New Mexico Fly Fishing 6 min read

DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in New Mexico

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

August 8, 2015

new mexico fly fishing habitat improvement project

If you’re looking for a new destination to go fly fishing and want a unique, off-the-beaten track kind of experience, then the state of New Mexico is able to deliver.

Located in the southwest region of the United States, New Mexico is well-known for its untouched natural scenery, its rich culture, and the abundant wildlife that flourishes.

You are probably very familiar with the desert landscape that the state is home to, but it also has five national parks, beautiful and lush bush/grasslands, rolling hills, and a lot of rivers and lakes ideal for fishing.

Explore rivers, over-sized reservoirs, streams, and even lakes perched high in the mountains. What you’ll find is a large variety of warm water species. This includes pike, perch, bluegills, catfish, white bass, walleye, smallmouth bass, and largemouth bass. Of course, trout can also be found in various locations. Some more intriguing varieties of fish have been reintroduced into the area through raising and stocking efforts by the state. Now, you can find gila trout, Rio Grande cutthroats, tiger muskie, and Kokanee salmon.

New Mexico Fishing Map

map of places to fish in New Mexico

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish in New Mexico

There is no shortage of great locations to fish in the state of New Mexico. In fact, you may have a hard time narrowing down your choices. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular spots and rivers for fly fishing, and remember that there are many other options besides this list.

Red River

The Red River is located just north of Questa, and the river flows right into the famous Rio Grande. This particular river offers a stunning natural landscape and great opportunities to catch trout. The types of trout you’ll find are cuttbows and browns.

What makes this river interesting is that it used to have a lot more fish, as the river used to be bigger. However, in the past 50 years or so, the amount of fish began to dwindle due to the mining taking place upstream of the river. The New Mexcio Game and Fish board took control of the situation and began a trout hatchery. This hatchery is located near the lower part of the stream. If you want to find the best fishing on the Red River, head to the warmer waters, which is downstream from the hatchery. The spawning run takes place during the winter months. If you are hoping to catch the big versions of the trout varieties, October and November are your best bets.

Rio Chama

Rio Chama is often seen as well-kept secret among fly fishers. This stream traverses through the high mountains at the border of Colorado and makes its way down through the forests and into the meadows. Some of the areas of the river are very remote and you can expect stunning scenery along the way. The fish you’ll be able to catch here are rainbow and brown trout. This location is great for anyone that wants to be able to enjoy the quiet solitude while fishing and not deal with crowds, even during the peak months.

Cimarron River

While this isn’t a very large river, it certainly packs a lot of scenery into a small area. The river is made up from water that flows to it from the Eagle Nest Lake dam. There are some nice varieties of water types here, so you can try out different techniques. The river offers banks, channels, deep pools, and riffles. Be prepared that some areas are very tight and small, so you’ll want to adjust your gear and technique accordingly. This river is known to have more than 3,000 trout per mile. This is even more impressive when you think about how tiny the river is. The predominant fish here is brown trout. Ideally, this one should be fished during the summer months.

Costilla Creek

If you’re all about dry flies, then the Costilla Creek is ideal for you. This river is actually tailwater from the Costilla Reservoir and is located in a meadow at an elevation of 9,000 feet. What you’ll be catching here is Costilla cutts, which are known for being very fast. What this means for you is that you’ve got a challenge ahead of you. Bring your waders for this creek as this is the preferred method of fly fishing along the stream. Besides the dry flies you can also use nymphs that are small in size. If you enjoy the experience of casting, then you’ll love how unobstructed the stream is, allowing you to cast with ease.

Best Time to Fly Fish in New Mexico

In New Mexico, the best time to fish really differs depending on where you want to fish. What’s great is that no matter which month you want to fish, you can find a place to go since the state offers year-round fly fishing opportunities. Here’s a breakdown of the most popular rivers for fly fishing and when you want to plan your trip for.

  • January – The Red River and Chama
  • February – The Red River and Chama
  • March – The Red River, Chama, Culebra, and Cimarron
  • April – Rio Grande, Red River, Culebra, Chama, and Cimarron
  • May – Culebra, Chama, and Cimarron
  • June – Cimarron, Culebra, Red River, Conjeos, and Culebra
  • July – Costilla, Culebra, Conejos, Cimarron, and Red River
  • August – Conejos, Costilla, Red River, Culebra, and Cimarron
  • September – Conejos, Rio Grande, Red River, Costilla, Culebra, and Cimarron
  • October – Rio Grande, Conejos, Red River, Cimarron, and Culebra
  • November – Rio Grande, Red River, Culebra, Cimarron, and Chama
  • December – Chama and Red River

Weather wise, it never is a bad time to head to New Mexico. The winter sees colder days and evenings, but it’s still quite comfortable to be out fishing during the day.

New Mexico Fishing Tips

When choosing your equipment, in particular the type of fly, you can base it on the time of year and the river you are fishing in. Here’s a breakdown of the rivers listed above.

Red River: Dry flies are you best option all year-round. From January through March the blue winged olive works well. From February through April, then again from July through October caddis flies are a great option. April and May are the perfect time for a pale morning dun. During the summer months of June through September a stone fly works well. Also during the summer months from June through August terrestrial patterns like grasshoppers are effective. 

Cimarron: March and April are perfect for the blue winged olive. April, May, July, August, September, and October make use of the caddis fly. In June and July the stone fly makes sense. August and September are perfect timing for the grasshopper. July, August, September, and October are the moth. Then in May, June, and July you can use the pale morning dun.

Costilla Creek:  June through October is ideal for caddis flies and stone flies. September the blue winged olive is perfect. 

Best Flies for Trout Fishing in New Mexico

Bug hatches take place year-round, depending on the river, stream, creek, or lake. Typically, the best fly hatches are from May through October. The hatches include blue-winged olives (baetis), PMDs, caddis, stone flies, craneflies, midges, tricos, and hoppers.

Essential Fishing Gear

Because so many of the locations are rivers, some of which are smaller in size, fishing from the shore is almost always an option. Keep this smaller size in mind when picking the size of your rod and reel. Wading is also popular so be sure to pack a pair of good quality waders.

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs. For larger nymphs and streamers a 9-foot 6-wt with a sink tip fly line makes life easier. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

New Mexico Fishing Regulations

Before you start fishing, first check that it is in public waters. There are many places in the state that are private waters, so that means you don’t have permission to be fishing there.

Of course you will also need a valid fishing license for any person who is 12 years of age and older. The license is valid from April 1 until March 31 each year.  

Be sure you are well aware of the regulations and rules before heading out. The can be found at the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish website.

New Mexico Fishing Trip Planning

The state of New Mexico is sure to leave you impressed with its diversity of streams, creeks, rivers, and lakes as with the variety of fish available. Because you can fish year-round in New Mexico it’s also a very flexible destination. Even if you aren’t looking to make a vacation out of it, there are locations that are perfect for a quick day trip.

What makes New Mexico really stand out is the fact it still seems undiscovered so you aren’t fighting the crowds. For many fly fishers out there, crowds are enough to send you packing and running for home, so the idea of being the only one on the water is extremely intriguing.

Feature image New Mexico Dept Game & Fish

Looking for more places to fish?  Check our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the U.S.