Catching a 5-pound rainbow trout is possible on the Conejos River throughout the summer and fall seasons, but you better be willing to get up early before the fish fill up.
The Conejos River runs southeast, turns east toward Antonito, then empties into the famous Rio Grande. A dirt forest service road parallels the river from just below its headwaters, where the Conejos is briefly impounded at Platoro Reservoir – the highest large reservoir in the state at approximately 10,000 feet – to where it meets Colorado Highway 17. Over 80 miles of river – about 40 percent of which is public – offers quality brown and rainbow trout fishing, not counting the endless tributaries snaking in from the hillsides.
The Conejos emerges from fertile volcanic rock in the Rio Grande National Forest’s South San Juan Wilderness, just north of the New Mexico border. This is wild country – the last confirmed grizzly bear in Colorado was killed here in 1979 – and the area sees few visitors compared to the nearby Weminuche Wilderness. The nearest towns are Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado, and they’re as small as they come. The historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Narrow Guage Railroad transports the occasional tourist between Antonito and Chama, New Mexico, on a half-day journey over a 10,000-foot pass.
The area’s isolation is part of the Conejos’ appeal, translating to guaranteed solitude and willing, wild trout. Even if the Conejos garnered widespread publicity, fishing pressure would likely remain light. Denver is almost a five-hour drive, and Santa Fe and Albuquerque, at approximately three hours, aren’t exactly close.
The Conejos River has wide meadows with ample casting room, a deep canyon called The Pinnacles where bruiser browns lurk, long runs, productive riffles, pocket water, deep bends and everything in between.
If you prefer a certain type of water, you’ll probably find it on the Conejos. The river boasts endless insect life. Entomology surveys show more species of stoneflies than any other river in the Colorado. This is a testament to the cold, oxygen-rich water and an almost total lack of nearby development. The Conejos is as pure as they come.