Seven fishing hot spots off the beaten path
Everyone knows the big-ticket names such as Elephant Butte or Fenton and Heron Lakes.
But what if you’re looking for a bit of tranquility, a spot that takes a little effort to reach but offers the reward of a quiet angling experience and the prospect of reeling in some fish?
Fish biologists with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish were asked to name some not-so-well-known hideaways that provide a great setting for anglers that like to get away from it all. For those looking for more of an adventure than a day at the lake, this might be for you.
Just don’t forgot to pack water, some food, a hat and sunscreen.
Lower Red River
This is a rugged, beautiful setting in the Rio Grande Gorge. The La Junta Trail will get you down to the Rio Grande where it meets the Red River confluence. Multiple species of trout can be caught at this location, including brown, rainbow and cutthroat.
WARNING: Hiking boots are a must for this trip and getting to this spot is not easy and only experienced hikers should consider tackling the 1.5-mile strenuous journey in-and-out of the canyon.
A fly rod in the spring or fall can be extremely productive, but early summer mornings and late evenings can also be great.
The lower Red River is a special trout water, so refer to a fishing proclamation for the current rules and regulations. A map and guide book would also be handy.
Looking for an added adventure, head to the north to the Wild Rivers Recreation Area where anglers have a chance at hauling in good size Rio Grande cutthroat trout.
Johnson Lake, Pecos Wilderness
The trail to Johnson Lake can be accessed at the Panchuela trailhead. It’s a 12-mile moderate-to-strenuous hike with an elevation gain of roughly 2,800 feet. You’ll want to bring overnight, light-weight camping gear, but be prepared for chilly nights and mornings even in summer.
The lake, usually accessible from late May until mid-September, has good fishing for cutthroat and rainbow trout. A map, plenty of food and water, and the ‘know-how’ are all essential to get to this beautiful, high-country lake … but it’s worth the effort.
Individuals who just want a day away can look at Little Creek as a possibility. Don’t be fooled as you access this seemingly dry creek bed at its confluence with the Gila River near the east boundary of the Heart Bar Wildlife Management Area downstream of the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
The first mile of the canyon is usually dry, but you’ll find perennial water exists upstream from that point to the barricade where fishing is prohibited upstream. Good densities of brown trout and solitude make this trip worth the day hike.
East Fork of the Gila River
This is a trip for those wanting to spend a few days in the field. You’ll definitely need to bring camping gear, food and water on this trip. The lower end of the East Fork passes through private property and access is limited. Plan on a few days of backpacking to access the best fishing.
Smallmouth bass fishing is best in the section of the East Fork below its confluence with Black Canyon, but they are present throughout the entire fork. Smallmouth up to 3 pounds are relatively common in this stream.
While it is located along Route 35, Lake Roberts is tranquil as long as holiday weekends are avoided. Known primarily as a winter trout water, Lake Roberts is typically overlooked for its warm water species during the summer months. Largemouth bass grow fast and are in good densities and channel catfish in the 4-6-pound range are common.
About an hour drive from Silver City, the lake sits among the pines in the Upper Mimbres Valley in the Gila National Forest. This location, while not difficult to access, still provides ample wildlife viewing opportunities as deer, elk, and other mammals can be seen along the water’s edge as well as amphibians, reptiles and birds.
The area provides good camping opportunities for RVs in the Mesa and Upper End Campgrounds and dispersed campsites a few miles from the lake. Available sites are on a first-come, first-served basis and there are some fees associated with camping.
Clayton Lake has good walleye densities and they grow big. The state record walleye was caught here in 1989 and it still harbors some large fish. Channel catfish and largemouth bass are also present in this lake.
The lake was created by the Department of Game and Fish in 1955. Game and Fish has a joint agreement allowing New Mexico State Parks to operate a park on Game and Fish property and anyone who possesses a valid fishing license and is actively fishing is not charged an entrance fee provided they park in the free parking area at the boat ramp.
During the winter months fishing is closed and the lake serves as a resting area for waterfowl.
Upper Rio de las Vacas
Located within the San Pedro Parks Wilderness in the Jemez Mountains, the Upper Rio de las Vacas provides an opportunity to wet a line in a smaller river flowing through pristine meadows at elevations ranging from 9,000-10,000 feet.
Although you’ll spend some time hiking, there’s a lot of access to the water and the brown and Rio Grande cutthroat trout will make it a great experience. Flies can be productive in late spring through the fall in this relatively remote location.
Be sure to check with the Santa Fe National Forest for maps and any wilderness restrictions/regulations that may apply and refer to the Game and Fish fishing proclamation for current rules and regulations.
Also, be sure to pack a map, food, water and appropriate clothing, including rain gear because late afternoon thunderstorms are common during the summer months. Backpacking into the wilderness for extended stays is another option for anglers visiting this area.