Rio Chama – Chama River New Mexico Fly Fishing Guide

Ed Adams New Mexico Fly Fishing Guide

The Rio Chama originates in south-central Colorado, just above the New Mexico border in the San Juan Mountains and Rio Grande National Forest. The main stream Rio Chama begins at the confluence of two short headwater tributaries called West Fork and East Fork. The West Fork flows eastward from the Continental Divide. Across the divide lies the Navajo River, one of the headwater tributaries of the Colorado River. The East Fork extends a few miles into Conejos County, Colorado to a source near one of the headwater tributaries of the Conejos River. The confluence of the forks lies just within Archuleta County, Colorado. From there the Rio Chama flows generally south. After a few miles the river enters Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, and flows by the town of Chama. The tributary Willow Creek joins the Rio Chama after being impounded as Heron Lake by Heron Dam. Willow Creek flows from the dam about 1,000 feet to the Rio Chama. A couple miles below that the Rio Chama flows into El Vado Lake, a reservoir created by El Vado Dam.


From El Vado Dam the Rio Chama continues flowing south, entering Chama Canyon and Santa Fe National Forest and the Chama River Canyon Wilderness. It is joined by Rio Cebolla from the east, then Rio Gallina from the west. Then the river enters Abiquiu Lake, the reservoir created by Abiquiu Dam. The tributary Rio Puerco joins the Rio Chama in Abiquiu Lake.

Below Abiquiu Dam the Rio Chama flows generally east, skirting the edge of Carson National Forest. It flows by the town of Abiquiú, located at the mouth of Abiquiu Creek, after which it turns to flow generally southeast. Near the villages of Chili and La Chuachia the Rio Chama is joined by two of its primary tributaries. The Rio del Oso joins from the west then, within less than a mile, the Rio Ojo Caliente joins from the northeast. From there the Rio Chama flows several miles southeast to join the Rio Grande near Ohkay Owingeh, about 5 miles north of the city of Espanola and approximately 30 miles north of Santa Fe.

Water flow: 400 CFS below Abiquiu, 29 CFS below El Vado, ICE at La Puente

Visibility: 4 inches

Water temperature at mid-day: 45 Degrees F

Water condition: Moderately Turbid

Best time of day to fish: Mid morning

Best stretch: El Vado spring thru fall, Abiquiu fall thru early spring, La Puente Late June- August

Best access point: Below Abiquiu Dam and below El Vado Dam

Fly fishing hatches in order of importance: Stoneflies (freestone section) Baetis Craneflies Caddis Midges olive may nymph patters

Fish species: Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Rio Grande Cutthroat

Fishing season: Year Round

Recommended fly fishing leader: 9 Foot Leader

Recommended fly fishing tippet: 4X Tippet

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1 Comment

  1. J. Ron Martinez

    Thank you guys for putting this information together. Going fishing on Sunday, March 20, 2022.

    Tell the girl in the video that she helped and confirmed a lot of questions I had; fishing in market green, tupelo of nymph, drifting upstream.

    Good stuff!



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