Friday, December 6, 2013

Booksigning Saturday, December 7 @ 2:00PM Barnes & Nobles on Soncy Rd

Hello all! Tomorrow, Saturday (12-7-13), myself and Mark D. Williams will be having another book signing at the local Amarillo Barnes & Noble on Soncy Rd. We're pushing our book, Introduction to Flyfishing for Troutas it was a finalist in the 2013 USA Book Awards. 

If you have a copy already, bring it out and we'll put a USA Best Book Awards Finalist sticker on it (like the one below). We have a limited number of stickers so it will be first come, first stick! 
If you don't have a copy, I pity the fool!  They can be purchased at the store. If you can't make it this weekend, click the book covers to the right and order one, then when it arrives, call me and I'll sign it and give ya a sticker! No charge.
Just as a sidenote, all of our books will be available for sale Saturday. These all make GREAT gifts for that guy who loves the outdoors and can be hard to buy for. All of the books are under $30 so you can't go wrong. Everyone loves books! Come see us. 

Love to all~

Friday, November 15, 2013

USA BEST BOOK AWARDS FINALIST! "Introduction to Flyfishing for Trout" We bad! We know it!

Yesterday I got an exciting email from our publisher, Robb Clouse, at Stonefly Press. He gave us the news that our book, Introduction to Flyfishing for Trout, was voted a FINALIST in the SPORT genre of the 2013 USA BEST BOOK AWARDS!  Only 5 books in the country make FINALIST, with one WINNER. We didn't win, but FINALIST is an incredible honor!

We knew the book was a special one when we finally saw it put together. It just needed some time on the shelf and in front of the right p eople. It's still hard to believe it made FINALIST, (and even harder to believe that it was beat out by a book about Tae Kwon Do), but it is what it is.

Thank you's go out to all who voted on the book. As well as to Robb for believing in us even though we're both very scattered, not very funny, and can barely write a coherent sentence.

Thanks USA BOOK NEWS! (<--- click to see the full list of winners and finalists) 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Camping in Grand Canyon National Park, AZ


You like tips, right? Good. Hopefully you'll find some incredibly informative ones here if you ever plan to camp in Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona, USA. I wish I had these tips when we went. Believe me, Laura and I learned some things the hard way.

I'm writing this post specifically for campers who plan to camp above the canyon rim, so you won't make the same mistakes we made. (If you're staying in a lodge or backpacking into the backcountry, this blog wasn't meant for you, but you might find SOME helpful info here too.)

Please read this post all the way through. It's not Tolstoy, it's less than 3000 words. So it's fairly painless. And to get the most benefit out if it, please click on every hyperlink. There is great information behind each. 
But before you read these helpful tips, I want you to be aware of the positives we experienced in the park during our stay.  


1. This is one of the cleanest parks you'll ever visit. I'm talking the white-glove-test kind of clean. We found only two tiny pieces of trash the entire time. The park prides itself on cleanliness. Help them out by picking up your own BudLight cans and Kotex boxes. (Yes, that's the two items we found.)

2. The beauty of the canyon/park far outweighs any negatives. The scenery is once-in-a-lifetime. Experience the full gamut of the park and take in all it has to offer. Otherwise you are short changing yourself.

How I pest-proof a cooler.

3. Without a doubt, this conifer ecosystem is the healthiest I've visited in a long time, possibly ever. Trees are healthy -- tall, wide, green, alive -- little-to-no underbrush, and zero dead branches lying around. This is what a taken-care-of forest should look like. Bug life is thriving, birds are abundant and happy, and there are NO RACCOONS and NO BEARS in the park campgrounds, oddly enough. You won't even find bear-proof trash cans. This made us feel safe. We even left our cooler on the ground next to the Subaru overnight, twice, no issues. Not a single stolen beer! Even the varmints are honest!

4. I've never been surrounded by more people, but felt more solitude anywhere else in my life. The park has done an incredible job of making each campsite feel private, isolated and separate from others. The thick pine and juniper cover helps. We were precisely 102 steps from a bathroom facility (I stepped it off) and we couldn't even see it from the Subaru. Pretty cool.

5. Bathrooms are impeccably clean and nearby, no matter where you are in the park. That says a lot. Kiddos and the elderly need the facilities a lot. This place accommodates both!

6. FREE potable drinking water is available nearly everywhere you turn. In an effort to reduce the number of empty water bottles tossed into the park, they've stopped selling bottle water on every corner and created free water taps for all to use. SMART!

7. The night sky is amazing in the park because they participate in Zero Light Pollution efforts. It's an absolutely stunning night sky when you see it in the darkness of the desert. Be sure to check it out at least once!

8. People working in the park are as nice and helpful as you'll ever find. 

9. Everything you forgot, or will ever need, can be found inside the park. (I believe I even saw a dude purchasing a mail-order bride at the train depot. [Jokes.]) Between the cafe, restaurants, and General Store, what you need is what you need .
Some of the super-fresh produce in the General Store.

10. I was going to list 10 Positives, just to make it more comfortable for yourself. But I'm sorta ready to move on to the helpful tips, so 9 will have to do. Lo siento. 


1. When visiting a new place, such as the Grand Canyon, and someone hands you a map, you might expect a handful of items to be on that map, such as:
         a. all the area roads...with names
         b. all the important places...with names (Or at least give me 50% of the points of interest     
             [POI's] in the area)
         c. scale: or something similar to "1 inch equals 1 mile," so I know how far to walk, drive, or     
            crawl back to camp. One must assume that if a gov't entity spends thousands of dollars to
            print a map, certain items should be present - like what's listed above. But that isn't the   
            case with the map they hand you at the entrance. When you go through the park  
            entrance, the attendant is going to ask you if you want a map. Tell them all you want       
            is the 8-page newsprint publication called "The Guide: The Official Newspaper." It
            has all the maps you need for the South Rim, plus a TON of great information. The other
            tri-fold map is (almost) worthless because it lacks critical information. Using it, we
            couldn't find simple things such as our campground, the showers, and the trailhead we
            wanted to hike. We threw the tri-fold map away and finished the weekend using the

2. Since my last visit to the Grand Canyon (almost 10 years ago), a burgeoning new town is emerging between Williams, AZ and Grand Canyon National Park. It's called Tuyasan, AZ -- a terribly convenient little pit stop just before you get into the park, with a McDonald's and such, but also a list of mom & pop restaurants with mixed reviews. I'll let you be the judge. Gas will be slightly more pricey here. If possible, gas up in Williams, Flagstaff, or earlier. But beer, snacks, ice and similar are actually quite affordable and worth stopping for. I scored a sixer of Dirty Guera (Arix

3. IF YOU'RE STAYING IN A CAMPGROUND, do yourself a HUGE favor and visit to make your reservations before you go. You'll notice on this webpage two flags posted on a map at Mather Campground and Desert View -- another confusing issue, because there seems to be several other campsites besides these two. Seemed there were several/many places to camp in primitive camping areas on Hwy 64 between Mather and Desert View, and beyond. Also, apparently there's no need to print any proof you've reserved and paid for a campsite. They'll know when you check in at the campground hut.

4. There are NO DOGS ALLOWED ON TRAILS BELOW THE RIM. We saw only one sign on the Bright Angel Trail that said NO DOGS. We weren't sure if that rule applied to dogs in a papoose, not walking, like our little Katie. Two volunteers posted up right next that that sign asked us "How long will you be hiking? and "Do you have enough water?" We had over 140oz. of water between us, so they let us go without any qualms. But down the trail we were warned there was a hippie getting a citation from a ranger because he had a dog with him. We turned back and headed for camp. Not cool.
Laura carried Katie on her papoose.

5. BEWARE of LACKING SIGNAGE around the park -- it's fairly inept. If you're looking for a particular campsite (let's say Mather Campground) using ONLY posted roadside signage, you probably won't find it. If you want a shower, you won't find them simply by looking for signs. There are no roadside signs posted pointing you to Mather Campground, or Bright Angel Trailhead, or anywhere else that does not steer you to someplace that makes the park money. You'll find plenty of signs pointing you to Market Square, or Yavapai Lodge, or the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. But it is critical you look at a detailed map of the park before you arrive and know in a general sense north/south/east/west, and where your're staying in relation to the major POI's in the park. 

6. Whatever you do, TRY YOUR BEST TO ARRIVE DURING DAYLIGHT HOURS. We dealt with soooo many people arriving at night in a campground with ZERO lighting trying to set up tents and campers in total darkness with the help of only a grumpy wife holding a crappy flashlight, or overkill vehicle headlamps. And let me tell you, both were annoying and kept others from sleeping. Just so you know, darkness is important in AZ! Nearby Flagstaff AZ was the first designated ZERO LIGHT POLLUTION CITY in the world as part of the Dark Skies Coalition. Grand Canyon National Park has followed suit and tried to keep the park as dark as possible at night to preserve the natural beauty of the night sky. You gotta respect that! 

7. DRIVE SLOWER in the park than you might expect, or else you'll end up waxing an elk, squirrel, fox, chipmunk, skunk, skink, or skank, or even the occasional drunk from time to time wanders across the road in front of you without warning. Seriously, kids and families are everywhere too and can pop out on the road at any moment. Slow down.  

8. No soap in the campground bathrooms. You need to take your own, each trip. We used a little $1 pack of soap slivers we got at Pier One Imports. You'll find some at REI and similar camping outfitter places.  

9. Even though you reserved a site online, check-in at the the campground check-in hut once you get there to let them know you made it. They'll have some good information for you (another map, probably tell you where the showers are, etc) plus they'll be aware of what sites are open and occupied.

10. We read plenty of reviews on TripAdvisor and the likes glowing about the showers and how they were only $2 for 8 minutes and "..oh-so worth it..." Don't make the assumption (like we did) that those showers are at the bathroom facility. They're not. We looked, looked, looked, and it wasn't until our final hour of our trip that we found them. At the Mather Campground Check-in hut, the showers are located just up the hill, to the west. (Look for a large white boxcar sitting next to the parking lot that vends ice.) Laura used the shower, not me. Hers actually wouldn't turn off after 8 minutes so she got a the Deluxe Package.  See map below, where the three symbols (Phone, Laundry, Shower) near the parking lot above the check-in station, near Zuni Way. That's where the showers are.

10.  There are no mile markers or distance markers on the canyon trails to let you know how far you've traversed into the canyon. This seems inconvenient, as well as dangerous to me. But what do I know? The maps do show you waypoints and how far they are. But if you can't see them or don't know where they are, you have no earthly idea how far you've walked until you reach one. I don't like that idea. But again, what do I know?

11. The ground at nearly ALL of the campsites are unfortunately hard, dusty, rock scrabble. Bring a ground cloth if you're pitching a tent. Bring sleeping pads. Brink a small rug to wipe your feet before you climb into the tent.

12. There are plenty of turnouts and scenic overlooks. Don't pick one and be done. See as many as you can!


14. Although there are no bears or raccoons to deal with, the ravens in the campground will rob you blind if you don't put things up. They're huge, and walk around like barnyard chickens in search of anything you got!

15. Other helpful reviews of the park's camping areas:
Grand Canyon National Park
Mather Campground
Desert View Campground



Honestly we had a blast in the park, we just wished a handful of things would have been different/easier/explained better  etc...  I know for a fact if you read this blog and follow our guidance, you'll have an easier time than we did. Safe camping and Vaya con Dios, amigos!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Cruces Basin Wilderness, NM: Backpacking in for Backcountry Brook Trout


With much of New Mexico's finest wilderness areas under siege by wildfire and drought, this year our annual pilgramage to the backcountry in search of wild trout led us to the Cruces Basin Wilderness in northern New Mexico.

Listen to the podcast of my son Wesley and I cutting up on the Mel Phillips Southwest Outdoors radio show with my buddy Austin McWhorter hosting. We had a blast bullshitting about the Cruces Basin, tent worms, spooky brook trout, Guy's Fly Hopper, stinky catfish fly pattern ideas, and much more. It was a funny show, you should listen.

GETTING THERE: To get to Cruces Basin Wilderness from the Taos area...
1) Leave Taos heading west/northwest on NM64 to Tres Piedras, NM.
2) At the intersection in Tres Piedras, turn north on Hwy 385.
3) Drive approximately 10.5 miles to FR87, turn west just before the iconic San Antonio Mountain.
4) Follow FR87 for approximately 26 miles to FR572, then turn north.
5) The parking area where FR572 ends is 2 miles down the worst road you've ever driven.
6) From the trailhead, hike appx 2 miles down a well-worn trail till you see the 3 streams' confluence

  • Rods: 1-wt to 4-wt rods (During midday it can get windy, so be aware.)
  • Flies: Guy's Fly Hopper, Stimulators (Orange, yellow, royal), Humpy (red, yellow), Lime Trude, other smallish hopper patterns worked too, Royal Wulff
  • Leaders -- shorter, lighter leaders work best (explained later)
  • CamelBak or similar 
  • Camouflage colored cap/baklava/headgear (explained later)
  • Wear muted shirts, not white, orange, lime green, or any other color of Sherbet ice cream. STEALTH MODE!!!
  • No waders necessary -- You'll fish mostly from edges, so instead of waders, wet wade with versatile shoes such as Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX, or Montrail Bahada, or similar.
  • Polarized lenses
  • Camera

  • From late-April to first heavy snow (September or October). I would wait for runoff to end, prob around May. 
  • JUNE 21st - 24th, 2013

  • BROOK TROUT in the 3 upper creeks, Rainbow Brooks and Browns in lower Beaver Creek near Rio de los Pinos


This year Wesley and I invited my good buddy, Guy Wilkins, to go backpacking with us. Guy is a runner. He's tough-willed, fit, and we knew he could hang. Or so we thought. Two days before we left, doing something as mundane as getting his mail, Guy "tripped" or "stumbled" or some crap like that and strained his calf muscle. He texted and explained. I told him to rest and we'd see him regardless. 

Wes and I prepared and packed for two weeks before the trip. We love the preparation process and use it as our time to amp up and daydream about gloriously-colored trout and crackling campfires and fulfilling meals and frost on the tents...

Guy's calf turned out to be fine, just sore. He carried his weight and then some. If Wes and I didn't have it, Guy did. He came prepared with just about everything you could dream up, which was good, because Wes and I never thought to bring things like little miniature plastic fishes filled with soy sauce. Haha!

We camped one night in Cimarron Canyon before we made it to Cruces. It was a great night of grilling fajitas, sipping on good whiskey for Guy and I, Mio-flavored water for Wes, and getting acclimated to the altitude in increments. 

By 11:00am we were at the Cruces Basin trailhead. Immediately, Guy and I knew there was an issue. 
1000's of  DEAD TENT WORMS

It took us a little bit to get geared up with backpacks on, rods pieced together, water bottles filled, and items of that nature. Before hitting the trail, we had to flick off about 20 caterpillars each from our legs, necks and packs before we could take off. We noticed on the drive up that EVERY aspen tree in the forest was defoliated by the worms, and worried what we'd find in the stream, at camp, and in our undies the next morning.

The hike in is easy. It's downhill all the way, and the trail is hardpan, smooth, and almost without obstacle. A few trees have what seems ancient carvings in them, and one of the rocks seems to resemble a giant butt crack, so I made Wes climb into it for a fun pic. (Guy thinks I'm juvenile.) Guy seemed to be having  more difficult time than usual, due to his knee. He told me today that he was actually in  much more pain than he let on and worried a lot about not making it out. Told ya he was a tough sumbitch!

Guy scoffs at my dubbing this rock formation,
"Butt-Crack Rock."


In an online article I mined searching for info, the well-respected Craig Martin describes the Cruces Basin as a large "funnel" -- there is no better description than that. Three main creeks (Cruces, Beaver, Diablo) and a multitude of seeps, springs, small rivules and tributaries all merge into one stream, the lower Beaver Creek. From there, it dumps from west to east into the Rio de los Pinos near Osier Station. Once the trail arrives above the confluence, the "funnel" description makes sense and the scene is nothing less than spectacular.


Day 1: As soon as we saw the creeks from the trailhead, the wind picked up and turned our eyelids inside out. The first creek you cross is Diablo. It actually looked a little lower than I'd hoped, but as soon as we approached, 10-12 trout darted for cover. Good sign. 

I was going to break in my new "Old School" fiberglass rod that A-Mac had made me, but I had to wait till it settled down a bit to break it out. Wes basically dropped his pack within minutes and slid upstream without saying much more than "I'm going fishing." The trail we were on sidled up next to a large granite outcrop, where we two old farts went to get out of the wind. Within minutes of dropping our packs, Wes chirped from 1/4 mile upstream. From where we stood, we could see his rod tip bent downwards, his smile bent upwards, and splashes on the surface. He'd cracked the code, caught the first trout of the trip, and got Guy and I off our asses and into Ninja mode. 

Diablo is rarely more than 6 feet across at any point. It meanders and undulates about a beautiful valley, with deep cutbanks, very little brush on these lower portions, quiet riffles, long slicks, and plenty of oxbow bends. It does have some deepish pools that might push 3 feet deep. 

Tactics on Diablo came to us slowly. Most fish in NM are not this spooky. But here, the first sign of your cap, reflection off your shades, or any vibration from heavy footfalls pushed fish upstream. You have to come at these pez perpendicular to the stream, crouched down, slowly, silently, ready to cast. This is what I call on-stream Guerrilla Tactics -- shit you gotta do and learn immediately that you may not need anywhere else but that small/spooky stream. You only get one shot at fish like this. If you mess up and line them, stumble over a rock, or of they see your big dumb head, or hear your oafish ass coming, you're effed. 

This is dry fly water, but oddly, you may not be able to watch the strikes. Instead, you might only hear a splash, or see your line move suddenly up or downstream. You're dapping. High-sticking. Not your typical cast, drift, strip line, recast. You're peering over the tops of grasses, not looking at the water upstream. If you see your line move at all, or you see it stop suddenly, set the hook.

We moved upstream for most the day fishing this way, spread out like Vietnam mine hunters, close enough to one another to distinguish a smile from disgust, but too far away to hear a word each other was saying. I swapped flies out like a photographer reloading his film at an S.I. swimsuit shoot. The first hour my luck was like that of the kid who'd forgotten deodorant on Prom night. But once I found my Lime Trude, I was golden. 

Wes was working an orange Stimulator like a magician. He'd caught 4 trout before I'd even gotten stinky handed. I took a picture of my first fish, and went back for more!    

A typical 8" Brookie on Diablo Creek

Guy figured out that if we trimmed down his soon-to-be-famous Guy's Fly Hopper to a narrower profile, the fly didn't seem to scare the fish as much, and seemed to mimic the bazillions of tent caterpillars already flowing past the trout every hour. What we didn't know at the time was the trout weren't eating the worms. So, it's proof positive that Guy's Fly Hopper will work in almost any circumstance. Guy had caught a trout, and a hopper was sticking out of it's mouth unfinished. Once we all went to Guy's Fly Hopper, we were all killin' it! 

Yeah, I know. Right?!

Diablo Creek begins to get choked by a narrow canyon and trees a little over a mile upstream from the confluence with  Beaver and Cruces. But if you trudge through, you'll go through a cattle gate, the valley will open up again, and fishing upstream resumes as normal. 


Day 2: Moving north from the confluence, away from the safety of our outcrop campsite, Cruces Creek is probably the most picturesque of the triplet streams, albeit all three streams themselves act and fish exactly the same. 

The ultimate all-around fly -- Guy's Fly Hopper!

Cruces probably has more springs, seeps, and several seemingly-insignificant runnels feeding it, but this doesn't change the size nor the characteristics of it much at all. (BTW, fish those foot-wide runnels too. There's brookies in them!) There are more exposed rock cliffs and granite outcrops along this stream than the other two, and perhaps there may be a few less bend pools than on Diablo, but a few more deep pools than on upper Beaver, so it was my second favorite of the three. There were more tent worms on Cruces than the other two streams, which made it more difficult to fish, and less attractive a fishery. About every four or five casts you snag a worm and guts would dangle from your fly. Gross. But the utter beauty and solitude of the canyon could not be wagered. This place is heavenly. 

Wes and Guy fished together much of the day on Cruces, often tag-teaming bends and longer runs while I took pictures, read the map, learned how to use my new camera, etc.  Guy taught Wes a few things I never did - The Wilkins' Wind technique being one of them. Around 10:00am the wind picks up and makes casting anything less than a mid-flex rod a nuisance. I'd turned on the steam on the "Old School" rod A-Mac had built me a few months prior. My first trout out it was a delight. Every trout thereafter was like that second, third, fourth bite of your mom's homemade lasagna -- you just keep on shoveling because it's just too damn good to stop. Ultra-light. Ultra-flexible. Ultra-fun for brookies! You need to hook up with A-Mac and get one of these spectacular throw-back rods made for yourself. 

Again, as on Diablo, you go through a gate on the Cruces about a mile and a half upstream from the confluence. There are a few gracious turns in the river that break up the monotony of little structure and quiet water.

We fished Cruces all the way up till there was no more Cruces. I sat in a pool for a bit and used my underwater camera and got a little bit of video you might like to check out.

From there, we fished the better bend pools, cutbanks, riffles, and shaded areas all the way back to camp. By then, we'd had it. We were tired and ready for a sit down and a sip 'o' whiskey. By now we'd hiked 16 miles or so. It was time to chill. 

I rested for about an hour, then, with few sips of liquid courage I set out for lower Beaver Creek on my own. My compadres decided to stay and fish Diablo again till dusk. I needed to see the falls, see if there were bigger fish in deeper pools like I'd read about.

About two miles downstream, over scree slopes and past a lot of unfishable water, I finally got to the falls. I saw fish, and casted to them, but they were as spooky as all the others. If not worse. 

I was HERE. I was here. No one else can write that in the spot that I just wrote it. 

Wes contemplates hitting the sack early during a breathtaking sunset.


Upper Beaver Creek is not much different than Cruces or Diablo. The only difference is that the upper portion of Beaver becomes unfishable much quicker than the other two streams, albeit, a shit ton of trout reside in it. And your mission is to catch them all. 

Beaver creek has a few deep cutbank/bendpool combos that are capable of holding up to 20 fish each. You can actually catch 4 or 5 of those 20 trout in a single pool if you're skilled enough, quiet enough, and lucky enough.

The trout are no different -- 8" to 10" carbon copies of each other. Some are more colorful than others, but all are good fighters and their delicately pink meat tastes divine roasted over the campfire flames with quinoa, cous-cous, or instant potatoes.

Depending on what you read, the lower Beaver (downstream of the notch that squeezes the creek at the confluence) is supposed to be full of beaver ponds, deeper water, and holds bigger fish. In my opinion, that's all bullshit. What I saw with my own eyes were not beaver ponds. The water slows to a glacier's pace due to a lack of slope and an extremely thick alder population. It's muddy, murky, and trout don't like it. In fact, I didn't spook a single trout from the confluence to the falls. I'm positive they're there, but why spend your time searching for trout when you have 20 trout in a single pool above the confluence?


Beaver Creek Sunset

Our Outcrop Campsite

Fireside Chats

No, that's not me peeing in the background. 

Veni, Vidi. Vici. 

Guy prepares for early morning coffee and Mac's oatmeal.

Guy and Wes hike up the Cruces in search of wild trout. 

A damn fine brookie from Beaver Creek.

If you've never had Taos Pizza Outback (like Guy) try it! Wes puts away his Stromboli while I kill a cheese slice! 

Wes agains the twilight sky.

Wes releases a brookie and it says goodbye with a splash!

A brookie checks out my underwater camera.

My best brook trout imitation feeding on tent worms.

My boys eatin' dinner. 

My boys eatin' breakfast.

Wes grabbin' his catch.

Wes fishing upper Beaver creek about a mile upstream of our campsite.

Guy fishing in Cimarron Canyon on a perfect June morning.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

$0.39 Flies & Great Customer Service - FISHING FLY BOX

I wanted to thank and plug a company for all you Trout-Heads who are sick and tired of buying $2 and $3 flies every time you go fishing! REMEDY: FISHING FLY BOX.

If you haven't already discovered, you can thank me later with a gratuitous box of flies from their growing assortments and selections. I found them simply by surfing around looking for a good deal in preparation for my backpacking trip to Cruces Basin Wilderness in late June. I saw $0.39 flies and thought, "Hell, I'm in!"

I placed my order online through their user-friendly interface which shows their insect categories, flies in each category, and other available gear. (Since they sell my favorite flybox by Morell, I grabbed one of those too.)

After about a week, I wondered where my flies were. So, I typed a friendly email using their website, and within 12 hours I had a reply from Milton Wright.

Problem was, since it's high fishing season, many of their flies are on backorder and unavailable. I replied that I was leaving for a fishing trip and really needed/wanted those flies. Doing the right thing, Mr. Wright (no pun intended) did the right thing and sent the flies out to me asap that were available, and offered to send the backordered ones to me once they arrived.

I leave for the wilderness tomorrow a happy man! Thank you, Mr. Wright!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fishing, Food & Lodging : An Essential Guide to Sugarite Canyon State Park, NM / Lake Dorothey, CO

Sugarite Canyon State Park, NM / Lake Dorothey, CO

“She's a surprise this old earth, one big surprise after another since before she separated from the moon who circles and circles like the mate of a shot goose.”

― Peter Heller, The Dog Stars

Where: Raton Range, Colfax County, Sugarite Canyon State Park, Colorado/New Mexico border
Nearby Towns: Raton, NM, Trinidad, CO, Walsenburg, CO
When: best from ice out, mid-April through mid-October,  also ice fishing on Maloya 
Water: three lakes connected by Chicorica Creek, 2 tributary streams w/ riffles, pools
Flyshops: none in the area
Maps: Sugarite Canyon State Park,  another park mapArea map
Species: Rainbow, Cutthroat, Yellow Perch  
Bugs: Caddis, hoppers, Chironomids, leechs, gnats, mosquitos, ants, worms, moths, beetles
Report: Lake Maloya Report
Streamflow: N/A
Altitude:  7800 ft.
Suggested Flies: 
Orange coneheaded Woolley Booger (black/purple)
Stimulator (orange, yellow)  #12-14
Humpy (red, yellow) #14
Elk Hair Caddis (tan, gray) #16-18
Hares Ear (olive, tan) #14-16
Pheasant Tails #14-18
Royal Wulff #14-16
Dave's Hopper


On the map, Sugarite Canyon State Park seems precariously wedged between the Colorado-New Mexico state line. But the actual drive up the meandering New Mexico Route 526 seems to make a liar out of that map. The park opens up like a geologic jack-in-the-box as Lake Maloya appears over your hood.

Every so often, a trout angler finds a spot that seems too good to be true. Like those few special places, Sugarite has it all--solitude, great camping, nice trails, rock climbing, bird-watching, elk, turkey, perfect water, and healthy trout. And not just one body of water to fish, but several.


Lake Alice

Lake Alice is the first pool in the park along NM 526. It's petite, usually off-color and not a very practical fishery for fly rodders. If you only cast flies, pass it by. God invented Lake Maloya just fo you. : ) However, if you're a bait-chunker and/or a spingear-geek, a lot of your type of people have good luck at Alice. Give it a whirl with your usual trout-duping spinners, lures and dough baits.

Lake Maloya

With 120 acres of trout-infested snowmelt, Lake Maloya is the centerpiece of Sugarite. Gas motors are not allowed on the lake, so electric motors, paddles, and flippers keep the noise level down to a quiet hush, making this the ideal environment for those who enjoy quietly fly fishing from canoes, kayaks, float tubes, and even from shore. Try Pistol Petes, leech patterns, Chironomids, and any array of beaded nymphs, such as Prince Nymph, Damselfly Nymph, red Copper John, Black or Purple Woolly Boogers. The cutthroat and stocked rainbows will take any of these flies during certain times of day, and season. (I used a black Woolly Bugger with a fluorescent orange cone head on one particular day on landed about 10-12 trout

Schwaccheim Creek

Schwaccheim is a smallish rivulet that flows into the north side of Lake Dorothey from Fishers Peak Mesa. During the first signs of runoff, trout move up into this rivulet and are easy to see and catch with a 2-wt to 4-wt setup and dries. We’ve not hiked much more than thirty minutes up the creek, but if water is running through it, it’s your Huckleberry.

You’ll catch rainbows, cutthroat and cuttbows averaging 10 inches in this little trib. But don’t get too far into the woods alone. There is a thick bear population in the canyon, as well as mountain lions. Always fish with a buddy. 

Lake Dorothey, CO

Mark emailed me at school one gorgeous April Friday, way back around 2005. Our correspondence went something like this:

MDW: “Hey Mac, want to go to Sugarite Canyon. Lake Dorothey. Tomorrow. And net some trout?”
Mac: “I’m in.”
MDW: “Sweet. How about you come pick me up around 4:30 tomorrow?”
Mac: “In the A.M.?  WTH?”
MDW: “Affirmative. Get a jump start on ‘em.”
Mac: “Good Lord. Might as well get a time machine and we can be there last week.”
MDW: “See you at 4:30 then?”
Mac: “ … “

(2 hours later…)

MDW: [email]  “You still in, Mac?”

I ignored Williams for a spell. I’m an early riser and all, but 4:30 seemed ridiculous.

MDW: “Mac?”
Mac: “What?”
MDW: “Still in?”
Mac: “How ‘bout 6:00 AM. It’s only a 2.5 hour drive!”
MDW: “Fine. We’ll go at 6:00. But make it sharp. You drive. And we’ll speed and make up the time.”
Mac: “ … “

(1 hour later…)

MDW: [email]  “Mac?”
Mac: “What?”
MDW: “See you then?”
Mac: “Fine then.”

When I showed up at 5:50AM, Mark was vomiting through his hands into the bathroom sink. I would call it a hangover, except, it wasn’t over. He was sorta still hangin’. And hell, I had been up for an hour already and arrived ten minutes early, and, by God, we were going fishing whether Williams had alcohol poisoning or not.

I had seen Williams in this condition before. But never before a fishing trip. He and two buddies came to my house one night to toss horseshoes and have beers. It was a last minute thing, and I didn’t have enough beers for four dudes (especially the dudes who were coming over), “so stop and grab something,” I told him. 

Instead, Williams brings a bottle of lower-shelf whisky. A big, plastic sumbitch too. Spin-off cap and everything. Real classy stuff, ya know. That’s how we do it. Anyway, when the guys finally left that night, it was late and I thought they had driven away, so I went to bed like any normal fool. Turns out they all took turns chumming on my fence at the side of the house for a half hour. I found the scene of the slime the next morning when letting the dog out. I telephoned Williams. “What the hell happened to my fence?”
“Aaron threw up on it. What time is it anyway?”
“What?! Why didn’t he hose it off at least? It’s 8:30.”
“He was drunk. I’m going back to bed.”
“By the way,” Williams chortled, “Huseman called to dinosaurs on it too.”
“Truth be told, we all tossed sidewalk pizza on it, Mac. Sorry. It was a beef throw trifecta. I’m going back to sleep.”
“Dude! Seriously. I have neighbors ya know.”
“Yeah, they came out to make sure we were ok. Brought us ice water. Good people. Ciao.” Mark snapped his flip phone closed with a noticeable click.

I tried to hose the splatter patterns off the fence, but whatever was in that whiskey seemed to make the fence water-repellent for about 6 months, and sorta camouflaged-looking too. Every time it rained, the dark stains beaded up with water and reminded me of plastic bottle whiskey.

But this event was different. This was before a fishing trip -- major Bro Code infraction. And he was going fishing no matter how bad it hurt. “I’ll put your gear in my Jeep. When you’re finally dry heaving, come on out. I don’t want you chumming in the floor of my ride. Got it?”

I waited about 20 minutes. The porch light flicked on. Amy, (Mark’s saint of a wife) practically fireman carried her husband to the door. Together we sort of navigated Mark to the passenger seat of my truck the way you might negotiate a half-full waterbed mattress into a dumpster. Moving a drunken Mark Williams from point A to B is similar that.

About two hours down the road, Williams’ eyes became tiny slits, fluttering between open and closed due to the brightness.
“Am I dead?”
“No. You’re in New Mexico, asshole. But it’s snowing like it's Norway. Seems our timing was a day off. We should have come yesterday when it was Hawaii Five-O weather.

Williams’ head lolled over like an underdeveloped infant’s and hit the window. He was out again.

When we finally reached Sugarite, we went straight to Dorothey. As Williams and I crossed over Lake Maloya’s dam, he was still slumbering. I thought, if it was nicer weather I’d like to fish Maloya. But the banks are gradual and exposed to the elements and although the ambient temperature wasn’t that low, it would be quite a bit colder when standing on the bank of a lake that had just thawed out. I’d fish it another day. On to Lake Dorothey.

When you arrive at the parking lot to fish Dorothey, one still might be skeptical. Don’t be. Dorothey is full of rainbow trout, with a handful of cutthroats, and they’re easy to catch if you know where and when to be there. We like to arrive when the snow first begins to melt, and the lake has been thawed for a few weeks.

Williams reluctantly geared up, knowing full well that he had to hike a quarter mile uphill in altitude to get to Dorothey. But, he made it. And the most admiral part was, he didn’t complain one time. We started pitching beadheads and such near the dam, but weren’t having much luck.

The snow stopped shortly after we arrived, and so did the wind. Next thing we knew, the clouds were breaking up, the sun popped out, and the 4 inches of snow was beginning to melt away rather quickly. At first we thought this a bad thing. But when I peeled off on my own and went to the north side of the lake where the inlet of Schwaccheim Creek feeds in, I noticed that the runoff was nice and mostly clear and fish were feeding like college students after a frat party. I snapped a few great pictures of fish in the creek, then started fishing.

Dorothey is approximately 10 acres, so it doesn’t take much time for Williams and I to cover the banks. I’d heard from a buddy that black Woolley Buggers work well at the inlet. So, I tied one with a gold bead, and Williams utilized a black conehead Bugger. (I also recommend a beaded Prince Nymph, and red Copper Johns at the inlet and around the edges of the entire lake.) We stood near the bank where the inlet rushed in, and cast our prizes out into the seam. We stripped back upstream in the crease between the still lake water and the slightly off-colored, quick-moving inlet water. Time after time, trout would mount our flies and take off for the deep with them. For about two hours, we laughed and giggled, tugging in trout after trout, until we figured we had no less than 25 apiece. Each fish looked like a clone of the one before it. Same size. Same coloration. Same fight. We caught so many we got bored with it. I had to change something up. I wanted moving water, so I headed up Schwacchiem Creek, the feeder, to see what I could see. 

Although fishing Schwaccheim was (and always is) fun, it wasn’t nearly as productive as the lake inlet that day. For some reason, the fish were all hanging out in one mass. But there were a few fish in the creek. I caught three in the next hour and a half. And one every thirty minutes isn’t nearly as fun as one every two minutes. So we went back to the inlet and caught about ten more fish each before it was time to head to town and grab a bite, then cruise home.

Chicorica Creek

This creek connects Dorothey to Maloya, and then Maloya to Alice. The best parts of Chicorica  are the inlets and outlets. Rainbows are stocked at some of the turnouts below Maloya, and this is where Wesley missed the biggest “bow” of his seven-year old existence (at the time).

He had done everything so well. He saw the fish and casted to it. The water was so calm it spooked the trout at first, but then it turned and saw it was a bug and launched mouth agape at it. Wes set the hook and had him. HE HAD HIM!!! But when Wes backed up, the fish got snagged on the bank, the tippet popped, and Wes nearly cried he was so disappointed in himself. Plus, he thought he’d disappointed me. It took me an hour to get him to smile again. He finally caught one smaller one an hour later!

Fish these turnouts with extreme quietude and total focus. These fish are spooky because they hear and see quite a bit of visitors from the campgrounds. But if you’re in ninja mode and sneak upon them, cast lightly, keep a low profile, and walk gingerly, we’ve caught 6 fish from the same pool before. Be patient and trout will follow!

Segerstrom Creek

I've never fished Segerstom, and only know about it because one of a park ranger's suggestion. I was on the phone with this man discussing what bugs resided in the lake, and he asked if I'd ever nailed "Seger." I replied, "I know Night Moves, Against the Wind, Turn the Page..." He replied, "I see your Turn the Page and up you a dozen cutthroat an hour." We talked more and he said when the stream flows from snowmelt, cutts run up and find places to spawn. I figured that would be a great time to photograph some trout, but have yet to make it back up to do so. But you heard it from the horse's mouth. A dozen cutthroat an hour are available in the creek that feeds into the west side of Lake Maloya, when it's flowing. I know that Opportunity Trail hits Segerstrom, then turns into Segerstrom Trail. If you have the wherewithal to hike over the mesa and down to the water, take your flyrod and see what you can see. My bet is you'll strike it rich

Favorite Sugarite Trout Holes: 

  • The turnout on the east side of the road just shy of the Maloya dam 
  • Segerstrom Creek in early spring when it's flowing 
  • Schwaccheim Creek in early spring or when it's flowing 
  • The rocks of the Maloya dam are a good place to cast from and see cruisers 
  • The southwest inlet where Segerstrom Creek seeps into Maloya
  • Upper Chicorica Creek between Maloya between Dorothey is fun and full of small trout
  • The inlet at Lake Dorothey 
  • The east bank where some logs jut out of Dorothey  

Fishing Tips

  • Fish a medium-length 3-wt on the streams (7'6"-), and longer 5-wt rod on lakes (8'6"+) 
  • Even if you catch a trout in a pool on Chicorica Creek, keep fishing the pool. You'll catch more than one fish in each pool. 
  • Fish the turnout just , but also wade upstream and down, away from the road
  • Toss flies into lake inlets, and hit the grassy/drop-off edges on the streams
  • Wade into the thickets along Chicorica Creek and Schwaccheim Creek quietly. STEALTH! 
  • The lakes fish well early in the mornings, throughout midday, and again in the evening 


Add caption
Raton, New Mexico is close enough that you could Home Base in town if you didn’t want to camp, and return at night for dinner. My buddy, Page McKinney, took me to eat at Icehouse Restaurant once for their BBQ sandwich. It was one of the best I’ve had. They’re located at 945 S. 2nd Street, ‎(575) 445-2339. 

Look at this thing!!!

Killer Burgers too!! 

Also try the Oasis (pictutred below) at 1445 S 2nd Street, (575) 445-2221. Although it might look like Norman Bates relocated and set up shop here, don’t let it’s looks fool you. This place serves a really good Red Chile Enchilada plate, and hand made hamburgers that will make you slap yer momma.  

Oasis Restaurant & Motel


Camping in Sugarite is what makes this place so magical. There are 11 sites at the Lake Alice Campground with electric hookups -- 41 developed sites in Lake Alice and Soda Pocket Campground offer exceptional tent camping. Picnicking is permitted at both campgrounds. Group shelters are located in Gambel Oak Group Area. Soda Pocket Campground is a first-come, first-serve campground which does not require reservations. 

Overhead view of Soda Pocket Campground, Sugarite Canyon State Park - one of the best campgrounds in New Mexico.

An adjacent campground, the Gambel Oak Group Camping Area, is now available by reservation via the internet at or by calling toll free at 877-664-7787. There are multiple trails to hike which take you through oak and conifer forests, across the tops and edges of 100 foot vertical basalt cliffs, next to creek sides and lake banks. You stand a great chance of spotting deer, elk, bear, mountain lions, turkeys, bald eagles, numerous varmints, lizards, snakes, and countless species of birds. The colorful blankets of wildflowers blooming in the spring make the canyon feel exceptionally inviting. Bring a lot of water on your hikes, and lots of snacks.


In 2011, the Track Fire wildfire burned much of Sugarite Canyon, especially effecting Lake Dorothey and related trout streams. In many cases, it takes years, sometimes a decade or more, for habitat to return to a habitable state. Before planning a trip to Sugarite Canyon State Park, please contact the main office for camping and fishing reports. 

Robert McIvor


211 Highway 526
Raton, NM 87740