and still 1,700 feet below 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass nine miles ahead. Photo by Bill Diven. 
But one of the easiest and best day drives up north to see those colors is the 50-mile jaunt from Tierra Amarilla (TA) over the mountains and through the Carson National Forest to Tres Piedras (TP).

Those traveling from Santa Fe will see over 90 miles of spectacular scenery just getting to the outskirts of the historic village of TA and the turnoff to TP on US 64.

All aspen are not equal as different colors reveal themselves in separate stands as the green of chlorophyll retreats until next spring. Photo by Bill Diven.
Then after crossing the mountains it’s a mere 80 miles back from Tres Piedras passing through even more rural, sparsely settled and very scenic countryside.

Travelers from Santa Fe heading north on US 84/285 can choose either route just north of Espanola at the turnoff to Ojo Caliente to make the roundtrip drive.

The drive on US 64 between TA and TP during the fall is a pleasant and must do New Mexico experience. Photo courtesy of Karl Moffatt.
 Those staying on US 84 will pass through the tiny village of Abiquiu where the renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe once lived and worked.

This is a great place to stop for gas, coffee and breakfast burritos at Bode’s general store.

Continuing on northward along the Chama River motorists will climb atop a mesa where those who stop will be rewarded with great views of the river below, especially if the Cottonwood trees are turning.

Continuing on this drive travelers will find themselves passing through a canyon fringed by towering red rock cliffs before coming upon the entrances to Ghost Ranch, the Piedra Lumber Visitor Center and Echo Amphitheatre.

Echo Amphitheater off US 84 in northern New Mexico. Photo by Karl Moffatt.
All three spots are worthy of stopping for and can produce lasting memories especially for those who are armed with cameras.

This may be one of New Mexico’s finest drives for those seeking magnificent, eye popping views of northern New Mexico’s high desert scenery.

The drive then takes visitors further north for many miles through rugged countryside before coming to the US 64 turnoff just shy of Rio Arriba’s county seat at Tierra Amarilla.

The highway over the mountains toTres Piedras first passes through a wide valley marked by farms and ranches before climbing towards the looming Brazos Cliffs. 

US 64 near Tierra Amarilla New Mexico. Photo by Karl Moffatt.
 Several pull offs on this side of the mountains provide spectacular views of the countryside including bright yellow aspen groves and brilliant red oak trees during the fall.

Upon topping out motorists will find two pull offs where they can view the imposing Brazos Cliffs and see even more striking views of the valley below.

The Brazos Cliffs as seen from US 64 rest area between Tierra Amarilla and Tres Piedras New Mexico. Photo by Karl Moffatt.
Upon continuing down the road motorists will find several opportunities to further explore the woods and fields of this vast tract of public land by way of forest roads.

Those who like to fish will come across beautiful Hopewell Lake just off the highway where brook, rainbow and cutthroat trout can be caught. 

Hopewell Lake off US 64 between Tierra Amarilla and Tres Piedras in northern New Mexico. Photo by Karl Moffatt.
There’s also nice little campground here and it’s a great place for a picnic or hike.

More adventuresome types armed with a keen sense of direction or a Carson National Forest map could follow the forest road past the campground and end up hours later coming out by the hot springs at Ojo Caliente.

Those who stay on the highway instead will end up at the roadside settlement of Tres Piedras on US 285.

Travelers who stop here can see from the road the preserved US Forest Service home that Aldo Leopold built while serving as District Ranger there in 1911.

Aldo Leopold's cabin at Tres Piedras NM.
Leopold is considered by many to be the father of the nation’s wilderness conservation movement and New Mexico lays claim to being home to the nation’s very first designated wilderness area.

Tres Piedras sits at a crossroads where until just a few years ago a busy gas station, convenience store and diner could be found. Now they stand unused and closed like so many other roadside businesses in New Mexico these days. 

The diner in Tres Piedras where many a meal has been had stands eerily silent now. Photo by Karl Moffatt.
But just within spitting distance sits a new business that’s recently opened to fill the void. The Chili Line Depot brews up some good coffee and serves great home cooking for those travelling through this remote area along the rim of the Rio Grande.

The Chili Line Depot now provides much needed services to travelers on US 285 at Tres Piedras NM.
Heading back to Santa Fe on US 285 is a breeze along the newly improved highway that rolls south for mile after mile through lonely, desolate rangeland until reaching Ojo Caliente.

US 285 between Tres Piedras and Ojo Caliente. Photo by Karl Moffatt.
A recent drive along this route on the weekend of Sept. 20-21st revealed trees just about ready to explode with color up in the high country.

Another great fall scenic drive in northern New Mexico includes the High Road to Taos above Espanola and back along the Rio Grande.

From Santa Fe take US 84/285 north to the Nambe Pueblo turn off on NM 503 and follow over to the Chimayo turnoff.  Upon reaching NM 76 head up the mountain to Truchas and on over to Penasco and then over to Ranchos de Taos for the return trip along the river.

Those with less time on their hands can always make a run up into the mountains just above Santa Fe on Hyde Park Rd. Try taking Bishops Lodge Rd. out through Tesuque to the Pacheco Canyon Rd. turnoff and then up into the mountains and on over to Hyde Park Rd. by way of Forest Road 102.
For more detailed views of any of these routes just check them out online at Google Maps.

Towering aspens off Hyde Park Rd. in the mountains above Santa Fe NM.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Conchas, Sumner and Santa Rosa Lakes Bounce Back in 2014

The dam at Conchas Lake on the eastern plains of New Mexico during the late summer of 2014.
Conchas, Sumner and Santa Rosa lakes are all full again thanks to abundant monsoon rains this summer and now is a great time to visit as the weather cools and the crowds fade.

“It’s just been terrific,” says Mary Sena of the Fisherman’s Hideaway at Sumner Lake out on the eastern plains. “The lake hasn’t looked this good in years.”

All three lakes have suffered from extremely low water levels in recent years due to the long running drought but things began to change late last summer when heavy rains fell for a couple of days.

Then this year it’s been one good summer rain after another out on the plains to help bring the popular but parched reservoirs back up to normal.

These three northeast area lakes all benefit greatly from rainstorm runoff collected over a vast watershed area while other reservoirs around the state still remain low because they are more dependent on ample mountain snows to refill.

“We haven’t seen great conditions like this since 2007,” said Steve Peterson, Conchas Lake Manager for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Steve Peterson, Conchas Lake Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Conchas Lake’s level is just a few feet short of its historical average and all boat ramps and campgrounds are open again and the fishing is reported to be just fine.

“That’s where I’d be,” Eric Frey, Sportfish Program Manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish said of Conchas Lake. “It’s really bounced back well and is just chock full of large and smallmouth bass.”

Smallmouth Bass like this one are thriving at Conchas Lake despite years of drought and low water levels.
Repairs have also been made to the dam to reduce leakage while the park’s historic Adobe Belle rental cottages are also being restored and might even be back in business by next season, Peterson said.

Those visiting Conchas Lake will find beer, ice and fishing supplies at the marina on the north side of the lake and while gas and groceries can be had from the 104 Store on the lake’s south side.

Just down the road at Santa Rosa Lake those familiar with its plight over the past few years during which the once mighty walleye fishery suffered heavily may be surprised to see how full it is again.

“We’ve planted walleye fry and hope to see it recover quickly,” Frey said.

The tower at Santa Rosa Lake in August 2014 after abundant summer monsoon rains.
The Santa Rosa tower in April 2013 after years of drought.
In the meantime anglers at the lake have reported the fishing for crappie, smallmouth bass, catfish and the occasional walleye has only been fair at the lake.

But those seeking quiet camping, a refreshing swim and fantastic scenery may find the lake a good option as others choose to pass it up for more active fishing spots.

The boat ramp at Santa Rosa in late summer 2014.
The Santa Rosa boat ramp in April 2013.
Supplies can be found in the nearby town of Santa Rosa which also boasts some of the best roadhouse restaurants in the state.

Santa Rosa Lake last in spring 2013.

Santa Rosa lake has bounced back and is full again in 2014 after good summer rains over the last two years.
At Sumner Lake the fishing has been good and getting better as the monsoon rains have slowed and the water is settling down, Sena said.

Due to heavy rains in this summer dam operators had been releasing the overflow downstream into the Pecos River which has helped keep it thriving too.

The peaceful lake between Santa Rosa and Fort Sumner boasts a couple of nice shady campgrounds, open boat ramps and an attractive recreation area on the river just below the dam.

The Pecos River below the dam at Sumner Lake late summer 2014.
The big pool below the dam has a reputation for giving up the occasional lunker to some lucky angler smart enough to have fished it while visiting the lake.

Visitors will find cold beer, bait, tackle, ice and groceries at Sena’s longtime, lakefront business which also features a full bar and restaurant that looks out over the water.

Sumner Lake late summer 2014.
Visit the state park’s online website at for more information about each park and to make campground reservations.

This story was originally published in the Albuquerque Journal North and Las Vegas Optic newspapers and is reprinted here with permission.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brand New Aquatic Park on the San Juan River at Hammond Tract

The newly created aquatic park and recreation area at the 
Hammond Tract on the San River about 
14 miles south of Navajo Dam.
Anglers visiting the San Juan River this summer will discover a new 80-acre aquatic park featuring plenty of fishing improvements, lots of shady cottonwood trees and one of the best swimming holes on the river.

Carved out of a nearly impenetrable forest of water-robbing salt cedar and thorny Russian olive trees the state Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) has turned its Hammond Tract into what should become a very popular recreational area.
Marc Wethington, Fisheries Biologist on the San Juan River 
for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish,
 points out from an overlook the amount of  work
 done to clear invasive trees at Hammond Tract.
Acquired in the late 1980s from the federal government the property is located about 14 miles south of the town of Navajo Dam and for years was nothing more than a rutted dirt road ending at a hole hacked through the trees where boaters could land.

Now there’s a new concrete boat take-out ramp, an improved parking lot and a fresh outhouse. The invasive trees have been cleared away while the towering cottonwoods remain along with newly planted native vegetation.
Visitors to the Hammond Tract recreation area and aquatic park
will find a ample parking and a new outhouse for their convenience.
A small creek now flows under a canopy of cottonwood trees into a newly created pond to benefit waterfowl while 15 in-stream structures were installed in the river to improve fishing and water quality.

A new concrete boat ramp at Hammond Tract is fully
extendedinto the river and making landing
 much easier for boaters.
Visitors to the park will find a large pool in the river at the base of the parking lot created by the installation of a ring of boulders that looks like a tempting place to take a cool dip on a hot summer’s day.

A ring of boulders has created a fine wading pool in the
San Juan River at Hammond Tract where
sun baked anglers might be tempted to take a dip.

Anglers will find about a half mile of river running through the park with private property owners to the north and federally owned land to the south, says Marc Wethington, NMDGF’s  Fisheries Biologist stationed on the San Juan River.

Looking south towards the Hammond Diversion dam
visitors can see how thick the invasive Russian olive
and salt cedar trees were before being cleared.
The Hammond project is just the latest in a series of improvements Wethington has overseen in recent years on the river as the department works to maintain high quality fishing conditions despite lower flows from Navajo Dam.

From an vantage point overlooking the San Juan River at
Hammond Tract visitors looking upstream can see just
 how much area has been opened up for recreational use and
benefit to wildlife and fish.
The latest project now opens up a whole new area to anglers and others seeking a respite from the crowds that are commonly found on the trophy class waters just below the dam further upstream.

“The solitude here should be a real draw for those seeking some time alone on the river,” Wethington says.

At Hammond Tract one can expect to find an occasional big brown trout lurking in the depths while plenty of stocked rainbows make it an ideal place for those fishing for dinner. The surrounding scenery is bucolic with farm pastures, the Bosque and desert buttes dominating the landscape.

A newly created pond will provide habitat
for waterfowl and other wildife.
The estimated $625,000 project was funded by grants from the State Forestry and the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, federal wildlife and sport fish excise taxes on the sale of sporting goods, NMDGF funds and contributions from Conoco Phillips, WPX Energy and the New Mexico Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said Mike Sloan Chief of Fisheries Management for the NMDGF.

The park is slated to officially reopen to the public in late July or early August to give native grasses planted on site a chance to sprout from expected monsoon rains, Sloan said.

Finding Hammond Tract is just part of the adventure. 
Hammond Tract is reached by an unmarked dirt road off NM 511 just shy of the intersection of US 64. There is no sign for the NMDGF property yet.

Those traveling southwest from Navajo Dam will find it after passing through the village of Turley and climbing a hill marked by a bright green house trailer.  The road will be on the right just under the high power lines, turn in and stay to the left, follow to the power sub-station and then take the turnoff down to the river.

Coming from US 64 visitors will  go 9/10ths of a mile on NM511 and pass two oil and gas well sites on the left before reaching the power lines crossing the road and the turnoff to the left.
Those fishing at Hammond Tract are encouraged to release
 any native brown trout caught in this area as they reproduce
naturally in the river which contributes to making it one of
the best fisheries in the west.The river here will receive
 regular stockings of hybrid rainbow trout of which
anglers can keep up to five a day.
This article was originally published in the Albuquerque Journal's "Go" outdoors sports section and can be seen at

Saturday, June 21, 2014

On Fishing the Rio Grande Gorge with John Nichols and Taylor Streit

For many anglers New Mexico’s Rio Grande gorge and its tumbling river is an intimidating and stingy place to fish.

Its reputation for skunking even seasoned anglers may cause some to pass it up for easier fare elsewhere.

But those who’ve managed to overcome this maddening river’s mysterious ways say the fishing can reach mystical proportions.

And perhaps no one knows that better than longtime friends, fishermen and fellow writers, Taylor Streit and John Nichols, both of Taos.

Angling authors and fishing buddies, John Nichols and Taylor Streit.
Nichols was one of those guys who could be found fishing the river in cheap sneakers and jeans with the cuffs rolled up back in the 1970’s.

Rods were made of fiberglass then, leaders from “cat-gut” and reels made by Martin.

In those days Nichols could be seen bouncing along rutted roads on the rim of Rio Grande Gorge in a low slung, four door, Chevy Impala looking for new ways down to the river.

He carried no net, used crude, nameless flies and lunched on bologna sandwiches washed down with warm Coke.

Nichols fished the late afternoons and loved hopping from one slippery boulder to another to fish the foaming pools.

He loaded his line with a duo of wet flies, “skittered” them across the surface on a short leader and “cleaned up” on a regular basis.

Nichols shows his off his "skittering" technique during a recent 
visit to the Rio Grande at the Taos Junction Bridge.
Streit in the meantime had opened a fly shop in Taos and was building a name for himself as one of the Rio Grande’s best fishing guides.

Ironically both men learned to fish the Rio Grande from legendary local angler, Charley Reynolds, but they rarely had occasion to do it together.

That’s because Streit spent his days guiding clients while Nichols was home in bed after writing all night.

But they became longtime friends after meeting at Streit’s fly shop where they often compared notes and exchanged tales.

These days Nichols, 73, doesn’t fish his beloved river much anymore. A chronic inner ear problem makes it difficult to keep his balance on the river’s tricky terrain.

But his friend Streit, 67, took him out during last year’s caddis hatch to a gentle stretch of the river near Manby Hot Springs.

They got into a few trout that day and Nichols says hopes to do it again this year too.

But more recently the two were able to get together down on the Rio Grande at Pilar where they were asked what the secret was to fishing the big river?

The hell with you, buy our books, they said.

Say what?
Streit’s guidebook “Fly Fish New Mexico,” and his instructional manual “Instinctive Fly Fishing” are essential reading for any angler.

But it’s his book “Man vs Fish” where one can read more about a rare day of day of fishing the Rio Grande with Nichols, the man whom Streit says knows more about the river than even him.

To many Nichols, 73, is best known for penning his trilogy of fictional northern New Mexico based novels, the “Milagro Beanfield War,” “The Magic Journey” and “The Nirvana Blues.”

But others might be even more inclined to know Nichols from his trilogy of memoirs, “If Mountains Die,” “The Last Beautiful Days of Autumn” and “On the Mesa.”

In those books one can gain some insight into Nichols’ world and also learn a lot of what it takes to fish the mercurial Rio Grande.

Nichols notes in “Last Beautiful Days of Autumn” that entering the gorge “is like walking into both a physical and spiritual meat grinder” where “there is no end to the fabled calamities of this mighty river.”

The Rio Grande at the bottom of Chiflo Trail
 in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area.
And with his trademark humor and irony Nichols proceeds to recount all of the things that can and will go wrong while fishing down in the Rio Grande gorge.

Busted rods, missing reels, spills and the ever-present fear of an encounter with a rattlesnake.

“You know I never did meet one during all those years,” he says now.

And while much has changed in recent years on the Rio Grande even more has remained the same, Nichols says.

“It’s still a rugged, remote, challenging river where half the battle is getting there,” he says. “That’s what I loved about it, the work involved and the triumph of surviving it.”

Nichols “skittering” technique involves the use of a short leader from which two or even three wet flies are dangling. The rig is then twitched across the top and just under the surface of the water to entice a trout to strike.

A typical wet fly employed by Nichols for use 
while "skittering" for trout on the Rio Grande.
Nichols says the technique works best in the roiling waters found among the boulder fields of the river.

One of his favorite spots is the run between Little and Big Arsenic Springs campgrounds in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area near Cerro.

Nichols says the key to successfully fishing the Rio Grande is to be alert and prepared.

Always let someone know where you’re going and carry matches, a poncho, sweater and windbreaker, polarized sunglasses and water.

Other than that, pack as lightly as possible and leave the waders behind, Nichols suggests.

“Just watch your step, the basalt rock down there is very slippery when wet,” he warns. “Try not to fall in.”

Nichols says the fishing is actually pretty easy once you get down there and if the sun is off the water it can be really good.

Streit agrees with Nichols that the Rio Grande fishes best in the shade and that an angler can do better in the more remote areas of the gorge.

By simply hiking a couple miles up the canyon from either the Taos Junction Bridge at Pilar or the John Dunn Bridge at Arroyo Hondo an angler can find unspoiled water and great fishing, Streit says.

The John Dunn bridge on the Rio Grande at Arroyo Hondo
“There are still places on this river where the trout have never been caught,” says Streit. ”And we’re still finding new ways to get to them.”

The Rio Grande Gorge and its stunning scenery is now protected from most commercial development under its designation by President Barack Obama last year as a national monument.

And the long neglected campgrounds and day use areas along the river at the Orilla Verde Recreation Area near Pilar have received much needed facelifts.

The Rio Grande Gorge Visitors Center on NM 68 at Pilar 
is a great place to find more information about recreation 
and other attractions in the area.
The popular nine mile stretch of river between the Taos Junction Bridge at Pilar and County Line takeout downstream was stocked with some 30,000 catchable size rainbow trout over the course of the season last year, says Eric Frey, Sportfish Program Manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

But the upper stretches of the river between the Wild Rivers Recreation Area and John Dunn Bridge have been stocked in recent years with native cutthroat trout, Frey said.

The cutthroat plantings have produced a population that is now reaching the 14 to 16-inch range and with time could rival some of the bigger browns found in the river.

The department is working to reintroduce cutthroats back into their native habitat throughout the state and wants to provide anglers with the opportunity to catch them, Frey said.

A Rio Grande Cutthroat. Photo courtesy of Toner Mitchell of
An unintended but added benefit of stocking cutthroats into the Rio Grande is that they can now breed with the wild rainbows to produce a very colorful, hard fighting and drought tolerant fish, Frey said.

The Rio Grande is holding a lot of fish these days, Frey says.

The most recent electro-shocking survey on the river back in 2008 revealed a healthy amount of trout in the 8 mile stretch of river between La Junta and the John Dunn bridge, Frey said.

Eric Frey, Sportfish Program Manager 
for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
The survey revealed about 1,400 trout per mile with twice as many browns as rainbows and some monsters in 25-inch range, Frey said.

The survey recorded catching almost three times as many fish per mile in the remote 16-mile stretch between the John Dunn and Taos Junction bridges, Frey said.

Veteran Rio Grande Fishing Guide, Streit, says the long running drought has actually improved fishing on the river.

Taylor Streit.
There’s less spring runoff carrying silt and sediment into the river so it’s running clearer more often which allows for extra fishing days.

“I’ve never seen it fish any better than it is right now,” Streit says.

Originally published in the Spring 2014 edition of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish publication "New Mexico Wildlife." 

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