The day to day can be a real chore sometimes, but every now and then there are incredible moments or places that can lift you so far and high out of the ordinary that everything that unfolds in front of you can seem almost dreamlike. If it’s been a while since you’ve felt the latter, i highly recommend a trip to northern New Mexico and the many surreal fishing opportunities it provides.

Years ago my wife and i spent a week or two each summer in the Taos area, her knitting or working on various art projects while i fished the days away. For the last few years though we’ve spent summer vacations in Colorado, where i’ve managed to explore small creeks for trout and have an over all amazing time. This year however we returned to our previous stomping grounds around Taos partly because my eleven year old son wanted to spend some time in a new place (for him) and partly because it meant we could load the car with amenities and make a very last minute road trip to a place that always seemed to feed our souls in some way.


Although the 12 hour trip took much longer due to an insane downpour and flooding waters that sent vehicles in front of us hydroplaning off into muddy fields, we eventually made it to our campsite in the Cimmaron State Park sometime close to midnight, all of us a little on edge after 15 hours straight in an extremely packed car.

The next day as the sun rose over the canyon walls, lighting the orange walls of our tent, all the troubles of the previous day washed away in the warm light bouncing from wall to wall. Crawling out of the luminous, nylon tangerine, i heard the sound of water lurching from rock face to rock face and immediately felt the call of adventure.


Sitting at close to 8,ooo feet, Cimarron State Park runs up and down the Cimarron River which is nestled deep in a canyon framed by 12,000 foot mountains and cliffs called the Palisades Sill. The area is so verdant with flora and fauna that sections of it feel like an odd cross between Colorado high mountain desert and portions of the Pacific Northwest. The river’s flow is a controlled via Eagle Nest Lake and typically runs anywhere from 2-50CFS (something i would personally consider a creek). Along the eight mile stretch of public waters are waters that contain on average 3,000 trout per mile, which is a hell of a lot of trout in case you’re wondering.


As with most canyon waters the river and the road that follow it are closely intertwined, crossing each other in a tight weave all the way down the canyon walls until they both open up into private land and waters. The bad news is that much of the water is seldom far from a parking spot, and the fish and the surrounding nature gets used and abused on a regular basis. The good news is that there are a handful of spots that require some serious bush-wacking and patience to reach. Well these spots can be incredibly rewarding (below), they are what i would easily classify as technical fly-fishing (above) with trees and shrubs lining every inch of the bank and downed trees and structure making almost every cast require pinpoint accuracy.


Along with the promise of trout comes an inherent sense of being in the “real wilderness”. Despite your close proximity to a road you’re still well over an hour from anything that can even remotely be called a town, that would be Taos. Cell phone signals thankfully disappear in the canyon and are instantly replaced by beavers, deer, elk. humming birds, and occasionally the random brown bear which i freakishly ran across one evening while driving back to the campsite at dusk. The scent that wafted in to my car as i watched the behemoth mass of brown fur cross the road and sprint up the mountainous incline as if the loose rock and intense grade were a joke. I’ve smelled a lot of nature smells in my years wandering the wilderness, but there was a distinct smell left by this giant had every cell of my body screaming “THIS CAN KILL YOU!”. It’s a level of appreciation and fear that anyone that has been in that circumstance can relate to.


As for the fishing? The waters are stocked on a regular basis with farm raised Rainbow trout with most of them falling in at 7-10 inches, which is pretty fantastic when your using a 2WT on a stretch of water that probably averages six feet wide and one foot deep. The true treasures on the Cimarron though were the native brown trout which fought aggressively and consistently came in at 10-15 inches. While i love a good rainbow, the browns seemed to emanate something that made them feel like part of their no holds bar ecosystem, unlike their pellet fed brethren.


Sure it’s not the die hard backcountry experience, but if you’re short on time, or have non-anglers in the crew you’d be hard pressed to find a better place that can please everybody. There’s just enough people nearby that you don’t feel isolated, but just enough elbow room that you can freely ignore them is you choose. In a strange way that’s true of the fishing and the level of wilderness you’re going to experience here. You can easily while away the days a few feet from the road catching unlimited quantities of stocked rainbows while catching the occasional prairie dog or beaver sighting, or you can wander off a ways and find some tenacious brown trout lurking in unmolested pools that sit along trees and cliffs that feel as though they hide every elk, mountain lion and bear in the vicinity.

Regardless of what you choose, you’re bound to get caught up in the beauty of the place. It’s full of powerful energy. It’s charismatic. It’s lush. It’s welcoming while still being stand offish, and most importantly, it possesses the ability to suck you in and calm you with the hypnotic sound of water constantly falling over itself, trout rising, and a new adventure lurking around every bend.