I went fishing the other day.
Now, mind you that this is not new, since I've fished around this
area since 1986. But on this day the raspberries were ripe, the
air was cool, and the summer rains had brought a beautiful crop
of wildflowers. These are among the pleasures of fly-fishing in
northern New Mexico.
The fish were there, too,
and willing enough to take small dry flies carefully floated on
the surface of the clear little stream. But the bright colors
of the small rainbow and brown trout were only a part of the afternoon.
Northern New Mexico has many
miles of small mountain streams, such as the Pecos River and its
tributaries, seldom greater than 15 feet in width and often holding
fish in streams as narrow as two feet across. Most of these streams
are freestone, relying on surface water for their flow, and often
have public access-and the best fishing-at their headwaters at
the higher elevations. Higher elevations also mean that the streams
fish best during the late spring through early fall, when warmer
water temperatures encourage greater enthusiasm on the part of
Fly-fishers are happy to
have a box well stocked with high-riding dry flies like Adams,
Elk Hair Caddis, small Royal Wulffs and Humpies. Wild brown trout
seem to predominate in most streams, although the native Rio Grande
cutthroat may be found way up several area watersheds by those
willing to go on a rigorous, healthy walk.
New Mexico also has larger,
lower-elevation rivers such as the Rio Grande and the Chama, which
seem to fish best when the water cools in the fall until the spring
snow runoff in April or May. These streams tend to fish quite
differently. Because they have more sediment and deeper water,
the food sources for the trout are not the same as in the high
streams, and the tactics and flies used are also different.
Weighted subsurface nymph
and forage fish imitations such as Pheasant Tail or Hare's Ear
Nymph, various caddis fly larvae and Wooly Buggers or Egg-Sucking
Leeches all work well in these rivers. More open water also means
room to stretch a longer cast if you can handle the heavy flies.
Bigger water and better food seem to grow bigger brown and rainbow
trout as well. The larger waters can be very fickle, though, as
many fly fishers would attest. Persistence and a willingness to
adapt to the river can pay off with a memorable day.
No mention of New Mexico
fly-fishing can fail to list the San Juan River tailwater below
Navajo Lake. With an estimated 17,000 trout per mile for the first
three miles of special-regulation water below the dam, it seems
stiff with fish. Beware: These are big, smart, crafty fish, and
they've seen everything. That they congregate around your legs
does not mean that they will take a badly presented fly. Go the
first time with a guide or a friend who knows the river well,
expect to use tiny (size 20-24) flies, and test your ability with
these well-educated trout.
As anywhere, a willingness
to get away from towns and roads will find more solitude in the
stream. My husband, Terry, says this about New Mexico fly-fishing:
"Easy access OR big fish OR no people-you can't have all three."
Area guidebooks, U.S. Forest
Service and U.S. Geologic Survey maps (especially those with topographic
lines for backcountry travel) and local fly shops can help get
you pointed in the direction that is right for you.