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

How Do I Fish This Brushy Mess?

The stream is stocked with rainbows and they rise willingly to dry flies. The browns are wild and will come to dry flies as well, especially during hatches, but are often more cautious. The big browns tend not to feed until early morning or late evening. One way to catch the bigger browns during the day is to employ streamers. The best advice is to take time to look before you fish. Carefully watch the ongoing hatch and then match it. Shake some of the streamside brush to see what insects are about. These larger browns are pretty smart but will often get fooled by exact imitations.

The Cimarron isn't wide. It is 30 feet at its widest and wadeable throughout. Hip waders with felt soles are perfect for most of the year, but not foolproof. I still laugh aloud when I remember my brother-in-law Kenny taking a surprise step into a deep hole one spring and plunging neck deep in his hip waders. So be attentive when wading, especially in the spring when the river runs higher. I sometimes wade wet in shorts and felt-soled waders, but having to bushwhack through the brush scratches my legs something awful. Wear hip waders or chest waders and roll them down to your waist.

Most of the river is about 15 to 20 feet wide. On the upper part of the river, toward the dam, the angler will find less forgiving trout and the river flowing more slowly. The lower part of the river picks up speed and dances around rocks, giving the angler lots of perky riffles and perfect pocket water.

A vertical dropper rig is an effective setup in the wider, slower sections found in the upper three miles of the river. The top fly should be a high floater, maybe a Parachute Adams or Elk Hair Caddis. The bottom fly should be a small nymph such as a Hare's Ear or Prince Nymph beadhead. Keep the length of your dropper tippet and the size of your flies relative to the flows—low flows mean smaller flies and shorter tippets.

For its size, the Cimarron produces lots of catchable fish, many running 16 inches or bigger. A nine-pound, 29-inch brown trout was caught in the tailwater a couple of summers ago. Still, the average-size brown runs about 10-13 inches. Rainbows tend to be found mostly at the bridges and get harvested quickly by baitfishers and spincasters hovering around the easy access areas. The rainbows average 8-12 inches with some holdovers getting bigger than that.

This is a sleeper stream even though it does see plenty of anglers. One reason the river gets heavy fishing pressure, especially in the immediate area around any crossing, bridge, or pullout, is because US Highway 64 parallels the river from Cimarron to Eagle Nest.

What is amazing about the Cimarron is that it continues to hold so many trout, and so many big trout, despite the number of anglers. One of the keys for success is getting away from the bridges and other access points. I advise anglers to walk for five minutes away from a crossing, head around the next bend, and fish in relative solitude.

If you take the time to find a pullout without other cars, then walk up or downstream a bit, you can have long stretches of stream all to yourself. The river's rushing and gurgling will drown out the autos traveling the highway in the background. If you fish by yourself, or fish water that hasn't been pounded, you will enjoy much more success.

The beaver ponds are often tangled messes, subject to lots of people thrashing on them, but they hold plenty of trout, although they may not necessarily be bigger.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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