Fly Fishing New Mexico – Best Rivers and Streams

New Mexico offers some of the best fly fishing in the US, with excellent opportunities to 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.
Fly Fishing New Mexico

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Combine this with great weather and gorgeous scenery to immerse yourself in, and you’ve got the makings of an amazing day on the water!

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!

Check out our other fly fishing state guides to Washington, Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

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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 all over the state of New Mexico:

1. Rio Grande

Rio Grande Rights Reserved

The Rio Grande 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 the best spots and may need to tackle some steep uphill or downhill climbs.

The ideal time to fly fish on the Rio Grande is during spring and early fall, as the water tends to be murky and muddy during the summer. Flash rainfall and thunderstorms are common during the summer months. There’s an important caddisfly hatch that takes place in April, when the fly fishing is consistent and rewarding.

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. BWO’s are always a hit! Your 5 or 6 weight rod should be more than enough to handle anything you encounter on this river.

2. San Juan River

San Juan River

The San Juan River is one of the most famous rivers in New Mexico, and it’s easy to see why. This river is a tailwater of the Navajo Reservoir, 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 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 types of trout to thrive here. Although the average size of trout in the San Juan River is around 17″, you can easily find lunkers measuring 20″ or more.

See also our post here about Trout Species to know the different types of trout.

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 only in the mid-40s, so pack accordingly.

As to the gear you’ll need, a 5 weight rod is a good all-rounder for the San Juan River. Make sure you crush all your hook barbs before casting, as barbed hooks are not allowed here. The most productive fly patterns on this river are the San Juan Worm (of course!) and midge flies.

3. Rio Chama

Rio Chama River

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

You can find rainbows and big browns 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.

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.

4. Green Meadow Lake

Green Meadow 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 is also stocked with rainbow trout. Green Meadow Lake is an ideal spot for teaching your kids to fish.

See also our post Teaching Kids To Fish for a more in-depth guide on how to teach your kids to fish.

5. Red River

Red River

The Red River is one of the best spots for winter trout fishing in northern New Mexico, among the Southern Rockies. You can fish the Red River above the town of the same name, where you’ll need your best casting and presentation skills to make a catch.

For our full guide to Winter Trout Fly Fishing see our tips here.

Or if you’re feeling active, you can trek down to the lower section of the river, on beyond the town of Questa, where your prospects are good all year round. 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.

6. Eagle Nest Lake

Eagle Nest 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 carp, northern pike, rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, and yellow perch. The state department also stocks the lake with salmon and trout at regular intervals.

You can choose to fish from a boat or from the shore, with 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 fish this lake alone. With acres of space for everyone, you can almost always find a quiet spot just a short walk away.

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 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.

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 River. Much of the river runs through private property, 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 Fishing Report

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 Buggers. 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.


Frequently Asked Questions

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

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 salmon 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.

Wrap Up

The Wrap Up

New Mexico offers exceptional fishing opportunities to both resident fly anglers and 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 fishing New Mexico, from licenses and regulations to the best fly fishing locations and the most effective flies! Don’t forget to share this fishing guide on Facebook or Twitter if you found it helpful!

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