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).

3 comments:

rexjohnsonjr said...

There are a few very big trout in the Mimbres below the forest boundary, all the way to the village of San Juan. (I won't tell you how big, because you wouldn't believe me.) You need to get permission from the two or three landowners who allow access. The Nature Conservancy owns about five miles of the stream, NM G&F owns another mile and a half. The Conservancy is nervous about fishermen, but for catch-and-release it has always been a matter of "don't ask, don't tell". Game and Fish has a "No Fishing" sign at their property. Unemployed locals who know about the 'bows have been known to poach them.

The truly endangered Chihuahua chub lives in the Lower Mimbres, and specimens of this rare fish are very much in evidence in the trout water. They take flies, but they seem quite hardy. The rainbows are more fragile.

Why is there no Recovery Plan for the chub? Why have there been no "jeapordy opinions"? Why is the Mimbres watershed below the Aldo so absolutely trashed? (Allie Canyon, Bear Canyon, East Canyon, Noonday Canyon, and Gallinas Creek/Railroad Canyon, plus perhaps lower McKnight Canyon should have them, as should the Rio Mimbres below Faywood. But of course most of these waters are trashed/dried out and don't have much in the way of fish, other than a few longfin dace--another case of "Don't ask, don't tell." (New Mexico style).

To date the only "friends" protecting the wild rainbows here in the lower Mimbres (they're almost all rainbows; a friend has seen two browns in this lower stretch, recent arrivals, I've seen one; they might well be chubivorous, too)are the endangered chubs; their presence awkwardly precludes any poisoning of the stream...

Incidentally, trout appear to be native to the original Rio Mimbres(according to a number of reliable contemporary sources) Were they cutts, were they Gilas, or were they neither? I guess no one cares at this point....

Sorry to rant, but I just got back from the upper East Fork, and.....

devon said...

hey rex, NMDGF is going ahead with their proposal to "treat" Animas/Holden Prong. The meeting will be on Aug. 25th up in Santa Fe. I absolutely can't get away from work or else I'd be there.

rexjohnsonjr said...

Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do...