American Fly Fishing

A Stream with a Mind of its Own
By Toner Mitchell

Lower Rio Grande Canyon, NM

Jeremy Brooks died in an airplane accident en route to a guiding gig in Russia. He was admired throughout the New Mexico angling community and was a uniquely kindhearted person. He mastered Rio Grande pike fishing as a boy.
Photo by Toner Mitchell

If you’re going to learn the Rio Grande on your own, understand that it will take some time. This is a hard pill to swallow given how bank-to-bank fishy its habitat looks. There’s almost no uniformity, boulders of every size spinning and gushing water into one another, carving and shaping an infinity of surfaces and spaces occupied by an array of fish food that never ceases to astound me. No one should have trouble catching fish.

Yet most of us do, sometimes for days on end. The Rio can be an extremely generous stream, but even the experts will tell you that taking it for granted leads to heartbreak.

My own education on the Rio has been a circuitous path, with stops at delusion and optimism, disappointment, and relative glory along the way. As a teenager, I’d finally had enough of driving by the river on my way to the ski mountain or to some familiar, easy creek fishing. Upon getting my driver’s license, I dedicated a summer to fishing the Rio. It felt weird to step into a big trout river for the first time, then to feel the sharp contrast between the cool currents and the stifling heat that seemed stuffed into the canyon. When the sun dropped below the west canyon wall and the shade fell across the water, I got that strong whiff of willows and saw the barely perceptible pecks of surface-feeding trout.