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Best Places for Fly Fishing in New Mexico – Paradise in the Desert

The Southwest areas of the United States are covered by desolate mountains and vast deserts dominating the landscape. Very few people will think of fly fishing when a conversation on these areas comes up.

A good part of New Mexico falls in this description. There are 5 national parks in this state, beautiful grasslands, and excellent fly fishing opportunities. Warm water fish and trout are the most popular in these waters.

The state doesn’t get much attention as it is in a far location unlike most of the angling hotspots in the USA. So, if solace is something you’d like to achieve, plan a trip to this state.

Best Fly Fishing in New Mexico

The natural scenery here is untouched, the rich culture worth appreciating, and the beautiful weather makes everything here ten times better than what outsiders think of the place. Explore the lakes, large reservoirs, and trout-filled rivers in the high mountains.

A few species that you can hook here are bluegills, perch, pike, white bass, catfish, smallmouth bass, walleye, and largemouth bass. Some locations are excellent for trout.

The New Mexico Fish and Game Department has gone a step further to introduce new fish species into a few waterways. They do this through raising and stocking Rio Grande cutthroats, Gila trout, kokanee salmon, and Tiger Muskie.

One of the intriguing things about angling in New Mexico is an all-year-round fishing season in most waters. Those who love winter ice fishing can head to the desert southwest for an incomparable experience.

There are some streams and lakes that are referred to as Special Trout Waters. Sometimes they are called Quality Waters.

You can only use single barbless hooks, artificial flies and lures on most of these streams and lakes. All of them have regulations on possession and bag limits. A lot of Indian reservations and pueblos in this state offer public fishing for bass, catfish, or rainbow trout.

The Best Places to Fly Fish in New Mexico

We have described a few locations in no particular order. So, stick here until the end and let us know which destinations you’d like to visit next when in New Mexico.

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Red River – Southern Rocky Mountains

The Red River is one of Rio Grande’s tributaries. The river has two sections. One is above the Red River Town and is the upper section. It is an area recommended for skilled anglers because of the technical fishing here.

Beginners can hire experienced guides to hold their hands in this area. You can access the point on Highway 586. The commonest catch in this section is stocked rainbow trout.

Its second section is beneath Questa town and is the lower area of the river. The area lies in a canyon making hiking tricky. You will love the experience here because of the pocket water. Cutbow and wild brown trout live here.

Spring is the best time to fish these waters. Having a 5 or 6 weight fly rod with a fluorocarbon tippet will be the best bet for these waters. You can access this river from the Red River Fish Hatchery.

  • Seasons: Summer and spring
  • Main Species: Stocked rainbow trout, wild brown trout, cutbow trout
  • Fly Patterns: Little yellow stoneflies, BWOs, Ants, Grasshoppers, Beetles
  • Nearest Towns: North Valley, Rio Rancho, Corrales, Canon City, Bernalillo, Pueblo, Las Vegas, Los Alamos, Espanola, Trinidad, Alamosa, Raton, Taos
  • Nearest Tackle Shop: Red River Angler and Sport, Starr, Eagle Nest Fly Shack & Lodge
  • Guide Services:

Rio Grande – Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico

The Rio Grande is one of New Mexico’s great fisheries and home to wild trout in abundance. You will need to brace yourself with double courage and patience as you will need to hike to this river whose most parts are in deep gorges.

Late summer through fall is the best time for clear waters because the thunderstorms in the summer season always make the water muddy. Rio has plenty of brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout.

Mid-April is when the little black caddis hatch happens to lead to excellent fishing opportunities on these waters. However, if you have some BWOs and March Browns, you will not miss a catch.

Midges are in plenty here and nymphing is a possibility. For fishing in the deeper pockets, use sculpins streamers. Have any on your 5 or 6 weight fly rod depending on where you are fishing.

Most parts of this river are difficult to access. Head over to the John Dunn Bridge as it makes it easier to cover the river from here. The river can be crowded in the peak season so to escape the masses, hike up the river.

  • Seasons: Late summer through fall
  • Main Species: Rainbow trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout
  • Fly Patterns: Little black caddis, BWOs, Western March browns, midges, sculpins streamers
  • Nearest Towns: North Valley, Rio Rancho, Corrales, Canon City, Bernalillo, Pueblo, Las Vegas, Los Alamos, Espanola, Trinidad, Alamosa, Raton, Taos
  • Nearest Tackle Shop: Fisher Chick, Taos Fly Shop, Eagles Nest Fly Shack
  • Guide Services: The Reel Life, Taos Fly Guides

San Juan River – Tributary of the Colorado River

San Juan River close to Durango and hails from the Navajo Dam at the foot of the Navajo Reservoir. Averagely, the trouts caught here are about 17 inches. This should now make New Mexico one of the target states for fly fishing.

It is a tailwater and the waters are colder throughout the year. Records have it that rainbow and brown trout are about 7,000 in every mile of this stretch. Wading fishermen will appreciate these waters.

Having one with a 4 or 5-shell layer construction in the legs will be the best option because the water temperatures can be at about mid-40 degrees even when the air is at 100.

This is not one of those simple rivers to fish and you will need to hire a guide to help as you float the river. It is wide and will not need longer casts. Carry a 5 or 6 weight rod with a 5x or 6x fluorocarbon tippet to this place.

You will need to carry crushed barbs and forceps as it is a barbless river. Midges hatch well in these chilly waters. So their main meal is annelids and small midges.

Why don’t you make imitations of these and more Pheasant tails to feed these chaps some more? You need a drag-free drift for more success here.

Get to the Texas Hole or the Upper Flats for more success. Waters here are in a slow-motion making fishing easier. The river’s start areas are catch and release points and near here is where the Upper Flats are.

The Texas Hole is at the center of the Middle Main Channel and the Upper Main Channel.

  • Seasons: Spring, summer, and fall
  • Main Species: Rainbow trout, brown trout
  • Fly Patterns: Little black caddis, BWOs, Western March browns, midges, sculpins streamers
  • Nearest Towns: Farmington, Flora Vista, Kirtland, Ojo Amarillo, Bloomfield, Aztec
  • Nearest Tackle Shop: Abe’s Motel & Fly Shop, Soaring Eagle Lodge, The San Juan Angler, Big 5 Sporting Goods – Farmington, Sportsman’s Warehouse
  • Guide Services: Float ‘n Fish LLC, Majestic Enchantment Fly Fishing On The San Juan River

Rio Guadalupe – North Jemez Pueblo

Stretching 12 miles from its source to where it drains, the Rio Guadalupe is in the north area of Jemez Pueblo. The three lower miles are private but the rest falls on public land.

The river has a special trout water section stretching from Porter Landing Bridge to the Llano Loco Spring. You can only fish with flies and artificial lures. There are lots of wild brown trout and a good population of stocked rainbow trout.

The upper section yields the best fishing but will need you to knock arms before accessing. It is usually crowded in the peak seasons. If you are at Jemez, head to the New Mexico 4 for about 4 miles north.

Turn left on to the New Mexico 485 leading you to the Santa Fe National Forest’s entrance. You will make it easily if you have fished more tight streams.

A 4 to 6-weight fly rod and a 5x or 6x tippet are recommended. Most anglers say that the wild brownies are pickier than the rainbows here. Carry some BWOs, Pheasant Tails, and small WD-40s.

  • Seasons: Late summer
  • Main Species: Stocked rainbow trout and wild brown trout
  • Fly Patterns: Small WD-40’s, BWOs, Pheasant Tails
  • Nearest Towns: Porter, Jemez Pueblo
  • Nearest Tackle Shop: Action Angler & Outdoor Center, JZ Unlimited Enterprise, LLC., TRCcovers

Gila River – In the National Forest

The Gila River located in the Gila National Forest has a wide diversity of water creatures from rainbow trout, sunfish, smallmouth bass, and catfish. It has two major sections which are the West and East Forks.

You can commence your fly fishing adventure at its headwaters nearer to Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. Ready yourself for brutal weather and hiking as it is in an area of about 7000 feet elevation.

This river has been recovering from a raging inferno that consumed almost all the greenery here in 2012. There came a major flood that swept the entire area later in 2013.

Recently anglers are catching more fish meaning that there is a great recovery process. Hatches happening here are caddis, stoneflies, midges, and mayflies.

Use your crayfish and minnow patterns to catch the smallmouth bass in the East Fork. The temperatures here can be more than 80 degrees so if you expect to fish more trout here, you will be disappointed.

As you hook your fish, you will love to enjoy the beautiful scenery that keeps you company.

  • Seasons: Winter
  • Main Species: Brown trout, smallmouth bass, sunfish, rainbow trout, catfish
  • Fly Patterns: Mayflies, midges, caddis, stoneflies
  • Nearest Towns: Solomon, Swift Trail Jackson, Safford, Central Thatcher, Pima, Avondale, Yuma
  • Nearest Tackle Shop: The Hideaway Fishing Tackle, Southwest Custom Rods, RiverBum Inc.

Fenton Lake – Jemez Springs

In Fenton Lake State Park closer to Jemez Springs is where the Fenton Lake is. Throughout the year, the state through the Fish and Game Department stocks it with rainbow trout. You can fish from the bank without any problems.

You need to be cautious of the hanging trees. If you are a novice angler who isn’t up for a challenge, the forest might make things trickier for you in this location. As New Mexico goes through the summer heat, make this an escape place.

The area is a popular spot for anglers and water sportsmen and women. You are likely to find it crowded during holidays and weekends. Be tactful and come here during the weekdays where you can have as much water as possible to yourself.

If you can fish from a kayak, this lake is one place to consider. The stocked rainbows aren’t picky and a larger streamer on a sinking line will be the best bet. The line dives into the deeper waters with ease.

Most anglers throw classy woolly buggers here. However, if you have darker midge patterns, they will not disappoint. It is an excellent place for novices to sharpen their skills and practice the necessary fishing techniques.

If you’d like to test moving waters, the Jemez River which is closer is the best place to wet your lines.

  • Seasons: May to November
  • Main Species: White Perch, Sturgeon, Ruffle, Round goby, Rough fish, white, yellow, and rock bass, whitefish, walleye, trout, northern pike, large and smallmouth bass, panfish, catfish
  • Fly Patterns: Dark midges, Woolly buggers
  • Nearest Towns: Bernalillo, Las Vegas, Belen, South Valley, Santa Fe
  • Nearest Tackle Shop: Hidden Valley Sporting Goods

Cimarron River – Canadian River Tributary

Use the Cimarron Canyon State Park as the best access point to the Cimarron River. A section of this river is on private property. You need to be sure so that you don’t trespass into other people’s property.

The river hails from the Tolby Campground. The USA prides itself in it as one of the best brown trout fisheries that are in Southwest USA. The river is about 15 feet wide and is well-lined with so many cottonwood trees.

You will love the hatches happening here from May to October. They make fly fishing a new experience each time. Use streamers and nymphs are your choices of flies for more success.

It remains chilly throughout the year because it is a tailwater. Tag your 4 to a 6-weight fly rod and a fluorocarbon leader. Dry fly fishermen can take advantage of the mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis hatch.

  • Seasons: May to October
  • Main Species: Brown trout
  • Fly Patterns: Stoneflies, Caddis, Mayflies, and streamers
  • Nearest Towns: Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Phoenix, Durango, Grand Junction, Denver, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Little Rock, Kansas City
  • Nearest Tackle Shop: Eagle Nest Fly Shack & Lodge, Taos Fly Shop, Starr, Dos Amigos Anglers

More Fly Fishing Hotspots in New Mexico

Ruidoso River is nearer to the Sierra Blanca Peaks and is an excellent trout fishery. A big section flows through private land making access a hindrance in these areas.

You can, however, get access to the public sections at Two Rivers Park for brook, rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout. It is an excellent dry fly fishing spot when the stoneflies are hatching.

The Vallecitos River is unknown to most anglers because of its remoteness. Rainbow and wild brown trout cruise these waters. It is a place full of tranquillity and the upper sections have rainbows, brook, and brown trout full of life and aren’t spooky here.

Santa Cruz Lake is bordered by hills and has rainbows guarding its waters. The hiking, view, and excellent camping site makes coming here worthwhile. You can fish comfortably from the banks thanks to the trails.

Boat fishing is possible but ensure that you don’t go past the trolling speeds required here. A sinking line, midges, baitfish streamers, and a 6-weight rod are the best to have here.

The Eagle Nest Lake in the Eagle Nest State Park has northern pike, carp, kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, and yellow perch in abundance. Often, the NMGFD stock these waters with trout and salmon.

Shore fishing and boat fishing are allowed here. You can hire a guide here if you are looking to get the best out of these waters.

It is easy to access the Green Meadows Lake. It boasts plenty of fishing opportunities. Largemouth bass, carp, catfish, and native bluegill are common in these waters.

In the cold months, the state stocks this lake with rainbow trout. If you have kids who love to fish, bring them here.

One of the freestone streams hailing from the Colorado Mountains is the Rio Chama. It is accessible from the Abiquiu dam to the Rio Grande. Big browns and rainbows thrive here and grow to big sizes.

The largest brown trout in this state was caught here. Below the El Vado Reservoir is a challenging place to fish these waters. The terrain is rugged and a worthy experience as you hike through the canyons.

Fish in the pockets of the Upper Pecos River for stocked rainbow and wild brown trout. The runoffs from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains can make it difficult to fish here.

Mid-May is the best time to pack for this area. Coincidentally, during this time is when the stonefly and salmon fly hatches happen from May to June. There are special trout water rules here that you should adhere to.

Tingley beach has three ponds. There is a catch and release pond and a kid’s pond. Catfish and trout are stocked in these waters from October to April. For an urban fishing setting, this is an ideal point.

Lake Roberts is filled with largemouth bass and bluegill. The best times to be here are from spring to summer. In the summer, you can catch channel catfish. The winter season comes with lots of stocked rainbow trout to chase.

Quemado Lake is also a well-stocked rainbow trout fishery. The water temperatures here increase in the summer making fishing quite slower. You can fish tiger muskies all-year-round in very large sizes.

In the Bluewater Lake where these muskies frequent, you are only allowed to keep one as long as it is longer than 40 inches.

Visit the Snow Lake from November to March if you’d like to fish stocked rainbow trout.

Lake Caballo is home to plenty of walleye that are 14 to 24 inches long. Other popular catches here are the channel and blue catfish that are between 10 and 20 inches.

Blue catfish are common in the Elephant Butte Lake and you will enjoy fishing these waters. You will enjoy Largemouth and white bass fishing in these waters in summer and spring.

You can hook them in almost all parts of the lake. The waters are home to large strippers too.

You can visit Bill Evans in the Northwest of Silver City for largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and channel catfish. Trout are in plenty throughout though lively from October to May. The largemouth bass here grows very slowly compared to other warmer lakes as this one is cold.

Rio Penasco is a trout water fishery on private land. Mostly it has rainbow and brown trout. Browns and rainbows here are between 10 and 14 inches. Some reach 20 inches.

Thanks to the aquatic life and weather temperatures of this area, trout thrive throughout the year.

Brantley Lake should be among your favorites when it comes to bluegill, crappie, catfish, walleye, spotted, white, and largemouth bass. Due to contamination issues, this area is strictly for catch and release.

Whiskey Lake harbors rainbow trout that average 14 to 18 inches. These fish thrive to about 20 to 24 inches.

The Navajo Lake State Park is an irrigation impoundment and homes brown and rainbow trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, kokanee salmon, channel catfish, northern pike, bluegill, and crappie.

The Cochiti Lake is a United States Army Corps of Engineers Lake with plenty of walleye, catfish, bluegill, crappies, white bass, black bass, and northern pike.

You will get a diversity of waterways and fish species in the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. This is the area with Stone Lake, Enbom Lake, Mundo Lake, Horse Lake, and Dulce Lake.

Largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, brown and rainbow trout are in plenty. Ensure to follow the regulation of each spot in this area.

Try the Clayton Lake in the north of US 64 if you’d like to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, catfish, rainbow, and walleye.

Tips for Successful Fly Fishing in New Mexico

If targeting tiger muskies, you need a heavier rod. However, a 6 weight will be recommended for fishing in most areas in New Mexico.

For your assortment of flies, small flies will do better and catch more fish here. Streamers will do for trout but nymphs will be the surest bets.

Check your size of fluorocarbon tippets when coming to this state. Wild trout easily get spooked by thicker ones. Carry a sinking line just in case you visit the lakes that require them.

You need to be aware of what fish are doing in the areas you need to fish prior to your travel. Know which hatches yield and at what time they begin so that you plan accordingly. Check fishing reports to be on the safer side.

Winter in New Mexico has colder days and late evenings. Ensure you consider this as you pack your gear and apparel.

Most locations in this state are rivers. You can be sure to have a good time fishing from the shores and wading. A smaller size reel and rod combo will be ideal.

Confirm if an area you intend to go fishing is in private waters. Only fish in public waters and ask for permission to access private waters. You might be lucky to be given a chance.

You will need a valid fishing license to access any waters in this state. Annual validity is from 1st April to 31st March.

Since the state doesn’t have as many fish as other states, fishing regulations can be stricter here with more catch and release areas and reduced catch and bag limits.

FAQ’s – Questions on Fly Fishing in New Mexico

Q) What are the bagging and possession limits of trout and salmon on the Red River?
A) You are limited to 5 salmon and trout every day for the bag limit. Among the 5 trout, cutthroat shouldn’t exceed 2.

Q) Which are the best areas to fly fish in Santa Fe?
A) You will not go wrong if you visit the Chama River, Rio Grande, and Vallecitos River.

Q) Where can I fish for wild brown trout in New Mexico?
A) Rio Grande, Rio Guadalupe, and Cimarron are the most famous waters harboring wild brown trout.

Q) How many rods can you bring to New Mexico?
A) New Mexico regulations only allow for one fishing rod if you are 12 years or older. You must have a second-rod validation in case you need to have two fly fishing rods.

Q) Do you need a state habitat management stamp to fly fish in New Mexico?
A) Most anglers need to have this management stamp that costs $4.

Conclusion on the Best Fly Fishing in New Mexico

What does it feel like living in a desert? Maybe dreadful. Or perhaps one of the most pleasurable experiences. As avid anglers who are unbounded by weather conditions and their effects, we choose the latter.

Fly fishing in Mexico is one of the best if you are looking to hide from the masses. It is a state located in the southwest of the continent and many non-residents overlook it because of the distance.

Don’t be among them. They are missing so much that we have tried to share in our article and much more.

New Mexico’s offerings in the fly fishing sector are beyond words considering its conditions. We are grateful to the state authorities for putting measures to ensure that the waterways here are in good shape and have life.

We’d like you to plan for an angling visit to this state and see if it is a place you’d come again and again. We know you would.

As you pack your tackle bag, ensure that you have the best and appropriate gear that will see you reeling fish here without a problem. Our buyer’s guide section is to make your research and purchasing process less hectic.

Once you test the waters here with your combos and flies, share with us your experiences in the comment section. For anglers who have fished any of the spots in New Mexico, let us know how it was like and where next you’d like to visit.

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