Day 2: My internal alarm went off at 6am. My car hates me. Some of the most uncomfortable nights sleeping are ones spent in my car. As my eyes peeled open I could see the temperature gauge in my car that read 29°F. Frigid cold after a week of temperatures in the mid 70’s. I looked out of my window to the Rio Grande as I ate my pop tarts and saw a peculiar rise from the corner of my eye. A carp rising halfway out of the water, a formidable foe for the 8wt rod seated snuggly in the passenger seat. The “just in case I find some pike” rod. This just didn’t seem the time to go for a good carp. Maybe it was the cold or the time it would take to rig the rod for carp. I still had to put on the winter clothes. With it decided to skip over these guys for the time being, I encased myself in layers of thermal clothing and headed upriver. I didn’t think the fishing would be that great today and it was true with only one fish to hand.
The distance that I had to walk for a single fish was a bit too much for me. Over the eroded basalt that was as slippery as glass and the sharp incline of the canyon I couldn’t justify one fish per mile. The sun was bearing down on the walls of the canyon and it was best for me to just move along. One of New Mexico’s issues is the sun. One second you are freezing and the next you are burning alive. Partly cloudy days in the springtime can be confusing when you are trying to decide on what to wear.
On my way down the canyon to my car there was a guy in a kayak paddling UPRIVER! This river is a quick mover and has many sections of class IV rapids. How he came to the point where I was baffled me. When I made it to the car, I decided to move to the Red River again. Further down, I was sure to find migrating fish coming up the river to spawn. Migrating Cutthroats to be exact.
I sat in the parking area for a few minutes trying to decide what to tie on. The day before, upon my inspection of the river, I had found a ton of caddis larva peeking out of their created homes and was inspiration to tie a somewhat caddis-like larva. Impromptu, in the car, I mounted my vise to the steering wheel and went to work. A dozen or so would do the trick. As a test, I found a small hole to fish the fly. The instant it hit the water, a few fish came out of nowhere racing to get it and the larger fish won. As I was about to take it’s mug shot, it bounced back into the river and went into hiding. The fly had worked and I had to press on.
There is a trail along the river there and you’d better prepare yourself for that hike. It isn’t very long at 1.7 miles but how it is laid out will astonish you. It meanders along the river going up and down the canyon over rocks that will make you lose the trail and back down to the river again. Passing through swamps made by springs and creeping along underneath the low trees and brush. I spent most of the hike leaned forward almost on my hands and knees. Mind you, I am 6’2″ and with the wading boots probably closer to 6’4″. You would have to be about 3′ tall to comfortably hike this trail.
When the trail ended, I continued on down the river, and I thought the hike was bad when there was a trail to follow. This river is fast. There isn’t much water here, but it gets pretty rough in places. The deep sections reach about 10′ and the river is very technical. Not a place for the novice fisherman. I was getting very tired and had to stop and fish my way back up. Hole after hole, every first cast was a hook-up.
I came to a realization on the first fish I caught down there. As quickly as I had set the hook, the fish drilled it’s way down to the deepest and fastest section of the run. A trait held only by a cutthroat. Sure, other trout do this, but they are easily pulled from the current. This fish went down and stayed there like I was hooked into a rock. When I finally pulled the trout from the current, it quickly darted downstream around a rock. It wasn’t as big as I thought, but it’s about quality, right? I had to land this fish. In nearly a full sprint, I followed. Stripping the line in as I ran over the rock that made the riverbend. Then, I tripped and landed on my back on top of a rotting stump. My rod still in the air, I felt defeat as the pain finally settled in. There was still tension on my line. The fish was still there. Not a cutthroat, but half cutthroat. What a fight indeed. Was it worth it? Yes.
One of the best trips I have had in a long time. Fighting a cutbow is one thing, but fighting them in a fast river is glorious. Made the twisted trip though underbrush, over rocks and logs, and through swampy mud worth every second of pain I endured. Maybe I didn’t get the big fish as another fly fishing friend did a couple of weeks ago here, but trips are really what you make of them and any trip fly fishing is better than any day spent watching tv (I enjoy my day job).