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All about that bass: Angling to keep people hooked, the Department of Game & Fish launches a new challenge

Rick Torres

Largemouth bass (Courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish)

An avid trout fishermen, Rick Torres, of Albuquerque, actively dove into the trout challenge issued by the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish last summer.

And shortly after completing that by catching one of each of the five trout specimens in the state, Torres found out about the Bass Challenge.

“When I completed the Trout Challenge, it popped up, the Bass Challenge,” said Torres, 43, owner of True Love Tattoo. “My goal was to be No. 1. I’m going to go after this and I hit the road.”

Unlike the trout waters, which he knew pretty well, Torres had to do a bit of digging to find the best spots for bass.

And that’s part of the idea behind the fishing challenges, said Ross Morgan, spokesman for Game & Fish.

“We had them both in mind when we first started this and we just didn’t want to roll them both out at the same time,” he said. “The Trout Challenge went far beyond our expectations. We figured we would have 40 to 50 people a year complete it, but we’ve 105 to date. It really exceeded our expectations and we’re really happy with it.”

Smallmouth bass (Courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish)

Although Torres was the first to complete the Bass Challenge, Morgan said expectations have not been heightened.

“New Mexico has a great trout fishery so I guess I wasn’t too surprised that it was super successful,” Morgan said, “But New Mexico also has a really great bass fishery. The reason for these challenges is it gets people out and get to different lakes and explore the fisheries in New Mexico.

The challenge led Torres south.

Spotted bass (Courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish)

“Ultimately, I did my research. I’m a trout fisherman and my favorite spot is the San Juan River,” he said. “But this was a new challenge and that’s for me. I’ll attack it.”

The research led him to Carlsbad, where at fishing wasn’t too great.

“Literally, I fished the whole day, but nobody was catching anything,” Torres said. “I thought I’d give it one more try at Carlsbad Lake. It’s like the Pecos River.”

White bass (Courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish)

With a bit of a strategy change, however, things began to click.

“I tried something different, a gold spinner and sure enough after a few casts, I pulled in this spotted bass,” Torres said. “I got No. 1 on the list. I kept fishing for awhile and I got a white bass, so I got two on my list and they were 15-to-16 inches. I kept fishing and then I kept pulling in smallmouth bass. I got three of the bass and I had a great time.”

Now thoroughly hooked with bass fever, Torres headed to a largemouth bass fishery, Conchas Lake.

“I drove through the night,” he said with a chuckle. “Okay, I pulled over and slept on the side of the road, but I was on a mission.”

That mission, however, turned out to be a failure, as Torres had no luck reeling in the elusive final quarry.

But a friend of his told him how the ditches alongside the Rio Grande are filled with all kinds of fish.

“He and his brother took me to his spots near Los Lunas,” he said. “I had never fished in such large reeds. About the seventh spot we tried, ‘BAM!,’ I pulled in a smaller largemouth and I took a picture right away, then I tried to catch a bigger one and pulled in a 15 incher. I get the chills and smile talking about this.”

His son saw the online posting of Torres going into the Game & Fish Hall of Fame and expressed his pride in his dad, which made it all even sweeter.

“This bass challenge really gives you the opportunity to fish another type of fish,” Torres said. “I do catch and release, and they put up a fight. It’s a beautiful fish. This Bass Challenge was so fun and exploring New Mexico, especially in a time of COVID. We’re locked down, socially distanced, but fishing allowed that opportunity to be safe out there and get some fresh air and some sun and adventure.”

Torres is already gearing up for the next one.

“It’s amazing, I’m looking forward to what’s next,” he said. “I’ll be the first one out there sleeping on the side of the freeway if I have to. I appreciate these challenges. I encourage anybody to go out here and do it. It’s a way to get out there and be outdoors and it’s good for the mind and the soul. And it’s so fun, It’s really a blast.”

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