Outdoors At Hopewell Lake

by Staff Reporter / May 24, 2017 / comments

Outdoors At Hopewell Lake

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

Even though winter tried to make a return to New Mexico this past week, with freeze warnings and snow falling at the higher elevations, I decided to make a trip up to Hopewell Lake. Even if I wasn’t able to fish, the drive along US Highway 285 is reason enough to make the trip.

Once you leave Ojo Caliente and start climbing, the view of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range are spectacular. By the time you reach the radar installations and what old timers will remember as Suzy’s Café, you can see Wheeler Peak and the Latir Peaks clearly were wearing a crown offresh snow and the. The day (Saturday (5/20) was clear with scattered clouds. You could see well into Colorado and the Sangre de Cristos up there looked like they’d gotten a lot more snow.

At one point along the highway, you can see Blanca Peak near Alamosa, Colo. On this day it was living up to its name. With a fresh covering of snow, it stood out like a white beacon against the sage-and-grass covered landscape in front of it. Because of the heavy snow this winter, it’s especially green this year

After a while you’ll see the rocks that give Tres Piedras its name. There a lot of history around this little town. Around the turn of the 19th century, there was a gold rush in the area around what is now Hopewell Lake. The area was opened for homesteading in the 1930’s. The life blood of it and other small communities was the Chili Line railroad. Not much is left of the communities of Servilleta, Skarda and No Agua that were also settled back in the 1930’s.

Tres Piedras has seen better days. The only gas station, store and café closed years ago. Across from the gas station is the old pink schoolhouse. A few years back, the owner was an eccentric artist who didn’t like to shake hands. He turned it into a gallery, but now it looks abandoned again. Near the old schoolhouse stands an old water tank that was used to service the trains of the Chili Line.

There’s still a few hardy residents of Tres Pedras that prefer the isolation and the beautiful natural setting that surrounds them. Part of me wonders why they choose to live way out here, while another part of me envies them for living in such gorgeous country.

At Tres Piedras, turn left onto US Highway 64 to Tierra Amarilla. You’ll be driving through ponderosa pine and aspen trees now, leaving behind the pinon pine and juniper of the sagebrush flats. 

After awhile you’ll drop down into the high mountain valley of the Rio Tusas. It’s surrounded by beautiful green high mountain pastures where some of the healthiest cattle you’ll ever see graze in the summer. After making a big curve to the left and crossing the Rio Tusas you’ll really start to gain altitude. Right now, there’s snow lingering in the timber. Look for Hopewell Lake on your left.

Hopewell had not been stocked yet, but that’s okay because it is one of the few places in New Mexico where you can catch brook trout.  “Brookies’ were stocked at Hopewell many years ago and have established a naturally-reproducing population. They are not technically trout, but a member of the char family. Brook trout prefer colder water than other trout and Hopewell’s 10,000-foot elevation suits them just fine. Hopewell is also stocked with rainbow trout during the late spring and summer. One of the advantages of fishing Hopewell now is they weren’t charging a fee. That will likely change for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. It’s $5 for a day pass.

The other advantage, at least to me, is that any fish you catch now will be a wild brook trout or a holdover rainbow trout. Much better eating than freshly-stocked trout.

Although there were some anglers leaving the lake when I arrived who reported no luck, I felt confident I could catch fish. One of the best baits to use this time of year is worms. Spring runoff washes a lot of worms into the water. The fish I caught were stuffed with worms.

Hopewell has a lot of weeds so I like to drift the bait beneath a bobber rather than on the bottom. After a couple of hours I had a limit (5) of brook trout and had released one rainbow. I think brook trout are better eating than rainbows, so I was happy. They’d make a fine dinner.

Five brook trout was the legal limit. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Brook trout don’t grow very big (15 inches would be a big one), so don’t expect any lunkers (big trout). During the summer, be sure and check the stocking reports on the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish website. They periodically stock some big rainbow trout at Hopewell from the Los Ojos Fish Hatchery and at those times you may catch some lunkers.

Later in the spring and summer, using artificial flies either with standard fly-fishing gear or with spinning gear using casting bobber, will catch a lot of trout. Spinners will also entice strikes.

The weather was still cool if not downright cold when the wind was blowing at Hopewell. There are still some lingering banks of snow around the lake. Even if it’s 80-or-90 degrees in the valley, bring a warm jacket.

Leaving Hopewell, you have some options depending on your mood. You can turn right and go back the way you came through Ojo Caliente on 285. One option is once you get back to Tres Piedras, instead of turning onto Highway 285, go straight across and stay on Highway 64 to Taos. You’ll cross the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Have dinner at one of the many good restaurants in Taos.

You can also turn left onto Highway 64 after you leave Hopewell and head to Tierra Amarilla. You’ll drive through some beautiful high mountain country and get great views of the Brazos Cliffs and Chama River Valley. Brazos Falls is still running, so see it now before it dries up.

At Tierra Amarilla, turn left onto Highway 84 and come home through the beautiful red cliffs and pinnacles around Abiquiu.

Either way you decide to come home, there’s nothing like a road trip through Northern New Mexico with a little fishing thrown in.