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

How Could the River Improve?

The Cimarron is virtually unknown to trout fishermen outside the Southwest region, but the truth is that this sparkling river is one of the most profound fisheries in the nation. This productivity occurs in spite of poor water flow regulation from the private ownership of Eagle Nest Lake. By late October and early November, the flows are traditionally and gradually shut down, making winter fishing difficult in the almost nonexistent flows.

Spawning brown trout reproduce in some awfully low flows during the month. Just think how much more productive the stream could be with instream flow regulations to protect the spawning browns. Despite this major drawback, the Cimarron still holds more trout per mile than any other river of similar size in the state of New Mexico.

This could be an even better fishery—would more catch-and-release regulations or slot limits or similar restrictions aid the fishery? Doc Thompson lives on the Cimarron and has fished the Cimarron River for going on two decades. Thompson believes that the river has stayed just as productive over the years despite constant struggles with low water flows and poaching, and that the new regulations in the Special Trout Waters (one fish over 16 inches daily bag limit) has shown immediate returns on the quality of fishing.

Thompson still sees poaching and low water flows as the two biggest problems the Cimarron faces, and suggests that if these were fixed or ameliorated, the fishing would be even better. For starters, if the minimum flow were more consistent throughout the year, the aquatic insect population would increase and the fish would get bigger. And if the trout were no longer stressed throughout winter because of the low and nonexistent flows, especially during spawning, they would be healthier and bigger come spring.

A good place to start improving the fishery right away would be better enforcement of existing regulations. Too many anglers disobey the current Special Waters regulations. I often find bait containers on the banks of the pools of the Special Waters. I have seen and heard reports of anglers keeping more than two trout from the Special Waters section. More stringent enforcement of in-place restrictions would be a nice start.

A more consistent water flow throughout the year would also help tremendously—the fact that the insect populations hold up as well as they do is incredible. The demands of downstream regulations force the dam to release water full bore at times, only to shut the flow to a trickle thereafter. Low winter flows mean that cold weather stresses the trout population.

Increasing the reach of creel limits and barbless hook restrictions further downstream would also help the resident trout. On a positive note, park officials have blocked off some pullouts which are too close to the river, thereby preventing autos from leaking oil or causing erosion to the banks and riparian habitat.

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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