New Wave was hired to provide river safety for the production of the film “Sweetwater”, being shot on the banks of the Rio Chama, below Abiquiu Dam. The location manager that had hired us the year before, for the filming of an NBC pilot shot along the Rio Grande, called me up for this shoot. Water safety was required because there was one scene that had the female lead out in the river, bathing. Britt Runyon (aka Huggins), New Wave’s Operations Manager and Official Photographer/Videographer, got to stand a short ways downstream from the actors and crew, with a throw rope at the ready (and took all the photos seen here). I (Steve Miller) sat in a raft 100 yds downstream, just in case the lady got swept downstream past Britt. All of this safety activity was just barely warranted, however, because the producers had prevailed upon the Army Corp of Engineers to lower the dam release that day, and the river was now lots tamer than the day before. This particular bend of the Rio Chama has become a favorite of producers of Western films. We did river safety for an HBO film, “The Last Outlaw”, at the very same spot over 10 years ago (see the photo on our website, under “Film Production”). And just last night, I spotted that location while watching “Comanche Moon”, the prequel of “Lonesome Dove”. “Sweetwater” stars January Jones and Ed Harris. Don’t miss it!
While fishing the Racecourse, I took these photos of a favorite polished and sculpted basalt boulder.
According to the fishing author John Gierach, when the fishing is slow and people wonder about how good the river is, the old timers invariably respond: “They’re in there”. That seems to happen a lot with the Rio Grande, which is considered, hereabouts, a very fickle river. There are times when the river is “dead”, meaning that you’re getting no action whatsoever, and you wonder what’s going on.
Before commenting further, I should mention which fish I’m talking about. Most of the sport fishermen are after trout. Of course there are no longer any Rio Grande cutthroats in the Rio Grande main stem. There are stocker rainbows, which generally get cleaned-out pretty quick … and there are browns. These browns, like most encountered elsewhere, are wild fish. Although introduced from across the Atlantic way back when, they are now very “native”, in that they maintain their numbers very well without any help from Game and Fish agencies. They are also very resilient, being able to subsist under conditions that other trouts find intolerable. They can “live in a cup of coffee”, according to one local expert on the matter. Now, browns are thought to be “smart”. But they’re probably no smarter than any other trout, everything else being equal. What may distinguish them from other trout is how often they feed. They seem often to be afflicted with what my friend John Lopez describes as “lockjaw”. Perhaps they feed only when there is an abundance of food available. Who knows?
Lately, we have been seeing great “hatches” on the Rio, along with water levels that make it possible for fishermen to locate feeding fish. The hatches mentioned are occasions when multitudes of the winged forms of aquatic insects appear on and above the water, to mate and die. There are many families of insects that may appear together, including different species of caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies, crane flies etc. and they are all emerging now. The fish (not to mention the swallows) are loving it, and have abandoned all caution, to get in on the feast.
Yesterday afternoon I returned to a piece of water that had recently rewarded me with good dry fly fishing. I had caught a number of brown trout on that occasion, and although only the very little ones were rising (to caddis), I wondered whether the bigger ones were “looking up”, and discovered that they were. But I didn’t use a fly pattern that corresponded to caddis. Instead, I used my favorite “attractor” pattern, a fly that looks very “buggy”, and that could be mistaken for any number of insects. When I first arrived yesterday I didn’t see many bugs in the air, and started with a weighted fly called a “Bitch Creek”. I caught one brown on that fly and then waded to the opposite side of the river, hoping to see bugs coming off the water. Soon there were all kinds of bugs flying around, especially a rusty-colored mayfly that was hovering close to the water’s surface. And then I saw trout leaping out of the water to grab these mayflies. I was in luck (as they say). I tied on the very same fly I had used last time and started to catch fish – all brown trout. I caught the ones that were leaping and I caught ones that were sipping bugs directly off the surface, occasionally on consecutive casts. I caught some that were rising directly under the grassy banks. I probably hooked twelve in all, within the space of an hour.
No, these brown trout were anything but smart. They were greedy (just like you and me). The dinner bell had rung, and they responded. Soon enough the main insect activity was over, at about the time I had fished myself to the head of the riffle. I waded back across and walked the hundred yards to the car. Now I was thinking about dinner.
Yesterday, after work, Kathy and I threw a couple of funyaks on the trailer and drove 3 miles upstream to the County Line. This is where the Racecourse section ends and the Bosque section starts. The Bosque is Class 2 (easy), and very scenic. It is also at some distance from the highway, and therefore more secluded and less noisy. The word “bosque” means cottonwood grove in Spanish, and there are lots of cottonwoods lining the banks of the Bosque section. We took our flyrods and tied on bright-colored Woolly Buggers, because the water is still a little off-color. We caught rainbow trout and smallmouth bass, and enjoyed the moonrise, with the moon supposedly larger in the sky this month. The water is now a comfortable 65 degrees, and the air temperature was in the mid-80s. Nice! We took out at our property (aka Millers Landing) as the sun finally set.
The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was busy this winter, improving the camping and boating facilities in the Orilla Verde (Green Banks) Recreation Area (OVRA). You earlier saw, on this Blog, a report of the work done at the boat ramp at Taos Junction Bridge, where the Taos Box trip ends, and the Rio Grande Gorge trip starts. They did a great job.
They have also just completed work on the Arroyo Hondo campground, which now has great views of the river and is very beautifully landscaped.
Who pays for this work, by the way? You do, at least in part. We collect, from you, 3% of the rafting fee, to turn over to the BLM. It’s a Federal User Fee, and it goes back to the “resource” (the BLM facilities on and along the river).
I consider the camping opportunities that are found in OVRA to be as nice as you could hope to find anywhere. What a beautiful canyon and river, with fishing, hiking, biking, birding, boating, swimming, lazing around in a gorgeous setting and sitting by the campfire all available. You just can’t beat it!
We’re having a beautiful Spring this year, with warm weather arriving early. The photos seen here were taken near the Gaging Station in the Orilla Verde Recreation Area of the Rio Grande. This is the stretch we run when we do our full-day Rio Grande Gorge trip.
Our new brochure features Britt Runyon, Operations Manager at New Wave.Steve Miller photographed Britt in the Narrows of the Racecourse run, on the Rio Grande, near Taos, N.M.,. with members of the Island Baptist Church, from Padre Island, Texas.
Taos Junction Bridge is both the take-out for the Taos Box and the put-in for the Rio Grande Gorge raft trips, and thus sees a lot of use. Before this renovation it never adequately handled the traffic it saw. This is a huge improvement and we would like to thank our partners in the BLM for doing such a great job.
It’s always a crap shoot in April, when it’s 80 degrees one day and snowing the next! But there is water in the river, and fun to be had. So, we will be doing a Rio Grande Gorge full-day trip on the 18th, and you could join us on it!