Fly Fish Taos, Santa Fe
By Taylor Streit
(2020, 184 pp.)
"I have laid aside business, and gone a 'fishing," writes Englishman Izaak Walton in his "Compleat Angler," first published in 1653, and which continues to be one of the most reprinted works in the English language.
Crafted as a conversation between a fisherman and a hunter, during the turbulent time after the English Civil War (Walton was devoted to the English monarchy, and retreated to his estate in Stattford to avoid the fallout), his work is an instructional handbook on fly-fishing in the Hertfordshire streams - essentially an impassioned tribute to the healing powers of the environment during terrible times, and an exhortation to return to a simpler life.
"You will find angling to be like the virtue of humanity, which has a calmness of spirit and a world of blessing attending upon it," writes Walton.
Fabled local fly-fisher Taylor Streit would surely agree. Founder of Taos Fly Shop in 1980, a fishing guide for 30 years and author of several enduring fishing manuals such as "Instinctive Fishing," Streit is a kind of fish whisperer.
Fly-fishing means trout, and this virtuoso states that "about 75 percent of the trout water in the state is within an hour or two of Taos and Santa Fe."
For Streit, fly-fishing is not rocket science. "It's all a crapshoot anyway," he writes. "Even if things don't look good, go fishing anyway - because even bad fishing beats no fishing."
The area he covers here might seem small, but it's jam-packed with splendid rivers, lakes and streams, from the Río Chama, Costilla Creek, Eagle Nest Lake, Embudo, Jemez Montains, Jicarilla Lakes, Red River to the Río Grande and San Juan. He isolates each parcel, offers a good map, with designated waterways, roads, lodging and camping sites, a sense of the difficulty of access and a thorough update on the conditions -- enormously affected by restoration projects, tourism, dams, silt buildup, otters ("both a threat and a benefit for our trout"), streamflow, temperatures and fish stocking.
Flies he's been tying since he was a teenager and he offers a lively idea of which to use in each circumstance - there's a colorful chart of his faves. And a fisherman's calendar by month, a list of gear ("As long as the rod gets the fly out there and the waders don't leak, I'm good to go") and safety tips.
And the fish? Río Grande cutthroat is native to New Mexico but facing encroachment from browns and crossbreeding with rainbows has nearly wiped them out, says Streit. The New Mexico Game and Fish has been trying to reintroduce both species back to their native habitats. The big draw is brown trout, and the smaller, tastier brook trout, which proliferate in Cabresto Lake and Cruces Basin. There are also smallmouth bass, pike, kokanee salmon, lake trout and carp.
Plainspoken, hewn by experience, Streit has strong opinions, and he's seen a lot of change over his years on the waters - mostly bad. He's been an environmental activist since early on, battling the Questa molybdenum mine in order to save the Red River, which is gradually getting healthier, he is happy to note.
The good news is that while climate change is wreaking havoc everywhere else, in Northern New Mexico that means the fishing season has extended nearly year-round. The bad news he calls out frequently: grazing ("a monster that devastates trout waters"), real estate development and government bureaucracy, aka the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish - although it is "doing some good stream improvements," he admits.
Also being "old, fat and whiny" doesn't cut it with Streit.
But get upstream early, in the fast water, when the weather is overcast, and it's still, and you have the element of surprise.