Open Gate

Anglers gain opportunity at Rancho Grande ponds

This is the first of a series of NM Wildlife features highlighting new Open Gate properties throughout New Mexico.

Everyone’s had that great feeling of finding something they thought was lost.

Whether it’s something small or trivial, like a favorite pocket knife, or something more significant, like a diamond wedding ring, getting the item back is a feeling that is hard to compare.

While probably not as significant as finding your wedding ring, having the opportunity to once again fish at the Rancho Grande Estates ponds near Reserve might rank above finding that pocket knife.

After years of being closed, the Rancho Grande ponds are now open to public fishing thanks to an agreement between Jennifer and John Swenson and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Open Gate program. The ponds were stocked by the department and public access was granted from the 1960s, until the late 1990s when they were closed due to liability concerns.

Above and below: Rancho Grande ponds. Department photos by Tristanna Bickford.

Landowners signing an Open Gate agreement have liability protections under New Mexico state law. This provision, along with the prospect of providing a place for outdoor users to recreate, was all the Swensons needed to reopen access to a fishing resource that had long been lost.

“It’s really exciting for us and the community,” said Jennifer Swenson, who owns the property and the adjacent Adobe Cafe and Bakery and Hidden Springs Inn. “The fishing is a draw for some of our guests.”

Open Gate is a private-land lease program designed to pay landowners for allowing access to additional hunting, trapping and fishing opportunities across the state. These leases are funded through the four dollar Habitat Management and Access Validation (HMAV) stamp purchased by hunters, trappers and anglers each year.

“This is another example of how outdoor users support their own interests financially and improve conditions for fish and wildlife without creating funding burdens for others,” said Gary Calkins, Open Gate coordinator for the department.

“Having these ponds open for public fishing is a great thing for the people around here,” said Sgt. Casey Gehrt, the Reserve district conservation officer. “This is particularly handy for parents who want to take their kids fishing but don’t have the time to drive long distances or hike into the backcountry to do it.”

As part of the Open Gate program agreement, Game and Fish personnel stock Rancho Grande ponds with catchable-sized trout throughout the winter months and bass, bluegill and catfish during the warmer months, meaning the odds of catching a fish are good. In fact, these ponds are considered Special Summer Catfish Waters by the department’s fisheries management division, which provides a unique angling opportunity.

“People need to remember to have their fishing license with them in order to use the area and abide by the posted bag limits and other area regulations to make sure the entire experience is a pleasant one,” Gehrt said.

Swenson said she is thrilled to provide public access to the ponds; visitors can purchase a fishing license at her nearby cafe.

Abiding by the regulations, picking up trash and respecting the property assures this fishing opportunity will be available for years to come.

“This fishing area is pretty unique in that there is good fishing with easy access, amenities adjacent to the ponds and beautiful scenery surrounding the area provided by the Gila National Forest,” Calkins said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

For those looking for an easily accessible location that provides good fishing in the Reserve area, Rancho Grande ponds is worth a visit. Cast your line and enjoy the feeling of a resource that was once lost to public access.
For more information about Rancho Grande ponds, other Open Gate properties or the Open Gate program, call (505) 476-8043 or visit the Game and Fish website at www.wildlife.state.nm.us/hunting/maps/open-gate-program/. Property users are also invited to provide feedback and rate Open Gate properties by clicking “Rate a Property.”

Rancho Grande ponds. Department photos by Tristanna Bickford. New Mexico Wildlife magazine Winter 2018 Vol61, Num1, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

If You Go

The Rancho Grande ponds are located approximately seven miles west of Reserve, near the intersection of N.M. 12 and U.S. 180. Four ponds are on the property, but only the two western most waters are part of the Open Gate agreement and provide the best fishing opportunity, with about four surface acres of water fed by Leggett Spring. The lower ponds are not open to fishing and orange markers are posted to show the restricted area.

Hours

Fishing in the ponds is open year-round from a half-hour before sunrise until sunset each day.
Parking: Visitors are encouraged to use the parking lot next to the cafe and access the ponds from the west end of the property.

Rules and Regulations: Fishing from the shore is the only activity allowed on the area under the agreement. No swimming, wading, boats or other floating devices are allowed. Area regulations and fish bag limits are posted in the parking lot next to the Adobe Cafe near the ponds.

Interested in joining the Open Gate program?

Rancho Grande is only one of the 30 Open Gate properties in New Mexico, and many more are expected to become available to hunters, anglers and trappers in the future.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is always on the lookout to add new sites that fit the requirements and can provide residents and visitors to our state with a quality experience.

“This program has value from both the perspective of the hunter gaining access to otherwise inaccessible wildlife resources and the landowner gaining both income and liability protections,” said Gary Calkins, Open Gate coordinator at the department. “Any way you look at it, Open Gate is a win-win for hunting, angling and trapping in New Mexico.”

The Open Gate program receives dozens of inquiries per year from landowners across the state. However, several hundred acres with a sizable pond is not a guarantee that a property will receive approval, Calkins noted.

Rex Martensen joined the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in June 2016 as the private land programs manager following a career with Missouri’s Conservation Department.

Open Gate Q&A

In a Q & A with New Mexico Wildlife, Calkins cleared up some common questions about how property owners as well as the general public can benefit from this unique program.

Do users need a special permit for accessing Open Gate properties?

Properly-licensed sportspersons may access Open Gate properties during established season dates and times. No additional charge or permit is required to hunt, fish or trap on an Open Gate property. Each property has specific rules and those activities are not a part of the program.

Do I have to ask permission from the landowner to use the property? Should I personally let them know I’m using their land?

Landowner permission is not required to enter Open Gate properties.

Are Open Gate properties open for activities other than hunting, fishing and trapping, such as hiking and bicycling?

Open Gate properties are only available to licensed hunters, anglers and trappers; activities such as hiking, bicycling, photography or wildlife watching are not allowed on Open Gate properties. Open Gate properties are only open for those activities agreed upon by the landowner and are posted at each property’s main entrance.

What’s in it for the property owner?

The property owner will receive a lease payment and have liability coverage extended to their property.

How much can I charge someone to hunt or fish on my land?

With the Open Gate program, the lease rate which is pre-negotiated in contract. If a property owner is not enrolled in Open Gate and wishes to lease their property, that is their prerogative and they can charge what they wish.

About Rex Martensen

Rex Martensen
Rex Martensen joined the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in June 2016 as the private land programs manager following a career with Missouri’s Conservation Department.