There is a certain thrill to new water even if it’s the same water but on a different stretch or even one that is semi-private. That’s what we discovered with the Pecos.
I was at an Oktoberfest party and through typical “party” conversation, I finally became comfortable enough to address my acquaintance's logo on his hat. A simple silhouette of a dry fly and representing a fly company I know very well also. It’s funny, these conversations always start out as: so you fish? Fly fish? And then we go down the path of where and our favorite places to some degree.
In the state of New Mexico, it’s inherent that you have to travel, which isn’t bad, as I’ve come to realize. The trips have become more intentional as opposed to when I lived in Durango. With five rivers to choose from all within an hours' drive, and not to mention the Animas that runs right through town, one can become slightly jaded and fish more often like I did... like every day. But with this convenience came less intention. Maybe an hour here or two and then on to the grocery store or to Home Depot or whatever... just fill in the blank. I will say that the adjustment period was a little weird at first but I got over it.
So back to the conversation. My acquaintance and I started in on the Pecos river. The Pecos for me is only rediscovered starting this last summer. I blew it off because of the heavy pressure it sees. But since my rediscovery, I have found the hard-to-get to spots that make me feel better about the river in its entirety. Also, not being casted over by a bait fisherman helps.
So in this conversation I was asked about the National Monument water. “The what”?? Yes there is a national monument with water access only by reservation and a rod fee. At this point I’m all ears. Three different beats a mile each with a limit of only three people pre beat. I had to check this out and I had to run this by my employee who only started fly fishing this last summer. Side note here, Dillon and I have been fishing together about five times and he’s been improving immensely. He’s also good company on and off the river.
So off to the lower part of the Pecos which is where this monument water lies. After our check in at 8 am, and a brief tutorial of rules, we were off to new water. Parking is quite simple and quite safe. It's at the ranger station/sheriff building and from there, you simply walk in. We were able to reserve the first beat which conveniently starts where the trail meets the river.
We were greeted with an open flat water section as the sun just crest over the east ridge. Cottonwoods were in full gold and the field grass tan as in transition for winter. Still too early for a hatch, so I rigged for nymphing with a go to beadhead pheasant tail followed by a zebra midge. Funny enough, here, this seems to be my standard starter kit. Since the flat section was wide open we stuck to targeting the banks. The water seemed nice and cool especially for being this low on the river. The upper sections we usually fish are at least 1000 feet higher in elevation and many higher tributaries add to the temp and flow. So I was impressed. As we worked the flats without any interest or any visuals, we were met with more structured runs and plunge pools. I will say here that there is quite a bit of potential with all of the features and depth of the pools... very fishy but for now maybe too late in the season?
The river narrows and speeds up feeling more like the pocket water that I’d find in the middle box of the Rio or even like the High Bridge in south DGO. We fished on without retort. Wandering up further, we found a good spot to regroup, shed the jacket, eat a granola bar and hydrate. I switched from scouting to dredging by adding some shot with a changeup on my point fly. I went to hare’s ear size 16 aka rio shit fly that seems to wake the dead in any river I’ve drifted this thing in, its kind of a clunker.
Next up was a short deep pool. I let Dillon head up river and find the next sweet spot while I observed this pool that led to a fast tight run at the top. There was a midge hatch coming off and I really wanted to catch sight of a slurper or at best see a fish come from the depths to get a snack, but no such luck. This put me at the back of the pool casting and dredging just on the tail end of the bubble line. I say casting but it was more like a high stick lob at 5 yards but not euro nymphing for the record. Haha.
I continued this working my way up to the top where the pool got quite deep and adjusting my indicator way up the leader to maybe 6 feet and almost absurd, so I thought. At the top I spied an eddy on the far side of the fast water - about only a 12 inch wide swath of deep back flowing water. This has got be the place... a perfect feeding lane at the top right off the main flow. Once again, I loaded up my 3 wt Dart and lobbed my shit fly/zebra combo right above the zone and set up for the drift. To my amazement, my indicator went out of sight off the surface and screamed down to the open water.
This wasn’t real-estate. This was a fish.
He held in the fast current at the bottom and hung there as if “what are you going to do now”? This was a wild fish, not like a hatchery bow that doesn’t have a mental game and just panics himself right to the net. The chess game was on. I quickly backed up and got below him a few yards and lowered my rod tip. I was using the current along with my rod at more of a strait line to dislodge the fish. A bit like horsing him without jeopardizing my line tension. Well, it worked and I got him off the bottom and through the fast column. The only uncertainty in my posture and my weakest point would be if he took off further down river. There would instantly be slack line and no way to get him tight that fast. As he surfaced, I got him on the reel, meaning there wasn’t any line stripped out and less margin for error on my part. I kept him in the shallows and let him fight my drag till the white flag flew. Finally getting his head above water, which would make him slightly docile, I produced the net and with a 13-14 foot leader and tippet on my 7’6", this would would be the tricky part. Usually you can almost slide the fish into the net with a little momentum, but I lacked that part, and at full extension of my rod arm with net in the other, I tried for the net and bounced him off the rim and not in my favor either. With barbless hooks, it was enough for him to spit it and be gone. I groaned like a bear who missed his salmon atop of the falls. Although, the flip side, was now we had found them. Deep in the runs... I mean deep.
The day went on like this as we dredged the runs and pool and the flats. Knowledge is key to survival, or in this case, key to skunked or not skunked. Further up river we found many potentially excellent holding spots that didn’t yield a single trout but our persistence or ignorance kept us interested. As we caught site of the boundary line, Dillon pressed on while I dug into my pack for the other half of my breakfast burrito. I found a spot on the bank under the cottonwoods to eat my lunch and admire this landscape. By now it was 2 pm and we had to be off the water by 3ish so I just sat and, once again, hypnotized by the electric blue sky with screaming cottonwoods in gold and the sound of the Pecos behind me. The afternoon canyon breeze seemed to follow the flow of the river south.
On our walk back we talked about the day and tried to figure out when this place “goes off”. My suspicion was late summer... not like now being mid November. My hunch anyway. With a little time remaining, we decided to hit a few pools as a last chance effort on the way out. I headed to the pool where I bounced my catch off the net, only to see him dart away spot.
I extended my indicator way out and went for a high stick lob to the top of the fast water. My indicator didn’t even have a chance to straighten out before it was slammed beneath the surface. One cast, fish in the net and then properly released. “One and done” and it was over. I snickered as I strung up my fly to the guide on my rod... it was the same fish as this morning. I looked over at Dillon and said “Okay, now we can leave”.