By Silas Gray
Special to The Globe
The wind howled as I sat on the ground behind the small Toyota pickup while dust and sand swirled everywhere. I’d meant to lower myself down into the large folding chair that I’d just taken from the truck’s camper shell. I’d held on tight as I unfolded and carefully arranged it behind me before sitting to remove my wading boots. Ron Sedall and I had been wet wading for most of the day. Unfortunately, I’d already removed one boot along with its neoprene sock when I noticed that I’d forgotten to grab my towel. Dry shoes work better with dry feet.
Standing on my remaining booted foot, I retrieved the towel and began to sit down again. It was much too late to stop when I noticed that I’d lowered myself much further than the height of the chair’s seat. In slow motion, I continued down, finally landing on the ground. No sudden drop, no pain, just a sense of disorientation as I gently sank. The noise of the wind had masked the fact that it had sent the chair tumbling. It was now several feet away, still sliding in the dirt.
Given a much better shot at me from beneath the vehicle, the speed and volume of dirt and sand rose drastically, causing the towel to fly. Since I’d borrowed this particular item from our rental condo, I couldn’t just let it go. I grabbed the bumper, pulling myself up onto one leg, and hopped after the fleeing cloth.
I was in Taos, N.M., and had just spent the previous two days at Taylor Streit’s Instinctive Fly Fishing School.
I was fishing with Ron Sedall, who guides for Taylor and Nick Streit at Taos Fly Shop. Nick owns the shop while his dad Taylor owns and operates the guide business and fishing schools. Taylor has spent years guiding all over the world as well as running his guide schools.
We spent the first morning of the school in the fly shop with Taylor, with Ron and the head guide Brian Spilman discussing how to determine when to use the various types of flies as well as when to change. We tend to switch flies much too often and usually our presentation is to blame.
Taylor and Brian then took us to an open grass field to diagnose and work on any errors in our casting. Although I found out that mine isn’t that bad, I certainly could have used more time there.
After fish tacos at a local New Mexico-style restaurant, we headed for Hondo Creek.
Much of the trip was along a wide dirt road through open desert with a few washboards and only the occasional rock to bounce over. We drove for miles before starting our steep descent into the canyon, and trees began to appear. Eventually Taylor pulled over and the four cars of our caravan followed suit, each edging over as far as possible before coming to a stop. I climbed out carefully in order to avoid tumbling down the steep bank and into the water.
Hondo is a high gradient creek — it’s steep and runs quickly. Its pools are small and runs are short so that most of the fish activity takes place around its many large rocks.
My fellow students and I stood back and listened as Brian and Taylor discussed how to approach and fish this type of creek. Brian then moved several yards downstream and entered the stream. He worked his way back up, demonstrating proper fishing techniques while Taylor narrated. The demonstration was especially informative for me since Hondo is unlike anything that I’d encountered back home.
Once that section of the creek had been covered we drove on down to where the Hondo feeds into the big water of the Rio Grande.
It was the weekend, and the gravel beach section of the river that we approached was packed with picnickers and swimmers. Instead of stopping, we crossed over a large steel bridge to the other side. From there the road climbed quickly. We continued on only a short distance before parking along the narrow gravel road.
Brian climbed down the 30 feet to the water and began working the boulders and deep runs of the big river while we watched and Taylor narrated. From that vantage point we could see everything that was going on and we had our expert at hand to answer questions.
On day two the roles were reversed. We fished while Brian and Taylor made the rounds. They made suggestions, pointed out opportunities for improvement and complimented without pause.
It was uncanny. Taylor would be somewhere down or upstream, way out of sight, I’d make a particularly poor cast and he’d be right there by my side, staring. Being the student for a change was rather nice. We spent the entire day and fished two completely different sections of the Rio Grande.
On the third day, it was just me and Ron Sedall. I’d booked the school and guide months ago. Taylor had said to take whichever guide answered the phone. I was skeptical but who was I to argue with Taylor Streit? Luckily, Ron answered when I called. He said that we could hit some private water, the fish would be big and the catching would be easy. Ron sounded young, eager and confident — I booked the trip.
I met Ron at the shop early on the morning of our trip. We loaded his four-wheel drive Toyota pickup and were off. Ron decided that we should forgo the easy fishing and instead make the long rough hike down into the canyon.
We eventually pulled off the paved highway and onto a fairly smooth dirt lane. Smooth that is until we made our first really sharp turn where Ron almost stopped as he said, “Hang on; this is the spot where one of the other guides broke an axle.”
The ruts were deep but dry. Although one side of the truck was much higher than the other, we stayed on all four wheels and made it through. We bounced slowly on. A short time later he pointed ahead saying that this was where he’d cracked his transfer case the year before.
Eventually, we pulled up through the scrub trees into a relatively open section and stopped.
We were in the high desert, and even though the temperature was currently only in the 50s, we knew they’d eventually reach into the high 80s. We decided to forgo waders and go with only boots. Once the gear was assembled, we headed for the canyon’s edge.
We walked only a short distance before we broke through the scrub, the full canyon appeared and the trail started down, fast. As we worked our way along the dirt, sand and loose rock of the long switchback trail I was glad that I’d brought along my new wading staff.
The action started quickly once we reached the water’s edge and I’d soon landed my first New Mexican cut-bow. A few casts later I landed my big fish of the day — an 18-inch brown trout.
Ron spent the rest of the day helping me to learn their method for catching Rocky Mountain trout. My strike to catch ratio was horrible at the beginning. Ron was nice about it and it did improve vastly over the day. That evening, by the time I’d landed 60 or so fish, I had the hang of it.
With the day winding down, we worked our way back along the river to two large pools which sat near the trail leading back to the truck. We decided to spend some of the remaining canyon light streamer fishing those before hiking out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until the dark clouds rolled in and a few big drops began to fall. The rain had stopped and our debate about whether to leave or not was soon answered by the thunder clap.
We’d noticed that the wind had risen steadily throughout the day but it wasn’t until we reached the top that we found out just how much. We pushed through the swirling dust and made it back to the pickup. Ron was sitting in the driver’s seat removing his boots and pouring water from his wading socks while I pulled out the comfy folding chair that he brings along for clients, set it up and began to remove my boots.
I did eventually recover the flying towel and the chair and made it into my dry shoes just as the real rain started. Tossing everything into the back, I climbed in and we headed back toward the shop.
What an introduction I’d had to fly fishing the Rio Grande of New Mexico. Two days of camaraderie, classes and fishing plus one heck of a day hiking through an amazing canyon on a beautiful river with a guy who’s now not only my go-to guide in New Mexico but also my friend. Catching sixty-fish was a huge bonus — I wonder how my wife would like living in the high desert?