Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spring Fishing a Best Bet as NM Heads into 4th Yr. of Drought

Robin Vigil, 57, of Santa Fe enjoys an afternoon of early spring angling on the Rio Grande at Pilar where the fishing has been reported as excellent. 
Anglers may find fishing a whole lot harder this season due to a lack of spring runoff, damage from forest fires and the persistent drought.

“It’s going to be a tough summer,” said Richard Hansen, Coldwater Fisheries Supervisor for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF). “This spring may be your best bet.”

The Jemez Mountains are popular for spring fishing as its streams are usually the first to clear of snowpack runoff.

“They should be ripping along right now,” Hansen said. “But they aren’t.”

The lack of winter snow may mean many Jemez streams will suffer from low flows and high water temperatures as the season progresses, he said.

And that’s not good for trout that need clear, cold, water to survive.

The lack of quality water for trout may be in short supply on many of northern New Mexico streams this fishing season, Hansen said.
Richard Hansen, Coldwater Fisheries Supervisor for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF).
For example the popular fly-fishing program on about three miles of Pecos River flowing through the Pecos National Historical Park (PNHP) outside of Santa Fe remains suspended because of flood damage from the devastating Tres Lagunas fire last summer.

An electro-shocking survey of the river by park staff and NMDGF workers this past fall failed to find any fish to speak of in the wake of the silt and debris laden floods, said Charlie Strickfaden, Acting Superintendent at PNHP.

And unlike the NMDGF which can restock damaged fishing waters once they’ve recovered, national park policy precludes it from stocking non-native game fish such as rainbow and brown trout, Strickfaden said.

Park staff consulted with NMDGF about the possibility of restocking the river with native cutthroat trout but the current poor water conditions may not allow that either.

Park staff will have to re-evaluate the situation again next fall to determine what their future options are, Strickfaden said.

An lone angler enjoys a day on the river at the Pecos National Historical Park during better days.
And while fishing on the Pecos River below Tererro was heavily damaged by flooding and could take years to recover, the upper stretches of the river are in good condition and have been heavily stocked by NMDGF to provide anglers opportunities there.

Another victim of post fire flooding is Nambe Lake, a popular local fishing hole known for fat trout and plenty of them, it too remains closed this season due to heavy flood damage and a massive fish kill following the Pacheco Canyon Fire in 2011.

In the meantime the Nambe Falls camping and picnic area remains open to the public, says Nambe Pueblo Chief Tribal Ranger, Joe Vigil.

Nambe Lake has long been a great spot to fish for trout in the hills above the tribal village.
But amid all the dire news there remains some encouraging angling prospects.

“If there’s a silver lining to this drought it’s how well the Rio Grande has been fishing lately,” says Nick Streit, 33, who operates the Taos Fly Shop and now co-owns the Reel Life fly shop of Santa Fe which recently moved from Sanbusco Market to DeVargas Center.

A lack of spring runoff over the past few years has resulted in consistent, clear flows on the big river which has in turn produced some awfully good fishing, Streit says.

“It’s fishing better now than it has in my life time,” he said.

The Rio Grande gorge features some 60 miles of prime fishing between the Wild Rivers Recreation Area near Questa to the Orilla Verde Recreation Area at Pilar.
The Rio Grande Gorge between Espanola and Pilar.
And then there’s always the San Juan River below Navajo Dam in northwestern New Mexico where high quality trout fishing continues due in part to the recent installation of numerous habitat improvement projects designed to ease the impact of recent lower stream flows.

Hanson of the NMDGF noted that the department’s hatcheries will continue to raise fish this season but will only stock them in waters that can support them.

“So we may see some waters go offline,” he said. “And we’re also anticipating we’ll see some forest closures due to the drought, flooding and fires.”
The Pacheco Canyon fire erupts in the forest surrounding Santa Fe during the summer of 2011.
New Mexico is heading into its fourth year of continuous drought with 65-percent of the state classified as severe or extreme, says Kerry Jones of the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

This winter’s mountain snowfall was dismally short with many basins reporting 40-percent or less of normal snowpack. The resultant lack of spring runoff has thus failed to replenish reservoirs around the state which continue to remain woefully short of water, Jones said.

But while the drought will likely persist through summer there is some chance that an El Nino weather pattern will reappear next winter and possibly bring heavier snows to the mountains.

“And that’s what we need,” Jones says. “The monsoons may have saved us from catastrophe last September but they’re not the answer to our long term problem. What we really need is really good winter snows to break this drought.”

In the meantime anglers are reminded that it’s time to renew their licenses and get out there while the fishing is still good.

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