Lake Capote, the Southern Utes Answer

Photo Credit: Sacha Smith | The Southern Ute Drum

Editors Note: The following are excerpts from a 1966 article by T. Ralph Bennett about Lake Capote titled “Lake Capote, the Southern Utes Answer.” The article would’ve been printed in the Ignacio Chieftain newspaper in 1966-1967. Lake Capote reopened for the 2016 season last week and this article sheds some light on the lake’s history.


We anglos might as well admit it–we can’t always produce fish or good fishing to delight our guests when we take them to the nearest public fishing stream or lake.

So, it’s nice to know that our friends, the Southern Utes, have a face saver for us in their well-stocked, well-supervised recreation project, Lake Capote, just South of U.S. 160 east of Chimney Rock on Colorado highway 151, the only Tribal project of its kind in Colorado.

A duffer himself, your correspondent has had no difficulty “filling out” whenever he has visited Lake Capote this summer, and when he catches his limit of ten fat frisky rainbows every time, so can anyone else.

Lake Capote, or Pargin Lake as it was known when built in 1948 by the Anglo Pargin family, has long been known for good fishing. Your reporter recalls hearing about two Farmington anglers who one winter in the early 50’s went to Pargin lake to fish through the ice.

Cutting a hole some 18 inches in diameter through the three or four inches of ice then covering the lake, they lowered their

Respective lures or baits through the hole, the lines attached to light fly poles and reels. Almost immediately something evidently no leas than a five-pound rainbow took one of the hooks and started off. What followed must have been something akin to a Caribbean tornado in a teapot. Both lines became inextricably tangled, and both rods were broken into a dozen pieces before the leviathan snapped the six-pound monofilament lines and left for parts unknown.

Not that this is going to happen every time you flip a worm, salmon egg or a spinner into the present waters of Laker Capote, but you will get plenty of fight and plenty of fish – from 10 to 15-inch prime rainbows, of you too try Lake Capote next season. And you needn’t spend more than a dollar a day per person for your fun and your catch, or say a dollar and a quater or a half, if you buy your worms or salmon eggs at the dock. If you like to fish from a boat, oar-powered ( no motors permitted on the lake) you can rent a safe, modern, aluminum boat for 50 cents an hour or $3.50 a day; this was the 1966 current rate and is subject to change. It should be noted that Lake Capote is Tribally owned and many fees such as State and Federal fees for park use and recreational areas do not apply at Lake Capote; for example it is not necessary to buy Federal Land and Water Consevation Sticker to use the facilities of the Lake.
The writer never had to move farther than the boat dock, 50 feet away from his car, to get his ten fish, however. And obliging Joseph Earl Rael, the personable Tribal concessionaire, brought your scribe an ice cold coke while he was sitting in the hot sun waiting for the first fish to bike, as well as taking the first trout off the hook for him and pitting it on the stringer.
Don’t expect this coddling next summer when you go to Lake Capote, however. It’s the writer’s prediction, judging from the Happy Fishing Grounds—or should we say waters—this summer, Rael is going to be far too busy next season; but the Southern Ute Tribe does offer many courteous services to its customers at the Lake.
The Lake Capote site has an interesting history. (And by the way, the spot is not named for the author, Truman Capote, but for a band of Utes who in the early days were called the Capotes, to distinguish them from the Other Ute bands – the Mouache, Weminuche, Uncompahgre, Yampas, and Uintahs).
Some time in the 1876 Doll Pargin came in a wagon train to these parts from Kentucky, along with his father, Daniel Pargin. The Pargins homesteaded what is now the Rathjen ranch eight miles east of Bayfield on Beaver Creek.
Later Doll, father of Leon Pargin, who was currently Republican candidate for state representative from La Plata County in November elections, went on over to the Piedra River with his brothers, Ed and Ben, to establish teh well-known Pargin ranch by Chimney Rock.
In time various parcels of Ute land in the present vicinity of Capote Lake were put up for sale. Doll Pargin buying them successively until he had holdings all in one block of some 1700 acres there east “the rock”; some of these plats were original allotments belonging to Southern Ute Tribal Members. The property then, as now, traversed by Stollsteimer Creek, was known as the Flats Ranch.
Seeing the possibility of a lake thereon, with a trout-rearing project in mind to supply both the tourists and the restaurant demand time, the Pargins built the lake in 1948, an installation that required two years to complete. After Doll Pargin’s death his son, Leon Pargin, was made the administrator of the estate, selling the ranch and lake back to the Southern Ute Tribe in July, 1963.
Under the direction of a government fishery management biologist, Mr. Bob Azevedo, the Tribe set about reconditioning the lake for future sportsman patronage. First the lake level was lowered a few fee by drainage. Then all the existing fish, a population of rough fish such as carp and suckers having by that time heavily infested the waters, were killed by an application of the chemical “rotenone”, which suffocated them, the bodies floating to the top for collection and disposal.
Then the lake was refilled and stocked with several thousand strong and healthy trout of nothing smaller than catchable size. The was in October, 1964. Five thousand more were stocked the following spring and more have been added at regular intervals.


During May of 1965, the lake was fertilized in accordance with the biologist’s recommendations. The purposes of the fertilizer were to increase the rate of fish growth by stimulating food production and to produce a “bloom” in turn, reduced the amount of light which reached the bottom of the lake, thereby, retarding the growth of pondweeds which are such a nuisance to fishermen.
Since the lake was loosing quite a bit of water by seepage, the Tribe also in 1965 attempted to reduced water losses from this source. A narrow trench was dug in the dam where the seepage was the worst. The trench refilled with a mixture of soil and bentonite which stopped most of the seepage in that part of the dam.
Because Capote, elevation 6,400 feet, is a comparatively shallow lake from which aquatic growth cannot be completely eradicated, the Tribal committee, upon the advice of their fish culture consultant, an aerator pump was purchased which extended 1,750 feet of one-inch diameter plastic pipe from the shoreline in front of the boat dick into the lake. During the hottest months, ait from twin-generator compressor is forced through these pipes to provide fresh oxygen for the fish. As the forced air bubbles go to the surface, the fish concentrate in the vicinity affording a lively catch indeed.
The same device is used in the winter to supply an oxygen deficiency cause by the decomposing aquatic plants under the ice, to prevent suffocation of the fish. Such scientific management is indispensable to the success of Capote Lake or any other similar project.
North of the lake some 500 yards, the Tribe has built a modern campsite for camper visitors, complete will all modern facilities, heated shower baths, toilets, tables, grates, and garbage disposals. Present capacity is 19 camp units. In increasing numbers, tourist visitors to the area have established base camp there while taking other Basin attractions such as the narrow gauge train trip to Silverton out of Druango, Mesa Verde National Park, Navajo Dam and others. To charge for the campground accommodation is $1.50 per night per party, subject to change. No charge at all is levied for picnicking at the Lake Capote Site, which also affords clean, sanitary toilets and a stocked small grocery, sundries and sporting goods store.
The campground is left as nearly like the forest reserve areas as possible, with the original native flora and fauna intact; while young scribe was photographing the facilities, he was also fortunate enough to snap a wild grouse in the bushes, as shown in one of the accompanying pictures.
In charge of the Capote preserve this year—and likely next—was property custodian and manager, Rael a member, as is his wife Patricia, of the Southern Ute Tribe. Rael was born in Ignacio, June 2, 1935. His mother, Beatrice, died in 1945. His father, Afred Rael, currently lives with a tribe of Pueblos at Picuris, New Mexico.
Joseph completed high school at Penasco, N.M. in 1954. He was a purchasing agent and property custodian for the Southern Ute Tribe from 1958 through 1964; in 1963 taking an intensive short course in business management at the University of New Mexico under B.I.A. sponsorship. This and his previous experience readily qualified him for his present assignment, which he obtained on bid in May of this year.
He and his sweetheart, Patricia Lucero, were married in 1956. The couple have three children: Geraldine, 10: Jospeh E. Jr., nine; and Steven, four. Mrs. Rael assists in running the store.
Helping Joe manage the capote complex is Erdman Tobias, also a Southern Ute Tribal Member. Tobias does such details as cleaning the campground, emptying and disposing of the garbage, scrubbing and disinfecting the shower rooms, toilets and boats, and is assisted in this work by Mr. Rael. Because of Lake Capote’s commanding view of the surrounding country, it also serves as a fire lookout, with Joe as warden.
The past July a gentleman by the name of James E. Martin of Englewood, Colorado, engaged ina construction project at Fort Lewis College in Durango, was fishing from a boat at Lake Capote with some friends. As one of these friends, an elderly man, stood up in the boat to raise the anchor, the boat capsized. The gentleman pitched overboard was wearing a life jacket he was in no danger; but as Mr. Martin tries to assist his friend, Martin’s foot became entangled in one of the submerged fish lines, which in turn was caught on the anchor. Having no life belt on himself, Martin was having a little difficulty hanging onto the capsized boat.
Hearing the cries of distress, Rael and an Ernest Vigil went across the lake to their rescue in another boat, Rael diving down with a knife in his teeth and cutting the line fouled with the anchor, soon getting both victims safely back in the boat which was easily righted.
Grateful for his rescue, Martin advised Secretary of the Interior, Udall, of the men’s heroism in rescuing them. On August 19, 1966, Rael was a proud recipient of a letter from Udall in Washington which said in part : “Your quick thinking and unhesitating actions, with complete disregard for danger to yourselves, doubtless averted a tragic loss of life.”
“I wish to commend you for your prompt and courageous action in the face of danger.” And that’s the one to show one’s grandchildren!
For the 1966 season, May 23 through September 26, Lake Capote sold 1,853 fishing permits. These 1,853 fishermen caught an approximate total of 9,821 trout, fishing a total of 1,929 hours. Some 2,00 campers patronized the grounds during the four months they were open.
Your scribe would say, by virtue of the good things, he has heard others say who have patronized the Lake Capote Recreation Area, that the Utes have a good thing going there. Possibly they will expand it, with the addition of more acres to permit fee hunting and increased facilities at the site, possibly construction of a motel, service stations and restaurant in the future years to come; thereby making it a tourist haven.
Certainly, your correspondent hopes that they will. Enterprises like these are a must for the Four Corners Area if our tourists are to be made and kept, happy.

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