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This past November, I successfully fly fished for striped bass at Elephant Butte Reservoir on the Rio Grande River in southern New Mexico. What made this fishing so remarkable is that, to my knowledge, nobody had ever done it before. The locals from the nearby town of Truth or Consequences often fish for the reservoir’s bass population with spin tackle, catching largemouth, smallmouth and white bass in addition to the large striped bass. While visiting relatives in the area who own the Marshall Hot Springs Baths, I inquired about fly fishing possibilities, but found no local interest. I knew that stripers are fished on both coasts with fly rods, but apparently no one had ever tried to fly fish for them at Elephant Butte.

I eventually contacted a local guide named Buddy Humphrey (*). I talked with him a few times on my annual visits to the area, and kept asking when the best time would be to catch stripers using a fly rod. Each time, the most I could get as a reply was "spring or fall." Finally, I made arrangements with Humphrey to fish the reservoir from November 5 to 7. While we were making our plans, Humphrey mentioned that the weather had been so warm that the stripers were still very deep, but said I should bring my fly rod in case the area got a cold snap.

In preparing for my trip, I read up on striped bass fishing and told several of my Montana fly fishing buddies about my planned trip. One of my friends who regularly fishes Pyramid Lake told me to bring flies that looked like shad, so I bought #4/0 and #2/0 Clouser Minnows in silver and white with yellow lead eyes. My friend also said that when he fishes Pyramid Lake, he uses a lead core line for a shooting head and a good quality running line to get the line down deep quickly. He loaned me his set-up to take with me along with my four-piece, 10-weight rod and reel, plus one intermediate sinking line.

As it turned out, on my first fishing day with Humphrey we landed five stripers that each weighed between 10 and 24 pounds, although none were caught on my fly rod. That wasn’t because of lack of effort, however, because I made a lot of casts. The main thing I learned that day was I could indeed get my Clouser Minnow down to the fish, but getting them to take wasn’t going to be easy. I also learned that I never want to wrap lead core line with a #2/0 Clouser Minnow with yellow lead eyes around my head again!

The second day on the lake was good for sightseeing but not for fishing. Nothing was happening anywhere; not even the birds were flying. The break did give me a chance to enjoy the beauty of the New Mexico high desert (elevation 4,800 feet) and to soak up some warm sunshine. This day and each day we fished, the mornings were very cool. As each day progressed, the temperature would rise into the mid-70’s with a little breeze. The wind really blew hard only on the second day, but even then it never posed a problem.

The third day was one of those days I will remember for the rest of my life. Early on, we caught a 12-pound striper on one of the down lines. We worked that area hard with no further luck, and eventually moved up the lake. Humphrey began to pick up lots of baitfish and some big shadows on his sonar, and I went to work with the fly rod. Within 15 minutes I hooked what I thought was a freight train and landed my first striper with my fly rod. Its length was 39 inches and it weighed 21 pounds! As the afternoon progressed, I hooked, fought and landed two others that weighed 19 and 17 pounds. I also caught several bass with the fly rod. What a great day!

The only disturbing thing was finding out that these very big, strong and beautiful fish are also very fragile. Of the nine stripers we caught, three unfortunately died, including two I had landed on the fly rod. They fight so hard that they exhaust themselves past the point from which they can recover. So we brought home some beautiful striper fillets.

I would recommend this as a fly fishing trip only to very patient and determined fishermen. The area is not geared for the needs of fly fishermen, so go prepared. Fortunately, Humphrey has been guiding on Elephant Butte Reservoir for a long time, knows the water and is obviously a very good fisherman. He was a pleasure to fish with and is a great and very patient guide. He charges $250 per day for one angler. Humphrey can also recommend accommodations in the area, as well as provide general information about fishing licenses. The town of Truth or Consequences is small but is famous for its hot mineral baths. There are lots of motels, RV parks and a few good eating establishments. What a trip! – Dennis Hatfield.

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