"The Trout is a fish highly valued, both in this and foreign nations. He may be justly said, as the old poet said of wine, and we English say of venison, to be a generous fish: a fish that is so like the buck, that he also has his seasons; for it is observed, that he comes in and goes out of season with the stag and buck.." Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1653.
"And you are to note, that there are several kinds of Trouts: but these several kinds are not considered but by very few men; for they go under the general name of Trouts; just as pigeons do, in most places; though it is certain, there are tame and wild pigeons; and of the tame, there be hermits and runts, and carriers and cropers, and indeed too many to name. Nay, the Royal Society have found and published lately, that there be thirty and three kinds of spiders; and yet all, for aught I know, go under that one general name of spider. And it is so with many kinds of fish, and of Trouts especially; which differ in their bigness, and shape, and spots, and colour." Walton, Compleat Angler.
In our 1998 summer issue, our cover story reported on the Fishing America Project of Art School alum Larry Stark '65, a printmaker and photographer.
Stark's project, which he defines as a "conceptual work of art," was originally to catch a different fish with a different fishing partner in each of the 50 states. The project would be recorded visually and also form the basis of a book.
When we last left him, Stark had 16 states and fish to go. This summer, after using his artistic license (see box on page 5) to modify his original plan, Stark found himself trudging through New Mexico in search of his ultimate catch, a trout species called the Rio Grande Cutthroat. Here's how things went:
James Holmes was the first person I contacted after I conceived the Fishing America project in 1990. He is responsible for the creation of the fishing contract that would hold people to their commitment to fish with me for the project. At the time, James lived in Kansas, but we agreed to fish in Colorado, which we did. Since then, he moved to the desert near Santa Fe, New Mexico, the state where I planned to finish the project by catching the rio Grande Cutthroat Trout.
In 1972, I was a visiting artist at Illinois State University in Normal, where I created a limited edition lithograph with a master printer name Steve Britko. Steve and I hit it off, and we vowed to stay in touch, but he moved and I moved and we lost contact, so it cam as a surprise when I was talking to James 30 years later and he mentioned that he walk every morning with his neighbor and friend, Steve Britko.
Since I had fished with James in Colorado and wanted to fish with a different person in each state, I talked Steve into signing the New Mexico contract. My grandson, Jay and I arrived at James and Susan Holmes's house on a Sunday in June. I handed James some homegrown garlic. "It's organic," I said, proudly.
"That's okay, I have some chemicals I can put on them," James said. Then he told us he and Steve had been fishing the day before.
"I thought you were branding cattle?"
"We did that in the morning and fished in the afternoon. That's our version of multitasking. You want to go for a ride to the Pecos River? I'll show you where to fish." (Jay and I were going to camp and fish for a few days on the Pecos by ourselves before I went after the Cutthroat with Steve.)
We rode to Tererro, with its downtown of a combination store and horse stable. We saw the town of Cowles, which is just a county highway department pile of sand, a dumpster and two ponds. Then we came to the Panchuela Creek campground, where James said we ought to fish, and he advised us where: "Go beyond the Bud boundary."
"What's that?" Jay asked.
"That's the greatest distance most fisherman will venture from the beer cooler." James explained.
The next day Jay and I camped at Panchuela Creek. We'd heard that both Panchuela and Dave's Creek, which runs into it, have some Rio Grande Cutthroat. I fished three solid days in Dave's Creek, Panchuela Creek and the Pecos River without catching anything. Jay fished briefly the first day and decided fly-fishing wasn't for him. He hiked and played in the creek and did 16-year-old things while I tried to catch just one Rio Grande Cutthroat.
The fourth day we went to Santa Fe for some halfhearted tourism. It didn't take long to decide it is a theme park, so we returned to James's and had been sitting in his yard for some time when he drove up the drive, opened his car door and asked, "Catch any?"
"Did you fish?" he asked sarcastically.
"I fished a lot! Ask Jay."
"He fished a lot."
"On the last day I had five hits and a swirl, but I didn't hook any of them. Are you set on going up there tomorrow?"
"I have the day off. Why?"
"Would you consider a different place, about a hundred miles farther?"
Drawing a blank on a 'flat area'
"Cuba," I said, fumbling through my pockets for the map a fisherman had drawn for me. "Here it is. At Cuba, we turn right, continue about eight miles to the parking lot, then go another two miles to the Rio de Las Vacas River. The guy said you walk about a half mile up stream past the old dam and there is an open area called a Nuts! I can't remember anything anymore. What is it called?"
"Flat water?" he suggested.
"No," I said. "The land is called a . . . what?"
"You're talking about a flat area?"
"It's an area where the valley gets wider," I said.
James went looking for some UPS parcels that had been delivered. When he returned, I remembered: "Meadow!"
We talked about our fishing information for a while and realized the place the fisherman told me about is the same place a woman who works at his favorite fly-fishing shop had told him about.
James and Susan live in an apartment attached to a ranch stable. I noticed the ranch house and asked James about his landlord. "Henry and Peg. Peg is the daughter of Arthur Peck, who started the Ghost Ranch. Henry's father was the first ranch foreman on the Ghost Ranch. Henry and Peg grew up together on the ranch. After a marriage for each, they got together and married each other.
The 'weird lady' was Georgia O'Keeffe
"Peg's mother and father built a house which they lived in while their compound was being built," James continued. "Right after they moved to the compound, Georgia O'Keeffe showed up and rented the house. Arthur refers to her as 'the weird lady.'"
"They considered her weird?"
"Yeah. Very private! Peg said she and other kids would go down to see her and she would give them candy to leave. Henry and Peg have some incredible photo albums of the Ghost Ranch. You know the big touring cars of the 1920s? Every summer they took a six-week trip, overland, from the Ghost Ranch to the Grand Canyon through the Navajo Reservation. Overland! Not on roads."
"Didn't they have roads then?" I asked.
"They don't have roads now."
We drove to a Mexican restaurant. As we ate, I suggested, "Since we both got the same information about the Rio de Las Vacas, maybe we should go there tomorrow."
"Yeah! That's where we'll go tomorrow, up to Cuba." After a short pause he added, "I still don't believe you didn't catch any fish at the Pecos River. Anything interesting happen?"
"The first day, Jay walked up the creek trail to the caves. The stream flows into the cave and runs under ground for about a block before reappearing again. He went into the cave and wished he had a flashlight."
Jay popped in, "I put my hand down on a rock and there was a flashlight, which I picked up and used to explore the cave."
Looking at me, James needled, "Maybe you should have wished for a fish."
I ignored him and resumed our tale. "On a trip to the parking lot we found a small zip lock bag with what was probably cocaine in it."
James didn't have to think long on that subject, "That is a natural place to do drug deals."
A broken bottle in the campground
I continued, "The next morning when I went to get something from the car, four US Forest Service trucks caravanned into the parking lot. Two guys got out of each vehicle and after a meeting, one of them walked around the five-site campground looking for something. When he returned I asked why they were there and he said, 'We have a report of a broken bottle in the campground, but I couldn't find it.' I told them where to look. One of them picked it up, and they got in their trucks and drove away.
"Later in the day I was talking to a Spencer Tracy look-alike in the parking lot who was getting ready to backpack to the caves with his two young sons. They seemed to take forever getting ready, so I said, 'Hope the walk doesn't take as long as the packing.' He explained that it would be too dark to pitch a tent when they arrived and thus they needed to find their flashlight. I lent them the one Jay found and off they went. The next day they came back to our campsite and returned it.
"In the evening we were back at the parking lot, getting some supplies from the car and I talked to two fishermen who had just fished Panchuela Creek. They had caught two Brown Trout each. They gave me the Rio de Las Vacas information."
The next morning James, Jay and I drove to Cuba and stopped at the Forest Service office for directions. They said we should go out Highway 126 to Fire Road 70 to the Clear Creek parking lot. Then hike the Clear Creek Trail past the San Gregorio Reservoir. There we could fish Clear Creek for Rio Grande Cutthroat.
So we drove about eight miles into the mountains to the parking lot just as three other guys were starting their walk to San Gregorio Reservoir. James and Jay joined these guys for the half-mile walk to the lake. I fell behind. After a bit I met two members of the Fish and Game Service. They had damaged the trail when they drove up a couple days earlier, and the Forest Service officers told them they had to repair the trail or not use it again. They still had loads of fish they needed to stock in the reservoir, so they gave in on the issue. While I was talking to these guys, a fisherman walked down the trail carrying a real nice Rainbow. He had fished the lake for several hours but had only one hit. He was happy though, because he caught the fish. The Fish and Game guys were so proud to have stocked this fish they photographed it.
Meanwhile, James and Jay waited for me at the reservoir with the directions to the Rio de Las Vacas they'd got from their walking companions. One of them, Frank Lucero, said he'd send me a nice photograph of the spot. (And he did. You can see it at http://www.larrystark.com/mountainmeadow.jpg) The best part of their directions was, "You will know when you are there."
I still thought we were going only another mile to fish Clear Creek, but James and Jay knew we were going farther to fish the Rio de Las Vacas. After another half-mile I found out how far when I saw a sign: "Rio de Las Vacas - six miles."
Boy Scouts give directions
The trail forked away from Clear Creek at that point. Soon, we came upon a small tributary. I decided to stop and fish there while James and Jay walked on. After a couple casts, a troop of Boy Scouts passed by. They suggested I go farther up the trail because "it's real pretty up there."
I'd already figured out the fishing was going to be poor where I was, so I walked on to the next stream and fished there until Jay returned to tell me, "James has caught two fish already."
So I walked with Jay the remaining miles to the Rio de Las Vacas, which was located in a beautiful meadow and full of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout. After putting my waders on, I started crawling around sneaking up on the fish. When I hooked the first one, I overreacted and set the hook so hard the fish went flying through the air and landed unhooked in the next pool downstream.
Soon I came upon a large pool of fish. I worked my way over to the side where they couldn't see me. I sat down on the bank about 10 feet from the water and cast my fly into the pool. After several hits, the action stopped and I changed to a different fly. After several more hits I changed the fly again. After many fly changes and three or four hits on each fly, I realized I was fishing with barbless hooks!
I changed to a Number 18 barbed dry fly and caught a fish. My camera broke during the walk up the trail, so there I was, holding the only Rio Grande Cutthroat I will probably ever see and my camera was broken. Jay was watching me fish and luckily, he had his camera with him. He gets credit for the photograph above.
James and I both walked rather slowly the two hours and 45 minutes back to the car. During our trek James told me he had caught about a dozen fish.
Friday the 13th and a full moon
That evening we headed over to Steve Britko's house to talk about our trip and how exhausted James and I were. I also told them, "It's Friday the 13th and it's a full moon, and when I called home earlier, I was told Barb's and my eighth grandchild was born today. A girl."
"Congratulations! What's her name?"
"You would have to know my son and my daughter-in-law to understand this. Since she was born at home with a midwife, they don't have to come up with a name immediately, so they haven't. They are talking about waiting until she is old enough to choose her own name. They are also considering Sabine. I suggested 'Full Moon Friday the 13th' or 'Rio Grande Cutthroat' or 'Fourteen Mile Walk.'"
My five-day fishing permit had expired, so Jay and I tagged along Saturday
morning while James and Steve fished Cow Creek. I took photographs and
Jay climbed a mountain. On the way back to Santa Fe, we found a new
"Didn't you and James fish last year from your horses in Colorado?" I asked.
Landing fish with horses
"That's right," he recalled. "It was the damnedest thing. The lake was full of Kokanee Salmon. We were helping a friend round up his cattle in Colorado. We came across a fence the Fish and Game people had put across the river that flows into the lake. The Kokes were trying to swim upstream to spawn, and they were piled up below the fence, stacked on top of each other. We rode our horses into the stream and the fish jumped out of the water onto the shore."
"So you fished using horses instead of fishing poles?"
"I guess you can say that."
Since salmon decompose during the spawning process, I asked, "weren't they too far gone?"
"Oh, no! They were good to eat."
The BBQ guy was listening to Johnny Rivers. "Where have all the flowers gone " was playing very loud and we had already heard Rivers singing two other songs that other singers had made into hits, when Steve said, "This must be called, 'Johnny Rivers Sings Everybody.'"
Then our conversation turned to art. "How many galleries do you have representing your work?" Steve asked.
My answer took us to other issues, including the relative honesty of various dealers we know and the attempt by some curators to control the direction of art. We had both vented quite a bit and heard most of "Johnny Rivers Sings Everybody," when James returned with the BBQ and announced, "He [the owner] is from Argentina and we lucked out, because we have his last chicken."
The following day, Jay and I were ready to hightail it home. New Mexico was the 50th and final state, and it had been a grand finish for "Fishing America." We drove up through the mountains for a last view of the area (including Taos—another theme park) and on to the center of Kansas. The day after that, I drove the 750-plus miles home.