Wednesday, March 31, 2010

West Texas Camping

We did a weekend trip to a very nice private campground called the Crow's Nest in the Davis Mountains. It was a quiet,mostly natural setting- quite a contrast to the nearby Davis Mountains State Park. Deer and javelina wandered the grounds almost like pets. We did some hiking and some scrambling around on the rocks with our friends who came out from Austin. The stars were magnificent.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Penasco River

After joining the club more than a year ago, I fished the Mesilla Valley Fly Fishers lease on the Penasco River last week. They have about 2 miles or so of stream on the Runyan Ranch in Chaves County. I caught two chubs and two rainbows.One of the rainbows was nice 14" fish who gave me nice little battle with a few leaps. My friend caught three decent sized rainbows in the deep pool pictured above.We only fished the upper mile or so.The lower half has been stocked recently and may have more fish. The ranch is a hardscabble little piece of chaparral,where they still try and can make a living due to the miracle of this spring fed stream. Don't expect scenery or some pristine situation.Note:you must be a member of MVFF to fish this section of the stream. The yearly dues are $20 and the daily fee is $25.

Prehistoric Trackways National Monument

We went on a short hike in our new national monument. Unfortunately,things haven't changed much yet. We drove by some folks taking target practice on an old toilet. There was plenty of trash everywhere,and the old quarry makes for a less than appealing gateway. We went down an alternate fork of the canyon where most people go to see the trackbeds. It was remote,untouched and had the quiet solitude one expects in the Robledo Mountains; quite different from the access point. I found this small natural arch near the top of the canyon. I've done many hikes in the Robledos, but I'd forgotten about them for awhile,maybe I'll start planning some new explorations for next winter.Update: the entry area has been completely cleaned up( Dec. 2015)

Middle Fork Gila River-Gila Wilderness

The strong smell of the wet leaves on the trail makes me imagine I could be along any trout stream in the country. The towering, alcove pocked cliffs of orange volcanic tuff let me know I'm somewhere in the southwest. But when I catch a Gila trout toward the end of my November fishing day, I know I can only be in the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico- in this case on the Middle Fork of the Gila River. I not only caught that Gila, a survivor from a stocking done at the Gila forks awhile back, but also good sized browns and a few rainbows on that same day.

The Middle Fork of the Gila River has nearly 40 miles fishable water almost all in the Gila Wilderness and accessible only by foot or horseback. Oddly enough, because of several good overland routes to upstream destinations, the stretch directly above the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center ( the only part available for a day trip) may actually receive less fishing pressure than spots deeper in the wilderness. This lower Middle Fork (from its confluence with the West Fork upstream about 8 miles or so) is a peach of stream if you wait until mid to late fall to fish it. Come in the summer and you may be disappointed, especially if you've come for trout. The water will be warm and you're more likely to see suckers than anything else. There may be bluegill and smallmouths, but since I usually avoid the lower elevation Gila streams as day fishing destinations in the summer, I'm no expert. Two things you will definitely see in late Spring and early Summer : people, and once July 4th rolls around, rain. Two more reasons to schedule your trip for October or November. In those months there will be cool mornings, warm afternoons,and blue skies.The fishing will be in pure or nearly pure solitude. On my Election Day trip ( I voted early), the VW van at the trailhead told me I was likely to encounter a few hippies at the hot spring a 1/2 mile or so up the trail. I did, and they were the last people I saw for the next six hours or so.

I've learned not to waste my time casting below the hot spring. Even where the water (and the gravel) looks good, it's too warm for most trout. There are good holes where the stream runs against the rocks soon enough above the spring. Drop a nymph to the head, the tail, the slow water on the inside of the bend, or right where the water is deepest and you'll come up with something: if there are trout there, they'll take.

In places the lower Middle Fork breaks into smaller channels edged with bear grass and with deeply undercut banks. The water can be three feet deep or more and holds some large browns. You'll have to be extremely stealthy to hook one. In November the leaves are gone and the undergrowth is crunchy, so it is important to constantly anticipate and plan your approaches. In general, even though the fish here aren't as spooky as on smaller Gila streams, it's best to stay out of the water and fish from cover(and from the bank) whenever you can. If you do get one these jumbos on your line then hold on for dear life, like it as not you'll lose it due mostly to the sheer shock.
The sun sets quickly in these deep canyons, so it's advisable to turn around early, especially if the plan is to fish on the way back. More than once I've stumbled back to the car in total darkness( I bring a flashlight now).If I don't want cold feet on the drive home, I soak them in the hot spring on the return hike: an extra amenity that very few trout streams offer and a nice way to end a day of fall fishing on the Middle Fork of the Gila River.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Achenbach Canyon-Organ Mountains

We hiked up to upper Achenbach Canyon in the Organs in September. We've hiked this one many times over the years mainly in the winter. It has a good, easy to follow unofficial trail that starts from a short, rough road off Ladera Canyon Road. It had been raining for a few days and the old stock tank at the beginning of the trail was full and the tiny stream was flowing. In fact most of the little drainages along the way were flowing, as was upper and lower Achenbach itself: a rare occurence. You could hear the gushing of the 75 foot waterfall that separates the two,but couldn't really see it from the trail. I caught a glimpse by venturing out on a promontory on the way back,but I wasn't close enough for a photo, and didn't have time to venture to the bottom. A couple weeks ago I decided to venture into the lower canyon. We've had plenty of rain and snow this winter, and I had hoped that the big falls might have some decent flow. It was a pretty rough bushwack and as it turned out the "falls" was more like a trickle or a drip.Photographed it anyway but I will return if and when conditions are right again.The unofficial trail in the upper canyon has spur that goes off to the south up to a small saddle and then down into an adjacent canyon. On the way down a small cave is visible across the canyon up on the hillside. I believe some call it "Apache Cave." I ventured up there once,but don't remember anything remarkable about it. We have stayed on the main trail and followed it east to it's end( as far as we could tell) over a ridge and down into the upper end of the parallel canyon to the south all the way to high ridges at the north end of Long Canyon( Note: you will encounter military NO TRESPASSING signs in this area, enter at your own risk). We also have done a loop venturing down the parallel canyon and coming  back up the spur trail. This was a pretty thick bushwhack in spots. One can also continue up the grassy meadow section of Achenbach to the north and cross over the ridge into Soledad  Canyon for a shuttle hike, though I have never done this.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sleeping Lady Hills

We did a Sunday hike in the Sleeping Lady Hills, a small range of volcanic hills about 10 miles west of Las Cruces. The start of this hike is accessed by a county maintained dirt road that passes through the Corralitos Ranch. We parked near Reichey Butte and started east into the main arroyo of the range.We followed this arroyo,sometimes on a road, but most of the time not, to its end. We then climbed up one of it's feeder ravines to a saddle with views east to the Rough and Ready Hills, the Robledos and Las Cruces.To the south were the cinder cones of the West Potrillos and Mount Riley. To the north were the Sierra de las Uvas.We turned to the southwest, climbed the ridge and soon arrived at the large cairn that marks the highpoint of range(approximately 5,300 feet). We descended the ridge on the west side to another saddle. Here we picked up a trail that sidehilled down a steep-walled canyon and eventually hooked back up with the main arroyo. Total distance was about 5 miles. Elevation gain: 800 feet. It was a pretty nice hike close to town but devoid of people. Which is a good thing now that the Organ Mountain trails have taken on the feel of a city park on the weekends. We did hear a lot of shooting when we started out,which is always a little off putting. But I believe there is a shooting range nearby. Once we got further back into the hills, though, we didn't hear it at all.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mimbres River-Gila National Forest

I decided to take a year off from two of my favorite streams,the Middle Fork of the Gila River and the Mimbres River, in 2009. One reason was that because of the persistent drought and accompanying fires that lasted into August, the conditions were going to be significantly less than ideal. It seemed a good time not to further stress out these trout populations(especially on the Mimbres). Although I've spoken with one person who said there was decent fishing on the Mimbres in early September.
The previous fall these two streams provided a couple of the best days I've had on any Gila water in the ten years I've been fishing there. In both cases it was for browns, which was a little strange because in previous outings at either location, the catch had been exclusively rainbows. I know the Middle Fork had long held browns, but the Brown Trout in the Mimbres are a relatively recent phenomena- more than likely the result of some unofficial planting. Their less than legal origins notwithstanding, the browns have found an excellent home in the lower waters of the wilderness section of the Mimbres. Rainbows and hybrids begin to appear more frequently the farther upstream one goes, but I don't know if browns have come to dominate the upper stream as well,or if they've gotten into the upper forks yet.
I'd never had a big day on the Mimbres previously, and was even skunked once. If you have fished on the Mimbres in an average or above average water year and caught a good number of fish, consider yourself lucky. Only when you visit regularly will you realize how wildly fluctuating the conditions can be. One Fall I hiked upstream in the wilderness for three miles or so, crossing the river a dozen or more times and never got the tops of my boots wet. During one summer backpacking trip the water was high enough to make each of those same crossings an unwanted adventure. Needless to say the fishing wasn't much on either occasion. But on that beautiful October day in 2008, it seemed that I probably equaled my total number of fish from all my previous trips combined(only a slight exaggeration).
It's a bit of an up and down haul, though only two miles, to get to the Mimbres stream bottom from the trailhead on Forest Road 150. On the way out it's much worse,especially if it's only been a day trip. But down in the bottom of the canyon- it's a different world. I always find it hard to leave, and not just because of those two five hundred foot climbs I know are waiting for me.And not just because of those beautiful eager browns and colorful hybrids either( although that helps). Perhaps it's because, when there's enough water and the sky is a deep October, New Mexico blue, I imagine that this is everything a small trout stream could be,or should be, and it's more than enough for me.Final note: there are bears here, and I've had a (mutually terrifying, luckily) close encounter with a large one. Not that I'm trying to scare anyone off. Well, maybe I am.NOTE: the stream and trail conditions may be vastly altered by the Silver Fire( July, 2013).