TAOS COUNTY — About 150 volunteers including several staffers with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation turned out on Friday, March 29, to help stock Rio Grande cutthroat trout fingerlings in the upper Rio Grande.
Eric Frey, sportfish program manager with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said the event marked the 10th year of releasing the trout — the state fish of New Mexico — in the Rio Grande Gorge.
The event saw the release of about 7,000 Rio Grande cutthroat trout fingerlings, Frey said. He said they averaged about 3 inches long.
All the fish were released with the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument at locations that required volunteers to walk steep trails into the river canyon. The monument headquarters is near the Village of Questa, in Taos County.
Anglers have caught cutthroat trout in that area of the Rio Grande reaching lengths of up to 15 inches, Frey said. “We know they’re getting some results,” he said of the stocking program, adding that fish that big are likely four to five years old.
The cutthroat trout join resident populations of brown trout, rainbows, northern pike and carp as well as other fish in the upper Rio Grande, Frey said. It’s unclear if the cutthroat trout are breeding in the area, he said, adding that the main purpose of the stocking program is to get people excited about the RIo Grande cutthroat.
Questa saw the closure of its molybdenum mine in 2014, a move that cost many local residents their jobs. Many now hope that increased interest in fishing and outdoor recreation can help boost the local economy.
Malaquias Rael, of Questa, walked into the river canyon with his wife Danette Rael and their granddaughter, Alyse Lovato, to release a bag of cutthroat fingerlings.
“We’ve been working with Trout Unlimited for a while,” said Rael, chief of the Questa Economic Development Fund. “We’re just trying to see how we can transform our community into a post-mining economy. This is one of the ways we can do it.”
Cole Birdsey, a fly shop owner and fishing guide from Creede, Colo., was also among the volunteers who carried trout fingerlings down to the river.
“I live in the headwaters of the Rio Grande where we have zero cutthroat trout,” Birdsey said. “I’d like to see more cutthroats throughout the Rio Grande.”
Harris Klein of Albuquerque, president of the Bosque Chapter of Trout Unlimited, waited on the banks of the Rio Grande while he left his bag of trout sat in the river to equalize the temperature before he released the fish.
“The Rio Grande cutthroat is the state fish and we’re having a hard time keeping them in rivers and I’m an ardent environmentalist,” Klein said, explaining why he made the effort to volunteer.