The Rainbow trout fishing at Eagle Nest Lake in New Mexico is great; but beware of the “Ghost of Guney”:
During a vacation to New Mexico with my wife in 1995 I became especially captivated with a northern region called the Ring of Enchantment. There was something mystical in the mountains and forest: a force of nature that I could not explain. When I told my wife that I would like to buy some property in the Ring and that maybe someday we could retire there, she thought I had lost my wits. “I’m not living out here in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “Where would I get my hair done?”
The Enchanted Circle drive which we took started in Taos, brought us north to Arroyo Hondo, Questa, Red River, and then south to the small town of Eagle Nest. The downtown area, if you can call it that, looked like something right out of a Gunsmoke episode. I immediately became enamored with the area. “This is where we are going to set down camp,” I told my wife.
“What?” she said.
“This is where we are setting down camp,” I said again.
“Good. You can build your campfire in the woods over there, and I am going to stay at this little hotel, over here. It looks real nice and even has an old western saloon. See you later,” she told me.
“Now just hang on,” I said, “I never said that I wanted to sleep in the forest ─ let’s go have a beer in the saloon and talk about this ─ I’m mighty thirsty.”
We parked the truck and walked across the street to a hotel/ restaurant named the Laguna Vista Saloon. Straddling up to the bar we sat down and were greeted by a short, stocky mustachioed man wearing western barkeep attire. “Howdy,” he said, “what can I get ya’all?”
“We will take two ice cold tap beers,” I said.
“Comin’ right up,” he said.
The man quickly returned with two frosty mugs, sat them down, and asked, “What brings ya’all up here to Eagle nest?”
“Oh, we’re just on vacation exploring northern New Mexico and we love it; this area is beautiful,” I told him.
“That it is, young man. It is a very peaceful and spiritual place,” he said.
“Let me ask you a question my friend, is there someplace to fish around here?” I asked.
“Step outside of the building, look down to the left and you will see Eagle Nest Lake. Great lake for rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon,” he told me, “and if you like hunting, the surrounding mountains are full of elk, deer, turkey, bear, and even an occasional mountain lion.”
I was in seventh heaven. I wasn’t sure how I missed seeing the lake, but after I downed my beer, I stepped outside, looked down and there she was. Eagle Nest Lake is a man-made reservoir that was created when the Cimarron River was impounded by a dam in 1922. The 2,400 acre alpine lake is at an elevation of 8, 300 feet and is surrounded by the Kit Carson National Forest. Directly across the lake is Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain. Standing there, taking it all in, I could not believe it: this was Utopia. I walked back into the Laguna Vista Saloon and took my seat.
“You are not going to believe this beautiful little lake they have down there,” I told my wife. “What do you say we rent a boat tomorrow and do some rainbow trout fishing?”
“What if I said no; then what?” she asked.
“Then I would go anyway,” I said sternly, knowing that she liked to catch fish as much as myself and would eventually acquiesce.
“Fine ─ let’s get a room, eat some dinner, and go to sleep early so that we can catch some fish tomorrow,” she said.
“Sounds like a plan.”
The barkeep stood nearby listening to our animated discussion and when we were ready to leave, I waved him over to pay him. “How much do we owe you,” I asked.
“That’ll be eight dollars,” he said.
I reached into my pocket to grab a ten spot. “Here you go, keep the change,” I told him. He took the ten and then bent over the bar like he was going to tell us a secret.
“What’s up,” I asked.
“You folks seem like mighty nice people, so I am going to tell you something that I usually don’t tell passer bys. This hotel and saloon are haunted.”
“Get out of here,” I said, “you’re just pulling our leg because we’re tourist.”
“No sir, I’m not. If you have a moment I will tell you the story.”
“I’m all ears mister ─ give me your best shot.” .
“It happened back in this town’s heyday when they used to call the place Therma. Therma was a very busy stop off back in the 20’s and 30’s for illegal gambling. It was kind of a rest area for people that were on their way to Raton for the horse racing. This saloon right here used to be called the El Monte and its gaming tables were usually full. One day a newlywed couple came to the El Monte to spend their honeymoon here. They spent the night, but the next morning the man went out on a hunting trip and he never returned. The bride had no one to support her and she was soon destitute. Forced into a desperate situation she became an employee of the brothel that inhabited the hotel. She stayed at the El Monte with hopes that her husband would return someday but that never happened. Since the time when the woman passed away, employees at this place have seen a woman dressed in 1900’s dance hall attire who seems to float around the saloon. She also has the proclivity to play the piano in the middle of night when no one is here. I myself have been witness to that. She is known as the “Ghost of Guney” because Guney is the saloon’s nickname. There have also been some reported poltergeist activities in this hotel. Pots and pans fly off the wall at will, the radio changes stations by itself, and a little girl once claimed that a strangely dressed woman she had seen told her to “be quiet.” When asked where the woman was, the girl said “right there” and pointed at the piano. “I’m just tellin’ you folks this so that if you see or here anything odd, you will know what is going on.”
“Wow, that’s a real neat story,” I said. “As soon as I find computer access I’m going to email Ghost Hunters.”
“No need to be sarcastic,” he said ─ “just wanted you to know.”
“Well, we’re going to grab a quick bite and then hit the sack; they’re lot of rainbow out there that belong in my frying pan,” I told him.
We grabbed a sandwich and after checking in, retired to our room. I was so tired from the day’s travels I could have passed out on the floor, but I managed to make it to bed with thoughts of rainbow trout dancing in my head. About three o’clock in the morning I got up to go to the bathroom and that is when I thought I had heard something through the thin plaster walls of the hotel. In my somewhat somnolent state I thought I could hear the faint pinging of a piano. “Now I’m hearing things,” I said to myself. “Go back to sleep.” I began to nod off and the alarm clock shocked me awake at five o’clock. “Get up,” I told my wife. “It is trout-thirty.”
We quickly dressed, grabbed a cup of coffee at the front desk, and drove the truck down to lake where we found the small marina that rented aluminum boats. An old man who was wearing a raggedy khaki-colored fishing cap with several dry flies attached to it greeted us: “Good morning youngins,” he said, “what could I do for you?” he asked.
“We’re going to need a half-day boat and I need to know what the rainbow trout are hitting on,” I said.
“Well, you’re talking to the right man. Grab yourself some of those small Mepps spinners over there and a bottle of those red salmon eggs; that’s all you’ll need. Do you have your own poles?” he asked.
“Yes,” I told him, “we have some light spinning gear with six pound test.”
“That’s perfect,” the man said. “Just attach some of those eggs to the treble hook on the Mepps and do a slow troll in the lake ─ you’ll kill em.”
Following the man’s advice we got out on the water and I adjusted the hand steered 15 horsepower engine to its slowest pull. The spinners were thrown behind the boat and then I spanned the horizon and took it all in. The sun was just rising and I looked up at the snow covered tip of Wheeler’s Peak. To the south, down in a valley, I could see a small herd of elk which had made their way out of the Carson National Forest to graze. I was totally mesmerized by the setting when “Wham!” The rod tip on my pole went down. “Fish on,” I shouted. Shutting the motor down, I did my first battle with my first rainbow trout. The fish repeatedly hurled himself into air trying to throw the hook but after a brief battle I was able to land him. I held the two-pounder up and looked at it. “How can a fish this small, be that strong?” I asked my wife.
“I don’t know, but I would like to find out,” she said.
And she did. We repeated the routine over and over again until we had our limit of five fish a piece. Every single fish was between one and two pounds: perfect pan fryers. We were back at the marina at about ten o’clock and then we bagged our payload to bring back to the hotel for an afternoon fish fry. When we arrived at the hotel I asked the hotel clerk if the restaurant could clean and cook our fish. “Cook won’t be in until eleven she said, but you’re welcome to go in the back and clean the fish yourself.”
“Thank you,” I said, “that’s exactly what I’ll do.” I looked at my wife.
“Forget it,” she said “That’s where I draw the line: I do not clean fish. I am going to take a shower.”
“All right, all right, calm down. I will clean the fish and the cook will prepare them for lunch. How’s that?”
I walked into the saloon and back to the kitchen. Opening up several drawers I found a nice fillet knife and went to work. After cleaning several fish my thirst kicked in. “I bet no one would mind if I went behind the bar and got myself a cold Coors Light,” I told myself. I wiped my hands off, opened the kitchen doors, and entered the saloon. Ducking underneath the bar I grabbed a beer from the freezer and when I submerged I got the shock of my life. There sitting on the piano stool, right in front of the piano, was a saloon girl with long red hair and a black gown. She turned and smiled at me and I dropped my beer bottle, which smashed into a million pieces on the floor. She turned to the piano and started playing. I was frozen. Was my mind playing tricks? Did I drink too many beers last night? And then, just like that, she became translucent and faded into nothing. Just at that moment my wife entered the saloon and saw me behind the bar. “What’s wrong with you paleface, you look like you have seen a ghost.”
“How do we get the phone number of the Ghost Hunters?” I asked.
G.O. Fishin’: Tall Tales from the Tackle Box