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Fly Fishing in New Mexico - Fly Fishing in Red River, New Mexico

Fly Fishing in Red River, New Mexico

Red River, New Mexico is easily one of the most underrated towns in the Western United States. It offers anglers and visitors peace and quiet that’s not easily found across the majority of mountain towns in the west. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but the fishing quality is well worth your time. Plus, you can easily combine fishing with numerous other outdoor activities.


Geography and Topography

While most people think of New Mexico as all desert and the occasional small mountain, the town of Red River is in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. These peaks stretch over 14,000 feet and give anglers ample access to some world-class fly fishing water. The town itself is also surrounded by the Carson National Forest. 

The Red River flows right through the heart of town and the Rio Grande is just west of the city limits. The tall Ponderosa Pine Trees, sharp cliffs, mountain peaks and deep valleys offer anglers a beautiful and challenging fishing experience that’s extremely rewarding. There isn’t an insane amount of fishing pressure like many other western waters, so you have a true chance to test your skills.


Type of Water

The Red River as well as the Rio Grande River (in this section) arent’ the widest or most intimidating rivers. They have continually strong flows, but they rarely grow to more than 30 or 40 feet wide. Most of the water near town is pocket water with the occasional wide sections that offer great seams and the occasional pool.

Anglers will find that finesse fishing is the name of the game when fishing in Red River. You’ll be making quite a few casts throughout the day and find yourself to be fairly tired. You can cover most of the fishable sections on foot, so you can park your car and spend a day hiking up and down river in search of fish.

Some of the sections of the Rio Grande near Red River require a steep scramble down into a canyon. This section is known as the Rio Grande Gorce. The scramble should be attempted in hiking boots, so be sure to bring your waders with to change into once you reach the bottom.



Red River, New Mexico rarely sees temperatures above 80 degrees. In the summer, the average temperatures are in the mid-70s and the fall and spring see temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Throughout the winter, the average temperatures are in the low 30s and high 20s.  

Red River does see precipitation on around 100 days per yaer, but many of those storms are afternoon showers or heavy snow.

Summer and fall are the best times of year to fly fish in Red River. The water temperatures are in a good place and so are the flows.


Fishing on the Rio Grande River & Surrounding Waters

Since most of the Rio Grande and Red River are located within the Carson National Forest, access is easy. Anywhere you find that seems to have access, you can park there and fish.

As mentioned earlier, both the Red River and Rio Grande are filled with large boulders and fast currents. So, when you can find calm water, you know fish are going to be sitting in these sections. Also, due to the length of the Red River and the Rio Grande, you have a great amount of water to fish.  

The Rio Grande Gorge is filled with massive rainbow trout and the upper Red River is heavily stocked with rainbows and has a nice amount of wild rainbow trout. Near town, there’s a 3-mile stretch of special trout water. As you go west of town towards the Rio Grande, you’ll run into the Red River Canyon and have a similar experience there that you would in the Rio Grande Gorge.

Steep hikes, big fish and beautiful scenery surround you while you’re down in the canyon or gorge.


Best Time of Year to Fish the Rio Grande River & Surrounding Waters

The best time of year to fish the Rio Grande and the surrounding waters is from May to October. In May, the snow melt will likely impact the quality of fishing, but as soon as runoff concludes, fishing heats up drastically. Throughout June, the fishing continues to be great.

As July and August hit, water temperatures rise and can cause fish to go deep and stay more sluggish. Once September and October hit, fishing improves and the fish begin to feed to prepare for winter.


How To Access the Rio Grande River

Access on the Rio Grande near Red River is great from the Big Arsenic Trailhead just west of town. It’s a 2.4 mile out and back trail that will take you directly to the bank of the river. It has around 900 feet of elevation drop from the top of the canyon to the bottom. Once you reach the bottom you can work both up and downstream.


Gear and Flies to Use

On the Rio Grande, I am sure to bring my 9’ 5-weight fast action rod with a large arbor reel. The fish can grow upwards of 5 or 6 pounds, so I want to make sure I’m prepared. I’ll pack 1x-4x leader as well as 3x and 4x tippet as well.

In the summer, I will bring large moth patterns due to the massive hatch in June and July. Otherwise, I like to fish with Golden Stones, Pale Monring Duns as well as Brown Drakes. All of these patterns are best fished in size 14-18.  

For streamers, I like to use crayfish patterns as well as Clouser Minnows in size 2 to 6. If I can get the fish to chase streamers, I know I’m in for a day.


Recommended Fishing Techniques

Get used to pocket water. Find a large boulder, cast 10-15 feet upstream of it and let your fly get sucked into the slack water that’s just behind the boulder. You’ll consistently find fish hiding in these pockets. Be patient because it may take a few casts to get your fly to present exactly how you would like.  

If the pockets aren’t producing, look for the calm water that’s along the banks. Fish will sometimes hold right along shore waiting for food to drift past. If this is the case, I’ll cast a heavy stonefly nymph directly upstream and let it drift right across my body. Most often, fish are going to hit it right as it drifts past my body. Be sure to keep your rod tip high and reel in most of the slack.


Type of Fish Near Red River

Rainbow and brown trout are the primary targets near Red River. However, the Gorge also has populations of smallmouth bass and pike.



Red River, New Mexico is one of those places fly anglers love to visit. It takes a few times to get the hang of the water and the tendencies of the fish, but as soon as you’re comfortable, you’ll find yourself amongst some of the best fishing in the west. There are few places as unique as the Red River!


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