Many of New Mexico’s best waters surround Taos. The Rio Grande and Red Rivers are the best known but there are a few other streams worth fishing–and they sometime fish better then those big waters.
Fishing pressure is a big factor on fishing anywhere but especially on smaller streams because the fish will frighten from just seeing one of us. And although the traffic on the Paseo makes it seem like Taos has about a million people, there’s really just 25,000 and it’s still far away from a real city so fishing pressure stays moderate.
The Rio Hondo is 10 miles north of Taos and has two distinct stretches. The lower Hondo, just before it enters the Rio Grande, fishes best when full (when irrigation is turned off). That is generally early spring and late fall. Trout move in and out from the Rio Grande and if the water level is good—the trout will be there. Taos Fly Shop can line you up on which flies to use but normally a midsized hi-viz dry fly with a # 16 bead head nymph 18 inches below will work. Fish upstream and be sure there is no one fishing in front of you or the wild browns you are after will be spooked.
Although hardly a wilderness adventure––like fishing the close-by canyons of the Rio or lower Red––you can fish where the road leaves the creek (about a mile up from John Dunn Bridge) and get away from civilization by fishing up its short canyon. It can fish well at about any time of day, but since it is a shallow and smallish stream it will be easily effected by weather conditions. (See chapter 6 in Instinctive Fly Fishing about calculating where to fish according to conditions.)
When I first moved to the area in the late 60s the lower Hondo had a longer season because it wasn’t irrigated off as bad as it is now. The place I rented then was right on the cliff at the mouth of the canyon. Talk about living the dream! It was 35 dollars a month; a lot of money for my girlfriend and I at the time. Everyone lacked dough and bartering stuff was the norm. The trout limit was 14 or 16—or some-such absurd number; I traded them for other sorts of highly organic grub at New Buffalo Commune across the road. (The confessions of a fly fishing market hunter will be further exposed once my memoirs—Which Way is Upstream—is published.)
A few miles to the east, the upper Hondo drains north-facing slopes from the highest elevations in the state. The cold water makes for good mid-summer and midday fishing. (In fact the water is so cold that it is pretty barren of any aquatic life above the town of Taos Ski Valley.) Below the ski valley the stream parallels the highway and it is thick with trees, brush, and deadfall. And right along the road, there are awkward angular rocks that were brought in to build the highway. With all the obstructions, most fisherman go for the easy-access spots. And as the little river is very fast trout do gang up in these slower and deeper pools. You want to get down about two feet with a size 14-18 beadhead nymph. But the problem with the pools is that due to fishing pressure the fish may be difficult, so try the brushy dark places; dap a single visible dry fly hung off the end of the rod, into eddies and the darkest nooks and crannies. You’ll be delighted to find that there are a surprising number of trout just out in the really fast water too.
That style of fishing—dapping––would serve you well if you hike up one of the numerous tiny feeder streams of the upper Hondo. Many of the trout will be pure Rio Grande Cutthroats in the tributaries. And the stream has that indescribable quality—it’s simply a fun place to fish.
The upper Hondo also has good mushrooms and raspberries in late summer. The mushrooms are more abundant—if it’s rained– in the Little Rio Grande a few miles south of Ranchos de Taos. There’s lots of wildlife in this big hunk of timbered forest, too. If it’s September you can hunt grouse early and late in the day and fish mid-day. Go high for the grouse; and during the last half of September the aspens will be turning and the elk bugling. (Notice I am drifting towards other ideas beyond fishing in these parts. That’s because this territory is better experienced from a more eclectic outdoor view. In other words—those trout are small—and this is a grand world.)
You first encounter the drainage driving up highway 518 just out of Ranchos De Taos. That’s the Little Rio Grande. It’s a good place to fish if you have just a couple of hours to shake off the jitters of the wild runaround in Taos. There are many beaver dams and hidden ponds in the thick willows that sometimes have better browns. The going can be pretty swampy but the best footing is usually right up the stream.
The fishing is usually better up one of the three forks then right along the highway. There are many miles of 5’–10′ wide brushy streams. Although any brown trout over 10-inches are a trophy here, it is easy access and quiet on the weekdays. The streams all turn roadless in their upper reaches. The shrubbery is a hassle but if you get your fly—any fly—into a pool that isn’t spooked you will catch a fish.
The upper Rio Chiquito is a little more open than either Pot Creek (Rito De La Olla on maps) or the upper Little Rio Grande. There are no official campgrounds but you have about 50 miles of roads with plenty of flat spots to sleep near the water. Fires are okay but a 4X4 is required to get up into the interior of the streams. None of it is fished very much and you can catch trout out near civilization as well. The road up the Little Rio Grande is especially bad but it’s the kind of place that makes the Taos area great because as soon as you are up the road a half-mile you’re in a different world. To illustrate, I once, after just starting up the road–not five minutes from Quicky Mart––a huge bear stuck his head out of the thick brush in front of the truck. Instead of diving back in the woods it leapt out in the road right in front of me. It then proceeded to run just ahead of my truck. We were instantly bumper to butt and continued on like that for a quarter mile! I can still picture his huge bear butt bobbing up and down, not 5 feet in front of the truck.
by Taylor Streit