El Rito is a good sized stream running in a parallel valley to the larger Rio Vallecitos on the east. And while I had heard of the Vallecitos from articles in several New Mexico fishing books,El Rito barely rates more than just a mention as a place where one might catch cutthroat trout. On my first inspection of the stream, I began to understand why. First, the two lower sections of the stream( along NM 111) that are on Forest Service land have obviously been beaten down for years by unrestricted grazing and dispersed camping. The conditions appear better on the upper section,where there is some effort now to restrict the streamside spider web of "roads" on the part of the Forest Service with new regulations and various types of barriers. Second, much of this lower, more easily accessed part of the stream from the town of El Rito all the way to FR106 is on private land. In the spots I stopped to check, the stream was shallow, warm and filled with muck, but I still spied a few trout right in the campground amidst the cow pies, beer cans and toilet paper. Mostly like they were browns. I certainly did not want to fish here, especially when the areas begin filling up with campers on the weekend.
I now had my eye further upstream; past the last section of private property just above FR 106. Here the roads(FR 173 and FR 274), not maintained and not easily traversed,were not within a third to first throw to the stream. This is where the cutthroats should be. We parked our truck where unmaintained FR 173 and well maintained FR 106 intersect high above and to the east of El Rito. We began hiking north on FR 173 turning west on an old ( grass was growing on it) but clearly defined road that eventually became a trail which brought us to a clearing and a . . . fence. As I suspected we hadn't walked far enough north to bypass the section of private property.
We trudged along the cow trail next to the fence until we joyously entered into a beautiful, unfettered semi -wooded valley with the clean, cool creek burbling along in the middle. We had our picnic lunch under the shade of a large evergreen. We hiked on little farther. The action was fast and fun for the many little cutthroats with a bite at almost every other cast. I threw my dry flies to every spot that looked deep enough to hold a fish and was rewarded with five or six in less than an hours time. It seem perfect until I reached the herd of cattle upstream. I don't how many there were. They were under trees and bushes,in the meadows and in the stream. I couldn't cast without the possibility of hooking one( they weren't going anywhere either). So I turned downstream, trying my luck in all the same spots and few new ones as well,bringing in a couple more small, colorful cutts as I did.