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Category Archive:   Non-Texas Fishing


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The news was sad indeed. My grandmother had encountered increasing health problems and finally passed to the other side of the veil early last week. A wonderful  grandmother in many ways, one of my favorite things about her was the way she actually got my teenage, offbeat and ironic sense of humor in the early eighties long before sarcasm was mainstream (yeah i’m looking at you hipsters!) In addition she also had AMAZING cooking skills, and somehow managed to find a way to live with a die hard fisherman for decades without visibly (to me at least) being upset with his constant desire to be on the water.

The day after the news i was driving alone through the north half of Texas, all of Oklahoma and the vast majority of Kansas. It was a fourteen hour trip (one way) of reflection that only allowed me time to cement the obvious, namely that all life is transient, loved ones should never be taken for granted, and any time spent with children (even if they think they’re not enjoying it at the time) will probably provide them with cherished moments that they will take to their grave. (For example, my aversion of fishing in my youth that turned into an addiction many years later.)

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After a whirlwind 24 hour stay that felt like a waking dream, seeing extended family i hadn’t seen in many, many years and a small town that has changed dramatically in the decade since i’d been there last, i spun the Element southward, leaving the Land of Frozen Water, planning to return home, but feeling an increasing need to pause somewhere along the way for some quick down time to process the onslaught of emotions i’d been bombarded with.

Hours later, i was propped up in a hotel bed in Tulsa, Oklahoma and locked into their WI-FI searching for information on Broken Bow in southeast Oklahoma, a trout fishing destination that i’d heard many people rave about over the years. It took no time to find reviews and pinpoint directions to Broken Bow, but the generated enthusiasm was short lived when i read that floods in December had wiped out fishing spots and fishing shops along the Bow, shutting the entire park down for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately in my research something else did pop up, although with far less fanfare and information, the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area in south central Oklahoma. For whatever reason, information on the Blue River fishery is almost non existent, though i was eventually able to discern that there were healthy flows and they did indeed stock the river with trout on a fairly regular basis which was more than enough reason to invite myself to her strange and unfamiliar waters.

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The backwoods drive in had me worried i’d made a huge mistake, especially when i pulled into the local convenience store to find that they no longer sold fishing licenses as the internet had purported. Grabbing a gallon of water i strolled the grounds looking for a cell phone signal in hopes i could register for my license (very, very slowly) online since the nearest physical license would require a one hour (each way) drive that i simply didn’t have time for.

Eventually i found  a signal, paid my nominal fishing fee, and wandered along a trail into one of the most magical fishing experiences i’ve ever had. The Blue River was truly unlike any body of water i’ve ever seen. Not really your basic contained river, it’s more like an endless network of massive creeks flowing in and out of each other, with falls and plunge pools punctuation the beginning and end of every aquatic sentence along the many miles of trout stocked water.

Hiking and fishing as many of the miles of trails that i could manage in my painfully brief stay i was constantly shocked by the seemingly endless cavalcade of falls and whitewater that were not only scenic post cards in the making, but also full of energetic rainbows that got more naive the further you traveled along the trail and away from the highway.

The best part of the experience? There was not a soul in sight. It was exactly what i needed, hours spent among the trees and open waters, with nothing but the calm stillness of nature. Falls, clear water, conifers, ducks, hawks and trout seemed to offer their respects, keeping chatter to a minimum.

With the memories coming on heavily in the silence, i cried, as much out of sadness that my grandma was gone as out of the happiness of knowing that she was back with her husband, the mad hatter that somehow imparted in me the love of fishing decades before it would become so much to me.

I love you both. Thank you for all the memories.

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Want to go and experience trout fishing in Oklahoma?

Websites:

Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area – The official state run Facebook page with a wealth of information on stocking dates, stocking sites, directions and more.

www.blueriverok.com – One of the very few sites with information on what is otherwise a difficult to research trout fishing haven.

Camping: 

Camping sites are on a first come, first serve basis and are shockingly (to those of us from Texas) FREE! More details on camping can be found at the www.blueriverok,com site mentioned above.

Oklahoma Fishing Licenses:

www.wildlifedepartment.com/license.htm – There is no spot anywhere close that sells Oklahoma licenses, so we recommend buying and printing them up before setting out.

Distance:

From Austin it’s a five hour drive, which isn’t that much if you think that northern New Mexico and the Cimarron are 14 hours away. For those in north Texas (Dallas and Fort Worth) it’s so close that you need to make it happen, if you haven’t already.

 

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Years ago, before Crested Butte became our de-facto vacation destination, Taos was the go to spot for my wife and i, mostly because it had culture for her and fish for me. At that time i was still new to fly fishing, and trout fishing in particular, yet i somehow managed to catch fish after fish on the Cimarron River, a spot that would permanently lodge itself in my mind as the archetypical small stream fly fishing stage.

While wandering and fishing those banks years ago and eaves dropping on fly shop conversations i repeatedly over heard words that rang of mystery, difficulty and legend.  The “Rio Costilla” alone was enough to pique my interest and cause my ears to stand on end, eager for more. By the time the poetic sounds “Valle Vidal” were whispered, barely audible, my eagerness for adventure reached a fever pitch that knew no bounds though i had no idea what the waters might actually be.

For a few years i was able to fish the Cimarron and make the occasional drive to fish the Costilla which was always met with difficult fish and spectacular scenery. However, for reasons that escape me now, we always seemed to wrap up our trips in the last days of June, days before the Valle Vidal was open for public access due to elk calving, and those waters were never plied by my curious nature. Instead, the words “Valle Vidal” echoed in the back of my mind for years, taking on an almost mythic status in my consciousness.

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So it was that during our recent trip to New Mexico i set aside the last full day for an exploration straight to the heart of the Valle Vidal to find out whether the actual spot, clearly a reality, could live up to the myth that had been built up in my mind.

Starting off on the relatively short 55 miles north from the Cimarron campgrounds i felt confident that fishing could be had well within the hour. Receiving cell phone coverage on the crest of a hill, just minutes east, i stared in confusion at my iPhone, apparently it thought it would take four hours to navigate the 55 miles? Hmm.

“The roads are so rural that it’s surely mis-calculating this trip.” i thought as i headed naively into the great unknown. Minutes later i pulled onto the one lane washed out dirt road that headed into the foothills and immediately stopped next to a public service sign, riddled with shotgun holes, and a fungus like rust that was slowly eating away at its stately stature. Still, with all the wear and tear it had, the stately sans-serif font of the sign cut to the chase in a confident manner that let you know it would employ the law if need be.

“Speed Limit 20 MPH.” Well shoot.

Fifty miles at 20 MPH is a long time, trust me.

I’m not going to admit to speeding, but i did manage to work my way into the scenic hills faster than the law indicated i should. Still, it was a long time.

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Pulling into the heart of the Valle Vidal i was surprised and elated to come upon an amazing pond called Shuree Pond nestled in between peaks from 10,000 to 12,000 feet high. The pond provided shore access all along its perimeter and had plenty of trout rising about 30′ out, all along the banks

After about a half hour, and five or so missed strikes (they were SO unbelievably fast), i finally set the hook on this healthy creature (above) that attacked and took the fly with a simple confidence that indicated it had never been fooled by something as simple as a hook shrouded in dark thread and microscopic feathers.

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An hour or so later, i pulled into a spot of the Costilla, deep in the heart of the Vidal. Rigging the rod and making my way to the river, it occurred to me that NOBODY was anywhere around. Cell phones were just dead weight and every bend in the river held numerous scenarios that could easily separate me from reality in myriad ways. It was a little unnerving for sure, but it also provided me with the overwhelming feeling that i wasn’t just in nature, i was temporarily absolutely and deeply a part of it.

The next few hours were a kaleidoscope of trepidation, clear water, imaginary bears, vibrant conifers and stained glass colored cutthroat. Worries and regrets melted away with every step along the bank, and every tug of the line. The ego slowly retreated to the back of the stage and i temporarily lost myself in the saturated greens and  blues that washed over me. It was bliss.

Sure it was a long road to get to that moment, both physically and metaphorically, but it was well worth the wait. Besides what’s four hours when you’ve waited all these years?

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For more information on fishing this unbelievable spot, please check out the following sites.

Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine – A great article on Comanche Creek in the Valle Vidal.

Taos.org – A wealth of information on the area from locals that know it well.

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Located in northern New Mexico, just a short drive east from the cultural hub of Taos, the Cimarron River is a small stream trout haven that will appeal to anyone that enjoys catching decent size trout on a 1-4WT rod in tight quarters. With eight miles of the river running through the public lands of Cimarron Canyon State Park providing 3,000 trout per mile the fishing ranges from easy, wide open spots with deeper pools, to the down right technical with brush everywhere, no room for a backcast, and clear and shallow water housing some incredibly skittish fish.

Because of the steep canyon walls, the river and the two lane road intertwine for the duration of the park, making it easy to hike and find new spots. Likewise, campgrounds are all easily accessible meaning that whether you’re introducing a spouse, child or friend to angling or camping this is the spot to initiate them, nobody will be disappointed, especially if they already like to fish.

CAMPING

If you are taking an RV or doing some sort of camping in the vehicle you arrive in, there are three options within the state park, Tolby, Mavericks, and Ponderosa.

  1. Tolby is the first campground below the Eagle Nest dam and by far the most popular, but in  my opinion the least desirable of the three RV parks. Sites are EXTREMELY close together with little or no tree coverage on most of the spots and chain link fences and maintenance sheds on the property quickly take away from the outdoor aesthetic.
  2. Ponderosa is the furthest campground downriver and seems to constantly be entirely made up of RV’s and for some reason, a generally older crowd. I’ve never stayed here, but quick observation showed most sites again providing little to no shade, a must at this altitude.
  3. Mavericks in my opinion, is the site to stay at if you either are using an RV or want to tent camp in a spot with a functioning bathroom and running water. The RV generators running here can be obnoxious if you happen to camp near one, but unless you are there on hectic weekends in the summer of a holiday, it’s pretty easy to find another spot. Almost all of the spots are shaded by conifers with a few of them tucked deliciously under giant trees.  There is instant access to the river as well as two ponds linked to the river that are well stocked with rainbows which all but guarantee that even a novice will catch a decent fish.

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If you happen to be part of the car camping set (like my family and i generally are) you will be richly rewarded by camping at the Blackjack tent area. In return to making the required 10-40 yard hike to a one of the 13 campsites, you’ll be rewarded with waterfront camping right next to the river and a hardy amount of shade thanks to giant pine trees. Unlike the other three campgrounds, reservations aren’t available for the Blackjack, but fortunately the fact that you must hike a few yards instead of just parking an RV means that there is almost always a spot available, especially if you show up mid-week. It also means less generators and screaming families and more peace and quiet along with an actual chance of seeing, or at least hearing, wildlife.

I can not stress enough how amazing this area is, you can wake up and walk ten feet in the morning light and be in cold water with trout taking your fly. The only “disadvantages” are that there is no running water and no restrooms with plumbing. Luckily this keeps many folks away and can easily be overcome by zipping down to Mavericks once a day for a special trip to the bathroom and filling up containers via their water spigot.

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AMMENITIES

  • Food and supplies: Golden Eagle RV Park in Eagle Nest (15 minutes away) has all the basics you might need (propane, bread, etc.) For a larger food and supply selection as well as amazing beer, wine and liquor options check out the Valley Market in Angel Fire (30 minutes).
  • Shower facilities: Short of driving almost an hour into Taos, the only option is Angel Nest RV in Eagle Nest. They don’t advertise showers, but if you pay the $5 in cash at the office you will be amazed at how good a hot shower feels after a week of not showering. Never underestimate the value of a warm shower.
  • Restaurants: In the immediate vicinity there are very few culinary options, and even fewer that are worth paying for. In Angel Fire i’d recommend Angel Fired Pizza for pizza and pasta (it’s one of two restaurants in two and the only one i’d recommend). If you’re in Eagle nest try Calamity Jane’s for basics like chicken fried steak, burgers, etc. If however you’re trying to have a nice meal out to celebrate, go to Taos. If your looking to celebrate a special day, or just want to treat your taste buds, there are countless options in Taos that are totally worth the drive

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FLY FISHING SHOPS

  • In Taos the go-to shop is the Taos Fly Shop operated by the Strait family, fly fishing legends in New Mexico and excellent people to boot. Find it annoying when fly shops in touristy towns act like pricks when asked about local fishing? Me too! That’s why this is still my favorite fly shop ever. Over many years and random visits they’ve always gregariously and enthusiastically shared local information as if i was the only person that asked about fishing for trout in the Taos area.
  • Closer to the Cimarron in Eagle Nest is Dos Amigos Anglers which has a much more stripped down selection, but still has the tools, help and information to get you on trout in the area.

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FOR THE NON ANGLER

  • Unlimited amounts of hiking trails abound this area, with Clear Creek being one of the highlights as it contains amazing scenery and waterfalls.
  • Red River, and Angel Fire have a few boutiques and art shops but the true jewel is Taos which has an astounding amount of art galleries, boutiques and restaurants that are all top-notch and can keep a non-angler busy for days (with the right amount of cash).
  • Santa Fe is just over two hours away and hosts some world-class restaurants as well as amazing amounts of museums and wineries on the way.

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The day to day can be a real chore sometimes, but every now and then there are incredible moments or places that can lift you so far and high out of the ordinary that everything that unfolds in front of you can seem almost dreamlike. If it’s been a while since you’ve felt the latter, i highly recommend a trip to northern New Mexico and the many surreal fishing opportunities it provides.

Years ago my wife and i spent a week or two each summer in the Taos area, her knitting or working on various art projects while i fished the days away. For the last few years though we’ve spent summer vacations in Colorado, where i’ve managed to explore small creeks for trout and have an over all amazing time. This year however we returned to our previous stomping grounds around Taos partly because my eleven year old son wanted to spend some time in a new place (for him) and partly because it meant we could load the car with amenities and make a very last minute road trip to a place that always seemed to feed our souls in some way.

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Although the 12 hour trip took much longer due to an insane downpour and flooding waters that sent vehicles in front of us hydroplaning off into muddy fields, we eventually made it to our campsite in the Cimmaron State Park sometime close to midnight, all of us a little on edge after 15 hours straight in an extremely packed car.

The next day as the sun rose over the canyon walls, lighting the orange walls of our tent, all the troubles of the previous day washed away in the warm light bouncing from wall to wall. Crawling out of the luminous, nylon tangerine, i heard the sound of water lurching from rock face to rock face and immediately felt the call of adventure.

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Sitting at close to 8,ooo feet, Cimarron State Park runs up and down the Cimarron River which is nestled deep in a canyon framed by 12,000 foot mountains and cliffs called the Palisades Sill. The area is so verdant with flora and fauna that sections of it feel like an odd cross between Colorado high mountain desert and portions of the Pacific Northwest. The river’s flow is a controlled via Eagle Nest Lake and typically runs anywhere from 2-50CFS (something i would personally consider a creek). Along the eight mile stretch of public waters are waters that contain on average 3,000 trout per mile, which is a hell of a lot of trout in case you’re wondering.

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As with most canyon waters the river and the road that follow it are closely intertwined, crossing each other in a tight weave all the way down the canyon walls until they both open up into private land and waters. The bad news is that much of the water is seldom far from a parking spot, and the fish and the surrounding nature gets used and abused on a regular basis. The good news is that there are a handful of spots that require some serious bush-wacking and patience to reach. Well these spots can be incredibly rewarding (below), they are what i would easily classify as technical fly-fishing (above) with trees and shrubs lining every inch of the bank and downed trees and structure making almost every cast require pinpoint accuracy.

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Along with the promise of trout comes an inherent sense of being in the “real wilderness”. Despite your close proximity to a road you’re still well over an hour from anything that can even remotely be called a town, that would be Taos. Cell phone signals thankfully disappear in the canyon and are instantly replaced by beavers, deer, elk. humming birds, and occasionally the random brown bear which i freakishly ran across one evening while driving back to the campsite at dusk. The scent that wafted in to my car as i watched the behemoth mass of brown fur cross the road and sprint up the mountainous incline as if the loose rock and intense grade were a joke. I’ve smelled a lot of nature smells in my years wandering the wilderness, but there was a distinct smell left by this giant had every cell of my body screaming “THIS CAN KILL YOU!”. It’s a level of appreciation and fear that anyone that has been in that circumstance can relate to.

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As for the fishing? The waters are stocked on a regular basis with farm raised Rainbow trout with most of them falling in at 7-10 inches, which is pretty fantastic when your using a 2WT on a stretch of water that probably averages six feet wide and one foot deep. The true treasures on the Cimarron though were the native brown trout which fought aggressively and consistently came in at 10-15 inches. While i love a good rainbow, the browns seemed to emanate something that made them feel like part of their no holds bar ecosystem, unlike their pellet fed brethren.

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Sure it’s not the die hard backcountry experience, but if you’re short on time, or have non-anglers in the crew you’d be hard pressed to find a better place that can please everybody. There’s just enough people nearby that you don’t feel isolated, but just enough elbow room that you can freely ignore them is you choose. In a strange way that’s true of the fishing and the level of wilderness you’re going to experience here. You can easily while away the days a few feet from the road catching unlimited quantities of stocked rainbows while catching the occasional prairie dog or beaver sighting, or you can wander off a ways and find some tenacious brown trout lurking in unmolested pools that sit along trees and cliffs that feel as though they hide every elk, mountain lion and bear in the vicinity.

Regardless of what you choose, you’re bound to get caught up in the beauty of the place. It’s full of powerful energy. It’s charismatic. It’s lush. It’s welcoming while still being stand offish, and most importantly, it possesses the ability to suck you in and calm you with the hypnotic sound of water constantly falling over itself, trout rising, and a new adventure lurking around every bend.

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