Urban Fish Stories
A quest for the giant Burque catfish
La Llorona isn't the only monster you have to worry about if you plan to spend time loitering along Albuquerque's ditches. For years, I'd heard rumors of catfish lurking in those waters the length of full-grown men, with gaping, toothy maws 18-inches across, capable of swallowing small children whole, or chewing off an adult's leg.
Last Wednesday afternoon, my friend Robert and I decided to find out if this urban legend is true. With a pair of el cheapo spin-casting rods in hand, we saddled up our mountain bikes and hit the ditches.
For the most part, local fisherfolk seem to use three types of bait for Burque ditch fishing—worms (a classic), chicken liver and a salmon egg and corn kernel combo. The combo is used to catch trout. Unfortunately, we didn't bring any corn, and never really got around to using our salmon eggs. Worms, as always, can be used to catch pretty much anything that swims. The chicken liver is used for the cats. We were advised to “stank it up a bit” by pouring on a little vinegar and letting the mess rot for a while in the sun. If hooking a worm makes you squeamish, wait until you start digging through a slimy carton of rotten chicken livers. Yuck!
We met at the riverside drainage ditch that runs under the Barelas Bridge on the east side of the river, right next to the National Hispanic Cultural Center. It was blistering hot, though, and way too sunny—the last place I'd hang out if I were a giant catfish—so we got on our vehicles and started rolling south along the bike path. At the mouth of a small diversion channel, we started getting bites ... from crawdads, which we yanked up by the dozen (see Marisa Demarco’s “Crawdad Memories”).
Finally, down near the Rio Bravo Bridge, we hooked our first catfish. They weren't exactly huge monsters, but it was nice to catch something. From there, we tooled through the elaborate network of ditches that laces through the rural South Valley, rolling along the pleasant shady dirt paths that line the water.
While grabbing a six-pack at a convenience store on Isleta Boulevard, a guy selling paletas gave us directions to his favorite ditch fishing spot. We found it, set ourselves up in the shade and started hooking fish by the hundreds (perhaps thousands). Surrounded by green fields, with horses grazing lazily nearby in the dying afternoon sun, I couldn't quite believe I was fishing beside quiet water in the middle of a city of half a million people. Gotta love this town.
We had a lot of luck—Robert with worms, me with that stenchy chicken liver. We mainly caught catfish, but I did manage to hook one honest-to-god trout. We released all of them.
It was a grand ol’ time from start to finish, even though the monsters, if they exist, never surfaced. Our catches weren't big enough to chew off a finger, let alone an arm. But that's probably for the best. After all, it’s tough to pedal a bicycle with only one leg.
You can acquire a map of Bernalillo County’s ditch system at the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (1931 Second Street SW, 247-0234). They cost about $10.