PILAR – Taylor Streit is standing in Rio Grande water that’s not quite up to his knees but is chest deep for Peggy, the 2½-year-old yellow Labrador who is exploring nearby.
Streit, 74, veteran New Mexico fishing guide and founder of the Taos Fly Shop, is wielding a nine-foot fly rod, watching intently as the four-weight, orange fishing line floats past him and downstream.
“Stay back, Peggy,” Streit says as the dog’s investigations bring her closer to his line and to fish he’s sure must be lurking just beneath the surface. “I thought I’d have about five by now. Normally, this time of year, when the water is cold, you expect to catch fish at this time of day.”
It’s mid-afternoon in late April on the river 17 miles southwest of Taos.
“To do this kind of fishing, you have to be fast on the trigger because you have to set the hook real fast,” Streit says. “The big mistake beginners make is not setting the hook fast enough and with juice.”
The wind is whipping up and the water is rippling into white caps. And then bang. Streit’s rod bows to the water as a fish hits the fly and he sets his hook. The battle is on, but not for long.
“We are on the board,” a grinning Streit says as he checks out the 14-inch brown trout. “This time of year they fight pretty good because the water is cold. This is actually a pretty good fish.”
A pretty good fish that he releases.
Born to fish
Streit, who was born in Poughkeepsie and grew up in Fishkill, both in New York State’s Hudson Valley and near the Catskill Mountains, believes he was destined to be a professional fly fishing guide.
“I was born in the right place in the right time,” he said. “Some of the best trout streams in the world at that time were in the Catskill Mountains. Fly fishermen who were friends of my father took me fishing. Everyone took me fishing. I started fishing when I was 7 to 8, for sure under 10.”
Streit has learned a lot about fly fishing since then and a lot about fly fishing in New Mexico, where he settled in 1969. He lives now in Caballo, south of Truth of Consequences and about a half mile from the Rio Grande.
“It’s quite handy,” he said of his homeplace.
The same could be said of his latest book, “Fly Fish: Taos/Santa Fe, New Mexico.” The book, illustrated with color photographs and maps by Pete Chadwell, tells you everything you need to know about fly fishing in northern New Mexico and advises the reader how to find information – trout limits and other state regulations – that are subject to change.
Streit not only writes about the places to fish in the northern part of the state – from the upper Rio Chama to the Valles Caldera National Preserve – but also about the best way to fish the waters.
“In this type of small meadow stream, the angler needs a lot of water to fish, so be sure and space yourself no closer than a half mile from the next fisherman,” Streit notes about fishing at Valles Caldera.
There are sections on the environment, safety and comfort (don’t pet otters), camping, kids fishing, laws, fishing spots accessible to the disabled and more.
Streit’s previous books include “Fly Fishing New Mexico,” “Man vs. Fish” and “Instinctive Fly Fishing.”
He said his new book was 10 years in the writing and could be considered an extension of “Fly Fishing New Mexico.”
“It needed to be updated,” Streit said. “The new book is 50 years of photos, 50 years of knowledge.”
Streit’s next book, the work in progress, is a memoir with the working title “Which Way is Upstream?” It’s got some stories in it, too, and not all of them will be about fishing.
“It turns out every drawer I open has some notes I took,” he said. “My weekend at Woodstock. The time I got busted in Mexico.”
And maybe the time he saw Marlon Brando eating dinner at the Sagebrush Inn in Taos.
“He had four desserts,” Streit said.
Just the story about how Streit got to New Mexico could read like something Jack Kerouac or Tom Wolfe might have written.
In 1967, when Streit was in his early 20s, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. His response was to take off across the United States for two years.
“It didn’t feel like the time to go back to business school,” he said. “I started hitchhiking with a fly rod in one hand.”
By the time he got to New Mexico in 1969, he had acquired a girlfriend and a turquoise station wagon. They settled in Arroyo Hondo. Their new home was also close to the New Buffalo commune.
“That was the Cadillac of communes,” Streit said. “It was really big – 30 to 40 people – it was the real deal.”
During that time, Streit was tying flies and selling them to make a little money and trading fish he caught to the commune for the produce it was growing.
In 1980, he opened the Taos Fly Shop, and the career he was born to do was launched in the state he was meant to be.
“But rest assured that I am somewhere near the water, at the end of a dead-end road – and in New Mexico,” he writes in the preface to “Fly Fish Taos/Santa Fe, New Mexico.” “My bones will always be in New Mexico. They can be scattered widely in our special state and still be at home.”