By GEORGE MORSE
Sports And Outdoors
Los Alamos Daily Post
With below-freezing temperatures forecast this week, it won’t be long before the ice-fishing season gets into full swing here in Northern New Mexico.
Currently, none of the popular destinations for ice fishing are open as the ice is still considered unsafe for fishing.
New Mexico State Parks are open for day use only, usually between the hours of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Only New Mexico residents may use the facilities. Masks must be worn and social distancing practiced.
Many people are surprised that there is ice fishing in New Mexico and that temperatures can plummet to well-below zero in many locations.
Historically, people would be surprised at the record-low temperatures for our state. The all-time record low was recorded at Gavilan in 1951. A bone-chilling minus-50 degrees. You won’t find Gavilan on a lot of maps, as it is a small community in western Rio Arriba County north of Cuba.
Most of the time, winter is pretty easy to take in New Mexico. However, every now and then winter will slap you in the face and it’s best to be prepared for those times.
I was living in Española in 1971 when the temperatures fell to minus-37 degrees in January. The battery in my truck froze solid. Water pipes froze and burst. The temperatures were so cold that the pressure in the natural gas lines fell so low that many homes had no heat. It was truly a life-threatening situation. Hotels in Santa Fe opened their rooms to locals during the emergency situation. Albuquerque set its record low of minus-17 degrees in 1971, as well.
Although those record-low temperatures seem like a thing of the past, as recently as 2011 cold temperatures created emergency situations in several communities here in Northern New Mexico. A period of below-zero temperatures in February that covered nearly the entire state led to gas lines serving small communities like Española and Taos being shut off to protect the larger cities from running out of gas. For several below-zero nights we shivered, relying on electric space heaters and good, old wood-burning stoves and fireplaces to try to keep warm. National Guard troops took to the streets, helping residents relight all their pilot lights once gas was restored.
We can still set records. The temperature at Eagle Nest Sunday (Dec. 13) fell to minus-14 degrees, a record for that date.
Not surprisingly, Eagle Nest Lake State Park is one of the prime ice-fishing destinations. Although closed to ice-fishing now due to unsafe conditions, it shouldn’t be long until the ice is thick enough to safely fish on. Rainbow trout, yellow perch and northern pike are the species that can be caught, with an occasional kokanee salmon. For more information and current conditions, call (575).377.1594.
Fenton Lake State Park in the Jemez Mountains is another popular ice-fishing destination. Although currently closed due to unsafe ice conditions, it was stocked Dec. 9 with 1,190 rainbow trout. There should be plenty of trout to be caught once the ice is safe for fishing. Fenton also has wild brown trout and you might catch a Rio Grande cutthroat trout from an earlier stocking. Fenton Lake is stocked throughout the winter. Call (575).829.3630 for current conditions.
Sugarite Canyon State Park is open. Lake Alice and Lake Maloya are both currently closed to ice fishing. Lake Alice is a small lake and the fishing is primarily for recently-stocked rainbow trout. Lake Maloya is much larger and is capable of producing larger, holdover trout. It is well-stocked too. Call (575).445.5607 for current conditions Storrie Lake State Park near Las Vegas is open Thursday-Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. The fishing here should pick up as it was stocked Dec. 3 with 5,085 rainbow trout averaging 8.3 inches in length. Ice may start to form on this lake. Call (505).425.7278 for conditions.
Heron Lake State Park is open. The kokanee salmon snagging was very slow over the weekend. The best fishing may be from the bank for rainbow trout with the possibility of catching a lake trout. Call (575).588.7470 for conditions. El Vado Lake State Park is closed for the season.
Laguna del Campo near Los Ojos is closed.
Most high elevation lakes are now frozen over and may be inaccessible due to ice and snow.
Santa Cruz Lake near Chimayo normally does not freeze over and usually has open water. It is open Thursday-Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The fishing can be good here in the winter. The temperatures have been cold even at this lower-elevation lake and thin ice may be forming, especially in the mornings. The Santa Cruz River is iced over.
Abiquiu Lake is open to walk-in fishing. The lake level is low. The fishing has been slow for walleye and trout.
Ute Lake State Park is open. The fishing should be slow-to-fair for white bass. Conchas Lake State Park is open. Santa Rosa Lake State Park is open and anglers have been catching some crappie. Sumner Lake State Park is open and fishing for walleye could be fair.
Over in the Four Corners, Navajo Lake State Park is open. This lake does not freeze over. The kokanee salmon snagging is just about over. The best fishing may be for trout and possibly northern pike. It was stocked last week with a total of 25,575 small rainbow trout. Call (505).632.2278 for conditions.
Lake Farmington is open. This Lake is administered by the City of Farmington. It has been stocked Dec. 9 with 1,785 rainbow trout.
Tiger Park Pond in Aztec was stocked Dec. 1 with 1,344 rainbow trout. Aztec Pond #1 was stocked with 192 rainbow averaging 18.3 inches in size.
Bluewater Lake State Park is open. There is some ice on the lake and it is currently closed due to increasing ice conditions. Temperatures here can vary by as much as 50-degrees, with lows in the single digits. It has been stocked with rainbow trout and you can still catch the big tiger muskies that this lake holds during the winter. Call (505).876.2391 for current conditions.
Most small streams are now icing over and difficult to fish. The larger rivers are the best bet this time of year, especially below dams.
The Chama River below Abiquiu Dam is flowing at 74.1 cubic-feet-per-second. This is a low flow and fishing conditions are good. The water here is usually murky. The fishing has been good for stocked and holdover rainbow trout. There are some big, wild brown trout here.
The Chama River below El Vado Dam is flowing at 105 cubic-feet-per-second. This is a good level for fishing, which has been fair-to-good for stocked rainbow trout and wild brown trout. You may catch some small Rio Grande cutthroat trout here. Please release them carefully and give them a chance to grow.
The Rio Grande streamflow is 271 cubic-feet-per-second at Taos Junction Bridge. This is below normal but still a good flow for this time of year. The fishing has been fair-to-good for rainbow and brown trout. The Rio Grande in the Pilar area was stocked Dec. 10 with 2,252 rainbow trout.
The Red River near the Red River Fish Hatchery is flowing at 34 cubic-feet-per-second. The fishing is normally fair-to-good here. It was stocked Dec. 9 with 701 rainbow trout. The upper Red River above Questa is icing over.
Eagle Rock Lake near Questa is likely iced over. I have never heard of anyone ice fishing here, but it may be worth a try.
Use extreme caution when testing the ice thickness.
The best winter-fishing river and well-known throughout the angling world is the San Juan River below Navajo Dam. The streamflow here is 367 cubic-feet-per-second, which is about 50-percent of normal. It will be decreased Wednesday to 250 cubic-feet-per-seond. It will be increased to 350 cubic-feet-per-second Thursday.
The fishing has been fair-to-good with a variety of fly patterns in the Quality Water. The fishing here is catch-and-release with flies and lures having a single, barbless hook. The fishing in the Bait Water below the Quality Water has been fair-to-good with flies, bait and lures. The Bait Water was stocked Dec. 8 with 1,012 rainbow trout.
The Pecos River above the town of Pecos is icing over. During the winter, the Pecos River is stocked with rainbow trout at Villanueva State Park, which is open. Fishing can be good after these stockings. It was stocked Dec. 8 with 543 rainbow trout.
The trout fishing has been fair in the Jemez River. The streamflow was 9.92 cubic-feet-per-seccond.
In the Albuquerque area, Tingley Beach is open again. Fishing should be at least fair for stocked rainbow trout. It was stocked Dec. 8 with 2,062 rainbow trout.
The Albuquerque area drainage canals are stocked with rainbow trout about every other week. The fishing should be fair in the Albuquerque, Albuquerque South, Belen Riverside, Corrales Riverside and Peralta drains. They were all stocked last week.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park is open. Fishing this time of year for white bass and catfish can be very good if you can locate where the fish are schooled up, which they tend to do in the winter. Now is a good time to perhaps hire a guide, as they make it their business to know where the fish are. The water level is extremely low. It will likely slowly rise over the winter as they try to store as much water as possible to prepare for spring planting.
The Rio Grande below Elephant Butte Lake is barely flowing as they are not releasing water from the lake. The streamflow was 0.92 cubic-feet-per-second. The fish are congregated in the deeper pools. The fishing has been fair for catfish. It was stocked Dec. 4 with 1,299 rainbow trout.
In the Ruidoso area, the fishing remains good at Alto Lake and Grindstone Reservoir. These lakes are administered by the City of Ruidoso and reserved for residents and property owners of Lincoln County, as well as residents of Mescalero.
Alto Lake was stocked Dec.3 with 612 rainbow trout. Grindstone Reservoir was stocked with 762 rainbow trout.
The Ruidoso River was flowing at 0.27 cubic-feet-per-second at Ruidoso. It was stocked Dec. 3 with 250 rainbow trout.
Streamflow at Hollywood was 3.87 cubic-feet-per-second.
The State Game and Fish Department stocks many of the small municipal lakes in Southern New Mexico. Several lakes in the Carlsbad area receive heavy stockings. Carlsbad Municipal Lake was stocked Dec. 4 with 1,500 rainbow trout. Lake Van was stocked with 1,500 rainbow trout.
In Southwest New Mexico. Lake Roberts has been fair for trout and catfish. This is a trophy-bass lake where the limit is two largemouth bass-per-day 14 inches in size or longer.
Bear Canyon Lake has fair fishing for stocked rainbow trout. There are also catfish and crappie here.
Bill Evans Lake received a heavy stocking of rainbow trout two weeks ago and the fishing for them should still be fair.
There are catfish here. This is a trophy bass lake where the limit is two largemouth bass-bass =per-day 14 inches in size or longer. The state-record largemouth bass was caught at Bill Evans Lake.
Quemado Lake has been fair for rainbow trout. This lake can sometimes freeze because it sits in a cold spot where the temperature can fall dramatically despite its southerly location.