A Beautiful Day on the Rio Costilla

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RIO COSTILLA, NEW MEXICO — This 10,000-acre park near the Colorado border is filled with lush pasture through which the Rio Costilla — Spanish for “rib” — meanders its way down from the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, eventually joining with the Rio Grande del Norte. The park is a portion of what originally was a much larger Spanish land grant in what is now northern Taos County. It is part of an 80,000-acre tract owned since 1942 by the Rio Costilla Cooperative Livestock Association.

Fat black Angus cattle graze alongside the banks, while anglers cast lines into the swift-flowing and icy cold waters.

The nearest village is Amalia, which legend maintains was named for a beautiful girl who once lived in what was originally known as Pina, or pine. Amalia must have been quite a looker.

On this lovely August day (one rarely says that in East Texas), my Beautiful Mystery Companion and I have returned to Rio Costilla. The temperature is in the low 70s, with little humidity and a pleasant breeze. Once again, we have arranged to engage Joey, a jolly, patient and laid-back fishing guide, for a half-day of fly fishing.

We got our first taste of angling last summer, and we’re hooked — pardon the pun. Unfortunately, we were not able to actually do any fly fishing since that first lesson, in which the trout escaped unscathed. Thus, we know little more than we did on the last trip, though with Joey’s expert guidance we are soon standing in the stream with our hip waders, casting a nymph lure that dangles about 10 inches below the surface. A surface fly serves as a bobbin, bouncing along the current.

Joey separates us to avoid possible injury from an errant cast. I begin casting upstream, trying to remember to keep my wrist straight and aim the tip of the rod where I want the fly to land, keeping my eye on the surface fly. “Jerk up fast if that fly goes under so you hook the trout,” he says. A few minutes later, the fly dives below and I tug upward. For a moment, a trout is sampling the nymph, but the hook doesn’t set. Another one that got away.

My BMC and I have consistently told ourselves we don’t care if we actually catch a fish. This is only partially true. Sure, it is so lovely and peaceful out here that I would be content to stand and cast for hours with no result. But deep inside, I actually want to catch something, if only briefly. We’re on the catch-and-release plan today. Dinner will not be provided by our bounty but by judicious use of my American Express card once we’re back in Taos.

I feel a tug on the line and swiftly pull the rod up. Out comes a rather indignant cutthroat trout. “I got one!” I yelled to my BMC and Joey. They are about 50 feet away and wave in congratulation. I ponder how to take a selfie with the cellphone, holding the cutthroat — which was 10 inches long at most — while standing in a rather stiff current up to my thighs and keeping my balance on the slippery, rocky bottom. This could be tricky.

While I’m trying to decide how to create photographic proof of my first trout, the cutthroat decides it has had enough of this foolishness and escapes the hook. No matter; I have witnesses.

Not long after, my BMC shouts that she has caught a fish. She was standing at the bank at the time and has managed to get the fish to land. I put my rod on the bank and start wading upstream toward her, cellphone in hand. The fish leaps out of her hands and flops around. My BMC retrieves the fish as I start snapping photos with the phone. Her cutthroat is quickly losing energy, so my BMC returns the fellow to the water. At first, it appears to just be floating but eventually finds its bearing and swims past me.

Joey gently suggests the next time we land a trout, that we hold it in the water. Seems like good advice, but the trout have caught on to these rank amateurs and avoid our attempts to repeat our success.

That is fine with us. We each caught a trout, albeit briefly. It is a beautiful day in northern New Mexico.

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