Fly Fishing the Cimarron River of Northern New Mexico
Fly Fishing the Cimarron River of Northern New Mexico
The Cimarron River originates at Eagle Nest Lake and begins its path through Cimarron Canyon. This is actually a tail water fishery that fishes and looks more like a freestone stream. The main attraction is wild, freely reproducing brown trout and rainbow trout that are periodically stocked throughout the year. I also saw what appeared to be some type of sucker in some of the ponds created by beavers. The Cimarron is a relatively small river and other than the few beaver ponds is less than 20 feet wide and easy to wade.
The public portion of the Cimarron flows through approximately 10 miles of the Cimarron Canyon State Park and parallels US 64 for easy access to the water. Because of the easy accessibility and close proximity to numerous campgrounds within the park it is best to avoid planning a fishing trip during holiday weekends. However, I went against my own advice and fished over the 4th of July weekend and still managed to catch a lot of fish but I had to get into the tougher areas to avoid the crowds. I did receive a couple of “Cimarron Baptisms” but the fly shops in the area will take wet money as well as dry.
The Cimarron is not known as a big fish river but it is known for having up to 4000 fish per mile in some areas. Most of the fish I caught were in the 10 to 13 inch range which I thought were very nice fish especially for a stream this size. The fish are pretty spooky and I rarely caught more than one fish from the same spot even though I could see several. The biggest fish I caught was a fat 14 inch rainbow and the smallest about a nine inch brown. From previous reports I have read 20 inch fish are occasionally caught.
Author with Brown Trout and St. Croix
Brown Trout with St. Croix
For this trip my primary rod was a seven foot nine St. Croix Legend Ultra 3wt with a Galvan reel and a level floating line. This was about as close to a perfect set up as I could imagine for this stream. Most casting will be done with a roll cast due to heavy foliage along the banks and the level line can be set down so softly that it doesn’t spook fish. The fishing here is much like hunting as you must stalk to the place you want to cast from and this rod performed perfectly. Fly selection is fairly straight forward with hare’s ear nymphs in the mornings and caddis flies in the evening. Some here use a nymph dropper even when fishing a dry. I did find a beaded nymph seemed to work better than a small split shot in front of an unweighted fly.
Fishing on the Cimarron
If you plan to fish this river bring plenty of flies, did I mention heavy foliage? Other than a lot of flies and tippet material this is a great stream to fish. Relatively simple short casts will get you on fish and if you are like me you will love every minute of it. It is hard to explain the excitement of seeing a trout rise to your fly to someone who doesn’t fish but to see the yellow flash of a brown or the silvery white of a rainbow hammering my fly thrills me to the bone. This is my favorite type of stream, easy to read and trout willing to bite.
Fishing below the Palisades on the Cimarrom
As you may notice this story is short on fish photos, I had a little trouble with my photographer. My wife who has been to Africa three times with me, to South America, Mexico, and all over the United States hunting and fishing has a couple of things she doesn’t like, snakes and bears. Bears first. All of the campgrounds in the area had bear warning signs posted so this automatically made Mama a little nervous. From the “evidence” left about 10 feet from our tent one night, (and a big pile of evidence it was) the bears in this area are well fed and quite large. Now the snakes. I really didn’t think too much about snakes being in the cold water of the Cimarron River but there is, and guess who found it?
All fish photography took place along the road where it is pretty tough to catch fish but Mama refused to follow me off into the canyons after that. I can’t complain though, she cooks the best camp food ever, bears or not. Thick rib eyes cooked over aspen coals in a braai basket, corn wrapped in foil and buried in the coals, bacon and eggs on the Coleman stove along with fried potatoes and onions. Sorry for the delay, I had to wipe off the drool. I love camp food and it’s kind of funny that a few bugs and a little dust or dirt doesn’t bother anyone out in the woods and in fact only seems to whet ones appetite.
Since we were so close we decide to fish Red River as well. The best fly fishing on the Red River is from the town of Red River upstream and from the town of Questa downstream. We chose the upstream portion because of easier access, but so did everyone else. This is a nice stream similar to the Cimarron but also supports a small population of brook trout along with the browns and rainbows. It was very busy along the Red so I fished it long enough to catch one brown and headed back to the Cimarron. This stream is worth fishing but definitely during the off season as far as tourists go.
Looking up the Cimarron River
If anyone would like more information regarding fishing this area please feel free to contact me. Also you can Google map this area and get a pretty good idea of the lay of the land. There are cabins and motels for rent in Eagle Nest, Angel Fire, and Red River and there are quite a few campgrounds between Red River and Questa and between Eagle Nest and Ute Park. Also it is not unusual to see elk, mule deer, and maybe even a bear while you are fishing. If you have a spooky photographer you might want to bring your own camera.
Author with Brown Trout and St. Croix II