Animas River Update

Nearly two months after the Gold King mine spill, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish biologists say fish caught in sections of the Animas and San Juan rivers are safe to eat. Immediately following the spill, the department issued a catch and release recommendation. However, recent tissue samples from fish revealed only trace amounts of metals that are within acceptable levels for human consumption. The department will continue collecting and testing species of fish. Collections will be taken again at six months post spill, one year post spill and then annually.

Link to NM Game & Fish announcement.

NMDGF Stocking Larger Trout

From the August/September 2015 Newsletter

4f2e4def-6d7c-487c-857e-99f26dc639caThe New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) has been executing a program to stock larger fish in local waters over recent years. The aim of the program that grows larger trout at several of its hatcheries is to keep anglers excited about the sport. The idea for the program came from the tremendous positive responses the department has received from anglers who had caught big trout, stocked in numerous fishing areas during the past few seasons. Many of those fat trout were the first generation raised at the Los Ojos Fish Hatchery after it had been closed for decontamination to eliminate whirling disease a few years ago. About 1,000 fish had to be held over at the facility to ensure they were free of the disease. They grew to around 17 inches each before being stocked in nearby Hopewell and Canjilon Lakes and the Chama River. This year, fish hatcheries at Red River and Los Ojos will raise thousands of fish in the 15 to 17-inch range for stocking in about 20 selected lakes and ponds.   Some of those big trout were stocked in the Rio Costilla and Red River, fish hatchery ponds such as Seven Springs, and places like Tingley Beach. Even remote Charette Lakes, far out on the plains of eastern New Mexico, got a load of the big fish.

Browns

by Jerry Burton, NMT President
from the December 2014 Newsletter

The Vivegash fire in 2000 burned approximately 38,000 acres in the headwaters of Cow Creek. While some of the headwaters tributaries were not devastated by the fire, it did wipe out most of Cow Creeks’ trout population. After a few years the stream slowly was repopulated with Rio Grande cutthroats, cut-bows, rainbows, and brook trout that had managed to survive the fire in a few small headwater streams. None of these small headwater streams contained brown trout.

I started to guide at the Cow Creek Ranch in April of 2004, after 18 days of guiding anglers on the ranch, I had a client on October 22nd catch the first brown trout. This was after having clients catch at least 200 trout during the 18 days of fishing the stream. Two years later I started to notice fingerling brown trout along the edges of the stream in late spring. I knew from their size that they were the result of brown trout spawning the previous spring. I also knew what was going to happen to the stream bred cutthroat, rainbow, cut-bow, and brook trout population in the stream.

Each year more of the trout my clients caught in Cow Creek were browns and at the same time they were catching fewer of the wild cutthroats, cut-bows, rainbows, and brook trout. The browns were taking over the stream at the expense of the other trout species. In one large in-stream pool where I formerly had clients catch 10 to 12 trout, I was lucky if a client could catch 3 or 4 trout once the browns got in the pool. I also noticed that if there was a deep undercut bank where a large brown could hide, the area upstream and downstream of the cut-bank had few fish. The big guy had eaten the ones he could get his mouth around and chased off the ones he couldn’t.

The problem with browns is that they are not native to the waters of this continent and as such are able to out-compete and prey upon the native trout. And while they do not hybridize with cutthroat trout like rainbow trout, they have become the dominant trout presently found in most streams in New Mexico.

I have often wondered what streams like the Guadalupe, the Jemez, and San Antonio must have been like before they were taken over by the browns. I still fish a few areas where because of natural barriers the browns have not yet arrived. While for some reason most of these areas have only rainbows, cut-bows and brook trout, I am always amazed at their numbers. When fishing these streams with clients, they would often have their best day yet of trout fishing.

Trip Report: Fishing the Rio Chama Below El Vado Dam

by Ron Loehman
From the October/November 2014 Newsletter

Earlier this year I was the successful bidder in an on-line auction for a guided fishing trip donated to the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. I redeemed the award in late October for a trip on the Rio Chama below the El Vado dam, guided by Noah Parker, the trip donor and owner of Land of Enchantment (LOE) Guides. Noah is a long-time friend and supporter of New Mexico Trout, who many of our members know through his contributions to our Conclave and through trips they have taken with him. I had never before seen that part of the Chama, apart from float trips on summer weekends when the dam releases are set at least to 800 cubic ft/sec (cfs) for recreational whitewater users. At that level the 32 mile float through the Chama Wild and Scenic River corridor is great fun, but the fishing sucks.

The flow out of the dam is greatly reduced after the end of the irrigation and whitewater seasons and for my trip the river was at a very fishable 79 cfs. LOE has river access through private property about two river miles below the dam. To get there we drove through several locked gates and eventually parked in a clearing about a quarter mile from the edge of the line of bluffs that frame the east side of the river. We scrambled the five hundred or so feet down an informal trail to the water’s edge to begin our fishing.

Noah set my fishing buddy and me up with standard two-nymph rigs under strike indicators. We used a number of different flies during the day. The ones that worked best for me were Noah’s variant of a Warden’s Worry as the top fly and a Prince Nymph on the bottom. The water was murky with visibility of less than a foot due to rains earlier in the week. Most of the water we waded was less than thigh deep. The river bottom there is mixed cobbles, but since we couldn’t see it, we were really dependent on Noah’s advice on where to cast and what drifts were best.

We caught a mixture of healthy, hard-fighting browns and rainbows. The numbers weren’t huge, probably because of the turbid water, but they were big. I was too focused on the fishing part to keep count of the catching part, but I think my friend and I caught more than eight fish between 18 and 20+ inches and at least ten between 12 and 15 inches, plus some smaller ones. The takes were subtle, so we probably missed a bunch through misjudging the indicator float.

All in all it was a very enjoyable day. The scenery was beautiful, the fishing was great, and Noah was everything one could want in a guide. My friend is a very experienced dry fly fisherman but this was the first time he had done much nymph fishing. On the drive home he commented on how patient Noah had been with him and how much he had learned about nymphing techniques from Noah’s instruction.

Practical Details: The Land of Enchantment website is www.loeflyfishing.com. It is also possible to fish this part of the Chama by walking downstream from Cooper’s El Vado Ranch, which has river access, fee parking, cabins, and a small convenience store just below El Vado Dam. To get there, take US 84 north and turn west on NM 112 about a mile north of Tierra Amarilla. Drive about 13 miles to reach the ranch.

Cowles Fishing Reopens 

403Cowles Ponds in the upper Pecos Canyon 20 miles north of Pecos are open to the public again, featuring a ramp and path designed for people who use wheelchairs. The ponds were closed The ponds were closed for improvements, which included draining and dredging to improve fish habitat. The project cost more than $380,000 and was paid for with funding from the state Habitat Stamp program, federal money and local donations. The ponds are periodically stocked with rainbow trout by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. One 12-foot-deep pond was built for children under age 11 and people with disabilities. The other pool is 8 feet deep and available to all anglers with a fishing license.