Rio San Antonio, Rio Cebolla and Rio de las Vacas 2000
Ken picked me up about 11am. I’d been eager to fish with him since my mother nonchalantly told me that a fellow at their church fly fishes. As it turned out, Ken is an Albuquerque native. He’s fished the area all his life and has fly fished the area since 1984. We drove out hwy 126 toward the Jemez Mountains, stopping briefly to pick up a local delicacy, Pinons. More accurately described as Pinon Nuts or seeds of the Pinon tree I guess. Slightly larger and rounder than a sunflower seed, I ate the whole thing, shell and all before I leaned that I was supposed to remove the shell and eat only the pulp.
Ken’s plan was to show me as many of the Jemez waters as possible during the day. This was fine with me. During the 5 years or so I’ve fished these waters, I’d only fished two. The lower Jemez was the closest, so I’d fished it the most. An interesting thing about the Lower Jemez River is that it is wheelchair accessible! The fish and game department have created river side ramps were wheelchair bound anglers can roll up to and wet a line. I think this is a nice touch for a road side stream less than hour and a half from two of the larger cities in the state. (Albuquerque and Santa Fe).
As we drove along the Jemez, Ken pointed out some of the better spots- the pull outs along the later portion of the stream, the ranger station, the hot spring whose name I forget, Battleship rock. All areas that I have fished or scouted in the past. Eventually we came to what was new water for me- the San Antonio River.
The San Antonio, is a small, pleasant small stream with just enough cover to keep you on your toes while casting. The approach to this stream is relatively flat and at this time of year, when the trees have yet to bloom, open. I knew I was in for an interesting time when Ken shot his first cast from shore with 20 ft of river bank between himself and the water. Ken fished a size 10 royal wulff on something like 2 or 3x tippet. I fished a size 12 Bead Head Prince on 5 or 6x tippet. The water was muddy and I was skeptical of Ken’s choice. I didn’t think a fish would come up through that muddy water to pick up a dry, especially one on 2x tippet. I guess that’s why I’m not a fish. As many fish hit his Wulff as hit my Prince Nymph, with Ken consistently catching the larger fish.
After an hour or so, we hit HWY 126 again. Our next stop was the Rio Cebolla, a stream the New Mexico fish and game department has planted with the Cutthroat trout native to this part of the country. That would make then Rio Grande Cutts I guess. The Rio Cebolla is a beautiful meadow stream that is wide enough to jump across in most places. Imagine a 5feet wide Hot Creek or Yellow Creek, with deep undercuts and you’ve got the Cebolla.
Ken is one of the most thoughtful anglers I have fished with. His approach was a simple on. Make two casts to the prime lie and move on. On each approach he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Each time his casts were dead-on accurate and tight to the bank. Not being much of a dry fly fisherman, I watched Ken. I still haven’t figured out how he approached each undercut bank from the back side (bottom of the U) and was able to get his fly to float back toward himself and UNDER the bank. More than once he came away with a fish when by all rights he should have hung up or lost his fly, just as I did each time I tried this little trick. Ken caught only Brown trout and I went fishless. The Cutthroats would have to wait for my next trip.
The Rio de las Vacas was a much larger stream and running high, fast and muddy. Visibility was extremely poor. The river meanders through a valley much like the West Walker. The two streams are very similar. The upper river is a tumbling affair, while the lower is a smooth flowing with few obstructions and many riffles. Ken and I both fished nymphs. I fished a Beadhead Prince with Krystal Flash on a Hook (a fly developed by Brian Noguchi) as a dropper. Ken fished too quickly for me to get a look at what he was using and he was out of shouting range before I could ask.
During the day, our travels had brought us almost full circle through the Jemez Mountains. We reached the lower part of the de las Vacas just as the sun set. All things considered, we’d taken the long way to get here. We fished for about ½ hour before heading home. We both went fishless until I swung a size 20 KF through the tail of a riffle. Two fish managed to see that tiny fly through all the silt, mud and debris caused by the high water and I management to land two small browns. Ken was pretty much done for the day and had headed up a steep hill to the car. I followed after releasing the last fish.