Valles Caldera National Preserve, located in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico is a prime spot for outdoor activities. The preserve is an amazing place to go for the day to hike, fish, drive, or bike. The cost is $20 a vehicle for a back country pass, and it is so worth it! The only time of year I have been is during the summer. Its up higher in altitude so it remains relatively cool, and there is always the chance of an afternoon rain. The sights and views are nothing short of fantastic, even with the burn scar the preserve suffered back in 2011.
My first visit to Valles Caldera was June of 2014, my Dad and I went to try it out after hearing about the beauty of this place. We chose to fish the San Antonio, which starts in the northernmost part of the preserve and flows west. It starts out as a narrow stream, not more than a a yard or two wide, at times even less. Further down the stream it widens and gets a little more shallow. In order to fish this small stream you have to feel comfortable casting into a small stream. Your cast will make or break your fishing in the small streams. Stealth and accuracy are your best friends.
First thing you’ll notice is the width of the stream, although it is narrow, there are good enough holes, up against the banks, for the fish to hide out. The key is casting from further away from the stream, and longer upstream than you typically would in such a small stream. My Dad won’t agree with me, and neither will “expert fly fisherman,” but I don’t think you need to let your fly drift to far downstream. I tend to only hook fish the minute my fly hits the water. Keep in mind I have only fished Valles Caldera in the summer months. The fly needs to be dry and big enough for you to see it, but not so big the small brown trout can’t grab the hook. You WILL NOT always feel the fish bite, there are some small fish in there! Watch the water, watch your fly, and wait for a fish mouth to gobble it up. Polarized sunglasses are a must have when you fly fish anytime any where so that you can see the water and that fish mouth.
When I fish the Valles Caldera I use a dry fly. Usually a grass hopper or a mayfly. Honestly though, if it has a tail or legs, and you can see it, give it a try. If after 20 minutes you haven’t had a single bite, switch it out for something different.
The best fishing I did in Valles Caldera was this summer, and I was fishing with different variations of elk-hair caddis and mayflies, all dry. One of the reasons the fishing was great was the time of day. I always try to start fishing before 10 AM. I think of it this way, the fish like to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner just like us, and of course they’ll take a snack if it is prepared beautifully. In the morning they bite, and at around 2-3 PM something is usually hatching, and that is prime time fishing. I’ve also heard, but not yet tried, night time fishing. Apparently brown trouts turn into voracious hunters when the sun goes down. Okay, back to my trip, the other reason it was such great fishing was the weather. Rain brings fish. I don’t ask questions, I just know that I catch fish when it rains. The dark clouds, the blazing lightning, the roaring thunder, and the cool rain scared people off, but not me. I came to fish, and I was not ready to quit. I put on my poncho, prayed that the lightning didn’t hit the bright yellow girl holding a nine foot metal rod, and kept fishing. It was so worth it! I was catching fish after fish. They were all average 8-10″ browns. They were hitting quick and hard.
Later in the afternoon, post rain, a hatch opened up. I couldn’t tell you what it was. My insect education isn’t quite there yet, but what I can tell you is that it had a tail and was most likely a may fly. Now, most people will tell you to match the hatch to your fly and you will catch fish, but I get a little more creative than that and usually do okay. These small stream fish are not too picky, and do not see as much action as the big river, quality prize fish get. I matched the color, and cast my dry elk haired caddis into the stream. It is bigger and bushier than a mayfly, and the fish loved it! It would hit the water between a pile of a drowning mayfly, also known as a fish all you can eat buffet, and the fish would choose the elk hair caddis instead! It was a NY strip steak versus a filet!
Anytime I have fished the Valles Caldera I have caught 10-30 fish ranging from 4 inches to 12 inches. If you are looking for size, Jemez stream waters are not the place to fish. If you are looking to catch fish back to back to back, and have a hell of a view while you are doing it, then Valles Caldera is the place to go!
I know I need to stick to my strengths, and mainly tell you about fly fishing, but I think I have told you enough of my Valles Caldera fishing secrets. I have to show you a few other reasons why visiting the Valles Caldera is such a rewarding thing to do. I live in New Mexico. I was born and raised here, and I had no idea this diamond in the rough existed. New Mexico is just one of those places, it always has something more beautiful, more special, and more unique around every corner.
When we went to the Valles Caldera it was Elk calving season. All the elk mamas were having their babies. Valles Caldera has one of the largest, if not the largest, elk population in New Mexico. We had the chance to see a baby elk and a mama grazing, and when that mama elk saw our car she took off running to draw us away from her calf and the calf dove into the long grass, to hide until she returned. It was a beautiful moment to witness.
There are also a ton of grazing cattle who call the preserve their home in the summer. Believe me when I say, they are not afraid of people, or cars. They will invade your space while you fish, and take over the whole road while you are walking or driving through. When I got close enough to moo at them on foot, they did eventually run away. Also, notice that this is a dirt road. It is not always a smooth ride, and if it perchance rains, you will need all-wheel drive. Plan on an hour drive from the ranger station to the stream.
Now the best part of my 2014 trip to the Valles Caldera with my dad was not the fishing. Wait! Don’t curse me, The picture explains it all! On our way back to the entrance from fishing there were three horses waiting for us at the gate. My Dad and I are horse crazy, well animal crazy.
We want all the animals to be our friends, and when we saw those horses we couldn’t resist! We rolled down the windows to give the horses apples and breakfast crackers, and it was an amazing mistake. One of the horses would not leave me alone after his apple treat, and stuck his entire head in our car, and nudging my head for more apples.
Needless to say, Valles Caldera is a magical place. If you are a nature lover, if you need
some rest and relaxation, if you want to catch and release a ton of fish, then the Valles Caldera is a place you need to go visit. I encourage everyone to be a tourist in your own state, province, country, and even city. Doing things like this make for a great adventure!
Thanks again for reading, and please continue to share my blog. I am really starting to get excited when I post and see more and more people who read about little old me, and little old New Mexico fly fishing!
Last bits of important fishing advice: when fishing protected waters always use single barbless hooks. This is better for the fish and gives other people the chance to catch the fish you return to the water! Always have a state fishing license, and lastly, I wish you good fishing, cast your heart out, curse when you miss a bite, and smile when you hook ’em!