The headwaters of the Rio Chama originate on the east flank of the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado. The river and its tributaries offer an unparalleled fly fishing experience with abundant fishing opportunities. The Rio Chama yielded the state-record brown trout of 20 lbs., 4 oz.--a record that has stood since 1946. The fish was caught in the tail waters below El Vado Reservoir.
Ten miles of the Rio Chama, above the mouth of Wolf Creek-- located 4 miles below the New Mexico border, is private land requiring land owner's permission to fish the Rio Chama and Wolf Creek. The Rio Chama at this point holds wild browns with cutthroats in Wolf Creek and rainbows in both streams. Below Wolf Creek, access is not a problem as the Rio Chama is on public land in the Edward Sargent Wildlife Area--managed by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The photo shows long runs rocky bottom and good cover on most of the bends in the river.
The Rio Chamita spills into the Rio Chama, about 9 miles below the Wolf Creek confluence with the Rio Chama. Access to the Rio Chamita is from a dirt road one and a half miles north of the town of Chama.
A couple of miles north of Chama there is access to the Rio Chama from the west side of the river in the Edward Sargent Wildlife Area (the east bank is private). For access, you need to park in the NW corner of town. A locked gate will steer you to the parking area. Hike about 1 1/2 miles north and then east to reach the south end of the public water. You can fish upstream for several more miles provided you do not set foot on the east bank. Camping is also available in the wildlife area. Please check the fire danger rating before heading out, douse all fires completely and pack out whatever items you pack in. Fishing in this stretch is very good after runoff with dry flies in the evenings and nymphs all day. Good fishing continues until the first snowfall in mid-to-late autumn. Check the New Mexico Department of Game and fish regs on the links page for special regulations on this stretch of the Rio Chama. From the same parking area, you can also hike NW beyond the locked gate along the forest service road to fish the Rio Chamita, a smaller stream with wild browns and rainbows down low, with some brookies and cutts appearing a few miles upstream.
South of Chama 15 miles on US 64/84 is the confluence of the Rio Brazos with the Rio Chama. Most of this run of the Rio Chama is on private land, except for a 4-mile stretch a couple of miles south of town. Nymphing is the successful method here.
Traveling south on US 64/84, before reaching the confluence with the Rio de los Brazos drive east on NM 512 about 9 1/2 miles to the location of the well-known Corkins Lodge. About a mile before you reach Corkin's Lodge there is public access. The entire Rio Brazos, from the confluence, occupies private property with permission required to fish the stream except for the area mentioned. However, you must lodge at Corkins to access the Rio Brazos Box and the meadows upstream of the lodge.
East of the lodge--upstream, the Rio Brazos slices though a deep canyon. The box canyon is well populated with wild brown trout with cutthroats occupying the uppermost part of the stream and its tributaries. The waters are similar to the photo below with long smooth runs and some pocket water. Getting to good water requires hiking, but the reward of tangling with a wild brown makes the effort worth while. After the Rio Brazos flows downstream below the canyon it meanders through a large open meadow before flowing into the Rio Chama.
Below the confluence with the Rio Brazos, the Rio Chama offers several miles of excellent dry fly and nymph fishing as it picks up the tail waters of Heron Lake then pours into El Vado Reservoir. Again, hiking is a must. The best access is at the Rio Chama Wildlife Area off NM 112, a few miles south from US 64/84. The Rio Chama, at this point, can be quite wide--over 40 ft. and has great runs, pools and large boulders that create great pocket water. The river holds rainbows and wild browns and there is ample opportunity to catch large trout. Who knows maybe even a new state record? There are special regulations on the Rio Chama in the Rio Chama Wildlife Area off NM 112. Camping is available for this stretch of the river at Cottonwood. Continuing south on NM 112 is the Cooper Family Ranch, the only access to the tail water fishery of El Vado Reservoir. You will pay a parking fee and then hike down to fish upstream and downstream on the Rio Chama. There are rainbows and browns in this fishery. Closer to the dam, where the water temperatures are lower, rainbows are predominant.
The water has deep pools, deep pocket water and great runs for the possibility of landing some really nice fish. Dry flies and nymphs are good in this part of the Rio Chama but large flies, such as streamers are the best chance for catching some unusually large fish. There are plenty 18" or larger trout in this fishery. The Coopers have cabins available and they are always willing to give information regarding the present conditions of this stretch of the river (575) 588-7354.
The water level is increased to accommodate rafters in the spring and summer. Commonly the increased flows occur on the weekends with lower flows occurring on weekdays to accommodate anglers. It is advisable to obtain the flow rates before making your trip to this part of the Rio Chama.
Below El Vado Dam a few miles there are stretches of water that are inviting to fish and anglers alike. The terrain is a little more open but with the same wide water with good runs and deep holes. Fishing here is different that fishing upstream but can be just as rewarding. Take Forest Road 151 which is about one mile north of Ghost Ranch Museum on route US84 from Espanola to the Chama Canyon Wilderness. The water usually a little more murky and Nymph fishing will be the type of fishing you will want to do here.
Take US 84 from Espanola to Tierra Amarillo and then on to Chama or El Vado.
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