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Valles Caldera National Preserve Fishing

Valles Caldera National Preserve, located in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico is a prime spot for outdoor activities. The preserve is an amazing place to go for the day to hike, fish, drive, or bike. The cost is $20 a vehicle for a back country pass, and it is so worth it! The only time of year I have been is during the summer. Its up higher in altitude so it remains relatively cool, and there is always the chance of an afternoon rain. The sights and views are nothing short of fantastic, even with the burn scar the preserve suffered back in 2011.

My first visit to Valles Caldera was June of 2014, my Dad and I went to try it out after hearing about the beauty of this place. We chose to fish the San Antonio, which starts in the northernmost part of the preserve and flows west. It starts out as a narrow stream, not more than a a yard or two wide, at times even less. Further down the stream it widens and gets a little more shallow. In order to fish this small stream you have to feel comfortable casting into a small stream. Your cast will make or break your fishing in the small streams. Stealth and accuracy are your best friends.

First Fish at the Valles Caldera San Antonio
First Fish at the Valles Caldera San Antonio

First thing you’ll notice is the width of the stream, although it is narrow, there are good enough holes, up against the banks, for the fish to hide out. The key is casting from further away from the stream, and longer upstream than you typically would in such a small stream. My Dad won’t agree with me, and neither will “expert fly fisherman,” but I don’t think you need to let your fly drift to far downstream. I tend to only hook fish the minute my fly hits the water. Keep in mind I have only fished Valles Caldera in the summer months. The fly needs to be dry and big enough for you to see it, but not so big the small brown trout can’t grab the hook. You WILL NOT always feel the fish bite, there are some small fish in there! Watch the water, watch your fly, and wait for a fish mouth to gobble it up. Polarized sunglasses are a must have when you fly fish anytime any where so that you can see the water and that fish mouth.

When I fish the Valles Caldera I use a dry fly. Usually a grass hopper or a mayfly. Honestly though, if it has a tail or legs, and you can see it, give it a try. If after 20 minutes you haven’t had a single bite, switch it out for something different.

That View, Those Rain Clouds, Perfect Stream Fishing
That View, Those Rain Clouds, Perfect Stream Fishing

The best fishing I did in Valles Caldera was this summer, and I was fishing with different variations of elk-hair caddis and mayflies, all dry. One of the reasons the fishing was great was the time of day. I always try to start fishing before 10 AM. I think of it this way, the fish like to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner just like us, and of course they’ll take a snack if it is prepared beautifully.  In the morning they bite, and at around 2-3 PM something is usually hatching, and that is prime time fishing. I’ve also heard, but not yet tried, night time fishing. Apparently brown trouts turn into voracious hunters when the sun goes down. Okay, back to my trip, the other reason it was such great fishing was the weather. Rain brings fish. I don’t ask questions, I just know that I catch fish when it rains. The dark clouds, the blazing lightning, the roaring thunder, and the cool rain scared people off, but not me. I came to fish, and I was not ready to quit. I put on my poncho, prayed that the lightning didn’t hit the bright yellow girl holding a nine foot metal rod, and kept fishing. It was so worth it! I was catching fish after fish. They were all average 8-10″ browns. They were hitting quick and hard.

Later in the afternoon, post rain, a hatch opened up. I couldn’t tell you what it was. My insect education isn’t quite there yet, but what I can tell you is that it had a tail and was most likely a may fly. Now, most people will tell you to match the hatch to your fly and you will catch fish, but I get a little more creative than that and usually do okay. These small stream fish are not too picky, and do not see as much action as the big river, quality prize fish get. I matched the color, and cast my dry elk haired caddis into the stream. It is bigger and bushier than a mayfly, and the fish loved it! It would hit the water between a pile of a drowning mayfly, also known as a fish all you can eat buffet, and the fish would choose the elk hair caddis instead! It was a NY strip steak versus a filet!

Mouthy Fish, Great Size
Mouthy Fish, Great Size
Not too Bad for a Small Stream
Not too Bad for a Small Stream

Anytime I have fished the Valles Caldera I have caught 10-30 fish ranging from 4 inches to 12 inches. If you are looking for size, Jemez stream waters are not the place to fish. If you are looking to catch fish back to back to back, and have a hell of a view while you are doing it, then Valles Caldera is the place to go!

Cows are frequent on the road and near the stream.
Cows are frequent on the road and near the stream.

I know I need to stick to my strengths, and mainly tell you about fly fishing, but I think I have told you enough of my Valles Caldera fishing secrets. I have to show you a few other reasons why visiting the Valles Caldera is such a rewarding thing to do. I live in New Mexico. I was born and raised here, and I had no idea this diamond in the rough existed. New Mexico is just one of those places, it always has something more beautiful, more special, and more unique around every corner.

When we went to the Valles Caldera it was Elk calving season. All the elk mamas were having their babies. Valles Caldera has one of the largest, if not the largest, elk population in New Mexico. We had the chance to see a baby elk and a mama grazing, and when that mama elk saw our car she took off running to draw us away from her calf and the calf dove into the long grass, to hide until she returned. It was a beautiful moment to witness.

There are also a ton of grazing cattle who call the preserve their home in the summer. Believe me when I say, they are not afraid of people, or cars. They will invade your space while you fish, and take over the whole road while you are walking or driving through. When I got close enough to moo at them on foot, they did eventually run away. Also, notice that this is a dirt road. It is not always a smooth ride, and if it perchance rains, you will need all-wheel drive. Plan on an hour drive from the ranger station to the stream.

Now the best part of my 2014 trip to the Valles Caldera with my dad was not the fishing. Wait! Don’t curse me, The picture explains it all! On our way back to the entrance from fishing there were three horses waiting for us at the gate. My Dad and I are horse crazy, well animal crazy.

Friendly Car Intruder
Friendly Car Intruder

We want all the animals to be our friends, and when we saw those horses we couldn’t resist! We rolled down the windows to give the horses apples and breakfast crackers, and it was an amazing mistake. One of the horses would not leave me alone after his apple treat, and stuck his entire head in our car, and nudging my head for more apples.

Needless to say, Valles Caldera is a magical place. If you are a nature lover, if you need

Average tiny browns, not big, but lots of catches.
Average tiny browns, not big, but lots of catches.

some rest and relaxation, if you want to catch and release a ton of fish, then the Valles Caldera is a place you need to go visit. I encourage everyone to be a tourist in your own state, province, country, and even city. Doing things like this make for a great adventure!

Thanks again for reading, and please continue to share my blog. I am really starting to get excited when I post and see more and more people who read about little old me, and little old New Mexico fly fishing!

Last bits of important fishing advice: when fishing protected waters always use single barbless hooks. This is better for the fish and gives other people the chance to catch the fish you return to the water! Always have a state fishing license, and lastly, I wish you good fishing, cast your heart out, curse when you miss a bite, and smile when you hook ’em!

Why to Love Fly Fishing

I thought I would do a different kind of piece this time. Rather than write a how-to, or a description of one of my fishing ventures, this time I am sharing a creative piece I wrote describing why I love to fly fish.

Last semester I was taking one of the most challenging and rewarding classes I’ve ever taken, called Stylistic Prose. One of the challenges my professor gave us was to write a short paper without using any of the forms of the verb “to be.” That includes the words “is” and “was” and “are”. Can you imagine talking that way?! What an enormous challenge! I wrote that paper and found out my writing was immensely improved and action-packed. Alright, alright, enough geeking out! The point is this is my fly fishing piece in this style.

Here it is, why I love to stand in that cold water all day fly fishing:

Scenic River shot of the Green River, UT. Most beautiful place I've fished.
Scenic River shot of the Green River, UT. Most beautiful place I’ve fished.

Fly fishing succeeds as a stress release and a quick escape for people worldwide. The sport of fly fishing revolves around the use of your wrist, cautious finesse, and understanding the river. The fly should never whip the water, instead, it floats through the air and falls gracefully on the water. This positioning of the fly on the water replicates the moment when a bug would fall from the tall grass above, onto the river beneath. The fly line, carried by the ebb and flow of the water, moves from eddy to eddy awaiting a bite from below. Ah-ha! You see the fly dive beneath the water, and the time comes to set the hook. At the elbow, bend the arm back away from the water in order to establish a firm snag on the fish’s mouth. While holding the rod in one hand, use the other hand to manually pull the fish on the line towards you. As the fish pulls, jerks, and leaps, release line, and gather it again. To achieve ultimate success without losing the fish, or your fly, you must tire the fish and force him to exert all his energy. At last, after precious time and energy elapses, the fish sways in the water close enough to net. Finally, you grasp the fish in your hand, and gently remove the hook from its mouth. This small victory lasts less than a minute. A few short moments and the fish bolts from your hand into the river ahead. The river calls and beckons, and you cast the line back into the water, re-casting and casting, until the next fish bites.

XOXO

See you next time!

10 Fly Fishing Must Haves To Get You Up and Fishing

Gear is the second most important part of fly fishing. The first and most important is the respect and love of the outdoors. If you love the outdoors and respect all that it bears us, then you have the first key ingredient to becoming a successful fly fisher. After you have that down, you do have to invest in your new found hobby, and buy some pretty important gear. It is no secret that fly fishing is an expensive hobby. Lucky for me, I started young enough that my dad was the person who took the hit to his wallet. However, I have mastered finding good deals for myself and my Dad when it comes to gear.

First and foremost I am going to start by telling you the places where I find the best gear and deals. Number one on the list is  Orvis. Orvis always has a sale, and their women’s waders are SUPER reasonable compared to places like Cabelas and Bass Pro. Number two is Charlie’s Sporting Goods, right here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Charlie’s is not only local, but they are also great about keeping up to date with the local fishing, what is biting, and where the fish are. I LOVE supporting them. Third is Bass Pro. I can almost never find women’s outdoor clothing for a reasonable price, but Bass Pro always has a sale rack that has decent clothes and accessories for a decent price.

Now, not all of the gear I have is from these top three locations. My Dad and I have found gear all over the internet, even E-bay! I am not going to tell you about all the gear I carry, because it is six years worth of gear, and some of what I started with isn’t what I use currently. What I am going to share with you is my list of the top ten “must haves” for beginning a fly fishing journey.

Number 1 Rod and Reel (w fly line)

My Favorite! Sage Rod!
My Favorite! Sage Rod!

My first rod was not this sage. It was a much smaller rod, and it is still the one I use most in the small New Mexican streams, but this is my all time favorite rod. It is technically my dad’s, but I have commandeered it! This baby is what I use when I fish the big river in

New Mexico, the San Juan . This 9′ sage rod is the best rod, and I have chosen this particular rod to post, because it really is a perfect, use anywhere, rod. Just keep your eyes out for sales because sage rods are no joke! Sage rods can get all the way up in the $700 range! Yikes! The picture here shows the rod info in case people are wondering dimensions.

With your rod you need your reel and the reel needs to be hooked up with fly line. It is actually the fly line that is the most expensive. Orvis fly line is pretty pricey, but the brand White River is a great option. It is not the cheapest, but also not super expensive. My Dad has purchased Lamson reels more than any other reel, and they’re the reels that I have the most experience with. They average about $60. Not bad at all!

As a beginner, your best bet is to avoid buying everything separately and get a fly rod starter kit, you can find them starting off at about $60. They include the whole shebang: fly rod, reel, and fly line!

Number 2 Leader and Tippet

Now this is where it gets super fishy and complex, the leader and the tippet are really similar, but are for totally different things. The leaders are the monofilament strands that allow the fly line to connect to the fly. The tippet is the thinner strand that connects the fly to a dropper. A dropper is a smaller fly that will sink (ideally) beneath the water for the hungry fish at the bottom to gobble up.

LeaderThere is a lot to learn about what leader to use when. Here is how I remember it: fish in shallow water, like small New Mexican streams, are far more easily spooked by a fly line landing on top of them than a leader landing on top of them. Using longer leaders in shallow water is better. Not what you would expect, but true. Here is why New Mexico is really difficult, we have shallow water and small streams! Typically in small streams you want shorter leader, but if it is shallow you don’t want the fish to spook. I tend to always use a nine foot leader. When in doubt go to a local fly shop and ask which would be best.

Number 3: Vest and Attachments

Vest Forceps and Nippers

Trust me you want  need a vest to hold all the gear you will have for fly fishing. The attachments are easy, you are going to want forceps and nippers. Forceps tighten to your hooks to help you get a grip on the hook when you need to, for instance to get a hook out of a fish that your fingers just can’t get to. Nippers look and act like nail clippers. All you need to know about vests and attachments, is they are cheap. Places always have these items for really reasonable!

Number 4 Fly Box and Flies

This part is expensive, but simple. Buy a sale fly box from a place like Orvis and then go buy the most popular flies from discountflies.com. When you get close to the place you are fishing, stroll into the local fly shop and ask what the fish are biting and BUY THOSE. The shop owners usually know the secrets! Flies are serious business. Those little suckers sell for a buck and some change. Ya, a hook and fuzz costs that much, but hey, if it catches me a fish it is worth every penny!

Number 5 Wading Boots and Neoprene Socks

Simms Boots
Simms Boots

Now this is arguably not a necessity, but I feel that for safety reasons they are absolutely necessary. Wading boots are designed to keep your feet grounded on those slippery rocks. Simple water shoes and sandals do not have that. For this reason alone it is on my “must invest” list. Again with these, look for deals. Some boots can get pretty pricey. These Simms boots with metal spikes are my favorite (the other pair had felt bottoms). With wading boots you need neoprene water proof socks. These keep your feet dry and happy! Excuse my dirty boot picture, but now you know I do actually use them!

Number 6 Hat

Sun and water with a glare, trust me you want to keep the sun and your hair out of your face.

Number 7 Polarized Sunglasses

These help you to see the water so that you can gauge when a fish bites.

Number 8 Safety Gear

Coola Sunscreen from Birchbox
Coola Sunscreen from Birchbox

As my safety gear I always have waterproof matches, my Bear

Grylls flint and steel lanyard, and my Bear Grylls knife. Can you tell I think Bear and I should be friends? Along with this gear I also have sunscreen in my vest. I AM a girl, and I AM really picky about what sunscreen I put on my face and body. I love coola sunscreen. I actually received these cute samples in my monthly birchbox and stuck them straight into my vest.

Sun Bum Sunscreen
Sun Bum Sunscreen

I also have some oil free sun bum sunscreen for the body. All of these smell nice ( not nice enough to attract bugs) and are gentle on the skin. Lastly, you can’t predict the weather, always have a poncho in your safety supplies.

Poncho in a vacuum sealed bag to save space!
Poncho in a vacuum sealed bag to save space!

Number 9 A Giant Duffle Bag

This will keep all your gear in one safe place! Seriously, plan on it being giant. Here is the one that my dad and I use. I could fit in it!

Fly Fishing Duffle
Fly Fishing Duffle

Number 10 Floatant

FloatantThis is how you catch fish. Your dry- fly needs to stay on top of the water and not sink. Floatant gives those top-feeding fish a tasty looking morsel. To treat those fish to your fly, you need to keep it dry with floatant. After every 5-10 casts you will be adding floatant to your dry fly dry. I personally do not like anything but this powder kind. The liquid ones are a pain because you have to brush them on. Try finding the floatant that you can just shake.

Optional Number 11 Waders

San Juan Fishing in my Simms Waders--IN WINTER!
San Juan Fishing in my Simms Waders–IN WINTER!

Now Number 11 is ONLY if you are fishing a big river that may require you to get in the water waist deep. If this is your fishing location, invest in some waders. Orvis has waders under $200, which is an AMAZING price for waders. I am so oddly shaped (short, curvy, little feet) that my dad bought me some custom sized Simms waders as a gift when we first started fishing. If you can’t find your size AND you are truly serious about fly fishing then the Simms Custom Fit Waders are a perfect choice!

That concludes my top ten (eleven) must haves for fly fishing. If you are interested in fly fishing, my hope is that this list gives you an idea of the investment that fly fishing requires, as well as easy and reasonably priced options to help get you started. If you have questions leave a comment and I can respond to the best of my abilities. I hope I have sparked your curiosity to the wonderful world of fly fishing.

Background of a Fly Girl

Greetings Blogosphere,

I’m Kylie from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I am a fly girl. Fly as in fly-fishing, but also as in pretty cool. I decided to start a blog to share my love of nature and my passion for fishing. For me, my goal in writing this blog is to gain a readership of people who love the outdoors, all fishermen and women, and people who want to read my crazy stories. I also want to provide a voice for women in this male dominated industry. I have a lot of tips and tricks that will really help women get a jump start on their outdoors-womanship. I have experienced first hand the struggles, awesome perks, and unique experiences that come with being a woman in a male dominated outdoors industry. I have faith that this blog will provide everyone, men and women, with a greater love, a growing curiosity, and a silly grin anytime they think about the outdoors.

Kylie, in a signature Red Sox fishing cap and green pull over. (They are lucky.)
Kylie, in a signature Red Sox fishing cap and green pull over. (They are lucky.)
Fly fishing is what most of my blog posts will be about, but I figure I should start from the beginning of my fishing career. In the beginning there was no fly rod and reel, but rather a long drive, a lake, and shiny lures. As a desert rat from New Mexico, you would never think that I would find enough water, enough fish, or enough time to find good fishing, but the secrets of this state are sure to surprise. My family and I live in Albuquerque, and 100% off the time fly fishing requires a drive. Surprisingly, New Mexico is not where I got my start fishing. It required a much much longer drive. My family of five drove from Albuquerque to Minnesota to escape the desert and enjoy a cabin by the lake.

Kissing a tiny, toothy, northern pike.
Kissing a tiny, toothy, northern pike.
It was summer of 2007, and my Dad decided it would be a fun idea to take the whole family, five of us, on a guided fishing trip to a lake in Minnesota. This was not our first fishing experience, but it was our first trip away from a well-stocked kiddie pond. My Dad and I are the only two people in our family who absolutely adore the outdoors, but he never lets any of us run away from adventures. It was a cloudy day (perfect for fishing), and we were all loaded onto a boat with an amazing guide.  While on the boat we caught, large mouth bass, small mouth bass, crappie, and northern pike. This may not seem like a super impressive fishing story, and by all means it was not the biggest fish ever, or the coolest fishing ever, but it was the first fishing trip we took as a family. We ALL had an amazing time, it was so fantastic! After this trip I was definitely hooked (pun-intended).

Largemouth Bass
Largemouth Bass
This picture to the right shows the exact moment when I discovered that fishing would forever be my passion. I hooked into a largemouth, once it was out of the water the guide taught me how to remove the hook and hold the fish with my thumb in its mouth. Feeling that fish, holding it, and releasing it was the moment that I fell in love with the sport of fishing.

hybrid
Tiny Sunfish picture from the web http://web1.cnre.vt.edu/efish/families/centrarchidae.html
Not 48 hours later comes my favorite fishing story of all time. We were standing on the dock of the lake and my Dad and I wanted to try to catch a few more pike off the dock. I was not catching anything, but tiny little sunfish. They were so voracious that they would swallow the hook, which was way too big for them to survive. After I pulled the hook, I would throw the bleeding ones back into the water. Every time that I threw one in, a giant, eel-like, black fish, around 3 feet long, would gobble them up. The next sunfish I hooked into swallowed the hook, and my dad said “throw it all in, just to see if he bites.” Oh boy, he certainly bit it! Sitting at the top of the water was the little sunfish and all of a sudden I see a giant mouth grab the whole thing. My rod tip bent nearly in half, and I yelled for my dad. It was immensely heavy! I couldn’t believe it. I reeled in with all my might and I could see the long, sleek, slimy, body. It saw me too. Just then, it darted off, pulling line, and almost pulling me along with it. It did the one thing a fisherman dreads, it pulled the line (and my rod tip) under the dock. I reeled and reeled trying to get him out from under the dock, but right then the hook shot out of its mouth. The hook was now as straight as an arrow. My dad and I burst into tears of laughter and it will forever be one of our favorite fishing stories to tell, and believe me, we have quite a few.

I’ll try to keep this blog updated with new fun stories, tips, and tricks. Friends and family please feel free to share it and tell people about it. I really would love for this blog to take off. There is not enough information out there for fisherwomen!