fishing santa fe new mexico
Santa Fe

Fishing in the Santa Fe, New Mexico Area

New Mexico is one of fly fishing's best kept secrets. Our state's excellent weather, diverse landscape, and beautiful scenery provide a unique setting for truly memorable, year-round fly fishing for most waters and a broad variety of species, from pan fish to trout, bass, catfish and northern pike. There's also ice fishing in the northern mountains during winter months. In January, a trip to the San Juan tail water is in order where water temperatures stay near 42F year-round. But by March or April, pre-runoff fishing on the Rio Grande and some reservoirs again becomes productive. Weather influences our fishing significantly. We enjoy the variety, but folks planning a trip are encouraged to check with a local fishing outfitter to see what’s good at the time of your visit. A few lakes and parts of some streams are designated "Special Trout Waters", more commonly known as "Quality Waters". On most of them, only artificial flies and lures with single, barbless hooks can be used. All have restrictions on bag and possession limits.

There are a couple of great local fishing outfitters that can help you with guided trips and local fishing information.
Most stream miles in New Mexico are in the northern part of the state, within easy reach of Santa Fe. They vary from small mountain freestone and meadow streams 2-15 feet across, lower elevation bouldered rivers 20-40 feet across, small lakes, and tail water areas like the famous San Juan River. In general, mountain streams are best following May runoff, with best fishing June through September. The high mountain lakes, including hike-in jewels within the Pecos Wilderness, fish well beginning in July. By October, higher elevations are getting chilled and fishing activity moves down slope to bigger waters like the Rio Grande or Chama where conditions can stay good until December. Many Indian Pueblos and Reservations offer public fishing, mostly for rainbow trout, some with bass or catfish. Tribal permits are available for a nominal day fee and are often less for juniors and seniors. Contact Individual tribes for more information (see our Pueblo's Page).

More statewide information is available by contacting the State Game and Fish Department.

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From June to early September, elevations above 8000 feet are delightful places. Daily summer rains keep the higher mountain streams cool, but the same rain murks lower elevation rivers. When the weather begins to cool and summer monsoons end, fishing gradually shifts to lower elevations. By Halloween, elevations above 8000 feet are beginning to receive snow and fishing the larger, lower streams begins in earnest. Spring run off can begin as early as March, but is more typical in April and May, depending on the particular stream. Near Santa Fe, fishing is slowest during January and February.

Most fishable miles are in smaller, high-elevation streams (4- 20-feet across), many on Santa Fe or Carson National Forest lands. Although there are some delightful meadow sections, most streams are higher gradient, freestone streams lined with alder and spruce and host smaller fish and a variety of summer insect hatches. Accurate 15-foot casts with dry flies are the usual tickets to success. Examples are the Pecos, East Fork of the Jemez, Rio San Antonio, and Rio Santa Barbara.

Lower elevation rivers like the Rio Grande and Rio Chama fish best fall through the beginning of run off. Large basalt boulders and canyon stretches provide places for bigger fish to live. Subsurface nymphs and streamer patterns are typically the best choices.

The famous San Juan River is a tail water below Navajo Reservoir near Bloomfield, NM. The first four miles of river contain upwards of 20,000 trout per mile with an average size of 17 inches. For those who can fool the very well educated rainbows, it fishes well for ten months of the year (harder during high Spring releases). Because of its special character, we recommend you first visit the San Juan with a friend who knows the river well or a local guide. The San Juan is 3-1/2 hours drive from Santa Fe.

Both high- and lower-elevation lakes also provide good fishing. In spring and fall, McAllister Lake and the lakes of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation offer the chance at large trout on nymphs and streamers. In summer, hike-in lakes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains provide a challenge for careful fly fishers.

Current state fishing regulations may be obtained from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Non-resident short-term licenses for one day are $14 or five days for $22. Fishing on Tribal lands is done by permit from individual tribes.

The Rivers and Lakes listed below are considered
some of the better areas to Fly Fish in New Mexico

Listed by closest proximity to
Santa Fe
Drive Time from Santa Fe
Best Months
Pecos River
1 Hours
April thru Early May, Mid-June thru August
East Fork of Jemez
1.25 Hours
May thru Mid-June, September thru October
Rio Grande near Pilar
1.25 Hours
October, November, January & February
Fenton Lake
1.5 Hours
May, September thru November
Rio San Antonio
1.5 Hours
April thru June, September
Cimarron River
2 Hours
June thru September
Red River
2 Hours
Mid-June thru July, September thru March
Rio Brazos
2 Hours
May thru Mid-June, September, October
Rio Chama
2 Hours
Late Spring thru Early Fall
Rio Guadalupe
2 Hours
Late May thru June, September
Costilla Creek
3 Hours
July thru Late September
Jicarilla Lakes
3 Hours
Late April thru May, September, October
Rio Penasco (Private Land)
3 Hours
Year Round
Rio de Los Pinos
3 Hours
Late June, September thru November
San Juan River
3 Hours
Year Round

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