Under a turquoise sky, casting a line into glassy, sparkling water is a serene start to a day before the rod bends and dances during a welcomed battle to land a catch. Traffic noise is miles away. Video game controllers have no usefulness. Out here, texting is for the birds. What matters is the connection between mankind and nature; between father and daughter, and mother and son, and grandparents and grandchildren.
Whether fly fishing, standing on a river bank or from a boat, fishing for wild brown trout, Río Grande cutthroats and rainbows has been a popular year-round excursion for many a Northern New Mexican. A passion for fishing is passed down for generations. To keep fishing a family tradition, the fish and their environment must be protected.
The Enchanted Circle Trout Unlimited (ETCU) chapter traces its roots back to 1959 when the national chapter was formed. A group of sportsmen in Michigan formed an organization which was to be called Trout Unlimited. The primary focus was dedication to ensuring that wild and native trout populations were allowed to thrive as nature intended. This dedication spawned a movement that embraced the concept of conservation at its highest level. This organization now has more than 400 chapters and over 300,000 members throughout the United States, including the Enchanted Circle Chapter, which currently has 140-plus members.
The ETCU chapter was formed in 2007. Doug Palmer was living in northeast New Mexico and was a member of Trout Unlimited. A friend stopped by as Palmer was reading the latest issue of Trout Unlimited magazine and a conversation ensued about his hope for a chapter to be formed in northeast New Mexico. As circumstance would have it, his friend happened to be on a flight a couple of weeks later and seated next to him was the president of Trout Unlimited. The president called Palmer and they began laying the groundwork that would eventually become the Enchanted Circle Chapter.
In trying to define what is the Enchanted Circle Chapter and the national organization it represents is best served by reviewing the various programs and philosophies. The vision of the national organization is that by the next generation Trout Unlimited will ensure that robust populations of native and wild cold water fish will once again thrive within their North American Range, so that our children can enjoy healthy fisheries. It is a belief that conservation should be a true partnership between landowners, agencies, municipalities and all stake holders. The ETCU embraces this vision on a grass-roots level.
The vision is identified in four core areas:
• Protect (native and wild trout watersheds)
• Restore (habitat, flows and water quality)
• Reconnect (watersheds by removal of migratory barriers)
• Sustain (by land conservancy, youth education and membership development)
The following is a brief summary of ECTU’s involvement and projects in furtherance of Trout Unlimited's mission and vision:
1. An effort to have 4 miles below the Red River Hatchery foot bridge designated Special Trout Water adopting catch-and-release regulation using artificial flies and lures with single barbless hooks only. Completed July 15.
2. Red River Angling Park and hatchery stream improvements and restoration. In addition, a stretch of the Red River upstream of the Questa Ranger Station has been identified and scheduled for improvement and restoration.
3. Columbine and Hondo tributaries hold genetically pure strains of Río Grande cutthroats. The project involves placing barriers to protect these pure strains of cutthroat from other fish.
4. ECTU is a member of the Cimarron Water Alliance, which is a collaboration of agricultural, municipal and recreational water users. ECTU partners with Philmont Scout Ranch in River Corridor as a classroom engaging communities in the health of the Cimarron River watershed.
5. Fence and horse trap repair and construction on the waterways in the northeast area of New Mexico.
6. ECTU sponsors Trout in the Classroom. ECTU provides aquariums, water chillers and related equipment to school programs in the cities of Taos, Cimarron and Red River. Students rear trout from eggs to juvenile then release them into streams. Students went to Eagle Rock Lake for a fish release on May 5.
7. The Taos High School science project involves working with teachers and students. ECTU provides funding for water quality and biological sampling. The data provides baseline information to ECTU and resource agencies, which is used to evaluate the effectiveness of stream habitat restoration projects.
8. ECTU organizes or participates with other groups in periodic trash cleanups along rivers and streams with support provided by the USFS, BLM and New Mexico Dept. of Game and Fish. Past projects have included the Red River, Cimarron, Río Hondo, Río Grande and Río Fernando.
9. ECTU is deeply committed to Project Healing Waters. Members serve disabled military veterans with monthly fly-tying sessions, casting lessons and fishing trips.
10. ECTU provides support for Casting for Recovery, serving breast cancer survivors at all stages of recovery with an annual retreat for 14 woman at no cost to the participants. The project introduces women to the physical and emotional healing qualities of fly fishing.
11. ECTU participates in water sampling and testing in streams and rivers with other volunteer sampling groups (e.g. Water Sentinels). Volunteers are trained to sample water on a regular basis and send samples to certified laboratories for analysis.
12. ECTU is currently involved in planting willow trees along the Red River near Eagle Rock Lake. The willows provide shade to cool the stream water to promote healthy fish habitat and stabilize the banks to control erosion.
13. ECTU was engaged in presenting the annual Kids Fish Fiesta in conjunction with the Village of Questa, town of Taos, New Mexico Game & Fish and United States Forest Service. The event was held at Eagle Rock Lake on June 3.
14. Each year ECTU puts on a two-day guided fishing tournament for teams of three fishermen and a guide. It both raises money for the chapter, and also provides a lot of fun and great prizes for the best teams.
15. The annual Banquet is ECTU’s largest fundraiser of the year.
For more information, go online to tu.org and ec-tu.org. If you are already a member don’t forget to renew. If you are not a member please join us. Call Chapter President Tom Harper at (602) 206-0296 if you have questions or want to get involved.
Most importantly, get involved. You have the opportunity to do a great deal of good for our environment, the community and the sport of fishing.
Taos News Special Sections Editor Scott Gerdes contributed to this story.