With runoff still affecting our free running streams, it’s time to head lakeside. Conveniently, still water generally fishes best in spring and early summer anyway. The high alpine lakes will be accessible until July but Eagle Nest Lake can be driven right up to. It is nestled at 9000’ in the Moreno Valley—a half hour east of Taos. It’s a great place to view wildlife––eagles, white pelicans, thousands of ducks and geese––and early in the morning elk can be seen on the Eastern shores.
This is a much larger lake then it seems—perhaps because its dwarfed under the state’s highest mountains. Historically, it’s a productive trout lake but fishing has taken a downturn in recent years. We could blame global warming in general for the lake’s decline. The water turns green later in midsummer from algae and aquatic insect activity has lessened. And there are other factors too, the addition of yellow perch and then pike a few years ago have not helped the trout fishery. (The perch were mistakenly added twenty-five years ago, but it’s not known how the pike got in there.) Perhaps of greater importance is the burgeoning population of carp that has developed in the last decade. This once great fishery needs to be treated with a pesticide and have a total make-over. This is unlikely however, as the state of New Mexico Game and Fish lacks the money and motivation to do this. (Such massive projects are done in Colorado and Montana.)
Trout are stocked by the hundreds of thousands and do grow to good size; but they don’t seem to feed ‘inshore’ as much as they used to. As a result fly fishing has become weak for the wading angler. But hey, its nature and one never knows what to expect! We have seen improvements to the trout fishing already this spring. Plus, the influx of a substantial runoff this year, and hopefully gentler temperatures, might improve the fishing.
The open sloping banks are well-suited to the wading fly fisher. And back when fishing was real good the big trout came close to shore to eat midges from late spring to fall. Those insects are most prolific on still, overcast mornings—and on the rare calm evening. These trout are eating the emerging bugs just under the surface and crippled adults. Try casting barely submerged flies to rising fish–a dry midge adult with a pupa a foot behind. That is one way to go but it is difficult—and probably unnecessary– to actually match the midge, and it’s hard to get the fish’s attention with such small flies. Your best bet may be to cover a number of risers with larger wet flies and damsel nymphs. Some trout will reject the fly, but if they are feeding and you show it to enough of them there will be plenty that eat your fly.
The trick to enjoying the lake is to fish not only for the trout but for the kokanee salmon, perch, pike and even carp. Walk the west side banks and carry two rods; one for pike and/or perch and one for trout. When you see a trout rise, cover it quickly. The trout are most often in coves where they are easily confused with carp. Trout and carp have different moves and trout on the feed will usually break the surface and make a true rise ring. Carp, on the other hand, will “push” water around; and you are far more likely to see their dark bodies then the almost invisible trout.
If you’ve never fished for carp you have lots of entertainment in front of you—but lots of frustration too! Eagle Nest carp are tough. They don’t feed aggressively like carp in other places. (Try Springer lake 40 miles East for hungrier––and bigger ones!) But Eagle Nest carp can be caught and Taos Fly Shop guide Chris Cantrell catches lots of ‘em. (Not sure his secrets but his time can be bought! Call the shop and ask for “the carper.”)
Perch will be found off sandy points. Use a heavy bead head olive crystal flash wooly bugger for them. They will be a few feet down and you will also catch the occasional kokanee salmon (in spring) this way too. You may not be able to tell them from a trout except that they have less color, are big, and fight like mad.
Pike will be found around concentrations of perch. (The best pike fishing is earlier in the season when they are spawning.) A very good rig for pike is a medium fast sink tip line with a small dark perch or crayfish imitation. Let it get to the bottom before you start to retrieve. Perch are good eating fish—as are filleted pike—and no tossing back the pike as law states that the pike must NOT be returned to the lake.
Fishing from canoes, small craft and float tube is productive for trout but this is a big and dangerous lake– so go early in the morning before it blows. (Note that regulations require tubers to have a rope, whistle, flashlight and bailing bucket. And if in a puny craft–don’t get far from shore!)
From larger boats troll flies at very low speed for trout. Or, if there is only a breeze simply drift along with two flies tied about 3-feet apart. Try paralleling the lee shore. Point your rod at the fly, and since fish often “nibble” before taking, don’t set the hook until you feel their weight. Using a “strip strike”.(* See my book Instinctive Fly Fishing page 95.)
When the wind is up the wading angler can still do well with the trout—perhaps best––by casting and stripping flies while standing in knee deep water. Move down the shoreline as you go. Heavy fish are possible and they commonly brake off on the strike; so be sure and use 2X or 3X fluorocarbon.
Three small streams feed the lake––Merino, Six Mile and Cieneguilla. They have resident populations of small rainbow and brook trout (six mile). But in spring, much larger trout from the lake can run up these streams to spawn and feed. Note that this happens some years. They can be caught on sucker and trout egg patterns fished upstream as you would a nymph.
Cell phones work here. Lodging and restaurants available at nearby towns of Eagle Nest and Angel Fire. Camping and boat put-in on north side of lake.