Friday, August 3, 2018

Fishing the Rio Grande: by Taylor Streit

Global warming has not been devastating to the Rio Grande—at least, not up to now. We have had nearly year-round fishing for the last few years, but there are record low water levels on the Rio now. Fortunately our grand river has many springs that feed the Rio and fishing has held up. But you need to be aware of poorer water conditions in high summer. This is caused by mud that washes into the Red River just below the town of the same name. Unfortunately the first event of this nature happened already—in early summer. Subsequent fouling’s will occur with the addition of virtually any rainfall. The ugly yellow water can be avoided by fishing above the Rio’s confluence with the Red—at Wild Rivers Recreation Area. (But that’s all a big deal of a hike so call Taos Fly Shop for the latest on conditions.)
Although I’ve written before that “canyon streams fish best when low,” I should have added, ‘well ya, to a point’. Such extremes will change the nature of a river—making what used to be pocket water—watch pocket water.  And what used to be productive riffle water–dry land. Keep that in mind when you imagine fishing on your favorite hunk of Rio. Following are various types of water found over the 50 miles of the Rio Grande from the Colorado border south. No matter the angler’s depth of experience there are few places that fish quite like the Rio Grande (the Pulmari in northern Patagonia.) This is where you really want a guide well-experienced on the Rio.
Slow sections should pretty much be avoided now. Low water usually equates to warm water and trout will gravitate to the fast white-water portions of the river where oxygen content is high. There are still trout in the slow water but unless they are rising it is impossible to figure out where the fish will be. Where there is a bit of a current that noticeably slides around a rock there may be a fish there. But generally you want to walk these slow portions and  just put a couple of casts beside rocks that have a visible flow beside them. And then get to the fast water.
Shallow riffle water is made up of smallish loose rock and usually has the most food and consequently the most trout. The fish won’t be as big there, as they will probably be in deeper water, but there may be surprises. This usually means fishing a dry/dropper and wading in as deep as you can––and as far downstream in the riffle as possible—to make the most of this good water.
Fish a “hopper/dropper” rig as it is a tried and true method that is used up and down the Rio and can be customized for various types of water. In this case the angler might want to start out in the lower, deeper portions of the riffle with a nymph three-feet down from the dry. Then shorten it as you move upstream into the shallow water. Make your cast of moderate length and fish systematically from one side to the other. Space your cast a couple feet apart. Keep the fly in the water as long as it is getting a good drift. (Don’t pick up and recast when you are still getting a good drift.) Let the fly swing to the surface occasionally as there are days when they will go for that.
Deep and fast water abounds in the Rio. If there are boulders throughout it you are in the good stuff. Such structure makes for funnels and eddies where food will be channeled. Chutes of medium speed currents are where the big fish live. This is very technical fishing and most experienced fly fisherman think that technical means casting far. Not so! such water in the Rio should be fished with a short line. With the short line there is a much better chance to hook  and land large trout because a long line tends to get wrapped around boulders as the fish is being fought.
Our standard rig is three flies with a large (#8) well-floating dry fly as your hand fly. The middle fly is more for weight than anything else and my favorite is the Poundmiester and/or a 12-14 red Copper John. For the deeper sections you would want this 30-inches from the dry. One foot below that should be the real fish catcher–an Olive Micro May in size 16 or 18.
That last little fly is what the big rainbows eat as they are partial to feeding on the free-drifting nymph of the Blue Winged Olive (BWO) mayfly. The big cutbows occupy those funnels to get the nymphs that pass by. The browns are more indiscriminate about what they eat and occupy different areas of the Rio. The browns are more in-shore and cover-orientated, while the bows like the deep waters of midstream. They will usually take the larger nymph–and sometimes the dry. And that brings up another critical component to fishing the Rio. Fish your side. It is tough to get a good drift on the far-side. You may raise fish on the far side but the fly will usually be dragging and the trout will seldom get hooked.
There is a certain type of water throughout the canyon that seems pretty boring to fish––medium speed  currents with quick drop offs from the banks where you cant see the bottom.  Not the most fun place to fish as you have to negotiate the boulders and pound long monotonous currents. Consequently this water is seldom fished and there’s miles of it. It takes a trained eye to figure where and how to fish this stuff. My son Nick will use two nymphs on an indicator rig fished quite deep. When you start catchin’ and outwittin’ such a plain and non-descript spot it feels like quite the coup.
When trout are rising in the caddis hatch this type of water is great to fish. As trout will cruise along the rocks and pick insects off them. If the angler stands back from the edge of the river about the length of the rod and skates and skims two flies around these rocks it can be exciting fishing. This type of water will also fish well near dark as trout prowl the edges.
When walking back downstream to the trail at the end of the fishing day tie on a dark streamer and slap it around these rocky banks. These stretches of the Rio are usually narrow enough to break the “don’t fish the other side” rule when streamers are fished in low-light. Trout can get very aggressive and they are gonna grab the big fly  right off—if they are a-mind-to.


  1. Hi Taylor! A very nice article. I will be in Taos September 27, 28,29. I have a trip booked with shop and hope to fish the Rio. Hopefully in the Gorge...but I am always open minded. My friend Mike Hartman will come with us and is not a fly fisher...yet. I will try to give him a basic lesson two here on Lake Coronado first.

    Your friend,
    Derrell Nantze


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