For live and premium content, sign up for our email newsletter and we'll send reports directly to your inbox
Still looking for a Western trout stream to fish this summer? Let me suggest a few rivers near Taos, New Mexico, that let you get away from the crowds and are full of hungry trout.
The first of these is Culebra Creek, a little gem of a river in southern Colorado, just over the New Mexico border. Although I haven’t yet had the chance to fish this meandering meadow stream, I recently saw some color slides of it taken by local fly fishing guide Doug Camp, showing him with several fat, 17-inch brown trout. The Culebra flows out of Sanchez Reservoir near San Luis, Colorado, mostly through farmland that can only be accessed with a guide. Camp has leases on several sections of the stream, and charges $150 per day for one angler, plus $25 for each additional angler. The price includes transportation to and from Taos (about a two-hour drive), as well as lunch, beverages and flies. Camp also owns the Willows Inn, a bed and breakfast in Taos with private baths, entrances and fireplaces for all rooms, which go for $95 to $130 per night. You can reach Doug Camp and his wife, Janet, at the Willows Inn (*).
Moving a bit south into New Mexico, the adventurous angler who has access to a four-wheel-drive vehicle might want to check out the upper Rio Grande River near Ute Mountain. This portion of the Rio Grande is usually overlooked by anglers who think the only fishing on this river is in the so-called "Taos Box" Gorge – from the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River Recreation Area south to the John Dunn Bridge.
The Ute Mountain Run of the upper Rio Grande consists of 35 miles of subtle, wide and flat water, not at all like the river further downstream in the Taos Box. Hip waders work fine here except in high water. Anglers can expect to tangle with big browns hiding around the boulders and pools. Although caddis and mayfly dry flies as well as spinner imitations all work fine when the trout are rising, you should also bring streamers for the quiet times when there are no hatches.
To get here, take Highway 522 from the town of Questa north for 10 miles to an unpaved road called Sunshine Valley Road, turn west and be prepared for a long and bumpy ride of about 10 miles. The dirt road takes you around big boulders and through big potholes to the Ute Mountain Run. I would not advise making this trip if it has rained, or even looks like rain, because the road gets almost impassable when wet. I have been stuck on this road before, so I speak from experience.
If the weather looks like you might have to skip the Ute Mountain Run, try heading south along Highway 522 (passing the Taos Box along the way), through Taos itself to the town of Pilar along Highway 68. The Rio Grande here is easy to get to and fishes well for about seven miles to the town of Embudo as it runs parallel between Highway 68 and a mountain road called Highway 570, which you can turn onto in Pilar. Although the area is rarely crowded, you may see an angler or two casting spin gear. Wild browns and stocked rainbows inhabit this part of the Rio Grande in great numbers. Doug Camp fishes this area often and reports days of catching 30 to 50 trout here. Stoneflies are present early in the summer and caddis and mayfly hatches are solid throughout the season.
The river here runs as wide as 60 feet, and although there are some deep holes, the river is easy to wade in normal flows, with plenty of riffles, runs and pools. Camp cautions that he thinks there’s too much water here to cast about blindly, and doesn’t bother to fish unless he sees trout rising.
A good back-up water, if the fish aren’t active in the Rio Grande at Pilar, is the nearby Rio Pueblo de Taos, which feeds into the Rio Grande about 10 miles north of Pilar after coming down through Taos. The Rio Pueblo normally suffers from high runoff, but as this is written in late May it is already in prime condition this year. It mimics the Taos Box section of the Rio Grande in miniature – big pocket water, deep pools, large boulders, nice riffles and flats all set under big lava cliffs.
Most locals know the Rio Pueblo best for its fall fishing when big browns move up from the Rio Grande to spawn. I have found wild browns of eight to 15 inches here, as well as stocked rainbows up to 14 inches. You can get to the lower Rio Pueblo within the Orilla Verde Recreation Area along Highway 570, but most of the best hotspots on the river are above the town of Taos. While some of the access here is private, you can still find some unmapped dirt roads off of Highway 64 that will take you in to the river. Contact either Doug Camp or Jack Woolley of Los Rios Anglers (*) for more information on getting to the upper Rio Pueblo either on your own or with a guide. Woolley charges $250 for one or two anglers for a full day’s fishing, lunch and flies. You may also want to obtain a copy of a map called "Roads Of New Mexico," which you can order for $19.95 from Shearer Publishing (*) – Mark D. Williams.