The sun had not yet peaked over the New Mexico mountains when Captain Frank Vilorio gunned his giant Mercury motor. The boat leapt as we rocketed across Elephant Butte Lake. Sitting beside me was my New Mexico fishing buddy, and more importantly, my Los Lunas, New Mexico, veterinarian, Dr. Donald MacDougall.
The two of us sported lightweight jackets to no real effect. The chill morning breeze generated by the racing fishing vessel cut through both of us like a knife. We bent down behind Captain Frank’s command console in an effort to block off the bracing air.
We found some respite when Frank lowered the speed. He cut the engine and our momentum brought us near a rock outcropping.
I grew up with local Floyd County leader Roger Smith near Georgia’s Clarke Hill Reservoir. We swam, water-skied, and committed youthful mischief. We all loved to fish, especially for large mouth bass and crappie.
Important note: In Georgia we pronounce crappie as if, “ooh, we now find ourselves in a crappie situation (can I write that in a family newspaper?)” In New Mexico they pronounce the name of the species as if Jeeves the Butler had arrived with the fish displayed on a silver platter, “Master, your cr-AH-ppie, is served.”
Nevertheless, our target fish in New Mexico was one I never encountered in Georgia. Walleye is known out here as “the poor person’s lobster.”
My fishing technique in old Georgia was decidedly simple. I had an old jon boat given to me by a benevolent uncle and my anchor was a cement block tied to an old ski rope. I did have an electric trolling motor, which gathered its power from an old truck battery. The trolling motor had two speeds, slow and just a bit slower. Still, it worked fine.
Imagine my astonishment when I watched Captain Frank lower a high-end trolling motor into the still surface of Elephant Butte Lake.
Frank walked slowly back to the center console and lifted a device from a lanyard around his neck.
Gadzooks, the electric motor was controlled by a wireless blue tube control. I was gobsmacked. Never in my young years of fishing in Georgia would I have imagined such an invention.
Verdant pine trees and lush greenery normally ring Georgia’s lakes. New Mexico’s lakes are ringed by rocky mesas and pebble-strewn beaches. Nearby mesas guard a mostly bare shoreline with quiet confidence.
Oh, another big difference between Georgia reservoirs and New Mexico reservoirs can be stated in one word: water.
When we fished last week, Elephant Butte Lake was at 11% capacity. Let me put it this way: almost 90% of the water, well, wasn’t.
Elephant Butte is not designed to be a recreational body of water. It is an agricultural one, formed by the damming of the Rio Grande River as it flows south toward the Gulf of Mexico. Water is released to the fields below, where one of my favorite foods on the planet is grown, New Mexico green chile.
A few weeks from now, the New Mexico lake will be at near 3% capacity, and fishing will be difficult at best, if not impossible.
The sun rose above the nearby mountains and various fish species began breaking the surface seeking their morning sustenance. A family of ducks paddled noisily near the shoreline, and cormorants dove into the water to grab a life sustaining bite.
The rocky rim of Elephant Butte Lake is mirrored underneath its placid surface. I know this because Captain Frank had a space age sonar system that allowed us to see what the bottom of the lake featured.
There were times we floated in barely four feet of water only to cross an ancient submerged rock outcropping and electronically observe a 20-foot drop.
So how was the fishing?
Wonderful. When we docked at the end of the day we had enough fish to feed both our families and I personally landed seven walleye, in addition to three, wait for it, cr-AH-ppie!
Back at his lair, Captain Frank cleaned our fish, bagged them, and Dr. MacDougall and I provided a large bag of ice to keep our catch fresh.
The two hour drive (along spectacular New Mexico scenery) went quickly by as we two anglers spoke of our day, the splendor of nature, and the state of veterinarian schools west of the Mississippi.
Oh, an old hankering set forth, and an expensive one. What the heck am I going to do with a new boat? But, that digital trolling motor! How can I resist? How many new guitars equal one boat? Snap out of it Harry!
Good fishing, Georgians!