The Best Fly Fishing in New Mexico
The Land of Enchantment does not disappoint when it comes to fly fishing. From productive tailwaters, to pristine free stone streams and ecological islands of unique alpine trout habitat, fly anglers have plenty of variety to choose from when visiting New Mexico. While most of the fly fishing opportunities lie in the Northern part of the state, trout fishing can be found as far south as the Gila National Forest, not far from the Mexico border. The San Juan River, to the far north of the state, attracts more anglers than any other trout stream in the the state. You can learn more about trout fishing here in our article of the Best Fly Fishing on the San Juan River. Other than the San Juan River, the Chama River, Upper Rio Grande, Pecos River, Cimarron River, Jemez River, and the small creeks and streams of Valles Caldera National Preserve and Gila National Forest offer excellent fly fishing for visiting anglers. In this article we dive into each of these streams and what anglers can expect on their fly fishing adventure.
Fly Fishing the Chama River
The Chama River headwater can be found in Southern Colorado, just east of Durango. The Chama, or Rio Chama, flows south to the El Vado Reservior which divides its freestone and tailwater sections. Below El Vado Reservior, the river runs for a few dozen miles to Abiquiu Reservoir then to its confluence with the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. The Chama River offers unmatched seclusion and diversity to visiting fly anglers. The Chama is home to Rio Grande Cutthroat in its headwaters along the state line but is most known for the plentiful rainbow trout and brown trout that can reach trophy sizes. The river winds in and out of public and private land from it headwaters to the confluence with the Rio Grande. Some areas are more popular than others due to their accessibility and notoriety for holding plenty of hungry trout. For Blue Liners, the headwaters above the town of Chama are a great place to start. Here you can have the river and small creeks to yourself while searching out the Native Cutthroat Trout. Further south, above El Vado Reservoir, the Chama meets the Rio Brazos and forms several miles of some of the most productive trout stream on the river. Access to this location is available along the Rio Chama Wildlife Area. Kokanee salmon will also migrate into this section each fall to spawn. With this added protein source, and plenty of hungry brown trout staging for their spawn, there is no wonder this can be the preferred time of year to visit.
Below El Vado, the Rio Chama is designated as a Wild and Scenic River for 25 miles before flowing into Abiquiu. While not known for the quality of fishing upstream of the El Vado Reservoir, trout can still be targeted during the times when water isn't being pulled from the reservoir for irrigation. Wild and stocked rainbows and browns can be found in this section with winter being the most popular time to visit.
Similar to the El Vado tailwater the Abiquiu tailwater is most popular in the winter months. Flowing through five miles of public land from directly below the Abiquiu dam, this section of the Chama holds mostly stocked rainbow trout as it winds through the desert canyons.
Fly Fishing the Pecos River
The headwaters of the Pecos begin just Northeast of Santa Fe. The Pecos here is medium to small and sees a good bit of traffic, especially during the summer months, due to the proximity to town and easy accessibility. Anglers can find plenty of stocked rainbow trout and wild brown trout throughout the lower stretches of river below the Cowles Campground. Above this section and in the headwaters streams of the Rio Mora, anglers can find the native Rio Grande Cutthroat in fair
numbers but typically smaller in size. These trout are willing to rise to dry flies during the warmer months and can be found in better numbers upstream of the natural dividers. While dry flies and small nymphs are the most productive on these headwaters, junk flies such as eggs, squirmy worms, and mop flies will have more success with the stocked trout found downstream.
Fly Fishing the Rio Grande
Trout fishing on the Rio Grande can be tough for both locals and visiting anglers to figure out. While trout can be found in the river just several miles north of Santa Fe, population density is often low and access can be even more difficult. Add to this the long season of high water from runoff and you can see why it is such a daunting task. However, the early spring, and late summer/early fall months can be a great time to get out and explore the river. Early spring brings some mayfly hatches and a prolific caddis hatch to the river before the snowmelt runoff leaves the river near unfishable until the end of summer. After clearing, terrestrials on a dry dropper setup can be very effective along the shallow runs and riffles. Access is dependent on your ability and desire to hike down the steep gorge that surrounds the river. While the effort to reach the river is great, anglers are often rewarded with seclusion and spectacular views. One of the most popular access points and stretches of the Rio Grande can be found at its confluence with the Red River. Here anglers can access the river via the La Junta trail. Caution and patience is recommended on the river as the large boulders and rugged terrain can be unforgiving, especially during inclement weather.
Fly Fishing the Cimarron River
A tailwater trout stream flowing from Eagles Nest Lake, the Cimarron River is a great place to visit for anglers looking for a smaller river and plenty of wild brown trout and rainbow trout willing to rise to the surface for a fly. Located just outside of Taos, the Cimarron flows through, canyons, meadows, and dense forest. The fishing in the summer is best when terrestrials abound and the brown trout feed with more abandon. Baetis in the shoulder months, and heavy caddis and stonefly hatches in May/June also keep the trout looking up early and late in the season. Targeting the many undercut banks and soft water seams is a sure way to run across feeding trout. Easy public access can be found along Hwy 64 and the Cimarron Canyon State Park.
Fly Fishing the Jemez River
Mostly known for its sections of stocked rainbow trout northwest of Albuquerque, the Jemez River and its headwater tributaries also possess some of the best freestone trout streams in the state, producing good numbers of wild brown and cutthroat trout. The shallow stream provides excellent dry fly fishing for most of the season, and is a great place for inexperienced anglers to visit and learn the art of fly angling. The trout tend to be on the small size, but the numbers of willing fish eager to rise to a dry will boost the confidence of any angler. Tributaries such as the Rio Guadalupe are especially friendly as the low gradient meadows allow for an easy back cast for those developing their casting abilities.
Valles Caldera National Preserve Fly Fishing
The headwaters of the Jemez can be found in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Likely the best place for any beginner to go fly fishing in the state, the preserve is full of small streams flowing through the low gradient meadows. The numbers of trout here are very impressive but still lack the size, similar to the other streams of the upper Jemez. The preserve provides for a very relaxing day on the stream and is with close proximity of town.
Fly Fishing the Gila National Forest
The Gila National Forest offers some of the best small stream fly fishing in New Mexico. While some rainbow trout and brown trout do call the streams of the Gila home, the true gem of this isolated Alpine region is the native Gila Trout. Only found in the headwater streams of the national forest and in the neighboring White Mountains of Arizona, the Gila trout is truly a one of a kind gem. The Gila is a closer relative of the rainbow trout that has been isolated for millennia. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has done an excellent job revitalizing the population that was once threatened by habitat loss and hybridization with introduced rainbow trout. Now the small creeks of the area such as Willow Creek, Iron Creek, and Gilita Creek all possess healthy populations of trout. You can learn more about fly fishing the Gila Wilderness in our in depth article outtlining the best times and places to hunt for the Gila Trout.
The Best Flies for Fly Fishing New Mexico
Don't forget these flies on any of the New Mexico rivers and streams. Just about any nymph pattern can be productive with a good drift. Proper weighting and profile can be more important while fishing high or dirty water.
Best Nymph Patterns
Pheasant Tail Nymph - size 14-16
Walts Worm - size 14-18
Hares Ear Nymph - size 12-16
Zebra Midge - size 18-20
Double Beaded Stonefly Nymph - size 8-12
Junk Flies - Eggs, squirmy worms, and mop flies work great for stocked trout as well as wild fish when waters are high and dirty from rains and snow melt as well as in the winter when less food is available.
Best Dry Flies
Chubby Chernobyl - size 8-12 - Terrestrials are a must have on all of New Mexico's streams from summer through fall.
Stimulator - size 10-14 - caddis hatches, and a few stonefly hatches in late spring. Trout have trouble passing up on big bugs in the summer months.
Elk hair Caddis or X-caddis - size 14-18 - the caddis hatches in May are a can't miss for anglers.
Adams Fly Variants - size 14-18 - baetis hatches occur throughout much of the state in mid spring and fall.
Best Streamer Patterns
When searching for the trophy browns that inhabit several of the larger tailwater streams in the northern part of the state, streamer patterns and even mouse patterns fished at night can produce trout of a lifetime. Moderately weighted streamers are great for the shallower rivers on a floating line. Streamers like the boogeyman, circus peanut, and helmet head sculpin are great options to entice big brown trout.
New Mexico Fishing Rules and Regulations
Catch limits and gear regulations differ on many of New Mexico's trout streams. Before hitting the water, check in with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and stay up to date on all the current regulations.
For more information about America's best trout streams and others in the area, check out our articles on the best fly fishing in Arizona, and the best fly fishing in Colorado.