The Jemez watershed offers anglers ample opportunity to catch trout. Several small- to medium-sized streams harbor rainbows, but the predominant fish are browns. NM Highway 4 follows the Jemez River throughout. The stream cuts through steep canyon walls and is replete with deep runs and pools. Surprisingly, the fishing is good even along the road. The Jemez River is formed where the Rio San Antonio is confluent with the East Fork at the prominent Battleship Rock.
The Rio San Antonio heads on the private Spanish land grant, Valles Caldera National Preserve to the west, which has been purchased by the Federal Government for Multi-Use. Once leaving private land, there are several miles of excellent fishing with easy public access. The Ro San Antonio is accessed from NM Highway 4 upstream from Battleship Rock, NM126 and F.R. 376 north from NM126. A great deal of the Rio San Antonio meanders like a snake through many grassy meadows. There are a lot of pools and deep runs, and some canyon areas where the fishing access requires some hiking but it can be worth the effort.
The East Fork also heads on the Valles Caldera to the east. Once on public land, there are many miles of excellent fishing. However, this stream cuts through many deep canyons. Some are hard to get to but the fishing can be very rewarding. The East Fork crosses NM Highway 4 a few times and those are the points with easiest access but, of course, that's where most of the anglers fish. It's always best to hike into the canyons beyond the access points before you start fishing. Some stretches of the East Fork are on private property so be sure to respect other's property. Jemez Falls is upstream from Battleship Rock on the East Fork. You can also access Jemez Falls from atop NM4 near the Valles Caldera Preserve to the east.
The Rio de las Vacas and the Rio Cebolla, draining the northwest Jemez mountains, converge to form the Rio Guadalupe at Porter or Porter's Landing. The Rio de las Vacas has public access from the north and south but the middle portion of the stream runs through private property. Fishing is good in the spring but gets fairly slow in the summer as flow decreases. The area is accessed off NM126 at the upper end and from F.R. 376 near Porter at the lower end.
The upper portion of the Rio Cebolla is accessible from NM 126, above Seven Springs Fish Hatchery. After a 50 minute hike, above the fish hatchery, there is a large open meadow with two ponds. The Rio Cebolla holds browns below the ponds and Rio Grande cutthroats above the ponds. The stream flows from the ponds south past the fish hatchery and eventually through Fenton Lake. There is a small stretch of the Rio Cebolla below Fenton Lake for a couple of miles. The Fenton Lake requires paying a fee to fish or camp and is usually very crowded in the summer months and is ended by private property. To access the lower portion beyond the private property, travel south on F.R. 376, off NM 126. The Rio Cebolla crosses NM 376 and flows through special regulation water, where the stream flows through several miles of meadows. A low profile and long casts are beneficial to catch fish in this section.
The Guadalupe Box
The Rio Guadalupe is my personal favorite and has the most volume of water than any Jemez watershed tributary. The Rio Guadalupe flows through a deep canyon for most of its length. Access to the upper portion is easiest near Porter. The Rio Guadalupe contains several large and deep pockets of water which are prime locations for large Brown Trout.
]In the early 1980s I discovered an old spot in the Jemez watershed, the Guadalupe Box, which carries the waters of the Rio Guadalupe. The Rio de las Vacas and Rio Cebolla fill the Rio Guadalupe, from the northwestern part of the Jemez watershed, picking up other creeks, and springs along the way. Porter's Landing, an old logging camp in the earlier part of the 20th century stood at the confluence. Parts of the foundation still remains.
Just below Porter, the stream flows into the "Guadalupe Box" and that's where the fishing gets good--and more challenging as is evident in the photo to the right. There are a lot of deep pockets and deep runs for excellent dry fly and nymph fishing. During the last week of April until about the second week of June there are incredible stone-fly hatches. That's the time to go if you can beat the spring runoff. Fishing this area during high runoff can be dangerous, so please be careful, we don't want to lose you. There is good fishing and solitude in the Guadalupe Box. After several miles the Rio Guadalupe flows past the community of Gilman and eventually into the Jemez River just above the Jemez Pueblo. This photo to the right is of me fishing a large deep hole between the high canyon walls in the Guadalupe Box was taken by Mark Taylor in 1986.
A rail line hauled lumber from the camp down to a lumber-processing mill at the community of Gilman several miles south of Porter's Landing. The old rail line is now a road that is used to access the area. Incidentally, my grandfather helped blast the two tunnels, to create the access passage in the mountain, for the rail line and he also worked at the lumber camp at Porter's Landing. From the bottom end of the box canyon, the Rio Guadalupe follows alongside the road on its way to Gilman with the last mile or so to Gilman the river flows down several waterfalls in a narrow canyon, near the tunnels, like an escalator in a department store. After passing Gilman, the river flows for several miles through private property and finally into the Jemez River near the Jemez Indian Pueblo.
I had fished above and below the Guadalupe Box but never the box itself. I hiked down into this deep canyon one day and discovered a treasure. I navigating by crossing back and forth at about every turn or wading up the middle of the stream. I made long quiet casts at a low profile with my fly rod to hungry brown trout.
This deep canyon has solid rock walls that shoot towards the sky as high as 60 feet and lends itself well to a place where you can find seclusion even today. There is a lot of deep pocket water and deep runs for excellent dry fly and nymph fishing. The last week of April until about the second week of June there is incredible yellow stonefly hatches. That's the time to go if you can beat the spring runoff. Fishing here during high runoff can be very dangerous, so be careful. And always be cautious and observant along the banks and in the rock pockets of these New Mexico canyons as you can see in the photo to the right.
The seclusion of this beautiful canyon gives you the peace to study this place -- it is very picturesque with tall pines, deep clear water full of wild brown trout and small narrow grassy meadows at about every turn in the river. What a spiritual experience being in the Rio Guadalupe box. The photo below is at the water line of the photo above showing the opening in the high canyon walls. I do not know how deep this hole is but it is not wadable. You can pass around to hole to the left when the spring runoff subsides and the water level is normal.
This area is challenging to fish with its rugged terrain and the elusive nature of the trout that reside there but if you like 7X fishing this is the place. Fishing in this beautiful canyon with a low profile is absolutely essential. You will usually catch German browns and it is not uncommon to catch an 18 inch fish. I use a 7 foot 9 inch 3 weight rod and 6X or 7X tippet. However, an 8 foot 3 weight rod will work just fine. I ordinarily prefer to nymph fish but on the Rio Guadalupe I prefer dries. The dry flies I like to use are a #14 to #18 Green body Elk Hair Caddis or Royal Trude and white tricos in the mid-summer. The nymphs to use are a #16 Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear or a #16 Gold Bead-head Prince. During the stone-fly hatch I always slap the water with a #10 Yellow Stimulator or Joe's Hopper for the feeding frenzy.
No matter where I go fishing, I always go back to the Guadalupe Box in my mind. I have had so many wonderful experiences there over the years that the stream will carry my ashes when my fishing days are through. This photo was taken by me in 1998 fishing the same hole I was fishing with Mark Taylor in 1986.
A trip on the Valles Caldera
Jemez Mountains - Valles Caldera National Preserve - June 2006
I was fortunate enough to be on the winners list for a day of fishing on the Rio San Antonio in the Valles Caldera National Preserve for June 3rd. So I naturally invited my 9 year old great-grandson Brandon to go with me. The size of the fishing beats are designed for only two.
Rio San Antonio
Brandon and I arrived at the staging area about 6:45 am and after orientation we got in the van that took us to Beat 1, just below the headwaters of the Rio San Antonio and within about 10 minutes Brandon threw his first cast and as soon as the fly hit the water an instant strike. A nice brown was brought to hand. Fishing was looking up the day. And it was. Every hole, run and pool had many fish in them. We got on our hands and knees to fish this water, the only way success can be had. The fish in this stream are very skittish and a low profile is absolutely a must.
We fished upstream on the beat, about one mile long by road but at least two miles of water because of the serpentine nature of the flow of the stream. This is good because this condition creates a lot of bends and good pocket water and some large pools. This is truly one-cast water and if miss a fish or spook them you get no other chances until later, sometime much later. Brandon and I stopped to have a snack of cheese and crackers about 10:00 am and by then Brandon had caught and released 8 fish; all browns. We tried a black ant pattern, a Royal Wulff pattern and a red Humpy pattern and Brandon caught a couple more. We then tied on the black deer hair hopper pattern that we started with and that turned out to be the best pattern of the day.
We fished to the end of the beat and fished a little further towards to headwaters and headed back to where we started. We found the only rock in the San Antonio Valley large enough to create some shade and sat back for lunch at 12:30. We sat and rested telling each other wars stories and remembrances of some of our trips together. We really enjoy being with each other. Brandon is such a good boy and such a pleasure to have with me on these trips. He is a very quick study and is learning the ways of a good steward of the wonderful land we have the pleasure of exploring. After about an hour or so we started fishing downstream and fishing the same runs and pools we fished on the way up. There were fish everywhere. We counted 8-12 fish in each pool we saw. A short time after we started again Brandon set the hook in a 14 inch brown and boy was he excited. He took the advice of the guy who was giving the orientation at the staging area earlier and played the fish for only a short while but enjoyed every minute of it.
We got back to the where we started about 2:30 and Brandon and I saw what appeared to be a large fish rising to insects in a deep large pool and Brandon was determined to catch it. He cast many times right over the rising trout and the fish just was not interested in his fly but it sure was interested in everything on the water around it. We finally stood up and a very large wave moved across the water reminiscent of what a submarine must look like before it descends. We finally got a good look at it and it was at least 18 inches long. Brandon and I both know those things just happed at times.
The van arrived at 3:00 and by them Brandon had caught and released 18 nice brown trout. We spooked many times over the number of fish Brandon caught but it was a remarkable day with my grandson. Brandon had a nice nap on the 40 minute drive back to the staging area. We saw many elk and some coyotes. The elk were calving so the coyotes were busy prancing around and the elk moving away from them.
By 5:15 Brandon and I were in Jemez Springs having the traditional ice cream after another short nap and a long day of fishing in the Jemez. It was a great day with my grandson and I hope to have another soon.
Take US 550 Bernalillo exit off I-25 to the town of San Ysidro. Head north on NM 4 which follows the Jemez River and the road continues to Los Alamos to the north. The Jemez River is about 50 miles northwest of Albuquerque and about 40 miles from Santa Fe.
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