Tag Archives: Upper Red River

The Tragedy

I love the solitude that mountains bring. The fresh cool air flowing through the trees from the alpine areas, the solitude, the quiet. There is only so much lonely fishing a guy can take though. So when the time comes to teach a newcomer to the sport, I will raise my hand and be the first to volunteer. Last year in Denver, I thought it would be a good idea to impart my love for fishing upon my long time friend, John. It didn’t take long for John to get casting down and took only minutes to get his first fish. I remember the moment well. I had taught him to cast and never really covered my bases for him to land a fish on his own. He eventually got the fish in and landed it, but his fear of killing fish by squeezing the life out of them still haunts him to this day. Not that he does, he just feels that they are quite fragile. I assume that he loves the sport by now, having his own rig, asking me to teach him to tie his own flies, randomly texting me while I’m on my own fishing trip, asking me what flies to use, etc. Recently he taught his brother Joe to fish as well. When I caught wind of this newcomer, I had to give him a call and plan a fun trip to some easy water. On the weekend of our planned trip, John decided he would fly into New Mexico for some “better than Colorado” fishing (John did not say this, I am adding this statement because for some reason it was, that is, when we were not in Co.). This was Joe’s first real trip out into moving water and John’s first real taste of what New Mexico really has to offer. Leaving me as the only guy with experience enough to help them out. Dave (me) plays guide but still fishes. Joe also brought his son Jace, who was so excited to go fishing that he waited in the truck for hours while we gathered ourselves and our equipment. I didn’t even know where he was, although I did know that he was going. Even when Joe got in the truck to leave, I asked if he had forgotten his son. This day, it was decided that Cabresto Creek would be our hunting ground. When we arrived and the area was closed, the Red River was a good second choice. A solid 0 fish on the first day was a great way to start. The only way to go was up. I did catch 2 mini fish on the first day, but I’m not really counting those because… Well, you know. We had arrived late and the chances of catching fish in the way over pressured section of water were slim. I figured that I could get into fish late in the day because in the past it has rewarded me greatly. Not this time though. Setting up Joe’s house tent was pretty simple and suited the four of us well and comfortably, for the rest of the evening we were sawing logs in the tent. I was contently dreaming of the day to come.

For me, day 2 started at 6am. I was off to the river to find the bugs that would work before waking the rest of the crew and heading to quality water. I was in such a hurry, that I forgot my camera. A nice brown and a couple other trout went home without a mug shot. After we gathered again, we packed the campsite and headed up river into the less choked water. It didn’t take long for me to start the catching and keep catching, when finally, John reminded me that this trip was more for Joe and Jace than either of us. This was the part when I was disallowed from fishing. While trying to assist joe, I lent him my 8wt. that I was currently using. If you are curious about why I’m fishing an 8wt in a 100cfs stream, the answer is that John didn’t bring his rig and I loaned out the 5wt to him. Why would I use my 5wt for this? Well, it’s my only other rod. I’m not a rich man. Joe slung the 8wt with as much grace as one can have while trying to pinch off 6′ of line with a rod not meant to do it, and boom! Fish on! Not just any fish either. A very healthy rainbow. Needless to say, some ties were donated to Joe, John, and Jace.

From there on out, it was like fish in a barrel, or fish in a crowded stream.

Stream born AND picky

Jace even got some action, with the biggest brook trout of the day!

Fly fishing's future

When the day was over, it was time to move on. Eagle Nest, too windy; Cimmaron, too crowded and pressured; Sugarite Canyon, just right. We arrived late enough in the day to be too late for campsites, but we still managed to find some in other places across the border. Hello Colorado! We decided it wasn’t late enough in the day to miss out on the fishing and back to Lake Maloya we went! The fishing was amazing if you include perch in your fly fishing diet. As fun as they were to catch, they slowly became irritating. Then, John received a couple twitches on his indicator and set the hook. “I think it’s small” he said as he worked in the biggest brown I have seen in a long time.

This fish came hunting perch.

Day 3 was by far the most incredible fishing I have had this year. Lake Dorothy. Go ahead and cringe at the release of this location. There is a reason I decided to let this info out later. Dorothy is a very under fished and over populated lake. Texans usually stay on the New Mexico side and it is a very short hike to the very well hidden lake in Colorado. These fish were the strongest fish I have EVER fought in my life. We’re talking putting a healthy bend in an 8wt rod, breaking your line from tension alone, and jumping 5′ out of the water. Once the pattern was worked out, my fighting arm was tired before midday. John and Joe both caught their fair share of fish as well and I commend them for the task of getting even one of these fish landed. There was even a point in the day where Joe caught fish on every cast for a short time. I’m really proud of these guys for catching so many fish.

The over-sized tail made this fish that much harder to fight.

Lake dwelling acrobats!

Now for the incredibly sad part of the story. I smelled smoke toward midday and wondered if it was a fire or just the wind carrying Wallow Fire smoke up into the canyon. Later in the day, Joe looked back and saw a plume of smoke. After a few hours, we went to break down the campsite and the smoke was high in the sky and black. At first it seemed to be in the canyon. When we got to the tent, it was folded up from the wind and falling apart. The rods holding the tent upright had kinked over and failed. Struggling with unpacking and hoping that the fire wasn’t in the canyon, we rushed to get things put away. As we finished packing, a man came down from the road and panicked about how there was a fire in the canyon. On his way back up, he informed us that he couldn’t see the road down by Lake Maloya. As wrong as he was, we still think that he was a rancher from not too far away. If this was the case, I wish him the best and hope his home was not taken in the fire. As we passed through Sugarite for the last time anyone will ever see the true beauty of the canyon, we realized that the canyon had been evacuated. Everyone but us, at the lake around the corner that was quite possibly the best high country lake I have ever fished. The giant ponderosa pines of Lake Dorothy stood once as old men, rising from the banks to heights that seemed to feed upon the clouds. The grass was once a lush and green carpet as their only purpose in life seemed to be hanging prismatic dew from their droopy tips. There are no words to describe the uniqueness of the area. Just a handful of memories and maybe a few unbelievable stories in the future. Not only was it a time for change in the forest, it was a time for change in my world as well.

The fire had started just north of Raton and closed I-25. In fact, I-25 is still closed as I write this. Since our day in the mountains, Sugarite has burned, but many memories were made. We were there when it was amazing. This may not be the case in the future. Our hearts go out to all of those that have lost their homes in the Track Fire as well as the Wallow Fire that has claimed almost 500,000 acres now. I hope that you visited one of the largest ponderosa forests in the world before it caught fire. Both fires were caused by very irresponsible people. Sometimes a 6 month prison sentence isn’t enough.

Blistering Wind and a Lonely River (Wild and Scenic Pt:1)

Caddis pupa and cranefly larva ready to go

I can’t think of a better evening than one spent at home tying flies, drinking a beer, and ordering out for pizza. Well, I can, but let’s at least put this in the top 3. Earlier in the week, AZ Wandering’s latest post really got me in the mood for some stream born fish. Then, of Dry Flies & Fat Tires suggested that I check on the caddis hatch in the Rio Grande.  That kills 2 birds with one stone. Also, it kills a third bird that is the possibility of a big 20″ brute.


Day one alarm buzzed at 4am telling me that the early bird isn’t fast enough to get the worm that was eaten by the early fish. Poor, sad hungry bird. With a swoosh, I was off to the river. Two and one-half hours, a cold pizza breakfast, coffee, and an energy drink later, I had arrived. The trip seems a lot shorter than it actually is. The longest part of the drive is from Abq to Santa Fe on I-25. If you have a problem with road rage, find a detour.

A low and mighty Rio Grande

When I arrived at the river some of the fish were already splashing the surface and this fueled my fire as I tied my rig up. My first cast received a strike that pulled my 3/4″ indicator at least 10′ upstream before I even reacted. Whatever this fish was, it was going full steam ahead before and after it took my fly. Needless to say, I missed the fish and stood there confounded. Only twice did this happen and I missed both times. The mystery fish will have to wait (I have an idea of what it was). The word of the day was most definitely subtle. Small twitches from the indicator revealed the first fish of the day. Subtle strikes in this river are nearly impossible to detect due to the undercurrents and general rough nature of the river.

The first fish of the day

Further up the river

Living within this river, it isn’t hard to believe that the fish grow very strong. The fights were unmatched and I know I was only catching the mid-sized fish. There must have been 10lb+ trout somewhere, but where? I hiked for hours up the river, spot fishing likely places on the way. It is not an easy trip to hike and probably the most difficult I have had. The long deep pools weren’t producing for me, so I decided that I could cover more water by fishing the deep runs. In other words, more hiking than fishing. The area is very scary as far as danger goes, from rattlesnakes to deep holes in the water that may exceed 30′. One of the many reasons wading isn’t the best idea, but you may find that they are needed in some areas.

The wind began to pick up around 10am and I was content with the fish I had caught. Content enough to find a place outside of the 50mph+ winds. That place would be Red River. The canyon winds enough to create shelter in some areas, oh yeah, they have trees there as well. I first pulled off by the hatchery and the wind was still fairly rough but moving upstream. Leaving me to hang back and highstick 20-30′ in front of me without casting. There, I hooked into numerous little browns 3-6″ and knew why. A bit too close to the parking lot. Weather was moving in and it was getting late so hiking down the Red River would land me stuck in a canyon in the cold and rain, with the possibility of a swelling river.

Lately, I have heard reports that the upper Red River was “turning on” and with all of the pressure the lower section has had, it was worth a shot. I pulled up to the Fawn Lakes campground (which was still closed) and the snow began to fall. My car told me that it was 27°F, far cooler than the 65° I had been fishing about 20 minutes prior. This section of river always provided me with fish in the past and is usually the test water before I head to the quality water. Higher pressure means the fish are slightly more picky and finding your bug here guarantees fish in the quality section. I switched flies from the caddis pupa to a bug that I had tied for the Rio de las Vacas and it paid off quickly.

Skittish fish

You would think they grew more over the winter

The cool thing about the upper Red River this time of year are the holdover rainbow trout. Smarter stockers from last year grow a bit more and become more willing to take natural foods. The sun had set behind the canyon and was setting on the horizon and the light I had left was fading quickly. After catching a few fish, I decided to make my way back to the car and stop at one more hole on the way.

They mostly come out at night... mostly.

The day was complete indeed. A good day was used scouting the area for more possible adventures in the future. Because of the rain and snow, it was decided that the passenger seat of my car would be my place of rest for the evening. Who knows what the coming day would bring. I did know that my day would begin again on the Rio Grande, but maybe it would move elsewhere. To be continued…