10 Best Rivers and Streams for Fly Fishing in New Mexico – Where to FIsh NM

fly fishing new mexico

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New Mexico offers some of the best fly fishing in the US, with excellent opportunities to fly fish for trout all year round. You’ll be spoilt for choice by the wide variety of freestone mountain streams, trout rivers, lakes, and reservoirs here.

Combine this with great weather and gorgeous scenery to immerse yourself in, and you’ve got the makings of an amazing New Mexico fly fishing trip.

If you’ve been planning a fishing trip to New Mexico, here’s everything you need to find. From the rules and regulations to the top locations for fly fishing in New Mexico you must not miss, we’ve got you covered!

New Mexico’s Best Fly Fishing Locations

Looking for the best spots to hit the water and catch some fish in New Mexico? We’ve got you covered! Here are the best lakes, reservoirs, creeks, rivers, and streams for fly fishing New Mexico:

1. Rio Grande

Rio Grande Rights Reserved

The Rio Grande River is a superb trout river for fly fishing, but it’s not the most straightforward water to access.

You will most likely need to hike to get to fishable trout water and may need to tackle some steep uphill or downhill climbs as the Rio Grande flows through canyons like the Rio Grande Gorge.

The ideal time to fly fish on the Rio Grande is during spring and early fall, as flash rainfall and thunderstorms are common during the summer months, so the water tends to be murky and muddy during the summer.

There’s an incredible black caddisfly hatch that takes place in April on the Rio Grande and this offers some of the best fly fishing New Mexico has to offer.

You’ll find rainbow trout, brown trout, and cutthroat trout in the Rio Grande making it one of the most diverse trout rivers in the state. The trout fishing is excellent, just be sure to time your fly fishing with good water clarity.

Beadhead nymphs, hoppers, and streamers are some of the most effective performers on the Rio Grande. We recommend patterns that mimic midges, sculpins, and other local forage. Blue-winged olive is always a hit and should be in your waterproof fly box!

Your 5 or 6 weight rod should be more than enough to handle anything you encounter on the Rio Grande.

Where To Fish On The Rio Grande

While the river is hard to access, an easy public fishing spot to get to is above the Rio Grande gorge, detailed on the map below. Park your car here and walk upstream to get away from any noise and other fly fishermen.

Best Flies For The Rio Grande

  • Midge nymphs
  • BWO
  • March browns
  • Elk hair caddis
  • Sculpin Streamers

2. San Juan River

San Juan River

The San Juan is one of the most famous New Mexico fly fishing rivers, and it’s easy to see why it’s regarded as one of the most unique trout fisheries in the states. This river starts in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and into Navajo Lake Dam in New Mexico.

The best trout fishing can be found in the tailwater of the Navajo Dam, created by the Navajo Lake Dam. The 4.25-mile stretch just below the dam is often referred to as the ‘Quality Waters,’ down to the fact that it teems with over 80,000 brown trout and rainbow trout.

You simply cannot go fly fishing in New Mexico without making a trip to the San Juan River. The water stays cool all year round, allowing all rainbow and brown trout to thrive here.

The average size of the brown trout and rainbow trout in the river is around 17″, and if that wasn’t reason enough to fish there, you can easily find lunkers measuring 20″ or more.

Prepare well, and pack your waders unless you want to stay firmly planted on the bank. Although the air temperatures may mislead you into a false sense of security, the water here is cold and in the mid-40s, so pack accordingly.

As to the gear you’ll need, a 5 weight rod is a good all-rounder. Make sure you crush all your hook barbs before casting, as barbed hooks are not allowed here.

If you ever want to visit Colorado on your next trout adventure trip, here is our colorado trout fishing guide.

Where To Fish On The San Juan

You’ll catch fish anywhere below the dam just be wise and choose areas with very little fishing pressure if you can. The small pocket water fishing can make for great fishing but there isn’t too much of it.

You can also stay at Soaring eagle lodge, right on the banks of the river for prime access, views, and guided fishing.

Best Flies For The San Juan

  • San-Juan Worm
  • Midge flies – Size 20-26
  • WD-40’s – Size 20-26
  • Griffiths Gnat – Size 20-26
  • Pheasant tails – Size 18-22

3. Rio Chama

Rio Chama River

Rio Chama, aka Chama River, is a freestone stream that begins in the Colorado mountains and passes through beautiful countryside and untouched forests. The most accessible section to fly fish begins at the Abiquiu dam and continues to the Rio Grande.

You can find rainbows and big brown trout living and growing to enormous sizes here. In fact, the largest brown trout on record in New Mexico was caught right here on this river. So it’s a New Mexico fly fishing destination you have to see as a fly fisherman.

If you’re interested in finding out the largest trout ever recorded, you can also check our post on the World Record Brown Trout here.

If you fancy a challenge, you can try to fish the river below El Vado Reservoir. Be prepared for rugged (but breathtaking) terrain and a testing hike through canyons to reach the water.

Where To Fish On The Rio Chama

This New Mexico fly fishing river also has a tailwater stretch coming out of the Abiquiu Lake and you’ll find plenty of big wild browns and rainbows sitting in the pocket water there.

Best Flies For The Rio Chama

  • Blue Winged Olive
  • Pheasant tail
  • Hare’s Ear
  • Wooly bugger
  • Master Yoda

4. Green Meadow Lake

Green Meadow Lake

Eagle Nest Lake is a fantastic spot for fly fishing in New Mexico. The lake is located within the Eagle Nest State Park, nestled among the Moreno Valley mountains.

Spanning 2,200 acres, the lake holds plentiful populations of warm-water fish like carp, northern pike, as well as stocked rainbow trout, kokanee, and yellow perch. The state department also adds stocked fish at regular intervals to ensure the fishing stays good.

You can choose to fish from a boat or from the shore, and there are boats available to hire if you prefer.

Some anglers enlist the help of guides to get the most out of their time fishing this lake. But it’s also possible to fly fish this lake successfully alone.

With acres of space for everyone, you can almost always find a quiet spot just a short walk away. You can also head to the outflow which creates the Cimarron river and makes its way into Cimarron Canyon state park.

Where To Fish On Eagle Nest

If you’re fishing from the shore then head to the narrow section that leads to the dam wall, as pictured on the map below.

If you’re casting flies from a boat then fishing areas with deep drop-offs and structure is your best bet.

Best Flies For Eagle Nest

  • Articulated streamers (Northern Pike)
  • Wooly bugger
  • Hoppers
  • Adams
  • Royal Wulff
  • Caddis
  • Stimulator
  • BWO
  • Ants or Beetles

5. Red River

Red River

The Red River flows through the Southern Rockies and is one of the best winter fly fishing rivers in northern New Mexico.

You can fish the Red River above the town of Red River and you’ll need your best casting and presentation skills to fool the stocked rainbow trout that live there.

Or if you’re feeling active, you can trek down to the lower section of the river, beyond the town of Questa, where your prospects are good all year round for both wild brown trout and cutthroat trout.

Getting to this lower section of the Red River is quite a hike down into the canyon, but it’s 100% worth it. Take your time and drink in all that sublime natural beauty around you.

During spring, go for mayfly and stonefly patterns (don’t forget to match the hatch!). In the summer months, terrestrials make up a lot of the local forage, so stock up on grasshopper and ant patterns instead.

NM Fish and Game Department manage a trout hatchery on the lower section of the Red River, where the addition of warm spring water makes this the ideal habitat for healthy-sized fish.

If you can visit during the mid-winter cutbow spawning season, you’ll be in for a treat. The trout grow to over 18 inches here, and you might even catch something measuring up to 25 inches if you’re lucky.

Where To Fish On The Red River

The easiest access point on the Red River is at the hatchery, detailed on the map below. This also means you’ll be casting for cutties and brown trout off the bat.

Best Flies For The Red River

  • Hoppers
  • Ants
  • Beatles
  • BWO’s
  • Small Yellow Stoneflies

6. Eagle Nest Lake

Eagle Nest Lake

Located in southeastern NM not far from Hobbs, Green Meadows Lake is easily accessible and offers an excellent range of fishing opportunities. 

You can fish for native bluegill, catfish, carp, and largemouth bass. During the colder months, the lake also has stocked rainbow trout. Green Meadow Lake is an ideal spot for teaching your kids to fish.

7. Santa Cruz Lake

Santa Cruz Lake

A short hop from Santa Fe, this lake nestled in hills is stocked frequently with rainbow trout. It’s worth taking the whole family along, as much for the views, the hiking, and the tranquillity as for the fishing.

There are lots of trails around the lake providing great bank access, or you can fish from a boat instead. Just make sure you stick to trolling speeds as per the lake regulations.

Take your 6 weight and don’t forget to pack a fly fishing sinking line or two, as most of the action happens down at the bottom of the lake.

The best patterns for Santa Cruz are baitfish streamers and nymphs, as well as midge flies. You can also keep an eye out for natural bugs in and around the water, and try to mimic them for the best success.

8. Vallecitos River

Vallecitos River

You might not have heard of the Vallecitos River before. But this little remote stream is an excellent spot to fish for wild brown trout and rainbow trout.

If you want to escape the beaten path and enjoy a quiet day fishing on the water, head to the Vallecitos River in Carson National Park.

We recommend heading to the upper section, where you’ll find lively rainbows, brown trout, and brook trout. The fish don’t tend to be spooky, as not many anglers make the trip out here and the wild browns have stunning colors on them.

9. Fenton Lake

Fenton Lake

You’ll find Fenton Lake within the wider Fenton Lake State Park, an excellent destination for fly fishing, camping, and hiking. Although this place gets crowded at the weekends, if you can visit during the week you’ll have it mostly to yourself.

The lake is regularly stocked with rainbow trout throughout the year, and you can either fish from the bank, from a kayak, or wade.

If you’re trying your luck from the bank, take care not to get tangled up in the branches of nearby trees. Streamers and midge patterns perform well here and don’t forget to pack a few Wooly Buggers too.

If you’re interested in finding out the biggest rainbow trout, see our World Record Rainbow Trout here.

10. Ruidoso River

Ruidoso River

For trout fly fishing with a spectacular backdrop of the Sierra Blanca peaks, don’t miss the Ruidoso. Much of the river runs through private land, but there’s public access to the Ruidoso River Trail at Two Rivers Park. 

You’ll find brown, cutthroat, rainbows, and brook trout here, and if you visit during a stonefly hatch, the dry fly fishing is epic.

New Mexico Fly Fishing Licenses & Regulations

All anglers of 12 years and older must have a license to fish in New Mexico and you can buy one online here or from many license vendors.

You will need a Gila Trout Fishing Permit for certain locations and a habitat stamp for U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

Be sure to check the regulations of the specific fishery you’re heading to!

Good Fly Shops In New Mexico

Recommended Fly Guides In New Mexico

New Mexico Fishing Reports

Before you head out fly fishing, you should always check a fishing report so you can have an idea of the water conditions.

You can also learn what the fish are doing (and most importantly, eating!) from up-to-date fishing reports. Find the latest fishing reports from area officers and fellow anglers here. 

Best Flies for New Mexico

Some of the best flies for New Mexico include classic streamers like the wooly bugger. Don’t forget to take a few of the iconic san juan worms with you, too. Although not all fly fishermen like the Worm, you can’t argue that it will catch you plenty of fish!

It’s all about matching the hatch here, so try to find out what’s happening in your chosen fishing spot. That way, you can select flies that closely match the local bugs. Caddisfly, mayfly, stonefly, and midge patterns all work wonders in both emerger and dry fly form.

If you’re not from the area, a good tip is to ask local fly anglers what’s working well in the area. You can also call a fly fishing shop in advance to get their recommendations before you head out. As it’s on the border to Texas a lot of the same flies that work there, will work here too.

Planning on visiting Texas on your next trip? See our post here on texas fly fishing for a full guide.


Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to the most common questions we get about fly fishing in New Mexico!

Is there a trout season in New Mexico?

Yes, there is a trout season in New Mexico. The state’s trout season usually runs from April through October, depending on the area of the state.

What is the trout limit in New Mexico?

The trout limit in New Mexico is 5 per day, including no more than 2 cutthroat trout and 2 lake trout. This bag limit also includes Kokanee salmon, with a total of 10 fish in possession at any time. However, take care as the bag limit can vary in certain locations. Check the latest info here. 

What are the fly fishing regulations in New Mexico?

There are certain regulations you’ll need to follow when fly fishing in New Mexico. As well as bag limits for Kokanee and trout, there are also area-specific regulations that vary from place to place. Make sure you’re up to date on what regulations you need to abide by in your chosen fishing spot to avoid any hassle.

How do I get a fishing license in New Mexico?

If you need a fishing license for New Mexico, you can either buy it online from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, or from one of the official license vendors found all over the state. You can find a full list of vendors and their locations here

Anyone aged 12 and over will need a license to fish New Mexico waters. Special junior licenses are available for young people aged 12 – 17 years old.

Is the Pecos River open for fishing?

The Pecos River opened for the fall fishing season on September 12, 2019, and will stay open until November 4, 2019.

What kind of fish are in Storrie Lake NM?

You’ll find both largemouth and smallmouth bass in Storrie Lake, NM, as well as catfish and rainbow trout.

You can also visit the nearby state Oklahoma for your next fishing trip. Visit our post here on Oklahoma trout fishing for a guide on the best destinations for trout fishing in Oklahoma.

Wrap Up

The Wrap-Up

New Mexico offers exceptional fishing opportunities to both resident fly anglers and fly fishers from further afield. It’s well worth planning a fishing trip to take on some of the exciting New Mexico waters!

Now you know everything about fly fishing New Mexico, from licenses and regulations to the best fly fishing locations and the most effective flies, now you just need to catch some fish.

Don’t forget to share this fishing guide on Facebook or Twitter if you found it helpful. 

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