I have been fishing Northern New Mexico trout waters since the mid 1950's with the last 35+ years fly fishing almost exclusively and I continue to tie my own flies and will explore the New Mexico mountains as long as I can. During the late 1970s into the 1980s I learned everything I could about casting, fly tying and rod building by reading every book I could and was always practicing, practicing, practicing... Actually, to the point of tying flies and building fly rods commercially for several years to help support my fly fishing obsession. I no longer sell flies or build fly rods commercially but I don't have the heart change the name of my web site.
I spent much of my childhood traveling to and living in two areas of the country, North Central New Mexico and Southwestern Ohio once in Wayland, Michigan for 5 days. The rolling hills, small creeks and corn fields in the countryside of Southern Ohio to the tall mountains, deep canyons, valleys and small creeks in the New Mexico high desert have been an important part of my life experiences. I have said over the past 40 + years "My roots are in Kentucky, I was born in Ohio but my home is in New Mexico."
Where ever I was living I was always drawn to the outdoors even in the coldest winters, ice fishing and making snow forts or the hottest summers swimming and hiking and fishing. After reading "Tangled Lines and Expeditions," I have written three short stories of childhood adventures which are some of my fondest memories outside of our three kids and our 16 grandchildren...which is another very long story.
If you are interested, please relax, scroll down and read on...
Tangled Lines and Expeditions - A Family Affair
I wrote this story in the third person in 2006...
On a cool spring morning on the San Juan River in 2006 gleaming with pride was a father's reaction while watching his son Gordon hauling his fly line through a low clinging fog to a rising San Juan trout. While trying to clear the mist behind his camera viewfinder to compose a picture, he saw that his son's technique and presentation both were flawless. Shortly after the fly made the short calculated drift downstream a white mouth opened to break the surface film and Gordon set the hook, then said "Dad, I think I have a nice one." While he was bringing his latest trophy to hand remembrances of days past were visualizing in his dad's thoughts of a small boy asking for help with his fishing line hung up on debris in a stream or in a tree branch too tall to reach or help with a reel full of mono-filament which looked like a handful of uncooked Ramen noodles.
The memories of his son’s childhood seemed to be not so long ago even though many years had passed since those days. Gordon returns home almost every year to fish the streams of Northern New Mexico with his dad they fished together during his youth. While admiring his son’s fly fishing proficiency, his dad silently remarked to himself, “What a good son, husband and father he has become.”
Gordon’s dad came to New Mexico his first time in 1952 riding on a Santa Fe Super Chief from Southwestern Ohio. As an adolescent, on a summer day in the mid 1950’s he began his New Mexico passage fishing Fenton Lake, in North-Central New Mexico, with his uncle. He had no idea where this journey would lead over the next fifty years but the memories pass through his mind often about the overwhelming tour of northern New Mexico trout streams he has taken in union with his wife, their children, grandchildren and now their great-grandchildren.
Gordon’s dad lived many years of his youth part of the year in New Mexico and part of the year in Southwestern Ohio, the region of his birth. You could say he grew up in two places with two different cultures. He was always drawn to the outdoors whether in New Mexico fishing for Autumn trout in the mountain streams or spending time during the summers on his uncle’s farm working the hay and corn fields, riding horses and fishing for catfish and smallmouth bass on farm ponds and in the creeks of Southwestern Ohio with his cousin Terry. Many times they traveled to their favorite waters of Indian Creek on horseback.
Seining for minnows was a common occurrence for these kids in Southern Ohio. The pair would go to the tributaries of Indian Creek and seine for minnows and crawdads for their fishing trips. They would also use a flashlight in the tall grass on summer evenings after a rain to capture night crawlers before they retreated back into their holes. In the dark and swampy waters, gigging for frogs during hot summer evenings for the next day’s lunch of frog legs with white beans and cornbread, an experience not soon forgotten. Swimming the deepest holes in Indian Creek was the highlight of many hot summer days.
Dad often said, “My roots are in Kentucky, I was born in Ohio but my home is New Mexico”, where he finally settled to move no more.
He carried his childhood passion for the outdoors into adulthood. No matter how hard he worked he always made sure he spent his free time with his family. There were visits to the Zoo, an occasional night at a Triple A baseball game and a movie or two but he believed the outdoor experience was the most important part of his heritage he could share with his family.
He often took his family camping and fishing in the New Mexico Mountains. They would all sleep on an old tarp and a lean-to above and cover themselves with wool army blankets to protect them from the elements. Sleeping bags, a lantern, a gas stove and other amenities would come later. The cooking was always prepared over an open camp fire, with a cast-iron skillet and a couple of pots and pans and of course, a blue porcelain coffee pot to give the adults their morning boost. He always did the cooking and clean-up during these trips claiming this was his domain but actually these chores were intended to give his wife a break for a change…as if she didn’t already know. He taught his children to leave campsites and stream banks better than when they arrived, believing the stewardship of the land was a significant responsibility. He taught them how to fish responsibly, only killing enough fish to eat and releasing most back to the cold waters for the next student who might come along.
Gordon’s oldest sister didn’t enjoy camping and fishing that much but his next oldest sister did. She went fishing with Dad almost as much as Gordon. Denita and her dad spent many hours fishing Red River in the box canyon below the state fish hatchery. Many times Denita caught larger fish than her dad.
As will happen, the kids move on to school activities such as baseball, football and other interests putting their outdoor activities with Dad in a temporary holding pattern. For the next few years their fishing trips together were fewer but more enjoyable when they did occur. Dad continued to fish and camp mostly alone but occasionally with Mom or a friend.
By 1978 the San Juan River was soon becoming his refuse…his therapy for a number of years while Gordon was busy with high school sports and other activities, until the fishing pressure began to crowd him out. By the mid 1980’s he retreated back to his beginnings to the high mountain streams of the upper Rio Cebolla, Rio Guadalupe, Pecos River, Red River and Rio Grande box, and the Rio de los Pinos where some solitude could still be found today.
In 1978 his first grandson James was born and was soon to join in the family tradition to carry the outdoor experience into the next generation. Two years later James’ sister Valene was born, who would become another student. Grandpa was somewhat recharged after the grandchildren were born anticipating his future fishing trips with them. When the kids were ready there would be many fishing days on the San Juan, Pecos and the Jemez area streams teaching them how to fish and camp. By the age of eight James could cast a fly rod and tie flies almost as well as his grandpa.
Grandchildren have a way of teaching grandparents a new level of patience they did not have with their children. This family is no different. James taught grandpa to be not only more patient but to slow down and relax a little. Grandpa would occasionally get impatient and James would simply say, “Calm down Grandpa, calm down” and that is all it would take for Grandpa to look at him, smile and agree.
When Grandpa was learning to cast a fly rod, in the 1970’s he would hit the back of his neck while executing his forward casting so he would turn his ball cap around and use the bill to protect his neck. Even after perfecting his casting skills he continued to wear his cap this way. One day James and Valene asked why he wore his ball cap that way and he said, “It brings you good luck.” Well, needless to say they copied the practice…and it worked. What worked was it helped the kids gain confidence in their fishing technique. One day Grandpa, James and Valene were fishing one of their favorite spots on the Pecos River and the fishing was very slow, to say the least. Valene looked up and said, “Grandpa, you know why we aren’t catching any fish?” Grandpa replied, “No why not.” And Valene added “We forgot to turn our hats around.” They all did and on their next cast each set their hook in a fish. Talk about a confidence builder…you just can’t make this stuff up.
In 1989 Grandpa was transferred to his employer’s El Paso, Texas office and lived there for the next seven years. The fishing trips literally went south during those years to the Gila area streams and Rio Ruidoso in Southern New Mexico with an occasional trip back up north. However, visits to Grandpa’s and fishing these streams, over time, would be put aside for school activities, cross-country races and other interests.
By 1996 Grandpa and Grandma finally returned home to North Central New Mexico. Regular trips to the outdoors were immediately on the agenda again.
A few months after their return Valene’s first child was born, a bouncing baby boy named Brandon…the next generation to learn how to fish and enjoy the outdoor experience. Grandpa and Grandma would be fishing in the Jemez Mountains on the East Fork and other area streams. It always feels good to be home in familiar surroundings. It didn’t take Grandpa long to get back into a routine which included tying flies, building a couple of new fly rods and fishing in his old stomping grounds on the San Juan, Jemez, Pecos and the upper Rio Grande rivers and streams until Brandon was ready. By 2003 Brandon was 6 years old and the story continues on…
Also there is Jacob, Michael, Chrise, Alanna, Kyra, Nicholas, Sierra, Cali, Skyler, Aaron, Haley, Jada and Conrad, in no particular order of age…some grandchildren...some great-grandchildren, seventeen in all; nine live in New Mexico and eight live in Lincoln, Nebraska. Many of the trips with most of these children in the mountains of New Mexico are chronicled on this web site and on the flyfishnm blog. There are many more trips for Grandpa to travel to carry on the tradition with as many of these students as he can for as long as he can.
This story was written in the third person by Phil Springer in 2006.
Childhood Memories during the 1950's...
I was about 12 years old during a summer which I spent some of my time on my uncle’s farm near Millville, Ohio. My cousin, Terry and I got some chores done early in the morning and saddled up the horses and rode a couple of miles across some neighbors’ fields to fish Indian Creek.
We tied our horses to a post near a small bridge, loosened the cinches on the saddles so the horses could be comfortable while we were fishing. We set our poles on forked twigs with our lines in the water and leaned against a tree to relax hoping we would not get a bite, after all we were relaxing. I remember watching the crystal clear water moving along and birds chirping and fluttering around from bush to bush. It all seemed to be happening in slow motion; very relaxing.
Shortly after we were relaxing comfortably, we started getting tugs on the end of our lines and over a couple of hours caught a few blue gills and Terry caught a nice small mouth bass. It was getting late in the afternoon when my uncle was driving by on his way home. He stopped to see how we were doing. We decided to throw our gear in the back of the truck so my uncle could take it home for us while we rode the horses back.
Terry challenged me to a race back to the farm. I accepted and we jumped on the horses and took off. Shortly after the start of a gallop I started to slide side-ways and before I knew it I was dragging on the gravel on the side of the road like an old western movie. After hearing me hollering, Terry quickly turned around and stopped the horse for me. What obviously happened was when I was throwing my stuff in the back of the truck while Terry was cinching up his saddle and took off… I forgot to do the same...I just took off, it’s not like I had never ridden a horse before. Apache was a beautiful quarter horse who loved to run. Horses may not stop when you tell them to but they generally will not step on you.
By the time we got back to the house my back-side and shoulders were stinging a little. My Aunt Kattie took a look at my back and back-side and for the next hour she was rubbing alcohol on my back and pulling out rocks with a pair of tweezers. To say the least, this event impacted my life a little.
There was a swimming hole on Indian Creek in Southern Ohio. There was a very large and tall elm tree on one bank with a rope on one of the high limbs that we used to swing out to the deep water. There was a large lower limb that was over-hanging the water which we used to drive and do precision cannon balls into the deeper water.
There was a flood in the early 1950’s and part of the bank was shored-up with sand bags to protect the adjacent property and over the years this wall of bags had become a very deep hole at the bend of the creek, hence a swimmin’ hole that many a kid had swam over the years.
We were always playing tricks on each other and one day my cousin Terry and I was swimming on a hot, humid summer morning in Indian Creek with a couple of our friends. There were two things about this creek you had to be aware of, one was leeches and the other was water snakes...I do not like snakes. I was getting out of the water and Terry yelled Phillip, “You have leeches all over your back.” I got out of the water and frantically tried to remove them, after all, there a kind of creepy. Well as it turned out there we no leeches…just laughs. Oh well, it never ended with us, the next one would be on me.
We were swimming for quite a while and I knew my aunt would be making lunch for us soon so we were winding down to get back to the house. On my way swimming to the bank Terry yelled, “Water Moccasin, Water Moccasin, behind you Phillip.” I replied “Yeah, sure there is.” And as I got out of the water and turned around and saw a snake in the water, mouth wide-open. I did not get bit but the boy who cried wolf came to mind.
It turned out that it was a common water snake that was frequently mistaken for a water moccasin. Water moccasins do not normally migrate as far north as Ohio. But, we didn’t know that at the time and I had soiled underwear to prove it.
Tractor in the field…
My cousin Terry and I along with our friend Danny were walking through a field on our way back from fishing Indian Creek. We saw a tractor in the middle of the field. Danny said “I wonder if there is any gas in the tractor. If there is we can drive it around field for a while. “ Terry and I were not interested; we just wanted to get something to eat. After all, that day my Aunt Kattie was making white beans with ham hocks and cornbread.
Danny insisted that he was going to check to see if there was any gas in the tank. So Danny took off the gas cap and got a pack of matches from his pocket and before we could say anything, he had lit the match and looked in the tank and “POOF!” then turned to us with no eyebrows, no eye lashes and singed hair sticking straight up and simply said, “No gas, just fumes.”
My Aunt made the best white beans and cornbread and boy it sure was a great end to a fun day. Every time I see a tractor or eat white beans and cornbread I always think of Danny and my aunt Kattie.
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