BIG Trout Below Abiquiu Dam

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"There be giants there!" George Morse lands a 25-inch brown trout below Abiquiu Dam

BIG Trout Below Abiquiu Dam

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

You can chalk up another successful fishing trip made possible by checking the streamflows on the United States Geological Survey website. While checking the streamflows on the Chama River below El Vado Dam, I also noted that the streamflow below Abiquiu Dam had been lowered as well. At less than 300 cubic-feet-per second, it was definitely at a level for good fishing.

Sunday, I’d already seen a photo of a nice string of smallmouth bass my nephew, two of his kids and one of my grandnephews had caught at Abiquiu Lake. I knew the fishing at the lake was good too. I decided that afternoon that I’d take a trip there. I wasn’t sure if I’d fish the river or the lake.

On the way up I decided that I’d try the river first, then go to the lake if I felt like it. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made on a fishing trip.

Driving down to the river along the face of the dam, I could see the flow was low. The water was very murky. Over the years, I’ve learned not to be put off by murky conditions on the Chama. Despite the dirty water, the fish are still there and will still be in the spots you’d expect them to be if the water was clear. Just remember that it is hard for the fish to see your bait. A foot or two away from them and they probably won’t see it. Keep casting to try and get that perfect drift right in front of them.

One advantage to murky water is that the fish have trouble seeing you, so they are not so easily spooked.

Driving downstream, I passed the spot where there are shelters and picnic tables. There were a number of families there. Continuing downstream, I stopped at a spot where in the past I’ve caught some good fish. There was no one there, so I decided to give it a try.

After making my first cast, a fly fisherman joined me. He asked if the water was public, so obviously he was not familiar with the river. He started fishing and I told him I’d hooked some good fish in the run right above us, which was true.

I was using a nightcrawler hooked through the middle with both end wiggling free. I lost the first nightcrawler I was using, but I think it may have come off when I cast it. I was using a small split shot for weight and I seemed to be getting a good drift. I wasn’t snagging up but I could feel the sinker ticking along the bottom, which was what I wanted.

I made a number of casts that did not result in a bite, but I kept with it. I know that there are good fish in that spot. You sometimes have to get just the right drift to get them to bite.

I finally felt a tap that was different from the sinker hitting the bottom. Taking up the slack, I set the hook.

It didn’t take long to realize I had a good fish hooked, as it stayed deep and felt strong. I adjusted the drag on my reel so the fish could take line, but I wanted to keep some pressure on it. Once it started to go downstream, I had no choice but to follow.

At one point, the fish swirled near the top of the water and I got a look at its tail. It looked big. As it headed downstream, it started moving into shallow water. Suddenly, it jumped out of the water. It was a big trout. Longer than 20 inches for sure.

I kept trying to maneuver the fish into the bank, but it kept resisting my efforts. Thinking I needed help, I remembered the fly fisherman. I turned and yelled “Do you have a net?”

He heard me and came to help. The fish was actually too big for his net, but we somehow managed to get it mostly in it. I was able to get a hand through its gills and lift it out of the water.

It was a beautiful brown trout, probably the biggest I’ve ever caught. The fly fisherman (Jack from Albuquerque) said it was the biggest fish he’d seen in New Mexico.

Jack the fly fisherman was kind enough to take some pictures of me holding the trout.

George Morse after landing his giant trout. Valley Daily Post photo

The feeling of exhilaration made me high. You look at a fish like that with a mixture of awe and wonder at the beauty of God’s creation. The experience is something that at times doesn’t seem real.

Yes, I killed the fish quickly. I bashed its head against a rock. It would make wonderful eating. Trout like that taste as good as the best salmon. We’d honor it by cooking it well.

I didn’t fish after that. The feeling of accomplishment was complete at that moment. The fish deserved a better fate than being dragged around on a stringer.

It measured 25 inches. Weighed at Bode’s General Store in Abiquiu, it tipped the scales at 5.43 pounds.

At home, I cleaned the fish outside because it would make too much of a mess in our small kitchen. Even with the head and tail cut off, there was still a lot of fish left. I froze the head because I plan on eating it. The following day, my brother cut the fish into three pieces, then cut filets from one of them.

My brother used a recipe for smoked salmon that he’d won an award for. It was beyond delicious, marinated, hot-smoked with a maple syrup glaze. I couldn’t imagine a better meal.

When people ask me why I fish, an experience like that comes to mind. The anticipation with each cast. The feeling of hope that lies in every pool and riffle that you try. The satisfaction of eating something wild that you caught yourself.

I will turn 70 next month. No matter the problems I have today and whatever the future holds, I’m thankful that I lived long enough to catch that fish.

The catch of a lifetime. George Morse landed this 25-inch brown trout on Sunday, June 25. Valley Daily Post photo