West Marine
New Mexico Fishing on Elephant Butte Lake

By John Gregg

Teachers from Santa Fe have a good runWatsonville, CA.- New Mexico is billed as the Land of Enchantment for good reason. It is a combination of stunning beauty, ancient cultures, outstanding outdoor recreation, and gracious hospitality. 

Teachers from Santa Fe have a good run

The New Mexico landscape is rich with diversity from mountains to desert to lakes and forests. And it is also home to some of the biggest and best stripers in the country. 

South of the city of Albuquerque on the Rio Grande is Elephant Lake Butte, the largest body of water in the state and also the best place to find those Herculean stripers. If you are new to the area and on a quest for great fish there is only one man to talk to and that's Billy Jack Miller, the owner of Rio Grande Guide Service, and for my money, the best guide in the entire southwest. 

Billy Jack was a civil engineer for many years in Santa Fe, however, following a fishing trip with his father to Elephant Butte, a career change was in the wind. That passion for the outdoors and fishing eventually became a business. Along with his lovely wife, Monica Moon, and his children (Stephanie 27, Nichelle 20, Tyra 18, Billy 15 and the baby Gidget who is 4), they have made a life for themselves in the Land of Enchantment.

Monica Moon with catch of the dayMonica Moon with catch of the day

JG: Where were you born and raised?

BJM: I was born and raised in Silver City, New Mexico. I am a fifth generation New Mexican.

JG: You live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country how did you first get involved in fishing?

BJM: My great grandparents and grandparents lived on Elephant Butte Lake, so I fished a lot on this lake. My father is one of the leading taxidermists in the nation and he taught me fishing and hunting. We lived on a ranch so I never tasted McDonalds until I was 14 years old. We always ate game and fish.

JG: What is your favorite fishing memory?

BJM: Last February, I took my wife, Monica Moon, and four-year-old daughter Gidget Moon, fishing on Elephant Butte Lake. My wife and I were fishing for stripers (striped bass) with live bait. I had brought an old Mickey Mouse fishing pole (it was an eighteen year-old pole I had bought for my daughter, Nichelle) along with us for Gidget to use. My wife put a little minnow on this tiny hook and dropped it about 4' under the boat. We were hoping a white bass would get on it. Nature called and my little girl stopped to do her business when all of a sudden this little pole was bent in a circle and the line was shooting out of it. My little girl had hooked a 10-pound striper. She
4 year old Gidget gets a bite
4 year old Gidget gets a bite

stopped what she was doing and fought this fish for 15 minutes and we finally got it to the boat. Just when I got the net under this fish her eighteen-year-old line broke. This pole had a trout hook on it and 4lb. test line that it originally came with. That was so exciting for all of us and especially for Gidget. This fish now hangs on our wall.

JG: How long have you run "Rio Grande Guide Service" and how did you get started in the business?

BJM: I have been fishing the Rio Grande River and Elephant Butte Lake all of my 50 years. We started Rio Grande Guide Service 2 years ago. My wife and I were constantly taking people out fishing and camping so we decided to make it our profession.

JG: I know you take your clients out on Elephant Butte River, what should folks from around nation know about that area of the country and what New Mexico has to offer fishermen?

BJM: Elephant Butte Lake has some of the best fishing in the nation. During the winter and summer the striped bass fishing is fantastic. For six weeks this summer, I was catching 10 to 20 stripers (10 lb. to 30 lb.) on top water lures in about an hour. In May, the white bass come alive and with almost every cast you have a 2 lb. bass. I catch stripers year round on this lake.
Guide, Billy Jack Miller, Jr. with a 30lb striper
Guide, Billy Jack Miller, Jr. with a 30lb striper

Three miles away, we have Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, originally named Hot Springs. This little town has the best natural hot mineral baths in the country. They contain no sulfur (the smell of sulfur can sometimes put you off). In July the walleye run the Rio Grande River and in one two-mile stretch you can have your limit of fish ranging from 24" to 32". The run lasts about five to six weeks.

JG: What is it that you like about fishing in New Mexico and Elephant Butte in particular?

BJM: I love being on our lake and watching the sun come up in the morning. It is breathtaking. The wildlife this lake supports is a show in itself. We have pelicans, seagulls, Bald Eagles, Osprey, and Sandhill Cranes, just to name a few. To be sitting on your boat and watching an Osprey hit the water in a dive at full speed 50' away from you and come up with a 2 to 4 lb. bass is a real thrill. To see the faces of clients on my boat that have never caught a striper when they have to fight a 10- 40lb striper is also a real treat. Once they catch a striper, all other fresh water fish just aren't the same. I have clients write me and tell me how they go to bed at night thinking of the fight these fish gave. They are worn out after a good fight with these fish. Our state record striper from this lake is 54 lbs.

JG: Can you explain to us a little about your different seasons and the different fish you go out after?

BJM: All year long I go after the striper. In the winter they go deep, so we have to go deep after them. But come May, the stripers and white bass start to spawn and they come up. They feed on the Shad in our lake. In May I like to go after the white bass. The limit is 25 per person and it only takes a couple of hours to have this limit. In July, the stripers start their top water action and this is such a rush. It is like being in your boat and someone on a cliff above you is throwing bowling balls into the water around your boat - massive explosions on the water. I have been in feeding attacks that have lasted over 2 hours. I have had a 2-3 lb. white bass on my pole and when bringing this fish in, a striper ate him and I landed both fish in the boat. What a thrill! Fishing is really good year round on our lake. Our winters are very mild, sometimes shirtsleeve weather in January. The winter is mostly for stripers. We also have 60-pound plus catfish in this lake as well as walleye.

Tim Olson of the Arizona Diamondbacks
Tim Olson of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

JG: I know you have taken out several players from the Arizona Diamondbacks on your charters. Who went out with you, what did they catch, and how did they enjoy themselves?

BJM: One of my recent clients was Tim Olson of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. He's one of their infielders. Last week I took him out and he caught the biggest fish he has caught in his life. It took 20 minutes to get this fish in the boat. This 22 lb. striper went under the boat and out the other side and tangled the other 4 poles. I had to start the trolling motor and chase this fish. This man is one of the most personable people I have met in my life. He is a great fisherman and carries his poles with him wherever he goes and plays. When I met Tim he was in a little aluminum boat with a 10-horse motor. I was on a guide and my clients were catching white bass with every cast. He came by, but had no luck. I saw him sitting in his boat and rigged a couple of lures (white 3/8 ounce jigs with a rubber sassy shad) and tossed them to him. The next day I got an email from him thanking me. He had punched in the name of our guide business on the side of our boat and found us on the Internet. After that we became good friends and fish quit often. 

JG: What can you tell us about your boat?

BJM: My boat is a 2002 Dynasty Center Console 23.5' Fishmaster. It is powered by a Suzuki 225 outboard. It has 3 live wells, (one for stripers) and I can take 6 people fishing. I am very pleased with this boat. I have run this boat almost daily for over a year now and have never had a problem with it. It's a real jewel!

JG: I know, as with most guides you are very concerned with preservation of the environment and the various species of fish in New Mexico. What do you believe people should know about when they go out on a charter fishing trip?

BJM: I encourage the catch and release method except in the summer months with stripers because the fish fights so hard and uses up most of its energy that when you release them, 80% will not survive. Our lake supports so much wildlife. Birds from all over the world come here. Our state game department just stocked 225,000 striper fingerlings in this lake.  We are hoping for a lot of rain and snow up north (Southern Colorado is our headwaters) so our lake will go back to the 400,000 square foot acreage it normally is. A great deal of wildlife depends on this lake.

New Mexico remains a one of the nation's best tourist destinations. Along with Santa Fe's world-renowned art galleries and marketplaces and the beauty of Taos, there is also great fishing to be found heading south. If you are in pursuit of world-class stripers, well, pack your fishing gear and head to Elephant Butte Lake. Billy Jack is anxious to get out on the water.

To reach Rio Grande Guide Service be sure to checkout their website at www.riograndeguideservice.com, give Billy Jack Miller a call at 575-894-3454, or drop him email at riograndeguideservice@gmail.com

Check out West Marine Fishing and get the gear you need to hook the big one on your next fishing trip!

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