By Dave Klosterman (April 2023)
While the rivers and streams of New Mexico garner most of the efforts of the state’s fly fisherman, the lakes hold better opportunities for bigger trout. And larger numbers of fish per outing. New Mexico’s lakes are also far less crowded, especially when fished from a float tube, kayak or small boat.
In general, you should think north for trout lakes and south for warmwater species lakes. However, during late fall and winter, most southern and southwestern lakes are stocked with trout. Another prime fishing opportunity to pursue is Northern Pike and Muskie fishing. Just about all state managed lakes have been stocked with these efficient predators. Large streamer flies that resemble trout or perch work well. You will want to up the size of your fly rod for these toothy critters – go with at least a seven weight.
A brief note on New Mexico Game and Fish. They do an outstanding job of stocking that states streams, rivers and lakes. The Game & Fish department is far more active in providing good fishing opportunities than most states, and certainly far better than the state I moved from (cough..Oregon..cough)
Trout Lakes to strongly consider for good numbers of fish and large fish are the Jicarilla Apache Lakes. These lakes require a permit from the Jicarilla Tribe to fish them and your permit must be carried on your person while on tribal land. Coming through the long lasting New Mexico drought, only Mundo, Enbom and Stone lakes are fishable – as of this writing. The other lakes went dry. This winter has delivered much snow on tribal lands and the lakes have been filling. Hopefully, Stone Lake will refill above the boat ramp.
A safety tip for the Jicarilla Lakes: If you have to get out of your water craft anywhere but the boat ramps – be very careful. The lake bottoms are a muddy marl clay combination that will really grab on to your lower legs. Another issue is the winds that can come up any time on these lakes. The winds can pin you on the far bank away from your car.
The trout in the Jicarilla lakes are known for their rapid weight gains and outstanding fighting abilities. They truly do punch well above their weight class. A fifteen – eighteen inch trout from these lakes will fight stronger than twenty inch fish from other lakes.
Flies to use: I have found that Seal Buggers in various colors in size ten and eight work extremely well on these waters. Good colors to use are dark olive brown, dark brown, burgundy, burnt orange and black. Balanced leeches under an indicator produce big time. Buggers in size six work very well in the fall on Mundo. Damsel nymphs and emergers such as Callibaetis are very productive when hatching takes place.
Other trout lakes that I have fished and can recommend are as follows: Hopewell Lake, Maloya Lake, Morphy Lake and Fenton Lake. All of these lakes are stocked frequently by Game & Fish. All of them also get stocked from time to time with bigger fish. My impression is that Hopewell seems to get stocked with large trout more frequently than the other lakes.
Hopewell Lake: The north end of the lake has extensive weed beds that produce a lot of trout. While trout can be found anywhere in the lake, the weed beds and old creek channel holds the most trout. Flies: This lake has good insect populations, so take dries and emerger patterns when you go. I’ve found that Buggers and Stillwater Nymphs always produce at Hopewell. This lake is at 10,000 MSL, and is subject to high winds and summer storms. Keep and eye on the weather while fishing.
Maloya Lake: I fished it for three days last fall and was very happy with the fishing. Lots of action on trout from eleven to fourteen inches with enough larger trout to make it interesting. This is a big, long lake with shallow areas on the west side and in the north end of the lake. Good weed beds and drop offs that hold fish. Wind – The lake is oriented north & south and since it is in NE New Mexico, gets pounded with winds. With a north wind you can safely fish the north end shallows. With a southerly wind, be careful and stay close to your take out point.
Morphy Lake: This small lake sits at 8000’ up above Mora, NM. It’s bowl shaped with extensive feeding shallows with weed beds in the boat ramp area. One of the best areas to fish is on the west side of the dam. There are extensive weed beds there, and lots of fish. There was a horrendous fire last year that went through this area. I’ve heard that the Morphy Lake campground was spared, but have not seen it this year. Flies to use: all standard lake flies work well here. The catch rate will mainly be eleven to thirteen inch fish, with occasional large fish.
Fenton Lake: This lake is the closest good fishing lake to Albuquerque. It’s also a very beautiful place to fish. Consequently, the lake gets crowded with bank anglers. From a float tube or other water craft, it’s never crowded. The lake has a couple of springs in it, and the east end of the lake is a broad, shallow feeding area for the trout. There are a couple of spots on the old creek bed that hold larger fish. It’s a good place to go to catch a lot of fish, and larger trout when they are stocked. Flies: Buggers work extremely well in all the standard colors. Emerger patterns like soft hackles are also good during hatches.
There are many more lakes to fish in New Mexico. The one’s listed here are the lakes I’ve had the best experiences on (caught the most fish). The long drought in New Mexico that may (hopefully) be ending really damaged some of the state’s lake fisheries. For example, McAllister Lake, in the wildlife refuge outside of Las Vegas, totally dried up. This lake used to be one of the best fisheries in the entire state! I called the Refuge to see if McAllister has started to fill back up. The person I spoke with didn’t seem to know there was/is a McAllister Lake.
I haven’t touched on warm water species fly fishing or pike fly fishing because I haven’t had direct experience fishing for these species – yet! I have fly fished for carp at a couple of lakes and yes, that is some good fishing as well. It is very hard to get past the great lake fishing for trout in New Mexico.