New Mexico's Trout-Fishing Secret: The Cimarron River

My Favorite Haunt

I remember stepping out of the truck the first time I visited this small tailwater trout fishery in northeastern New Mexico and being unimpressed. The stream cut through a striking enough canyon, and I could see lots of fishy pools and bouncy riffles, but my brother-in-law Kenny and I had driven for hours across the flatlands from Amarillo before we entered the narrow, high desert canyon, and I'd hoped for taller mountains, bigger water, more privacy. Kenny was insistent that this highly accessible fishery was one of the best-kept secrets in the West and that I would catch lots of fat brown trout on dry flies. Between the steady roar of pickups on the road and the smallness of the river, I doubted we would find anything.

Two hours and many miscast flies later, I had caught a dozen foot-long brown trout on big, bushy dry flies. I missed many others. Trout rose from under deepcut banks, from stillwater pools, and from quick riffles. There were trout everywhere. When we waded away from the road and into the wooded recesses of the clear stream, I knew this would be the kind of stream I'd return to over and over, one that held surprises each time out, around every bend and along every run. This was a special stream.

I owed Kenny both an apology and a word of thanks. Over the years, this trout-rich stream has become one of my favorite haunts, and I daydream about it when I sit at my desk during the heat of Texas summers, wishing I was casting dry flies to tricky pockets and enticing explosive strikes from fat browns lying in wait.

Flowing from Eagle Nest Lake is one of the most underrated wild brown trout fisheries in the West, the Cimarron River. Electroshocking surveys have determined that this tailwater holds over 4,000 catchable-size trout per mile. I doubt that there are many rivers of this small size that attract so many anglers and have so many guides servicing it, yet still remain so productive.

This narrow river flows through Cimarron Canyon for over 12 miles, winding its way past thick forests and heavy streamside brush. In places, the river fishes like a spring creek. Anglers should plan on bringing extra flies to the Cimarron, because if you aren't losing flies on overhanging brush, submerged logs, or underwater boulders, then you aren't getting to where the fish are hiding. And come spring and high water, the Cimarron is the ideal first stream primer with its abundant stonefly hatches and intimate nature.

The Cimarron is also a perfect stream for dry-fly fishers. There are so many pockets, slicks, riffles, and pools to try, and since the river isn't deep, fish will come from the bottom to take a fly—and they always seem to be looking up. Anglers can catch trout on dry flies in all sorts of weather, from bright sunny days to cold rainy days, thanks to a protective canopy of trees covering most of the water.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 5 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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