Trip report, New Mexico

Trip report, New Mexico (long)
Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 08:26:39 -0400
Reply-To: Fly Fishing Digest
Sender: Fly Fishing Digest
From: Joel Dunn
Comments: To: trifly list
Mime-Version: 1.0

I'm back in the saddle again after my "Great Southwestern Tour", and as promised, here's the report (tri-fly folks can skip the San Juan part which I posted to that list yesterday, though I have cleaned it up just a bit):

Well, folks, I'm writing this on my Newton as my wife drives through Oklahoma City on I-40 East. We're heading home after our Southwest camping vacation. Of course I'd really like to report that I fished every day, but those familiar with the geography of the area and those with family obligations know that you take and enjoy the fishing opportunities that you have. We were out for three weeks, hitting both rims of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Mesa Verde, a host of small monuments and parks, and finishing up in the Carson forest near Taos NM.

First I thought I might try fishing at Lee's Ferry, but the day we drove by Marble Canyon, it was 105 degrees and I decided that camping at Lee's Ferry did not sound like fun. I'd hoped to wet a line but those conditions aren't my idea of ideal trout fishing weather, even for a tailwater.

At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon I'd thought there might be some ponds with trout, but the limestone absorbs all the rain, and there were no opportunities that I could find. Went on to Zion... beautiful, but the Virgin River seemed too warm for trout, though I did see some chubs while inner tubing with the kids.

Drove north over Utah and looped down to Mesa Verde. Finally got a chance to fish on Friday the 12th. The wife and kids took a full day tour at Mesa Verde and I drove the 100 miles to the San Juan. Got there at 6:20AM. Abe's was still closed for the night so I went to the Sportsman Inn to buy my license. Also picked up some WD40's to supplement the ones I'd tied. According to 'Flyfishing Northern New Mexico' it seemed that I could fish at any of the river accesses and find fish. I decided to try the Church lot. It was still early and I talked with a pair of local guys about tactics as we rigged up. They suggested a dropper rig with the WD40 (size 20) below a small San Juan worm (size 16). They said that a 4x tippet was ok but I used a 5x. I also used my nine foot 5wt Scott -- a soft yet strong rod. I started with an RS2 as the dropper since I had more of these.

I stepped into the river (running at 600cfs) in the runs below the 'Kiddy Pool' and made a cast in the fast, shallow water. A 14 inch rainbow nailed the RS2. A fish on the first cast! I looked around me and saw fish everywhere in the riffles--truly amazing. Picked up another fish of the same size on a WD40 (now the dropper). I moved up into the Kiddy Pool proper and I was astonished at the numbers of large fish rising rhythmically to midge emergers.

I worked the rising fish with the same flies, since I thought the WD40 was a good choice for these trout. I covered the water well but no strikes. Then suddenly a hit from a big fish! The water was so shallow I could see the rainbow's back as he streaked across the flats, leaving a bow wave like a submarine. I tried to set the hook and then get the fish on the reel--however, right as I got the slack onto the reel, the line went limp. Oh well, hooking a big one is half the battle, and I'll remember the one that got away for a long time.

The morning was still cool and I continued to move up stream to the left. I found a good run and caught several fish, including one that was better than 20 inches--I'll tell you, a rainbow this size in open water is exciting. I stayed on the water until about 11:30 when it started to get hot. By the time I went to get lunch, I'd landed 10 rainbows from 14 to 20+ inches and LDR'd another 5. Most fish were caught on the WD40, with a couple on the San Juan worm and a couple on RS2's. The bottom line is that it's possible for a San Juan rookie to get a few pointers, read a book, and have a great day. If you get a chance, try the San Juan. It's a memorable experience.

On Saturday, July 13, we drove from Mesa Verde southeast to the Sangre de Cristos in New Mexico. I'd read about the Rio Santa Barbara in 'Flyfishing Northern New Mexico' and heard from folks on FF@ that this was a nice stream and a pretty place to camp. You don't just wander into this campground. It's about 6 miles up a rough road from the nearest town (Penasco). On our drive through Penasco, we had to wait for a cattle drive down the road! The campground is at 8900 feet, and the air was as crisp as the gin-clear Santa Barbara. On Sunday the 14th we hiked up the Forest Service trail that parallels the river up past the first fork up to the upper meadows. Folks, the views, the aspens and wildflowers, and Rio Grande cutthroats-it doesn't get any better than this.

The fish of the Rio Santa Barbara are modest in size (6 to 12 inches was what I caught) but brightly colored and spunky. I used a female parachute Adams and a Royal Stimulator-I think that the stimulator is the better choice because of its flotation ability in this energetic stream. I used my short 3wt here --perfect for this river.

There are a lot of fish here--I caught enough to make me happy in the slices of time I could spend on the stream. You can spend a day and catch scores of cutthroats, or you spend an hour fish a few pools, and catch a handful of fish--either way you won't go wrong. I really enjoyed the four nights we spent on the Rio Santa Barbara and you can bet I'11 be back.

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