The Rio Chama holds the New Mexico record for brown trout. Brown trout average from 12 to 18 inches in the Chama River tailwater. Some exceed 20 pounds. The stream has a good population of caddisflies, midges and mayflies.
Most of the trout are caught on nymphs and streamers but the dry fly fishing can be good a certain times of the year during hatches. Much of the time you are better off with streamers. By the way, water color doesn’t have to be clear. Fish can be taken in water slightly off color and that happens often. Anglers should pay special attention to the dam discharges prior to fishing. They fluctuate wildly.
The Rio Chama has some very good pocket water as well as long runs, pools and riffles. It has plenty of large boulders. It flows range drastically from slow to very fast. It may change several times during the day.
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 stem 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 Abiquiu, 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.