After a three-year, COVID-mandated hiatus, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish will be returning to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument to lead a community stocking of Rio Grande cutthroat trout fingerlings in the gorge. For the first time this year, stocking will also take place at Eagle Rock Lake so that folks who don’t want to endure the arduous gorge hike will be able to participate in this wonderful event.
The stocking will take place at the monument visitor center on the Wild Rivers road and at Eagle Rock Lake beginning at 10 am, Friday April 14. Game and Fish officials will provide instructions at the meeting locations. Participants will be given several baby cutthroats in sturdy plastic bags, after which they will empty the bags into the Rio Grande or the lake. The satisfaction of having contributed to the continued survival of the species in this way is a pleasure difficult to describe. In past years, people have traveled from as far away as Kansas, Texas, Colorado and Las Cruces to experience it.
As we all know, the Rio Grande cutthroat is New Mexico’s official state fish, a unique species of trout found only in the Rio Grande drainage (though a subspecies of this fish is also found in headwater streams of the Canadian River watershed). Once found in lower drainage streams like the Rio San Jose along I-40 and even in streams in West Texas, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout now occupies a mere 10 percent of its historical range. The communities of Questa, Costilla, and Amalia constitute the epicenter of the cutthroat’s habitat. In fact, the Valle Vidal is the largest connected cutthroat habitat left on the planet.
Remember, the hike into and out of the gorge is a physically taxing adventure. To get maximum enjoyment out of the experience, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and food. Wear sturdy hiking shoes, long sleeves, and a sunhat to make the most of your energy reserves. Allow several hours for the hike, and don’t forget your fishing rod and license, as well as a camera to capture memories of the spectacular scenery.
It’s no exaggeration to say that, unlike any other animal, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout embodies the natural, spiritual and cultural essence of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. We have elk, bighorns, mule deer and turkey, but so does the rest of the Rocky Mountains. The cutthroat is all our own. It has been with us through our history of making this place our home, and for thousands of years before us.
It’s not too much to say that April 14 should be a day of celebration, of our communities, our culture, and our passion for sustaining them into the future.