The Land of Enchantment and Southern Colorado hold many treasures, but perhaps its most cherished assets are its rivers teeming with trout. Some of the best fishing, especially fly fishing, can be found here. So pack up your rod and hit the road on a tour of some of the best and most
diverse fishing in the nation.
Three hours northwest of Albuquerque, the San Juan River flows southwest from Colorado. Shortly after crossing the border into New Mexico, it’s blocked by the mighty Navajo Dam. The river below the dam runs clear, cold and fertile. The Special Trout Waters section holds as many as 15,000 trout per mile and is rated one of the top three fishing rivers in the lower 48 states.
People from all over the world travel here to test their skills against the large fish that swim these waters. The trout in the San Juan average 15 to 20 inches in length and weigh 2 to 4 pounds. Fish in the 6- to 10-pound range are not uncommon.
Just last August, a section of the river about 14 miles downstream from the dam was dedicated as part of a $550,000 habitat restoration project. In addition to improving the trout environment, a waterfowl pond and concrete boat ramp were built.
Despite the trout’s size along this river, the preferred tackle is small, so fishing can be a bit tricky. Even seasoned veterans can be humbled on this great river. Hire a guide your first time on this world-class river to get the most out of this experience.
The lake above Navajo Dam, Navajo Reservoir, offers fantastic fishing for both pike and bass with a fly rod. There are several Indian reservations in the area that also offer excellent fishing. But remember, all tribal waters require tribal permits that can be purchased at most local sporting goods stores.
To the north is the Southern Ute Reservation, which has six different rivers flowing through its boundaries. East is the Jicarilla Apache Reservation with some of the best lakes in the Southwest, including Stone Lake with its monster trout. To the southwest is the Navajo Reservation. The warmer water of Morgan Lake holds plenty of prized largemouth bass.
As you travel north of the San Juan you will find the Animas River, which runs through Durango, CO. The Animas is a beautiful freestone river with water that just begs to have a fly dropped in it. The Animas flows south to its junction with the San Juan in Farmington. It has trout throughout its length and offers a wide range of fishing scenarios, from high mountains to fertile valleys.
Many other rivers and streams abound in this area. Head east of Durango and you will find the Florida, the Pine (Los Pinos) and the Piedra, tributaries to the Animas and the San Juan. A lot of these waters are on private land, but there is some public access. There are scores of small streams north of Durango, too numerous to mention, that offer the purist form of fly fishing – high
mountains and wild trout.
Continue east to find the upper San Juan River flowing through Pagosa Springs, CO. Its many tributaries offer excellent fishing as well. The river in Pagosa Springs has trophy trout. Again, some of the best fishing on the San Juan is on private property. Thankfully, many owners also offer lodging with access to the river.
Across Wolf Creek Pass is the upper Rio Grande, another classic river. A favorite in this area is Williams Creek, a tributary to the Piedra River just northwest of Pagosa Springs, and Turkey Creek, northeast of the town.
Southeast of Pagosa and back into New Mexico is Chama. Fish the Coñejos, Los Piños (a different river than previously mentioned) and Chama rivers. The Coñejos is north of Chama, across the Cumbres Pass in Colorado, and is one of the prettiest streams in this area – well worth the trip.
The Enchanted Circle of New Mexico, encompassing Taos, Red River and Eagle Nest, offers some fantastic fishing. The Cimmaron River through the canyon between Eagle Nest and Ute Park is a terrific dry fly stream.
The Red River is usually stocked heavily near the town of the same name. The headwaters of the Red have some beautiful native trout. Costilla Creek in the Valle Vidal is a beautiful meadow stream with a good population of trout, great for first-time fly fishers. The Rio Grande and its tributaries offer hike-in fishing in some very remote but scenic canyons.
Almost 30 miles of pristine streams run through this national preserve in the Jemez Mountains. And the government aims to keep this previously private ranch as pristine as possible through a reservation system for anglers.
Bag limits are smaller than most other nearby waters, and waders and nets are prohibited as a protection against introducing disease into these waters. But the experience of this almost untouched piece of wilderness makes up for it. For reservations and available dates, visit vallescaldera.gov or call 866-382-5537.
What You Need
If you plan to fish the Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado areas on your own, be prepared with the right tackle.
For fly rods, try a 3-6 weight rod of 7 to 9 feet in length.Your reel should have a floating line and plenty of backing. Smooth drags on your reel are a must since you’ll be fishing with very light leaders on these streams and rivers. Leaders should be tapered to 71/2 to 10 feet in length; 5x (4-5 lbs.) is most common. Bigger rivers will require waders, but a lot of the smaller waters can be fished with hip-boots. Polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat and a camera are necessities no matter where you go in this region.
Having a fishing guide show you the ropes on these fantastic streams can increase your odds of having fun and catching fish. Here are a few worth considering: Sandstone Anglers (888-339-9789) are specialists on the San Juan below Navajo Dam. Anasazi Angler (970-385-4665), Duranglers (888-347-4346). Let it Fly (970-264-3189) are the experts in the Pagosa Springs area. Van Beacham’s Solitary Angler (866-502-1700) and Taylor Streit (575-751-1312) are the most experienced guides near Taos.
– By John Tavenner, a fishing guide based in Aztec, N.M.