Growing up, my father and grandfather taught me to appreciate fishing this area. From a small boy, I followed them up and down the area streams whenever possible always marveling at the height of the mountains, the cool of the streams and the strength of the trees.
As a father, I passed this love of the mountains onto my own son, my extended family and others. There is nothing quite so unspeakably thrilling as watching a rock in the big river knowing there’s a large trout under it, waiting for the perfect moment to strike, and then convincing him this is the moment. These are experiences unique to living an outdoor life. In other parts of the country, folks must hire guides or pay to access private water. Here, we have 1.82 million acres in the Rio Grande National Forest that you already own and it is awaiting your footsteps! The goal of this column is to explore this dynamic area and share tips on the best places to have fun fishing, ATVing, hiking, hunting or cutting firewood.
For this summer, there is fun to experience around every corner. Even the fires can’t diminish our magnificent forest as only 6% of it has burned. And, given there have been fewer anglers in the area, the fish are hungry and have no pressure on them. With over 1.5 million acres out there for your enjoyment, this is the time to get out on lakes, streams and the River. So let’s get with it!
South Fork River. We are seeing the results of the ash flows from the fires now appearing in the water of this pristine mountain stream. Wading it on Tuesday, it looked like someone had poured coffee grounds into the water. A #14 Elk Hair Caddis with a #14 Beaded Prince Nymph for a dropper produced 15 (Brown?) trout in about two hours on Tuesday. These are not large fish but we had some over 12 inches and many over ten.
Rio Grande River. The river remains cloudy and I believe it is due to the ash from the fires. I have always preferred to fish this river when it has a little color to the water so it’s not really a factor for me. In the mornings it clears considerably and the water around Coller Wildlife Area is producing some nice fish before 10am. Then again after 7pm, the fish are feeding for an hour. The same fly pattern is working there except you can move up to a larger fly as it gets darker in the evening.
There is real concern that the ash from the fires may harm the Rio Grande and so I encourage you to put on your waders and get out in it before that happens. Water levels are exceptionally low for July and it appears the river is in danger from many threats, but the fish are still biting.
Beaver Lake. This lake continues to produce limits of rainbows in a short amount of time. The water is very low due to problems with the dam structure and so launching of boats is not possible unless you can carry long distance. Normal patterns prevail here with power bait, worms, spoons, spinners and dry flies on a bubble all working. Be prepared to walk down a slightly steep wall, but you will be rewarded.
Big Meadows. The lake is very low and no water is coming over the spillway. They are releasing water but it’s from the bottom of the lake and very dark with little oxygen in it. The lake itself is producing limits of trout to bank fishermen. The same general baits and lures are productive here. Some friends took a boat out and brought in a spectacular stringer of fish caught on Brown Trout Needlefish while trolling.
Tucker Ponds. These lakes can be hot and cold as far as producing fish and you never know until you get there whether the fish will bite. Last week, the fish were slow but steady. Power bait was working well for a family camped there and we caught quite a few fish on a dry fly and bubble late in the evening.
Road Canyon Reservoir and Continental Reservoir. Another great bounty awaits, but both lakes are a long drive from the SLV. The fire did get close to Road Canyon, but it is didn’t hurt the fishing. In one afternoon, a friend pulled out a stringer of 17”+ Rainbows by trolling needlefish (Brown Trout and Watermelon.) At Continental, nice Rainbows abound both from bank (on powerbait) and trolling with needlefish.
For over five decades, I have fished these waterways, hunted the forests and given thanks for the beauty we call home. While the fires tried to dampen our spirits, thanks to incredible work by all firefighters and emergency personnel, it did not succeed. So the next time you drive by a fishing spot, stop, grab your fishing rod and get out there. And, if you see a man with a trusty Yorkie named Cooper out there, say “hello.” I guarantee I’ll have trout news to share.