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Flyfishing New Mexico 101 – A How to Guide

Posted by on September 1, 2007

The author casts while fishing at Eagle Nest lake in Northeast New Mexico during a summer of 2007 trip.Photo courtesy of Greg Faught, Green Mountain Anglers.

So maybe you wanted to learn to fly fish this summer but after a visit to one of Santa Fe’s fly shops you were left wondering how, what with the cost of a rod, reel and a day’s instruction on the water running around $600.

No need to worry, here’s a few low cost tips that’ll have you out on the water and fly fishing in no time at all!

Bill Orr, former manager of the High Desert Angler fly shop and co-author of the book “Fly Patterns of Northern New Mexico,” suggests beginners save their cash for gas instead of hiring a guide or buying a lot of high-end gear.

“You don’t need them,” Orr, now a sixth-grade schoolteacher, says. “You need to just get out there and teach yourself.”

For starters, beginners might want to read up on the subject with a simple, easy to comprehend guide such as L.L. Bean’s “Fly-Fishing Handbook” by Dave Whitlock or Dan Holland’s “Trout Fisherman’s Bible.” The local library may carry some classics such as Ray Bergman’s “Trout” or Robert Traver’s “Trout Madness” that could whet your appetite for fishing.

Of course once you decide to go, you’ll need a serviceable rod and reel rigged with backing, fly line and a leader. A two-piece, eight and a half-foot, five weight is a good, all-around rod for New Mexico’s waters and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a low cost, fly fishing combo kit to get you started.

L.L. Bean sells an Angler Fly Rod Outfit, ready to fish for about $75. A complete rod and reel package by Scientific Angler can be found on the shelf at Wal-Mart for about the same money. For twice that money but still half of what you’d pay for the cheapest outfit at a Santa Fe fly shop, Cabela’s offers their Genesis outfits for $150 that also include a chest pack, a fly box full of trout flies and accessories like nippers, forceps, leaders, weights, fly floatant and strike indicators.

You’ll need some of these accessories on the water, like a pair of fingernail clippers to snip off line, a pair of forceps or small needle nose pliers to remove hooks and smash down their barbs, a bottle of fly floatant to keep your dry flies working and a strike indicator for when you’re fishing nymphs on the bottom.

You’ll probably want an extra leader and a spool of 5X and 6X weight tippet and a fishing vest to carry your gear, but a fanny pack or even a shirt with big pockets will work.

And you’ll need a good all-around selection of flies including a couple of size 12 stimulators, a few size 16 elk-hair Caddis, and size 18 Adams dry flies. For nymphs, grab a few pheasant-tails, hares’ ear, princes, Warden’s Worry and Wooley Boogers in black, Orr suggests.

Beginners can wear a pair of old sneakers and shorts to wade in the summertime and buy a pair of inexpensive, hip-waders for use in the fall and winter.

Armed with this gear, the self starter can head out, perhaps even carrying a copy of “Fly-Fishing in Northern New Mexico” or Taylor Streit’s “Fly Fishing New Mexico” to lead the way.

Beginners will want to start on water with plenty of fish so they can get some practice at reading the water, casting, detecting a strike and setting the hook and how to play, land and release a fish unharmed.

It’s important for beginners to learn and practice catch and release fishing to help ensure trout remain available to be caught and released yet another day.

Beginners can start with a quick trip to a nearby river such as the Pecos River, east of Santa Fe, where fish are regularly stocked. While there, the beginner can watch other anglers to pick up tips and ask questions if so inclined.

Beginners can also monitor the weekly fishing report found in the Outdoors section of the Santa Fe New Mexican for ideas on where to fish and also visit websites like for stories about fishing the West and links to fishing and stream flow reports.

If this sounds like just too much work, consider the reasoning behind it all.

Orr remembers how his father put him on a small creek in Colorado at the tender age of 4. They snuck up on a hole, parted the trees back and his dad handed him a rod and told him to “set” the fly on the water. Up came a beautiful brook trout to take the fly, it ran about in the water, tugging at the little boy’s arm and then there it was in hand, its shimmering, colorful body captivating him.

Orr has been fly fishing ever since.

“And it has taken me to some really neat and beautiful places,” he says.

And that’s probably one of the best reasons for learning to fly fish in New Mexico: The opportunity to visit and fish an endless number of great places including fabled spots like the Rio Costilla on the Valle Vidal, the blue ribbon San Juan River and the Wild Rivers Recreation Area in the Rio Grande Gorge.

And maybe then the newborn angler can begin to understand and entertain the need for all that expensive gear found at the fly shop.

On second thought, maybe it’d be better just to save the money for gas and get back out there.

This story originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Outdoors section.

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