The Rio Grande is the quintessential fly-fishing experience in Northern New Mexico
By Tamra Testerman
Washing down a sandwich with a cold beer on the tailgate of his truck gazing at the Milky Way slung low above the craggy canyons carved from the volcanic rock of the Taos Pueblo — the sound of a steady river below snaking its way to the Gulf of Mexico — Taos local John Nichols, author of “The Milagro Beanfield War” and 18 other books, describes the conclusion of a perfect day fly-fishing on the Rio Grande.
A seasoned hunter, mountain hiker and fly-fisherman, Nichols knows the local alpine tundra and New Mexico’s creeks and rivers like the back of his hand — and he has a fish tale or two to tell, as does his long-time friend and fly-fishing mentor Taylor Streit, founder of the Taos Fly Shop established in 1980 to teach the art of fly-fishing.
Streit is considered to be one of the most insightful anglers in North America. Taylor’s son Nick now owns and operates the Taos Fly Shop while his dad maintains the guiding details of the business. Taylor has authored a few books on the topic, including “Instinctive Fly Fishing: A Guide’s Guide To Better Trout Fishing.” The work is, according to Nichols, “one of the best books ever written on the subject. The first time I fished with Taylor, I was in awe. He catches a fish with nearly every cast, and his technique is flawless.” Streit said the sport is one where you are “completely engaged, you got to be all in. Fly-fishing shifts you out of wherever you started in the morning.”
Taos Fly Shop fishing guide Ian Smuczynski turned up in Taos via Florida following graduation from a prestigious guide school in Montana. Low on cash but sure-footed and crystal clear about where he was headed, he bunked for a time at The Laughing Horse Inn until the Brazos River Lodge in Chama called and offered him a position. After honing his skills on the Chama River, he joined the Taos Fly Shop six years ago to guide full time. He said he’s gleaned the most knowledge not from guide schools but from experience on rivers and creeks with other fly fisherman. “I think about fly-fishing every waking hour. It is a style of fishing that is much more intimate, more gratifying. Like the hunter who employs a bow and arrow — you’re close and immersed in the details of the natural world.”
Smuczynski revealed hiking down to the Rio Grande is the quintessential Taos fly-fishing adventure. “It is a complete experience, beyond just catching fish. There are beavers and bighorn sheep. Cougar, mule deer, ringtail, elk and prairie dogs. Great blue heron, blue-winged teal, water ouzels, black-crowned night heron, red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, songbirds, ravens and much more — and the river is full of surprises. You either adapt with creativity or the river will rule the day.”
Smuczynski employs a 10-foot-4 weight rod for the Rio Grande, as does his fellow guide at Taos Fly, Chaz Kerger, who said “fly-fishing on the Rio is about the process, you must have an open mind to see what you’re working out. The fish can really humble you. All you can do is try to stay one step ahead.”
Kerger was born and raised in the Southern Rockies. Fishing and outdoor pursuits have always been his passion. “It is not about how many fish you catch, but rather the experience and camaraderie, being immersed in the elements — learning to think and observe what is in front of you. It is unquestionably a lifestyle. Fly-fishing calls for curiosity and a keen intellect. It is not a passive exercise of showing up with the same equipment and approach every time. You must adapt and overcome, and be open to the circumstances.”
Joey Phillips, owner of Blue Yonder Fly-fishing, has worked the streams, rivers and creeks of Northern New Mexico and the world for decades. He loves teaching, especially those just starting out. He said “there are world-class fishing waters in Northern New Mexico year-round. The Rio Grande is a spring-fed, freestone river, so it is steadily streaming, sustaining conditions and flows perfect for trout fishing year-round.”
The fly fisherman quietly witnesses and mirrors the natural world around him. Casting a fly of analogous color and size as the bugs he sees rising on the water. Wooly buggers in summer. midges in spring, nymphs in the fall. He flicks his line overhead and settles his bait where the fish may be lurking. And he is vigilant, feeling the wind and watching the shadow play on the water. He sees the natural world as a canvas to observe with all of his senses. And when the surface breaks, and his fly submerges to the tactile tug of catching a fish — it’s a good day on the river.
To book your next fly-fishing adventure, here are the details of a few guides and shops in the area:
A stocked one-stop shop for fishing gear, maps and experienced guides.
338 Paseo del Pueblo Sur Unit B taosflyshop.com
Owned and operated by Questa resident Chris Michael, a local fishing legend.
Ed Adams is based in Questa.
Beginner friendly, all equipment included in the guide price.