Small Streams And Tributaries Have Good Fishing

Photo by George Morse/

Photo by George Morse/

Sports and Outdoors
Los Alamos Daily Post

With the temperatures soaring here in the Espanola Valley and the big rivers still swollen with runoff, escaping the heat and finding good fishing in flowing water was a challenge. There are several viable options for local anglers. Head to the high country and fish the smaller headwater streams and tributaries where runoff has peaked and the water levels are falling.

Los Alamos-based anglers can head to the Jemez Mountains where the water is dropping fast. The flow in the Jemez River has dropped below normal. The Jemez and its East Fork are fishing well. Other fine small streams in the area include the Rio Cebolla, Rio San Antonio and the Rio de las Vacas. These streams are well-stocked with rainbow trout by the State Department of Game and Fish. All of these streams have naturally-reproducing populations of brown trout. Despite the small size of these streams, there are some surprisingly big brown trout in them.

In its highest headwaters, especially in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness Area, the Rio de las Vacas has Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

Be sure to pick up a Santa Fe National Forest map. They are indispensable when it comes to locating Forest Service Roads and identifying public and private land

Near Espanola, one good option is the Rio Vallecitos and its tributary, the Rio Tusas. A recent trip to the Vallecitos above Canon Plaza, the flow was still pretty good, but way down from what it had been earlier in the spring. Walking along the banks, you could clearly see where the water had been flowing not too long ago. This section of the river is heavily overgrown with willows. The water was crystal clear and still cold. This section of the Vallecitos has wild brown trout. They are tough fighters and can grow to nice sizes. The fast, cold water they live in makes them especially hard fighters for their size.

It’s tough fishing because of the streamside willows. It is cool and beautiful. I caught a few brown trout, keeping one for a meal.

As the water drops even farther in the streams, it may be better to walk right in the river itself to fish it. Fly fishers may want to wait a little longer for the water to drop even more. Standing in the river will give you more room for your backcast. The flow is still a little strong. I plan on exploring this section of river further this summer. The section I fished had no real pools and was mostly fast water with some pockets behind rocks that held fish. I have a hunch if I could find some bigger pools they would be loaded with fish.

The last time I visited the very headwaters of the Vallecitos below Hopewell Lake (much of this is on private land), it was still loaded with cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and hybrids of the two species. The brown trout had not yet invaded this section of the river. I’d like to see if I can find where the trout in the Vallecitos transition from brown trout to rainbow and cutthroat trout.

The lower sections of the Vallecitos flow through a mixture of private land and Carson National Forest lands. There are some big brown trout in this secton (over 20 inches), but the window to catch them is closing fast. The high water of spring runoff seems to bring the big fish out. Once the water gets low in the summer, those big brown trout seem too disappear. They are still there, but exceedingly skittish and hard to catch.

The Rio Tusas joins the Vallecitos at La Madera. The very headwaters of the Rio Tusas has some of the best high meadow stream fishing to be found. It isn’t easy to reach. There’s a lot of private land and you have to hike in from Forest Service Road 80. Some of the most beautiful wild rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and hybrids of the two species inhabit this stream. Because of the meadow setting, it is ideal for fly fishing. I plan on exploring the Tusas as well.

These streams lie in the Carson National Forest, so be sure to pick up a map.