Valle Vidal Fly Fishing
The Valle Vidal is a 100,000-acre unit of the Carson National Forest near the New Mexico/Colorado border, located northwest of Cimarron, NM. This large section of land encompasses several valleys and towering peaks rich in pristine native and wild trout waters. The two main species include Rio Grande Cutthroats (RGC) and cut-bows. Originally inhabited with just the native cutthroats, stocking of rainbows throughout the years has created the hybridization of the cutthroats. Today fly fishers can still catch some native RGC; most of the cut-bows still look like and considered to be pure RGC.
The main river in the Valle Vidal is the Rio Costilla, located in the extreme northwestern corner of the unit. The river originates high up in Colorado and flows through private ranch land before entering the Valle Vidal a couple hundred yards below the Costilla Reservoir. The river continues southwesterly for 6-8 miles before entering into private land open to the public through a lease with New Mexico Game and Fish (NMGF).
This classic high country meadow stream averages 10-20 feet wide and features one of two scenarios. Fast riffles feeding into deep bend pools with undercut banks and fast riffles feeding into long deep pools and runs. Plush grass lines most of the stream in this section. The grassy banks support a healthy grasshopper population supplying the cutthroats with a steady diet in July and August. A few tight areas exist but seldom get fished. Most of the trout are vibrantly colored averaging 7-12 inches, 12-16 inchers aren’t uncommon, just wiser.
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Working the Rio Costilla isn’t challenging. The challenge comes in setting the hook. Most of these trout are quick and eager to gulp in a dry fly. There are basically two types of strikes on the Costilla. The Costilla fastball is a strike liking that of a Nolan Ryan fastball, many never see it until its too late. The other strike is the Costilla change-up common in the slower waters.
Hatch Chart The Costilla is a small tail-water released out of Costilla Reservoir. Flows during the week can be as high as 100 cubic feet per second (cfs), but average between 65-85 cfs. On the weekends the flows are lower ranging between 15-30 cfs. When mid week flows are extremely high nymphing may be the best bet. Low flows provide delightful dry fly fishing for these lively cutthroats. Wading the swift water during the week generally isn’t a challenge but always use caution. Hip waders work well during times of high and low flows.
NMGF, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife and New Mexico Trout and several private land owners are actively working together to maintain and expand the populations of native RGC in the Valle and throughout the state. In an effort to help maintain this fragile species please abide by the artificial flies with single, barbless hooks and catch-n-release regulations. The Valle Vidal is open for fishing July 1 through December 31. There is an area designated as Special Trout Waters for the Rio Costilla. Several smaller streams flow through the Valle, some hold populations of native RGC and others are extremely fragile. Please help bring back the natives by looking and watching but not fishing these tiny streams.
Getting to the Valle Vidal isn’t easy. Anglers can head in from the east side; a sign marks the turnoff from US Highway 64, 4 miles north of Cimarron, NM. In past years this road has claimed many tires, the road is in better shape these days. For the west side travel north of Taos on Highway 522, turn right on Highway 196 at the town of Costilla, this eventually turns into a rough dirt road and becomes Forest Service Rd 1950/1900 that parallels Rio Costilla. There are no services once you get outside of either Cimarron or Costilla so plan accordingly.
Smack dab in the middle of the Valle Vidal are the Shuree Ponds, just off of Forest Service Rd. 1950. Only two ponds hold trout. The smaller is designated as a kids’ pond for kids 12 and under and is easily fished from the banks. The main pond is approximately 5 acres in size with much of the shore being open. Float tubing this lake is a great way to work the deep areas in the middle. This lake is a popular fishing spot being minutes from the Cimarron Campground. The lake is stocked throughout the summer with 12-16 rainbows. 16-20 inch