An exceptionally wet spring has kept the Rio Grande and its primary tributary here-a-bouts, the Red River, high and muddy, making neither river fishable. So, instead, here’s my long-range fishing forecast––a forecast that contains a lot of promise for the future of this important water.
The Lower Red is critical to the health of the Rio Grande but has been severely degraded by the Questa mine for decades. Within the last few years however, it has been able to sustain large wild trout again. (See “Down on the Red”—a story in Taylor’s book, Man vs Fish). That story highlights what was a stupendous trout fishing back some 40 years ago––and its ensuing demise. I became involved with work for the Red back then; but to little avail as the price of moly (Molybdenum) kept the mine operating. But the Questa mine is gone for good now and repairs to the environment are underway.
The Red River Habitat Improvement Project will soon be finished and anglers will be catching trout in the newly improved river’s habitat. And I’m doubly proud of this great project because my son Nick––and our friends Garrett VeneKlasen of New Mexico Wildlife Federation and Toner Mitchel of Trout Unlimited––were instrumental in making it happen.
First let’s look at the project starting just upstream of Questa. There, the Red River had been reduced to nothing but a channelized ditch. But heavy machinery has now widened the stream channel where large rocks, tree stumps and logs have been placed in strategic positions––not only to add holding water for trout, but also to encourage the river to meander naturally again. Footbridges have been installed for easier access by fishermen, and a trail now runs along the stream.
The Chevron Mine did their dredging in an area adjoining Eagle Rock Lake. The lake had filled with sediment and mine tailings over the years, and fishing there had been on the decline. Between the remodeling of river and lake, The Eagle Rock area will be a fantastic fishing destination—and a great boon to the struggling town of Questa.
A second project area is downstream a few miles, on the Red, at Red River State Fish Hatchery. Despite its physical proximity to the fish factory this is an important fishery in itself as warm spring water from the hatchery attract trout year-round, except there has been no place for them to hang in this long and shallow stretch of stream. But the Questa Economic Board, TU and the New Mexico Game and Fish have enhanced the river with large boulders to create deep pools and pockets. This is a very popular place for all to fish and anglers to sack up trout. They are usually stocked fish but unfortunately wild spawning browns are also harvested. Such trout should be protected somehow.
One step towards wild trout protection and reproduction is in the removal of an old diversion dam upstream of the hatchery. The dam was acting as a fish barrier and wild brown and rainbow trout should now be able to repopulate from the fertile Rio Grande—just a few miles away.
To benefit the Red River Project, the Enchanted Circle and Truchas Chapters of Trout Unlimited will be co-hosting a fundraising tournament this fall, October 17 and 18. The tournament will be a beginner- friendly, guided event, in which teams of three anglers and one guide will fish a day on the Rio Grande and the other day on the Red River. Prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place will be awarded as well as biggest and smallest fish. This will be the third year that TU has put on the event and we expect it to be a grand time. To get more information on the tournament, go to www.ec-tu.org.
Report from Taylor Streit