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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.