Notes from the White World: Snow, Solitude, Sun, Silence & Cycles of Water

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The storm had lifted and the temperature had begun to plummet as we turned off the pavement onto a Rio Arriba county road. It’s sunny in Santa Fe, but here a foot of fresh snow blankets the dirt track. I slow the Frontier down and shift into low but the footing seems solid, as long as we keep moving. Photo: Kitty Leaken

The storm had lifted and the temperature had begun to plummet as we turned off the pavement onto a Rio Arriba county road. It’s sunny in Santa Fe, but here a foot of fresh snow blankets the dirt track. I slow the Frontier down and shift into low but the footing seems solid, as long as we keep moving.

Rounding a corner, we are startled to see a county plow truck coming toward us. Luckily, there is a bit of extra room to the right and I ease off the road, graze a hidden boulder and coast back into the now-cleared road—smooth sailing ahead. “You gotta be lucky,” my father-in-law used to saw. Amen.

We roll on down into the hidden valley of the Rio Vallecitos. We park off the road at the river crossing, load up the kids’ old plastic toboggan and I do my Alaskan husky imitation, ferrying water, food and other gear for a winter foray to our cabin, about a quarter mile downstream. In summer, we drive across this waterway to access the property, but heavier trucks had been through it, breaking through the unset ice and turning it into a jumbled impasse.

Rope around my chest, I am off like a tortoise, dragging the sled over hill and dale. Kitty has gone ahead, and I see her off in the distance doing a sort of ballet movement with arms extended and a twirl or two as she drops out of sight. Continue reading

Too Big to Wrap

Taos Gorge, photo by Geraint Smith

Taos Gorge, photo by Geraint Smith

For your holiday gift list this year, think outside the box—way outside it—with gifts that refuse to be contained. Rather than giving eachother more stuff that has to be stored and maintained, why not give your loved one an experience they’ll cherish for a lifetime? Give the gift of knowledge, joy or adventure. While such things are intangible, they are also meaningful and enduring.

An Old-Fashioned Sleigh Ride

What could be more quintessentially yuletide than a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the snow? Throw in hot cocoa and cookies, and we’ve officially reached peak winter nostalgia. Arrange for a couples or family ride with Roadrunner Tours in Angel Fire.

The frost may bite, but that will only add to your warm, fuzzy feelings as the sleigh glides along a groomed nature trail starting at 4 p.m. A short stop at the halfway point allows for photo opportunities and time to walk around, pet the horses, and take in the peaceful surroundings. For the more culinary minded, you can add on a three-course meal following the ride. Tours are available December through March, last just under one hour and are appropriate for all ages. “This is our 33rd year of doing sleigh rides for Christmas,” owner Nancy Burch says. “It’s a tradition, and it makes a wonderful gift.” It’s not only a longstanding tradition, but also a popular one: During the Christmas season, tours fill quickly, so plan ahead and make reservations in advance.

Roadrunner Tours: $40/kids; $50/adults, 575.377.6416, nancyburch.com/sleigh-carriage Continue reading

Float Fishing the Rio – October 2017 Fishing Report

Taylor Streit Fly FishingIn Colorado, the Rio Grande is an excellent river to float-fish––it has a lot of the medium-speed, even currents that suits the style of fishing and there are roads paralleling the river and numerous places for put in/take outs. This all-important ease of access is not the case once the Rio enters New Mexico, because except for a short portion above Pilar the river runs through a roadless canyon.

We have 50 miles of exceedingly wild river that requires considerable effort to drift  and much of it is simply too rowdy to drift fish. But as the saying goes “if it was easy everybody would be doing it.” It’s highly unlikely that you’ll see another fisherman in this country—let alone one that’s in a boat. So if it’s solitude and a lack of competition that you’re looking for, this is it. Continue reading

September Fishing Report – Fighting and Landing Fish

Instinctive Fly Fishing - coverAfter watching people fight thousands of fish over my guiding career, I have an idea of why some folks land them—and why some don’t. A guide can’t do much to prepare people for fighting big fish; perhaps tie an old boot on and throw it into moving water to illustrate the mechanics of fighting fish, but that still doesn’t address the main problem.

Stay Calm

And that problem is that anglers lose their cool. Often an angler doesn’t have any cool to begin with and breaks off his prize when the fish’s instantaneous run triggers the fisherman’s not-as-instantaneous response. At this critical point, the fisherman might freeze and clamp down on the line, heave, trip over his own feet, fall, flounder, scream, and, sadly in extreme cases of great-sized trout, get hauled in and drown. The dimensions of the fish that causes such a state of insanity varies from one angler to the next. The beginning fly fisher may come apart with any size fish, but it may take a trophy of dangerous proportions to unnerve a seasoned angler. Rest assured that no matter how cool the customer, there’s a fish out there that will rattle him. It’s why we fish, isn’t it?

Delightfully, the best way to learn how to overcome this affliction is by getting into the ring and duking it out with the lunkers. A bruiser at the other end of the line gets a lot more attention than an old boot, and the learning curve is steep when the stakes are high. Just one day with a good guide on a river like New Mexico’s San Juan will teach you a great deal about fighting big trout. Continue reading

August Fishing Report – Jicarilla Lake

Taylor Streit Fly FishingThese lakes are south of the town of Dulce about 30 miles west of Chama. In my earlier book Fly Fishing NM, I listed several lakes to fish here. Although the north central part of the state has been largely unaffected by climate change––the inconvenient truth is that global warming has reduced the fishing to just two trout lakes. The better of the two seems to be Mondo Lake which has warm-water species as well as bass, trout, small sunfish, catfish and tiger muskie.

It used to be that Stone Lake was a famous fishery for huge rainbows. They were stocked in spring and within a year the rainbows were gargantuan as they chewed on the meaty and chewy water dog. Fisherman in-the-know would drive for hundreds of miles to get one of the lunkers. Lets hope for more continued rain and snow, and more and more normal—do we recall normal?—temperatures.

What actually hurts these fisheries is not the high water temperatures per se, but the weed growth that comes with it. As weeds die in winter and decay they take the oxygen out of the water. Also, weed beds impede the movement of fish––and anglers. Continue reading

Fishing Report – July 2017 – Away from the Crowd in Taos Area

Taylor Streit Fly FishingMany of New Mexico’s best waters surround Taos. The Rio Grande and Red Rivers are the best known but there are a few other streams worth fishing–and they sometime fish better then those big waters.

Fishing pressure is a big factor on fishing anywhere but especially on smaller streams because the fish will frighten from just seeing one of us. And although the traffic on the Paseo makes it seem like Taos has about a million people, there’s really just 25,000 and it’s still far away from a real city so fishing pressure stays moderate.

The Rio Hondo is 10 miles north of Taos and has two distinct stretches. The lower Hondo, just before it enters the Rio Grande, fishes best when full (when irrigation is turned off). That is generally early spring and late fall. Trout move in and out from the Rio Grande and if the water level is good—the trout will be there. Taos Fly Shop can line you up on which flies to use but normally a midsized hi-viz dry fly with a # 16 bead head nymph 18 inches below will work. Fish upstream and be sure there is no one fishing in front of you or the wild browns you are after will be spooked. Continue reading