ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Leave it to a fly fisherman to find the upside of global warming.
After all, as a group, fly fishermen are optimistic souls, the sort who know without a doubt that the best trout fishing anywhere, ever, is just upstream, around that bend and over those boulders. Fly fishermen are sure that the next cast, or maybe the one after that, will be the one that hooks that big, battling brown that won’t get away.
So it’s no surprise that revered fishing guide Taylor Streit, who has been fishing the rivers and streams of northern New Mexico for about 50 years, thinks that the extended summer generated by climate change is responsible for some of the best fishing ever in his neck of the woods.
“I lean toward the environment as it applies to trout,” Streit told more than 40 people gathered Thursday at Rio Bravo Brewery for the annual fundraiser of the Bosque Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a coldwater fish conservation organization. “We are in a situation where fishing in north-central New Mexico and south-central Colorado is very good. The Rio Grande is fishing real well.”
Usually, the fishing season starts in late March or April. But Nick Streit, Taylor’s son and also a respected fishing guide, said that warm periods have made fishing in January not only viable but rewarding.
“For the last three or four winters, we have had three- to five-week periods between January and March that have been good fishing,” Nick said. “The biggest fish, a 27-inch brown trout, we saw caught this year on the Rio Grande was in January.”
But that doesn’t mean that the Streits are blind to the adverse effects of climate change. Taylor Streit is finely attuned to the ways of nature, having lived in it most of his life.
Born in 1946 in New York’s Hudson Valley, the senior Streit was fishing in the Catskill Mountains as a child. He migrated West in his early 20s, settling in Taos, discovering western waters and opening the Taos Fly Shop in 1980. In 2001, he was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.
He understands that northern New Mexico has not only benefited from the favorable byproduct of warmer temperatures but has dodged the disasters that can be caused by excessive heat and long arid stretches.
“We don’t have any of that spruce beetle infestation or land beat down by fire,” Taylor Streit said. “Siltation (sediment in water) is the big killer of trout, and it has been 10 years since we had any killer silt event. North-central New Mexico has been relatively unaffected, and part of that is just the luck of the draw.”
Streit notes that hundreds of thousands of acres of Colorado forest have been ravaged by the spruce beetle, an epidemic spurred by dry conditions, and that prolonged drought and shorter winters have caused massive forest fires in central and southern New Mexico.
A 2016 report on New Mexico forest health by the state Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department Forestry Division states that the spruce beetle epidemic is spreading across New Mexico though all other bark beetle populations are in decline after “several years of favorable moisture conditions.” In May 2014, 88 percent of New Mexico was in severe drought. Now, there are only areas classified as abnormally dry with no designated areas of drought, according to the National Weather Service report from April 18.
Wildfires are deadly to fish because ashes wash into rivers and streams, increasing the ammonia content of the waters to lethal levels. The Whitewater-Baldy Fire, which burned nearly 300,000 acres of southwest New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness in 2012, and the Silver Fire that clawed through more than 130,000 acres of the Gila in 2013, killed a lot of fish and threatened to wipe out New Mexico’s native Gila trout.
But Taylor Striet said neither beetles or blazes have harried his fishing haunts and that the above normal snowpack blanketing the mountains of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico signal more good fortune to come.
“We are going to have a monster runoff (in the Chama Basin) this year,” he said. “Fish love water.”
A strong spring runoff creates fast-moving, muddy water, which is less than ideal for fishing, but Streit sees the bright side of that, too.
“You get to the middle of summer and you will have good fishing,” he said. “August fishing will be better.”
Nick Streit agrees.
“Runoff is healthy for the rivers,” he said. “It flushes out the silt, and it’s good for insect life.”
And when bugs are in the air, the trout are biting.
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