Hook, Line and Sinker

By Isak Howell

Fishing in New Mexico

From trophy fish in big lakes to urban ditch fishing, there's more angling here than you think. Take 40 crappie back to camp for a sloppy fish fry or carefully release a Rio Grande cutthroat into his native stream. You can practice the Brad Pitt style and try fooling a fish with bits of peacock feather or use the proven Huck Finn method of earthworm on a cane pole. You don't need a bass boat, just water and a weekend. So give in to that primal urge and remember that time occasionally needs to be wasted in pure, unadulterated leisure.

Fishing licenses can be purchased at many area fishing stores, as well as at your local KMart or Wal-Mart. Licenses expire in March, so buy them now and fish all year to get your money's worth. These same stores can also sell you rods and reels, with prices ranging from less than $50 to one arm and one leg. The gear makes little difference as long as you're having fun and you don't hook any close friends. Common fisherman's hazards include strong winds, cold waters and rattlesnakes. Isolation is also a factor in many New Mexico fishing areas, so plan carefully. Call 1-800-ASK-FISH for fishing reports and information on stockings, fishing tips and fish habits. Similar information is on the Internet at http://gmfsh.state.nm.us/. The following list is only a fraction of the fishing areas in the state, and many areas such as the Pecos and Jemez watersheds have many miles of water begging to be explored.

--Isak Howell S

Albuquerque Area Ditches

Location: Bernalillo Drain is east of the river, stocked below N.M. 44 and above city limits; Corrales Drain (Clear Ditch) is west of the river, north of Corrales and near the Corrales Bridge; Albuquerque Riverside Drain is east of the river and is stocked at Corrales and Rio Bravo Bridges, good access at Rio Grande Nature Center; Tingley Beach is just east of the river and just south of Central; Atrisco Riverside Drain is west of the river, stocked at Rio Bravo Bridge; Peralta Drain is east of the river; Belen Drain is west of the river, and both are stocked from Los Lunas to Belen with parallel dirt roads.

Season: Year-round, with best trout fishing in cool months

Facilities: Generally nothing (they are just ditches) but you're not far from town

Species: Corrales Ditch--trout (November through March), catfish, carp, bass; Tingley Beach--trout (in winter), yellow perch, channel catfish, sunfish, bullheads, walleye, largemouth bass.

Suggested tackle/techniques: Grasshoppers, salmon eggs, corn, very light tackle, concentrate on the pools and eddies.

Special info: Tingley Beach can get very crowded. At the ditches, access points are often where they are stocked.

Cochiti Lake

Location: Take I-25 north to Cochiti exit and head northwest on N.M. 16, 11 miles to the lake.

Season: Year-round, with spring months excellent for panfish, largemouth and white bass

Facilities: At the Cochiti Recreation Area on the west side of the lake you'll find paved access, a convenience store, boat ramp, restrooms, camping and shore access; Tetilla Peak Recreation Area on the east side has picnic areas, camping, restrooms, RV hookups, limited shore access.

Species: Walleye, rainbow trout, large- and smallmouth bass, white bass, bluegill, crappie, bullhead, northern pike, channel catfish

Suggested tackle/techniques: For panfish try minnows and waxworms; for largemouth try weedproof plastic worms; for white bass use a sinking minnow lure.

Special info: If wind is a concern (and here it often is), consider the Tetilla Peak area, so that you'll be blown ashore instead of out into the water. There are two wind-warning lights, one on top of the dam and one near Tetilla Overlook. There is tailwater fishing below the dam for about a half-mile.

Jemez River and Tributaries

Location: Take N.M. 44 west from Bernalillo. Turn right in San Ysidro at N.M. 4. From Sheep Springs (Jemez Pueblo) on up there are various access points along N.M. 4 (Ranger Station Bridge, Battleship Rock, Jemez Hot Springs, and near Las Conchas Campground). On Forest Route (F.R.) 376, you'll find Rio Cebolla and San Antonio Hot Springs. And on F.R. 485, Rio Guadalupe offers best fishing north of the tunnels. There's also Fenton Lake State Park on N.M. 126 inside the Santa Fe National Forest.

Season: Year-round, with best summer fishing in the upper watersheds

Facilities: Many parking areas along N.M. four have restrooms and trail access. Battleship Rock has restrooms, picnic area and good trail access.

Species: Rainbow trout, wild brown trout

Suggested tackle/techniques: Small lures work best and walking will yield solitude and generally more brown trout.

Special info: Sheep Springs Recreation Area on Jemez Pueblo lands offers fee-fishing for rainbow trout. Be aware of private land postings along the Jemez River. Check confluence points at N.M. 4 north of Jemez Public Schools Complex and at Battleship Rock to find the clearest streams.

Pecos River and Tributaries

Location: Take I-25 north to the Glorieta/ Pecos exit, follow N.M. 50 to Pecos, left on N.M. 63. This provides access to many park and fish locations (Monastery Lake, Bert Clancy Fishing Area, Field Tract Campground, Willow Creek Day Use Area), as well as to many trailheads for outstanding wilderness fishing.

Season: Best fishing is late June through October.

Facilities: Monastery Lake has restrooms and handicapped access. Many other Forest Service parking areas have restrooms and picnic tables.

Species: Brown, cutthroat and rainbow trout

Suggested tackle/techniques: Lure, fly and bait are all great in September, bait fishing is best as stocking begins in warmer months.

Special info: Wilderness opportunities include several helicopter-stocked alpine lakes (Katherine, Stewart, Spirit, Johnson Lakes and others). The Pecos watershed is a well-known but vast area. In the summer, a short hike should cure the congested-creek blues. Rio Mora is the main tributary of the Pecos with access (stocked rainbows) at the Mora Campground, or backcountry access (wild browns) via an easy trail from Iron Gate Campground.

Rio Grande Gorge and Tributaries

Location: To reach the John Dunn Bridge, take N.M. 3 north from Taos and turn west in Arroyo Hondo, driving three miles to the bridge. Many trailheads and campsites are accessed via N.M. 378 west of Cerro, N.M. Taos Junction Bridge is reached by taking N.M. 68 from Pilar through the state park. There are many trails down into the gorge, some of them long and steep, including McCraken and Sheep Corral trails, accessed via dirt roads west off of the Rio Grande High Bridge (U.S. 64).

Season: Best to wait until after runoff, sometime in late May to July

Facilities: The Wild River Recreation Area west of Questa (on N.M. 378) has camping, water, restrooms, visitor center, marked trailheads and good fishing.

Species: Trout (rainbow, brown, cutbows), some northern pike, catfish

Suggested tackle/techniques: Fish deep in the pools and thoroughly work large river rocks.

Special info: The John Dunn Bridge is the only good access for the wheelchair angler. Some trailheads are isolated and inaccessible in wet weather.

Bluewater Lake

Location: Take I-40 west, then take the Prewitt exit, 15 miles past Grants, and follow N.M. 412 south to Bluewater Lake State Park. For access to the Cottonwood Creek area, exit at Thoreau, 24 miles west of Grants.

Season: Year-round, including some ice fishing

Facilities: At the state park you'll find campgrounds, convenience stores, a boat ramp and boat rental.

Species: Rainbow trout, channel catfish, brown trout (below the dam)

Suggested tackle/techniques: In spring, fish the shallows with corn, marshmallows, worms or salmon eggs. Crawfish are good for trout (small crawfish in spring) and catfish (crawfish tails). Fish deeper during the summer.

Special info: This area is known for phat rainbow trout. The western part of the lake (Cottonwood area) is your best bet in spring and fall.

Abiquiu Reservoir

Location: On N.M. 96, 30 miles northwest of Española. The turnoff is well marked.

Season: Year-round, though fall and spring are best

Facilities: The Cerrito picnic area has parking, restrooms, a boat ramp and shore access. Camping is allowed but there are no developed sites. The Riana campground is a fee area with campsites, restrooms, water and grills.

Species: Almost all types of New Mexico sportfish can be found here, including bass, trout, catfish, walleye, crappie and perch.

Suggested tackle/techniques: During the spring crappie run, which peaks in May or June, fish the shallows.

Special info: Beware of rattlesnakes here and watch the wind-warning lights, one on the dam and one near the boat ramp.

Santa Rosa Lake

Location: Take I-40 east to Santa Rosa, then head north seven miles.

Season: Year-round, when there is water in the lake

Facilities: At the state park you'll find restrooms, showers, electric hookups, fee camping, primitive camping, a boat ramp, an information center and a handicapped access nature trail.

Species: Walleye, catfish, bluegill, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and crappie

Suggested tackle/techniques: Work the extensive shallows while the sun is off the water. Fish deeper in the Horseshoe Bend area in midday.

Special info: There are several other fishing spots around the town of Santa Rosa, including Power Dam Lake and the Pecos River through town. Blue Hole is a popular Scuba spot, and lures which mimic free hot dogs, fished deep, should catch some divers.

Elephant Butte

Location: Main access is I-25 exit 83, then south on N.M. 52 through development to Elephant Butte State Park. To reach Catfish Camp State Park campground, take I-25 south to exit 107, go south on the frontage road 2.5 miles, then head east on the gravel road. For access to the Rock House area, take exit 100 and go south several miles then cross under the interstate and head north, veer east at microwave tower, Rock House is seven miles farther.

Season: Year-round, though January can be slow.

Facilities: Elephant Butte Marina has convenience stores, tackle shop, boat rentals, boat ramp, restrooms and two fee-use campgrounds with running water, showers, and RV hookups.

Species: Largemouth, smallmouth, white bass, walleye, striper, crappie

Suggested tackle/techniques: Deep-water techniques in hot weather. Fish around submerged trees in upper lakes for largemouth bass.

Special info: Listed as one of the top-10 largemouth bass lakes in the country. The lake can be very crowded on holiday weekends and shade trees are scarce. Wind here can blow up huge, dangerous waves.

Lakeshore Drive, north of N.M. 52 at Old Hot Springs Marina turnoff, is the best bet for boatless fishing and unimproved camping. If you have a boat, McRae Canyon has good, consistent fishing.

San Juan River and Navajo Lake

Location: From Bloomfield in the Four Corners area, go east on N.M. 64 for 12 miles, then north on N.M. 511 to Navajo Lake State Park.

Season: Year-round

Facilities: Cottonwood Campground is a fee area with drinking water and restrooms; Texas Hole and Simon Point provide restrooms and good river access. Aztec Bridge has a handicapped access fishing pier. Pine Recreation Area above the dam is a fee-area with restrooms, RV hookups, campsites, boat ramp, boat rental and convenience stores.

Species: Trophy rainbow trout in the river and many varied sportfish in the lake including bass, trout, catfish, kokanee salmon and northern pike

Suggested tackle/techniques: Try a San Juan worm fished deep in the river's pools. Flies are more effective on the river than lures. Crawfish imitations catch bass in the lake.

Special info: The San Juan is a famous and often crowded stretch of trout stream. Average sized trout here are a hefty 17-inches long. Special regulations apply along the river, including a catch-and-release-only section just down from the dam. Use caution when wading; the water is cold and sometimes swift.

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