Six Prime High-Desert Trout Streams

Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming tend to dominate conversations about great Western trout streams. But northern New Mexico boasts some of … Continued

Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming tend to dominate conversations about great Western trout streams. But northern New Mexico boasts some of the region’s most underappreciated and highly productive fisheries. Not only do its mountainous, high-desert streams endure less pressure than the big-name Western hotspots, but they are also home to some of the country’s most striking scenery—and fattest fish. Here are six can’t-miss streams, in no particular order, that deserve a place at the top of your flyfishing bucket list.

san juan river
The San Juan Your best chances of hooking a monster trout are in the San Juan, the state’s most famous flyfishing destination. The 3½ miles of special-regulation quality waters below Navajo Dam hold nearly 15,000 fish per mile—all of which are catch-and-release only, so that number may well be conservative. This is also the state’s best spot for loading up the Yeti with cold ones and spending a day or two in a drift boat. Andrew Miller

The San Juan

Tip: If you’re making a DIY trip, Texas Hole should no doubt top your list of spots—but it will undoubtedly be stacked with eager anglers. To avoid the crowds, head south toward the Lower Flats day-use area and work your way north to end your day at T Hole. If you’d prefer to have a guide, call up Corey or JB at Fisheads and thank me later.
Chama River
The Chama The state-record brown trout—a whopping 20½-pounder—was caught on this river back in 1946. But you won’t likely catch a new personal best your first time on the Chama—or your fifth. Even the most seasoned anglers will agree that the Chama can be challenging, thanks to the sheer number of hiding spots for monster trout. That said, with two great stretches of water below the El Vado and Abiquiu dams, this tributary of the Rio Grande has tons of places to land a fish that will make all the hunting worthwhile. Andrew Miller

The Chama

Tip: Coopers at El Vado offers some great camping options, with tent sites, RV hook-ups, and fully furnished cabins for a multi-day adventure. I’d suggest giving yourself no fewer than two days to explore the Chama. Head south away from the dam, and get an early start to cover as much ground as possible—you’re going to need the time.
Pecos River
The Pecos The closest fishery to Santa Fe, the Pecos is often overlooked for more pristine, less trafficked waters farther north, like the Brazos and the Rio Grande. But along the 13 or so miles of river that stretch the Upper Pecos River Valley, you’ll have little trouble getting away from the crowds. The public spots along the Pecos don’t hold tons of 10-pound slabs, but it’s hard to leave the river empty-handed, even on the toughest days of fishing. Not only that, but few anglers fish the river’s Salmonfly hatch in late spring, which can make for a legendary day on the water if you hit it right. Andrew Miller

The Pecos

Tip: Keep driving past the public pull-offs and hike through the special trout-waters section south of Cowles Ponds. Size and bag limits deter most casual anglers from making the trek, giving you the chance to have a piece of river all to yourself.
Brazos River
The Brazos One of the state’s northernmost streams, the Rio Brazos runs mostly through private property, but the five or so miles of public water more than justify the trip. The river holds tons of wild browns as well as rainbows, most of which range from 12 to 16 inches. The real draw, however, is the location. Surrounded by towering cliffs, the river passes through sweeping mountain grasslands, and spotting elk and pronghorn on the ridges between casts is not uncommon. Andrew Miller

The Brazos

Tip: If a little hiking doesn’t bother you, call up Reel Life Guide Service in Santa Fe and book a trip along the Brazos Box Trail to fish the section of water owned by Corkins Lodge.
Rio Costilla
The Costilla If you’re after native trout and have a long weekend to spend on the water, head to the Rio Costilla, another northern New Mexico favorite. This tailwater begins at Costilla Reservoir, nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, and winds through miles of alpine meadows. Rio Grande cutthroat, one of only two native New Mexico trout species, are abundant, and it’s easy to net one on topwater or by nymphing through a drift. Plus, the stream passes through the state’s famed Ville Vidal wilderness unit, known for its black bears and elk herds. Andrew Miller

Rio Costilla

Tip: I’d suggest taking an off-road adventure and driving a high-clearance 4×4 up through Rio Costilla Park to the pristine fish-filled Latir Lakes. You’ll flex your suspension and your fly rod at the base of one of the state’s tallest peaks.
Cimarron river
The Cimarron With an estimated 3,000 trout per mile over an eight-mile stretch, the Cimarron will keep you on your toes with open banks and choked-in technical pools, all teaming with browns and rainbows. And, like many of New Mexico’s best fishing holes, the river offers stellar camping options to boot. Dries work well late into fall, when the summer crowds have long since disappeared, which makes for a prime time to hit this honey hole. Tip: Local guide and shop owner Tim Urtiaga spends 200-plus days a year on the water, so you won’t find someone who knows what the fish are eating better than he does. Drop into his shop, Eagle Nest Fly Shack, and stock up on trout candy and expert advice. And if you’re up for some toothy bites, nearby Eagles Nest Lake is home to pike that won’t hesitate to munch that 4-inch articulated streamer you’ve been dying to chuck. Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller, formerly of Santa Fe, is a photographer based in Denver, Colo. When he’s not behind the lens, you can find him working the banks of a quiet stream or putting in miles on a backcountry trail. See more of his work here.