Fly fishing New Mexico combines the best of the west with the best of the south. You’ll find warm temperatures and desert ecosystems all over the state, but still have ample access to seclusion in beautiful mountains.
This is one of the country’s best fly fishing destinations.
Table of Contents
- Why Go Fly Fishing in New Mexico?
- What To Pack For Fly Fishing New Mexico
- New Mexico Fly Fishing Species
- Best Spots For Fly Fishing New Mexico
- New Mexico Fishing Season
The best part of New Mexico fly fishing is that all of these areas are filled with beautiful waters that have large, strong-fighting fish lurking beneath the surface. Combine your fly fishing with mountain biking, climbing, and backpacking and you’ll experience outdoor greatness.
On our annual family trip to Arizona, we would always stop in New Mexico to fly fish. We often seemed to be the only ones on the water. The fish were always willing to eat and New Mexico became one of our best-kept secrets.
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Why Go Fly Fishing in New Mexico?
New Mexico isn’t a place many anglers choose to fish. While it receives a fair amount of pressure from locals, this state provides a variety of unique lakes and rivers for people to experience. Until you visit, you won’t realize how impressive of a state it is.
What To Pack For Fly Fishing New Mexico
Here are a few of the essential items for any fly fishing trip, but these will all come in handy in New Mexico as there are so many different styles of fishing in the state.
- Your Best Fly Rod Overall: Bring your favorite rod overall, as well as the ones listed below if you have them in your kit.
- A 3 Weight Fly Rod: For Smaller Trout Species
- A 5 Weight Fly Rod: For Medium Sized Fish
- A 7 Weight Fly Rod: Versatile but good for larger fish
- An 8 Weight Fly Rod: Good for most of the biggest fish you’ll catch in New Mexico
- Your Best Fly Reel Overall: A decent matching weight reel and good fly line is important. Bring a reel to match each rod.
- A Fly Fishing Pack: Whether it’s a sling or a backpack, these are good for packing even more gear
- A Fly Fishing Vest: Pack your leader, line, nippers, and flies close to your chest
- A Fly Fishing Combo Set: You can pick up a combo kit that comes with all (or most) of the above
- Fly Fishing Waders: Ideal to get into those difficult spots in the river
- Best Wading Boots: Keep the feet on your waders protected from sharp rocks
- Fly Fishing Sunglasses: A good polarized pair of lenses to remove the glare from the water and protect your eyes from UV rays
- Fly Fishing Net: Get a rubber net to protect the fish. Make sure it’s large enough to land good-sized fish
- A Fly Box: Bring your best waterproof fly box to keep your flies safe and dry while fishing in New Mexico
- Flies: Western March Browns, BWOs, Blood Midges, Prince Nymphs, Elk Hair Caddis, Pheasant Tail, large baitfish streamers, midge nymphs, Cluster Minnows, Wooly Buggers, and chartreuse color crayfish patterns
New Mexico Fly Fishing Species
Anglers can catch five different trout with a fly as well as land their fair share of bass and pike. New Mexico’s fish populations are only continuing to grow. You won’t find a shortage of catchable fish and they’re rarely difficult to land.
Brook trout are some of the more uncommon trout in New Mexico. These are going to be found primarily in the mountains streams like Caresto Creek and Tecolote Creek. They’re usually found from 8-10 inches in these creeks.
Brook trout are often spooky and need to be fished using fluorocarbon tippet. Be sure to use Western March Browns, BWOs, and Blood Midges. The smaller patterns you can use, the better chance you have to catch these Brookies.
New Mexico holds several wild populations of brown trout, but these fish are also stocked across the state. They can be found up to five pounds in some of the lakes and rivers in New Mexico including the Rio Guadalupe River and the Cimarron River.
Brown’s are some of the most hearty trout in the world and can associate with warm water fish. Therefore, large baitfish streamers like Wooly Buggers, Cluster Minnows, and crayfish patterns work. Prince Nymphs and Elk Hair Caddis also catch New Mexico brown trout.
Gila Trout are one of the native fish species in New Mexico. These golden brown trout have been the subject of many relief efforts. The Gila Trout Recovery Plan was introduced in 2003 to save the species.
You’ll find these in the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas. Main Diamond, South Diamond, Whiskey Creek and Spruce Creek all hold native Gila Trout. Also, Black Canyon, Willow Creek, and Mineral Creek hold these fish.
To catch them, use small Pheasant Tail and Prince Nymphs. Also, WD-40 flies are a great option. Bring 5 or 6x fluorocarbon tippet. They’re spooky and need to be handled with care.
Rainbow trout are the most heavily stocked trout in New Mexico. The Red River, San Juan River, and Cimarron River are filled with these fish. They can be found upwards of five or six pounds throughout New Mexico.
The bigger fish are caught on large baitfish streamers. However, BWOs and Adam’s are great to use for the dry flies. These fish love to surface feed during the hatches.
Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout
The Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout is the second native trout species in New Mexico. Plus, it’s considered to be the state fish. These are mostly found in the high headwaters in Northern New Mexico.
You’ll catch them in the Rio Grande, Pecos, and Canadian Rivers. They’re extremely rare, but are considered to be one of the most beautiful trout in the world. If you’re targeting these, use barbless hooks to ensure their full recovery.
Use small midge nymphs, Pheasant Tail’s, and Elk Hair Caddis flies to catch these. You’ll mainly be fishing for them in pocket water so be prepared to be accurate with your casts.
Bass are found all over New Mexico. These are most often found in the lakes throughout the state including the Abiquiu Reservoir, Brantley Lake and Navajo Lake.
Bring your 8-weight to handle these fish. Use 1 or 2x leader with Gutless Frogs and Popper flies. Bring your Cluster Minnows and Wooly Buggers as well.
Pike are a more recent addition to New Mexico. The Game and Fish Department started stocking them in the 1970s. You’ll find them in the Rio Grande Gorge, Elephant Butte Reservoir, and Conchas Reservoir.
They can be found upwards of 30 inches. Chartreuse color crayfish patterns and Wooly Buggers are great choices. The more action with these, the better. Remember your 8-weight and 0x leader. They’ll snap you off if they have the chance.
Best Spots For Fly Fishing New Mexico
There is no shortage of variety when it comes to fishable water in New Mexico. You can fish alpine streams and lakes as well as wide flowing rivers. Depending on your preference, New Mexico will fill your needs.
Fly Fishing Rivers in New Mexico
New Mexico is world-famous for the San Juan River. This is a wide flowing river that requires skill to fish. There are also numerous small mountain streams with wild populations of trout.
San Juan River
Let’s start with the San Juan. This river is an absolute must for anyone visiting New Mexico. On average, anglers catch rainbow and brown trout around 17 inches. If you can find them, you’ll be in great shape. Some experts say there are over 7,000 fish per mile.
You can find plenty of access to both wade and drift. If possible, drift this water. There are too many beautiful spots to visit that you can’t reach while wading.
Use your 6-weight to handle the power of these fish. Also, 3 or 4x leader with 5x fluorocarbon tippet is necessary. These fish are pressured so they need realistic looking presentations.
The Game and Fish Department requires you to use barbless hooks. Pheasant Tails, WD-40s, Jujubee Midge, Zebra Midge and Sidewinder Midges are all great options to use on the San Juan. Don’t pass on an opportunity to fish the river!
The Red River flows out of the Rio Grande river and is filled with rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout. This river is broken into the upper and lower sections. The upper section is easier to fish with more access. You can find this above the town of Red River.
The lower Red River starts below the town of Questa. You’ll have to hike in a canyon to reach the best portions of water. However, it’s beauty and less pressured fish make it worth the extra effort.
Bring your 5 or 6-weight with lighter tippet. The terrestrial fly hatch in the late summer is a must for any fly angler. Also, Little Yellow Stoneflies and BWOs are great options.
The Gila River is a diverse fishery with a variety of options for anglers. You’ll find rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, and carp. The upper portion of the Gila is located at around 7,000 feet so you’ll find better trout fishing here.
In the upper portion, use Stoneflies, midges, and Caddis flies. They’re all going to catch fish; especially during the hatches. If you’re fishing for trout, you can use your 4-weight with 5x tippet.
The East Fork is home to the Smallmouth Bass population. These are best caught on minnow and crayfish flies. If you’re targeting smallmouth, bring your 7 or 8-weight. It’s no secret that these fish are some of the best fighters around.
The Pecos River is located on national forest land so access is plentiful. Much of Highway 63 follows the river allowing for ample opportunities to the numerous appealing holes.
You’ll find rainbow and brown trout in the Pecos. The Upper Pecos has populations of Gila Trout in its far reaches. Use your Stoneflies and Salmon flies. Also, small nymphs and Wooly Buggers can get the larger fish out of the pools.
Bring your 3 weight fly rod or a 4 weight fly rod to the Pecos. The water requires more technical casting and you’ll want as much finesse as you can manage. It’s a beautiful river located amongst tall Ponderosa Pines. You can’t go wrong with a day on the Pecos!
Rio Chama River- El Vado Tailwater
The Rio Chama only flows through six miles of New Mexico. The majority of it flows through southern Colorado. However, the New Mexico record brown trout was pulled from the Rio Chama so it is well worth fishing.
You’ll have success with Caddis, midges, and mayflies. You’ll be able to fish pools, riffles, and pocket water. The runoff can greatly affect the quality of the Rio Chama fishing, but it always stays fairly consistent.
Due to the large fish, you’ll want to use your 6 or 7-weight rod. Bring 3x leader with 4x tippet. You can also catch fish on Wooly Buggers and Crayfish patterns. The larger fish will not hesitate to eat the large flies.
Fly Fishing Lakes in New Mexico
You can fish both high and low elevation lakes in New Mexico. Many have healthy populations of trout as well as bass and northern pike. You aren’t ever too far away from a lake in New Mexico despite what the landscape may present.
Santa Cruz Lake
New Mexico’s record rainbow trout was pulled out of Santa Cruz Lake. Weighing in at over 30 pounds, this lake holds massive fish. Plus, it’s right outside of Santa Fe so it’s easily accessible.
Bank fishing is a great choice for Santa Cruz Lake. There are trails that take you all around the shore. It’s best to do a bit of wading when fishing the Santa Cruz. You’ll need the room for casting. The banks have cover that can make it difficult to find angles.
If you do have a boat, it’s only allowed to be used at trolling speeds.
Bring your 6 or 7-weight to handle some of these fish. Also, minnow patterns, midges, and Wooly Buggers work well. These are stocked fish so they aren’t going to be as picky with your fly choice. Whatever you throw, present it naturally and you’re good to go.
Located in Fenton Lake State Park, Fenton Lake is a beautiful body of water surrounded by forests. As a result, you’ll need to do some wade fishing. If you have a canoe or kayak, Fenton Lake is a great place to bring it.
There are several campgrounds that surround the lake so you can make it your home base as you explore the surrounding areas. It’s stocked with rainbow trout all year long and these fish are always willing to eat.
Deceiver flies, crayfish patterns as well as Wooly Buggers will work. The Jemez River is located near Fenton Lake so if you want something besides still water you can give it a try.
Bring your family for a few days and experience the beauty of Fenton Lake State Park.
Whiskey Lake is located on the east side of New Mexico near Gallup. The stocked rainbow trout fill the waters and can grow up to 24 inches. This lake is located on the Navajo Reservation so you’ll need a special permit to fish the lake.
You can find the permit at all of the sporting goods stores in Gallup.
Bring your 6-weight along with a variety of flies to Whiskey Lake. Muddler Minnows, Tungsten Jig Buggers and Sculpin Streamers are all going to work well in Whiskey Lake.
This is a unique fishery that can be fished either on the banks or via a small boat. The bank fishing can be tough due to the surrounding vegetation, but if you’re willing to wade, you’ll be just fine.
Eagle Nest Lake
Eagle Nest Lake in Northeast New Mexico provides some of the best Kokanee Salmon and trout fishing in the state. It’s located at over 8,000 feet of elevation. Located in Eagle Nest State Park, this is a great place to bring the family.
You should fish Eagle Nest Lake from the bank. You can wade in the refreshing water and have a field day landing some of the larger trout that live in the lake. Bring your Caddis and Gnat patterns to the lake. By the time night falls, the fish rise.
Also, you won’t need anything more than your 6-weight to land the fish in Eagle Nest Lake. They’re regularly stocked and willing to eat almost everything you throw their way.
Heron Lake is a 6,000-acre expanse that offers the peace and quiet many anglers desire. The Game and Fish Department allows no wake on the entire lake. There are Kokanee Salmon as well as massive Lake Trout available to be caught.
To catch a lake trout, you’ll need sinking line. These fish sit very close to the bottom in the deepest portions of the lake. As a result, you’ll want to fish this lake from a kayak or canoe.
Bring your 7-weight fly rod to handle these fish and be sure your reel is equipped with 0 or 1x leader. Large baitfish streamers are great to use. Let these sink to the bottom and start stripping. The fish will hit on the drift down or your retrieve.
Bring your family and enjoy a nice, relaxing day in North Central New Mexico.
New Mexico Fishing Season
The official fishing season in New Mexico begins on April 1st, but you can fish the majority of the above-mentioned waters year-round. Besides some of the higher elevation lakes (Eagle Nest), the water won’t freeze and you can enjoy fishing throughout the year.
Be aware that many of the rivers listed above are affected by the runoff each year. During the runoff months, it may not be a bad idea to fish the lakes!
Fly Fishing in April
In April, the runoff has yet to start and fishing is phenomenal. You’ll want to wear waders and warmer clothes because the higher elevation waters are cold.
San Juan Worms, Midges, BWOs and Black fly patterns are all going to work in April. The fish are enjoying the warmer air temperatures so they’re ready to eat. It’s also never a bad idea to throw a streamer throughout the day to see if the big fish are hungry.
Fly Fishing in May
In May, the runoff begins in New Mexico. The fish are still willing to eat, but they’re likely pushed up against the banks and more difficult to catch. Be patient during May and try fishing some of the listed lakes.
Annelids, Leeches, Black flies, and Scuds are all hatching in May. Also, BWOs begin to show up. These are great to throw all throughout the month.
Fly Fishing in June
By June, the runoff has begun to subside and the waters become more fishable. The fish are back to their normal eating habits and willing to strike the majority of what you throw their way.
Use Scud’s, BWOs, Stoneflies, and begin to look for the Caddis patterns. These are all great options for fly fishing New Mexico in June.
Fly Fishing in July
It’s smart to head to the mountains in July in New Mexico. At lower elevations, the temperatures are far too warm and the mountains provide some relief. Start to throw Stoneflies, PMDs, and BWOs.
Also, the terrestrial hatch is in full swing by mid to late July. Don’t be shy and be willing to throw these flies up against the banks. They’ll lead to some amazing strikes!
Fly Fishing in August
Similar to July, fly fishing New Mexico in August is best done in the mountains. You’ll find hungry fish looking for the terrestrials. Most fly anglers love using dry flies and August in New Mexico is the time to throw them.
Beetles, Ants, and Hoppers are all making regular appearances on the water. Take advantage of the terrestrial hatches!
Fly Fishing in September
By September, the temperatures across the state begin to cool. However, the terrestrial bite still has a few weeks of life. Keep in the mountains and throw these flies.
It’s also smart to begin using streamers in September. The fish are more aggressive and starting to fatten up for the winter months.
Fishing in October
By October, the mountains will begin to receive snow, and fishing begins to slow. Throw nymphs through the seams and pocket water. The fish aren’t looking to bust the surface or attack heavy streamers.
Best Fly Fishing Lodges in New Mexico
New Mexico has ample options for fly fishing lodges. The vast amount of fishable water makes it a wonderful place to hire a guide and learn the ways of these legendary rivers.
Located on the San Juan, you’ll receive seven miles of wonderful access to this river. There are guided trips available as well as wonderful accommodations. A fully inclusive trip for two nights and one day is $960 a person.
Soaring Eagle Lodge
The Soaring Eagle is also located on the San Juan River near the Crow’s Foot section. You can purchase an all-inclusive package for around $700 per angler for two nights and one day.
Corkins Lodge can be found on the Brazos River. This resort provides 2.5 miles of private access to the Brazos as well as a private trout-stocked pond. You’ll receive guided trips from the Land of Enchantment Guide Service. A cabin will cost you around $400 per night and the guided trips are an added cost.
Anglers need to try fly fishing in New Mexico. The waters are worth the trip. You may not ever fish New Mexico unless you make a conscious effort to visit. It’s a perfect place for families and anglers of all skill levels.
You’ll find all of the seclusion that you could ever need in New Mexico. Plus, the size of fish will keep you coming back year after year.
Some images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
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