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The Rio Grande Gorge around Taos is a spectacular place to be, with a magnificent river cutting through it that would logically seem one of the greatest winter fisheries in the southern Rockies. The central “box” area is tough going, but much of the rest of it is not so inaccessible as sometimes portrayed. Though the winds can be fierce, the weather in winter is often mild. The big problem is timing – being there where and when the river’s fickle fish are feeding on its erratic midge hatch.

Despite high winds and cold water temperatures from Colorado snow melt and against the better judgment of local experts, we gave this fishery a try this past February 10. Despite the weather, a modest midge hatch came off that day, as it apparently does every day. But we saw not a single head poking up to feed on them. Shifting to nymphs, we got skunked as well, losing many flies to the river’s jagged rocky bottom. Though spanked by the river, we still had a good time studying volcanic geology and canyon wildlife, including a couple of skinny-dippers at one of the river’s many hot springs. Other companions on the much warmer side-stream Rio Hondo took a couple of nice brown trout on attractor dries, probably simulating a few early caddis we saw.

Hitting the “snowfly” hatch right is such an improbable and mysterious phenomenon that we wouldn’t recommend it. There are too many variables to predict (such as sunlight, wind, water temperatures and turbidity) to go there with high expectations. Instead, the best times to fish the Rio Grande are April, during the brief but glorious caddis hatch, and early fall after runoff, when water clarity is best and mayflies come off.

Another factor is the presence of large northern pike in the river, which both depress trout numbers and affect their feeding behavior. We had one cut off a big streamer and saw another as long as a log waiting in ambush. For the hardy and aggressive trophy hunter, there’s an interesting challenge here for these pike, and their removal would improve the trout fishery.

The main point of coming to Taos in winter should not be the Rio Grande proper, but just experiencing this wonderful place itself, with good skiing and all the good nearby small-stream fishing you could want. For more information, call the local shop, Los Rios Anglers. The best place to stay is the Willow Inn B&B, a historic adobe run by expert guide and tier Doug Camp and his wife, Janet. Camp also has access to some choice private waters. The best place to eat is Fred’s Place (no reservations), serving the finest authentic comida in northern New Mexico, with gorgeous flirts for waitresses and ceiling art pushing the Sistine Chapel.

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