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Great Bass Fishing So Close to Santa Fe and Albuquerque it Should be Illegal

Posted by on April 6, 2012
Leo Salcido of  Albuquerque, shows of a nice, fat, bigmouth bass he caught  at Shady Lakes.

Leo Salcido of Albuquerque, shows of a nice, fat, bigmouth bass he caught at Shady Lakes.

For over 50 years Shady Lakes in Alameda has been providing anglers a lush retreat where the thrill of battling a big bass is only a cast away.

Within easy striking distance of Santa Fe or Albuquerque the lakes are located off State Road 313 in the picturesque Rio Grande Valley just south of Bernalillo.

The park offers largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish and trout fishing under the shade of great cottonwoods and in the shadow of the nearby Sandia Mountains.

Anglers will find the native population of bass a worthy challenge and feisty fighters when hooked.

And you won’t need a boat or have to drive a couple hundred miles to get into them.

Kids will find the “easy catch” pond a great place to learn the sport while pursuing pan sized trout.

Those seeking a bigger catch will find 16-inch trout or larger lurking in the next pond over.

Trout anglers must keep what they catch here paying 68-cents-per-inch for some tasty trout.

And although the bass ponds are generally catch and release, anglers who wish to keep a fish caught in them may do so for the same per-inch fee.

pond at shady lakes

The ponds at Shady Lakes just south of Bernalillo are brimming with largemouth bass lurking in the shadows.

Shady Lakes has been a family business and local institution since 1962 when Jim Phillips made a realtor an impromptu offer of $40,000 to buy what was an 11-acre, bait-fish farm, says youngest daughter Jan Phillips, who now manages the operation.

“I think he was having a mid-life crisis at the time,” she said of her father who was a newspaper advertising executive then. “We had a nice house in the Heights and my mother, Joanne, just about divorced him over it.”

But the Phillips’ stuck together, bought the farm and moved into a small, three bedroom, and adobe house on the property. They then all worked very hard for many years to transform the farm into the successful business it is today.

“And it worked mostly because of our cheap child labor,” says Phillips who along with her two sisters, Jean and Jill, and two brothers, John and Jay, worked many long days on the farm.

“But we had a ball growing up here too,” Phillips says of the rural, agricultural setting on the fringe of Albuquerque’s north valley.

The property is bordered by the Rio Grande and the towering cottonwoods of the surrounding Bosque while farm pastures dot the neighboring landscape.

Phillips, a graduate of West Mesa High School, fondly remembers climbing trees; building forts and playing hide and seek with her siblings on the sprawling grounds of the farm.

“I was a bit of a tom girl then,” says Phillips, a tall, single, athletic blonde with a big, bright smile and a laid-back demeanor.

Jan Phillips

Jan Phillips of Albuquerque operates her family’s longstanding business , Shady Lakes just north of Albuquerque.

The family’s first job in taking over the farm back then was to drain the ponds and convert the facility from ditch water to well water.

“We had some awesome mud ball fights then,” Phillips recalls of cleaning out the ponds to rid them of carp and sucker fish.

The use of cold, clean groundwater then allowed them to plant game fish and water lilies and stock trout all summer long, Phillips says.

“We now get folks who’ll stop here just to catch a trout for dinner,” she says.

Phillips, 54, has been managing Shady Lakes since 1989 and hopes to continue doing so for many years to come.

“I just can’t imagine this not being open and available to the public,” she says.

But before taking over from her parents who have since passed on, Phillips spent many years working as a licensed practical nurse.

Like her brothers and sisters she too had left home to pursue her own career and life.

She quit work for a while to earn a degree in graphics design and illustration and even took an epic, summer long, cross-country road trip in a Volkswagen minibus.

“That may have been the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says of the trip which included a 10-day backcountry canoe voyage with an Outward Bound program in Minnesota.

“Now that was an experience,” she says with a touch of disbelief in her voice.

Then there was the time she found herself stranded in incredibly remote Glacier National Park of Montana with a burnt out wheel bearing on the bus.

And there was the engine fire while visiting Dinosaur National Monument outside of Vernal, Utah.

Luckily she was prepared with a fire extinguisher on hand.

“It got pretty hairy sometimes,” Phillips says. “But it was a great trip.”

Phillips says she regrettably sold the bus after blowing the engine but still finds herself seeking adventure, most recently having gone sky diving during a mountain biking vacation in Moab, Utah.

Daniel Hayden

Daniel Hayden of Albuquerque says the key to success in fishing at Shady Lakes is the taking a day off once in a while and just getting out there.

But it was while working once again as a nurse in Denver during the late 1980’s that Phillips kept having a recurring thought about the family farm.

Was there a market for the abundance of water lilies that they cultivated in the fishing ponds back home?

She made a few calls to local nurseries and discovered that supplies of aquatic plants were scarce while demand was great, and getting greater.

“They were asking me if I knew where they could get them,” she says.

Phillips had stumbled into the onset of what was fast becoming the residential garden pond craze.

So Phillips hustled back home to help her Mom who was managing the business since her Dad had returned to work with the state.

So Phillips set to work and ended up shipping water lilies all over the country and today she grows a variety of aquatic plants to supply the market.

Shady Lakes also stocks everything needed to construct and maintain a residential garden pond including liners, pumps, filters, ornamental fountains and even frogs, goldfish and koi fish.

And while the residential pond supply business has been instrumental in the operations’ success, it is the fishing that still gives her thrills.

“When those lilies bloom and you know those bass are hiding under there it can be pretty distracting,” she says.

Bass love that kind of cover and will hide under the lily pads where a well placed cast of an artificial frog might elicit a ferocious strike, she says.

The park store stocks basic fishing supplies but most serious bass anglers typically bring their own including the many different and unique varieties of soft plastic lures, spinners and top water flies developed for bass.

Carissa Malanowzki

Carissa Malanowski,34, of Albuquerque who works at Shady Lakes where one of the perks is the fishing shows off her private stash of bass lures.

Shady Lakes makes for a great fishing destination due to its abundance of fish, its nearby location and spectacular ambiance and scenery.

And a state fishing license is not required on the private waters at Shady Lakes.

Private fishing permits at Shady Lakes are $7.95 for trout ($5.95 for kids and seniors) and $10.95 for bass, bluegill or catfish.

For more information go to or give them a call at (505) 898-2568.

If You Go: From Santa Fe one can take the Rail Runner train and get off at the Sandia station or elect to drive on I-25 south to the Tramway exit, head west toward the river and at the traffic circle turn north on NM 313 and follow to nearby Shady Lakes.

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