It’s the middle stretch of the Rio Grande that holds the most Pike, forgotten lands of slow water, crumbling basalt, and sky. Trout are few and far between here, camped out at the rare rapids like the last Apaches. Those we do encounter are a special breed; dark with sparse spots and a primal hunger.
This is gorge fishing. The roads out here are rutted and toothy, impassable for many months of the year by snow and mud. The crack of canyon and river is a surprise when you crest it. There are no real trails down, only scrambles made by game and fishermen like us. Large lichen covered boulders, prickly pear and rattlesnakes- this is no easy terrain.
Once down, the river is a sedate olive snake fringed everywhere by tall grass, golden this time of year. Pike are ambush predators and favor slow bays-they’ll lurk around rock points and near structure. Forget about your back cast-the canyon walls are always in the way. And be prepared to lose flies. The Rio is a rocky one and greedy as well. The good news is that we’re using 40lb mono-that’s a lot of pulling power.
Also in our favor is that Pike are not spooky; at least not these guys. Delicate presentations need not apply. Slapping the fly down aggressively and pushing water around is a good thing, for once. We often have the same fish attack several times, despite being hooked, or follow the fly to our feet, settle there, then attack again, eyeball to eyeball with us and still not afraid. Who’s going after who?
My largest Pike to date (20lbs) came on a day when the bite seemed to be off. We had thrown for hours and were essentially just casting to keep warm. No sign of life. I had beaten the water in front of me to a froth, literally, when the huge female exploded on my fly.
I think the biggest challenge in this game is to locate the fish. Where there is one there are more. Spots we have found Pike in the past always seem to produce, and always different fish. I haven’t seen that 20 pounder again yet, but every trip to that pool has been successful.
Our outings these days end up being largely exploratory in nature, trying to find new territories to add to our repertoire. Many places in the river seem to be devoid. We do a lot of walking. We have at least a dozen miles of river explore, and untold numbers of as yet uncaught Pike to target. Maybe even the 15 pound Brown trout I’ve heard old timers talk about…
We rarely hike out of the canyon at day’s end without at least one fish encountered, though Pike can be truly sullen pricks. After a winter of trying for them I yearn for eager Cutthroat and dry flies. Yesterday was one such day. My dad found a single 28 incher-he attacked 4 separate times- and that was it. Fishing conditions were really tough-with wind a la Patagonia and silty water as a result.
Scouting the far bank, Johnny found a perfect five-point elk shed; climbing a small cliff to try to spy us a fish he found another. Game sign was everywhere. We gave up on Pike and prowled the trails along the base of the cliff. We found caves with sandy floors, bones and scat-bobcat?
We saw raptor nests in high crags and found one with cracked eggs in it. Otter sign was plentiful- they seem to be thriving since their release four years ago. A trip here never fails to take me back in time. The footstep of man is hardly present. We tread lightly, and hope it will remain this way for years to come.