Sunday, March 29, 2015

Clayton Lake Fishing Derby One of NM's Best

Roger Martinez shows off a nice stocked rainbow trout he caught at Clayton Lake State Park.
 It’s said to be New Mexico’s biggest and best fishing derby drawing thousands of visitors from neighboring states to Clayton Lake State Park where the top prize of a fully equipped bass fishing boat is a big draw.

“It’s just a good, ole fashioned, family affair,” says Charles Jordan, longtime manager of the park for New Mexico State Parks. ”Everyone loves it and it just seems to get better every year.”

The park outside of Clayton has played host to the event for going on 15 years now.

Many of the event’s guests camp out at the park and turn the weekend into a real family friendly holiday with lots kids running around and people visiting each other at their campsites, Jordan says.

“We show folks some real down-home New Mexico-style hospitality here,” Jordan says.

Clayton Lake State Park is an oasis out in big sky country on the plains of eastern New Mexico.
Camping reservations go quick as the event draws near but park staff make every effort to accommodate folks and there’s also a KOA campground and several hotels including the historic Eklund to stay at in town.

This year’s annual derby is scheduled for the weekend of June 13 and 14 and will feature up to $10,000 in prizes including a fully equipped bass boat and top cash prizes of $1,500 and $1,000, says Leroy Montoya, town trustee and fishing derby committee board member.

Another winner collects a check at the Clayton lake fishing derby. Photo courtesy of Clayton Chamber of Commerce.
Anglers can also earn cash prizes for catching the best trout, catfish, bass or walleye.

Four state record walleyes have been caught at Clayton Lake since 1981 with the current record of a 32-inch, 16 pounds 9 ounces caught by G.L. Peppers back in 1989.

Eric Frey of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish shows off one of the big walleyes one can find lurking in the depths of Clayton Lake.
The lake is heavily stocked by the state Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) which owns also the property and built the dam back in 1954 to benefit migratory waterfowl.

State Parks’ leases the lake from NMDGF under an agreement which allows licensed anglers to fish there without having to pay a State Park day use fee.

 Registration for the derby and prizes is $15 per person.

In addition to the big awards, over a hundred door prizes including sporting goods and other merchandise, much of it donated by local businesses, will be awarded on an hourly basis to ticket holders during the two-day event.

There's plenty of door prizes to be awarded at the Clayton Lake fishing derby. Photo courtesy of Clayton Chamber of Commerce.
Visitors will find free coffee and donuts available each morning and free hot dogs, soda and chips at lunch both days, Montoya says.

For kids there’s the dinosaur egg hunt where children can root through a big pile of sand each morning in search of plastic Easter eggs packed with coins. 

Kids can also enjoy riding around the park in a toy train towed by an ATV while others can participate in the horse shoe-pitching tournament, hot dog-eating contest or attend the star party on Saturday night.

Clayton Lake State Park features a fully equipped observatory to view the cosmos under some of the best star-gazing conditions in the country.  It is one of only four sites worldwide officially recognized by the International Dark Sky Association for its incredibly dark skies.

Clayton Lake State Park Manager Charles Jordan stands inside the park's observatory.
The Association bestowed its top honor upon the park in June 2010 for efforts by the state, county and town to preserve the area’s dark skies, reduce surrounding light pollution and provide educational programs.

The park’s $75,000 Star Point Observatory opened in June 2006 and features a 12x16-foot building with a retractable roof that houses a 12-inch, computer operated telescope and remote television monitor which allows for group viewing.

The telescope and monitor is powered by a solar charged battery system.

Volunteers from the local astronomy club play a big role in supporting the observatory, Jordan says.

Views of the moon and the stars from Clayton Lake State park are incredible.
They host regularly scheduled star parties each month on the first Friday of the new moon cycle while also providing impromptu parties for visitors when the park has plenty of overnight visitors.

Hundreds of local school children, scouting groups, astronomy clubs and park visitors have all enjoyed the benefits of the observatory at Clayton Lake State Park.

The park also enjoys a good reputation among bird and wildlife watchers and those interested in paleontology as a large set of dinosaur tracks were found and are now preserved in the earth that forms the dam’s spillway.

The pathway at Clayton Lake State Park allows visitors to see dinosaur tracks up close without damaging them.
The park also features a new visitors’ center constructed of straw bale and recycled steel beams while utilizing the latest in green energy techniques.

The visitor center also features an interpretive display inside which highlights the park and surrounding area’s history and other interesting information.

Clayton Lake State Park's visitor center features is state of the art and eco-friendly.
The park boasts over 30 campsites equipped with shelters, picnic table and fire rings.

There are seven sites with electric and water hookups and two large group shelters.

Showers are available inside the main restroom while numerous vault toilets are located throughout the park.

The annual fishing derby is just one of several successful events that the town of Clayton hosts throughout the year, says Judy Steen, Executive Director Clayton-Union County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism.

Clayton Lake State Park can be found just 12 miles north of town off NM 370 out by Rabbit Ear Mountain.
The town’s annual Fourth of July celebration including a parade, pancake breakfast, rodeo, barbeque, street dance, softball tournament and fireworks show draws thousands every year, she says.

The town also pulls in a big crowd for its Viva New Mexico music festival in mid July featuring street dancing in front of the historic Eklund Hotel to the tunes of performers such as Al Hurricane Jr., Roberto Griego and Tobias Rene.

Then there’s the annual Union County Rodeo in August spanning the course of four days which also brings in plenty of folks from the surrounding countryside, Steen said.

The town’s well attended annual arts festival takes place in October featuring up to 40 arts and crafts booths on display in the Clayton Civic Center

And in March up to 120 runners compete in the Dust Bowl Marathon, an event spanning four neighboring states, that ends in Clayton and has become another great event for the town, Steen says.

Clayton is located in the heart of cattle country where folks living on remote farms and ranches can obtain supplies and enjoy the town's many popular events. 
Clayton’s approach to keeping its rural economic engine humming could serve as a model to other agricultural communities seeking to in tap into the state’s booming tourism trade, Steen suggested.

“We do everything we can to keep our small rural community thriving and these kinds of events are an important part of that effort,” she said. 

For more info about Clayton’s events see their website at or visit their Facebook page at .
 For more info about the derby check out Clayton Lake State Park’s web page at
And for a nicely done take on the 2011 derby see the video at .

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New & Improved Eagle Rock Lake & Red River in the Works!

Dredging of Eagle Rock Lake at Questa NM.
Construction of a new fishing park at Eagle Rock Lake near Questa and in-stream fish habitat improvements at the Red River fish hatchery are scheduled to begin soon with completion expected this summer.

“This is pretty exciting,” says Nick Streit of Taos Fly Shop. “It’s going to be a popular place.”

Both projects are scheduled to be done by the end of June and will help promote angling and tourism in the area, says Eric Frey, Sport Fish Program Manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF).

Chevron Mining construction crews are already dredging the lake to remove contaminated silt and sediment from the bottom before installing a new clay and sand based liner.

Installation of new lake and riverside trails, bridges and in-stream fish habitat improvements will begin shortly, Frey said.
Anglers will be able to fish both the Red River and Eagle Rock Lake while enjoying a great setting. 
And when it’s all done the lake will be stocked with trout from the nearby Red River fish hatchery.

“It’ll be a very, nice aquatic park in a beautiful setting that folks can really enjoy while fishing,” Frey said.

Downstream at the hatchery construction will begin at the same time to create in-stream fish habitat improvements on the river just above and below the facility, Frey said.

In-stream habitat improvements typically involve adding rocks, tree trunks and reconfiguring the streambed to provide better places for fish to live which in turn benefits anglers.

Featureless runs like this at the Red Fishery fish hatchery will be modified to provide better fish habitat and improved angling conditions.
“There two projects will tie in nicely and make the area much more attractive to anglers,” Frey said.

Campers will find numerous streamside Forest Service campgrounds just upstream of the lake between Questa and Red River and several primitive sites along the road to the hatchery too.

Eagle Rock Lake is just outside of Questa and should be a real help to the village’s economy, says Questa’s Tourism Director, Alberta Bouyer.

“This is a real plus for us as we transition from a mining based economy to one more focused on outdoor recreation and tourism,” Bouyer said.

Questa village leaders have decided its time to tap into the tourism and outdoor recreation market.
The longtime molybdenum mine at Questa had sustained the local economy for generations but it shut down for good last June due to poor market conditions.

So now the village is in the process of reinventing itself.

“We’re a small, historic village surrounded by unspoiled wilderness and that’s what makes us unique,” she said. “And this will really help as we work to promote ourselves as one of the best fishing, hiking and camping destinations in the state.”

For more info about Questa and what it has to offer see their website at

Centrally located businesses like the Tewa Lounge and Village Stop and Go could benefit if more visitors stopped in the village while traveling through the area. 
Bouyer said Questa is now working hard on several fronts to develop its economy to better serve those who come to the area to get away from it all.

Questa is uniquely situated in the midst of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, the Hondo/ Columbine Wilderness, the Carson National Forest and nearby Costilla Park, Latir Wilderness and the Valle Vidal.

John Bailey, manager of the monument for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said he is working with the village on the possibility of jointly manning a visitor center in the center of Questa to better serve visitors of the area.

The high mountains above Questa provide many outdoor recreational opportunities for those seeking to hunt, fish, camp, hike or just enjoy northern New Mexico's spectacular scenery. 
But in the meantime  the new fishing park and improvements on the river  should go a long way towards bringing more anglers to the area, says Streit.

“We’ve been working on this for years and it’s exciting to see this finally getting off the ground,” said Streit who is also a member of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Trout Unlimited, Questa Economic Development Board, Chevron, BLM and the US Forest Service all played a role in developing the project, Frey said.

NMDGF picked up the $800,000 tab for construction of the two projects using proceeds from habitat stamps bought by anglers when obtaining a state fishing license, Frey said.

Apple Mountain Construction of Estancia and Riverbed Engineering of Albuquerque are doing the site work job while dredging of the lake is being handled by Chevron Mining Inc. which owns the now closed mine.

The Red River has rebounded nicely from past contamination from mining activities and now supports resident population of feisty brown trout and is regularly stocked with rainbow trout from the hatchery.
Steve Miller, 75, of Embudo enjoys a mild winter's day of fly fishing on the Red River downstream of the fish hatchery in 2015.
Nearby the Rio Grande gorge within the national monument continues to provide anglers with excellent fishing for wild rainbow and cutthroat trout with plenty of developed camp sites available along the rim above.

Anglers venturing to the area will find a pretty good selection of traditional fishing supplies at Questa Lumber and Hardware next door to the village supermarket. The nearest fly shops are in Taos or Red River.

Anglers who like lake fishing in a high mountain setting will find 15-acre Cabresto Lake where brook and cutthroat trout can be caught just up the road from Questa.

Anglers venturing into the area are asked to stay out of the construction zones at the Eagle Rock Lake and the Red River Fish Hatchery until work is completed by the end of June.
The Red River Fish Hatchery near Questa NM.

Popular Posts