By Duane Inglin | 05/04/2013
It’s not everyday that I agree to leave my salmon and steelhead rods at home to chase planted trout. But, I wanted to cross another state off my list of places I’ve fished and agreed to fly to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to meet my buddy Chris Shaffer with Pautzke to trout fish the mountains of Northern New Mexico.
Arriving at the hotel in Santa Fe, we picked up a box of bait drop shipped to us from the factory in Ellensburg, WA. It was stuffed with Orange Deluxe, Yellow Jacket and Gold Label Pautzke salmon eggs and FireBait, Pautzke’s floating trout bait.
I opened the box of trout bait while Shaf checked us in, which sparked a 30-minute conversation about local trout fishing. The young lady working the front desk knew a ton about fishing in the area, and had grown up fishing our Green Label with her grandfather, who lived in nearby Pecos. Even now, as a teenager, she fishes almost every Thursday with him and uses nothing but Pautzke eggs.
“You guys don’t want to go to the Pecos River,” she told us. “Go to Cow Creek instead. The fish are much bigger.”
Cow Creek wasn’t on our radar, but we were up for it. However, she warned us about getting lost and was hesitant to even send us up there. We listened carefully to the directions, complete with turns at unsigned dirt roads, cattle guards, unnamed ranches and remote cabins and hit the pavement in route to Cow Creek, a tributary to the Pecos River, situated northeast of Pecos in the Santa Fe National Forest. This creek is stocked with rainbows by New Mexico Game & Fish.
Stopping along the way at the Shell gas station in Pecos to get conformation on directions we reached a dirt road fewer than one mile outside of town. A couple miles in the dirt turned to rutted, rough terrain. Continuing several more miles we had no idea if we were on the right path. Fortunately, we came across a rancher mending fences and a few locals heading into town, all whom helped point us in the right direction.
One thing I realized about folks who reside in Northern New Mexico is they enjoy trout fishing. It brings families and friends together and is a great conversation starter. Passion for trout fishing here rivals salmon and steelhead in the Northwest.
With fewer than two hours of daylight remaining, Shaffer and I found Cow Creek, which was smaller than we expected. The wooded creek was 10 feet wide in most parts, although portions were narrower than five feet. At nearly 8,000 feet this was a traditional high mountain stream with clear, clean water. The creek was complete with pocket water, small holes, pools and a tremendous amount of structure and cover.
We were the only people fishing this creek, which was littered with boulders, downed logs, overhanging brush and trees. The trout used this structure to their advantage, often hiding under overhanging banks. However, they didn’t avoid the slow water. In some of the wider, flat sections, basically the tail-outs, we’d spot several trout. Meanwhile, extremely low, clear water also meant they could see us, too. It didn’t help that I wore a long sleeve white t-shirt, although it didn’t seem to hurt too much, either. The white shirt did, perhaps, force me to hide behind structure to keep a low profile. These trout were spooky.
Fishing here was much different than I’m used to. These small New Mexico streams forced us to downsize. We turned to four-and-a-half-foot, one-piece rods, small spinning reels and light line. Personally, I used four-pound test on my mainline and a two-pound leader. Hooks needed to be small, too, which is why I tied a No. 6 single salmon egg hook and added a single split shot below a small foam pin float.
Cow Creek was so small, we only needed to use one salmon egg, thus keeping our bait small to coincide with the conditions we faced. These trout were spooked when one of the hooks with more than two eggs hit the water. When coming up here make sure to simply use one egg at a time.
Under these gin-clear conditions playing off a natural presentation served us best, which is why we focused on pitching Pautzke’s Orange Deluxe and Yellow Jacket salmon eggs. I also used a few Gold Label eggs, but as well as the orange and yellow were working I didn’t need to rely on the Gold.
While there were plenty of small, wild fish throughout the mile-long section we fished, the creek had been recently stocked with what appeared to be eight-to-nine-inch bows. Most of the trout were scattered from the National Forest boundary on upstream through the primitive campsites.
Grab an Orange Deluxe or Yellow Jacket salmon egg and pitch it in any of the pools, holes, under overhanging banks and beneath logs and catching an easy limit won’t be a problem. I know it wasn’t for us and we had much less than two hours to fish.