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.