Hot Winter Fisheries

Trout Rivers in New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma

Location: Northwest New Mexico near Aztec and Farmington.

Species: Predominantly rainbow and brown trout. More rainbows in the upper section, more browns in the lower section. Rainbows and cutthroats average 13 to 20 inches with many over 20 inches. Expect to catch several in the two to five pound range. The brown trout population has increased the last few years, especially in the lower section of the quality waters and below it. The browns get big, too, but aren't as plentiful. Ten-pound browns are caught in the river every now and again.

Equipment: 81/2 - to 9-foot rod for 4- to 6-weight line. Neoprene chest waders and felt soles. Wading staff helpful. Anglers can wade much of the river, especially the upper part, but crossing can be dangerous due to the strong flow and dropoffs. Also, the rocks are covered in moss and very slippery, so wear felt soles. The river is a constant 42 degrees so neoprene waders are a must. Winter storms blow in unexpectedly and fiercely. Bring harsh weather gear.

Notes: The San Juan and Green Rivers are arguably the top winter trout fisheries in the West. I recommend hiring a guide if you've never fished the San Juan before, since the techniques the guides and locals employ can make all the difference in catching twenty big trout or talking about the one fish that got away. The only way to float the river is in a boat, usually a MacKenzie boat, no motors. No float tubes. The put-in is usually at the Texas Hole.


It's winter and for most anglers, the rods are tucked safely away in the closet until the Spring Thaw. Read this article at your own peril. What follows is a selection of my favorite Western winter fisheries I find myself visiting each cold season. Included are some classics, along with a few piscatorial gems you may never have read about. Two of the least-known winter angling hotspots (Culebra Creek and the Rio Peqasco) are private and require guide services. Few anglers have ever even heard of these small but productive year-round fisheries, and that's a major part of their appeal. So get out the maps and figure out a way to visit one of these hallowed haunts of mine.

San Juan River, New Mexico

Colorful high-desert canyon walls line this cold, wide river, one of the premier trout streams in America. The tailwater is full of heavy trout and focused anglers. It's a popular winter destination, with an armada of watercraft and decked-out fly fishers fighting over three and a half miles of regulated water.

Tight line on the San Juan

Not to worry, the river is so profound, so fecund, that all you need is your very own 50-yard radius and you'll be casting to a day's worth of fish. In your staked-out territory, you can cast to long glides, backwater flats, runs, deep pools, channels, riffles, and lots of unremarkable, hard-to-figure water.

Don't fret, thar's fish down there. The odds are good you will hook up with an 18-inch-plus trout, maybe longer, but the odds are lesser, even for seasoned vets, that you will land the fish.

San Juan trout are broad-shouldered and use their strength to take out line and make your reel scream. Many experts rate this tailrace as the number-one trout hotspot in America. Combine the austere beauty of the painted high desert with the consistently prolific population of big trout and insect activity and this a guaranteed winter wonderland.

Article © Mark D. Willliams, 2000.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 5 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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