Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Essential Guide to Cimarron River : Fishing, Food & Lodging


Where: Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colin Neblett Wildlife Area, Cimarron Canyon State Park
Nearby Towns: Eagle Nest, Angel Fire, Ute Park
When: best from Mother's Day through mid-October, Golden Stonefly hatch
Water: Tailwater in brushy, shady canyon w/ beaver ponds, riffles, pools, culverts, many turnouts 
Flyshops: Dos Amigos Anglers Eagle Nest
Maps: Cimarron Canyon State Park , Area map
Species: (river) Rainbow, Brown
Bugs: Caddis, midges, hoppers, BWO, PMD, Golden Stonefly, Little Yellow Stonefly, ants, worms, moths, beetles
Ed Adams' Cimarron Hatch Chart: 

Report: Cimarron River
Streamflow: Cimarron Stream flow
Altitude: 8000-8500 ft.
Doc Thompson's Suggested Cimarron Flies: 
Stimulator (orange, yellow)  #12-14
The Doculator (orange) #12-14
Humpy (red, yellow) #14
Indicator Klinkhammer (gray/tan) #14-16
Micro Golden Stone (golden, black) #14
Yum Yum Emerger (olive, black) #14-16
Hares Ear  (olive and black) #14-16
Micro Mayfly Nymphs (black and olive) #16-18
Pheasant Tails #14-18
Zebra Midges (black) #16-18 

The Lowdown
The towns of Eagle Nest and Angel Fire are separated only by Eagle Nest Lake and ten minutes of pavement. Both towns are unique and historic with quaint cafes and eateries, and both can be a party weekend and/or laid back getaway in their own relative ways. Bikers love the area. So, too, do anglers. Ute Park is at the downstream side of Eagle Nest and is a fine place to grab some groceries, leaders, and basic flies on your way up to fish Cimarron River, but not much more going on there. Guadalupe is south of Angel Fire and not much there but Coyote Creek State Park.

But you gotta see this area. Have you ever been driving, you turn a corner or top a hill, and when you see what’s on the other side you slide into total geek mode and completely blown away by the unexpected scenery lying before you? Yeah, well, that’s what happens every time someone crests Cimarron Pass and sees Eagle Nest valley below. It’s just awesome, an incredibly beautiful valley, and Eagle Nest area is well worth fishing, but that's for another blog. 


The Cimarron River is a tailwater that averages 25-30 cfps, with lots of characteristics, tons of wildlife, shade, campgrounds, incredible rock formations, and best of all a lot of trout. Much of the Cimarron is brushy so bring a shorter rod than you'd take to the Costilla or Red. Waders are not necessary but I see most of you guys wearing them anyways so go ahead and bring them. Footing is easy - wading is safe and not as slick as other streams. You'll see lots of bugs and matching the hatch can be critical then. Also, don't just fish the slack, slow water. Toss flies into the fast riffles when things slow down. Fish will take. Also, fish the edges - very effective. Crowds can make is tough on holidays and weekends. But it's worth your while to come chuck flies to these guys.

I have fished the Cimarron River so many times I could write a book on it alone. Fall, Summer, and even in 6" of snow. Pictured here is a little trout I caught while fishing in late winter. Look closely and you can his snow beard and 'stache!

Cimarron 3.5 hours from my front door, so it’s close to home. At one point, the Cimarron’s shock tests proved it held over catchable 8000 trout per mile, so it’s fertile. The camping is easy, so it’s fun. And so I consider it my home water. The following are few memories I have of this magical, historically-significant trout heaven. 

·      Once, way back in the early days, Williams invited me to fish the Cimarron with his brother-in-law Kenny and another buddy for the first time, and I could tell that Kenny was a bit skeptical about this “Mac” character who was tagging along. It was whirlwind trip, leaving at 5:00 am, fish all day, and returning home the same night. Once we arrived, it took everyone (it seemed) an hour to string up the rods. Not me. I was anxious. I just walked over to the stream, cast only a couple of times to the opposite bank, and snagged a wiry 8-inch brown in less than a minute. Kenny instantly approved of Mac, and I was instantly in the club. (The Cimarron’s fertility was to thank, not my skill.) We four guys slayed close to 100 fish that day, the best of which was a 16” rainbow Williams duped in the shade of a pine tree near Tolby Creek.
·      I took my son Wesley camping and fishing on the Cimarron once when he was only four. We pitched a tent in the dark near the gravel ponds and ate a great meal for dinner that night. But sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning we were awakened by a very loud, intimidating yelping sound in the mountains that could only be described as the mating call of a 2000 lb. prehistoric mountain chicken. The irritating noise moved slowly down the mountain, flanking the campground, breaking the night’s silent about once every two minutes, with a tremendous Wa-KAWK sound. When we woke in the morning, an old couple with a yippy little shit dog confirmed the oddity of the sound, admitting, “We thought it sounded just like a giant chicken too!” Whatever it was, it woke the trout up. That morning, Wesley, even at the age of 4, caught his very first brown trout on a dry fly all on his own just a half mile upstream from the campground. 
·      Savannah and Wesley and I were visiting my buddy, Ryan Denny, at his cabin near Coyote Creek State Park. We wanted to fish somewhere nearby, but it had snowed a couple of inches during the night. So we took a chance and drove the slow, snow-covered hour over to Cimarron Canyon, where it had snowed even more. Four inches of white blanketed the wilderness to a frozen standstill, save for the river. But we were unfazed by the elements. Denny parked at the turnout under the awe-inspiring Pinnacles and we all cast dries to trout for the next hour. I moved upstream with Savannah (she was watching and giving moral support from the bank) and landed 15 or so smallish browns and cuttbows in less than an hour behind the many rocks and logs and in faster moving water. Wes and Denny plucked just about as many from the downstream pools and culverts on either side of the road. But when the sun broke and began melting the snow, the Cimarron became a mud slick. Feeling we'd already done something special, we left as quickly as we'd arrived, and spent the rest of the day warming up by the fireplace with coffee and hot chocolate and watching movies.    

Favorite Cimarron Trout Holes: 
  • Cimarroncita (private)
  • Downstream of Ponderosa Campground near the lower park boundary. There is a turnout here on both sides of the road. Fish the edges here. 
  • Upstream and downstream of Gravel Pit Lakes at Maverick Campground
  • Gravel Pit Lakes around the edges and near the spillway
  • All upstream and downstream road crossings culverts & pools
  • Beneath the Palisades sill from the downstream culvert to the pools above the turnout
  • "Special Trout Waters" section 


  • Fish a shorter rod (7'6") 
  • Match the hatch when you see bugs
  • Fish every turnout and culvert, but also wade upstream and down, away from the road
  • Toss flies behind every rock and log, hit the grassy/drop-off edges, and fast riffles
  • Wade quietly 
  • Fish from the bank when possible
  • fish mid-morning to later in the afternoon, and again in the evening
  • Consider dry-dropper rigs most days 


In Angel Fire

Walk upstairs at the Angel Fire Country Club and you’ll discover Elements Restaurant & Bar, on Country Club Drive. It’s modern, sophisticated and perfect for a more refined drink and upscale cuisine. Check out their menu @ Try the Crispy Cod if you’re a fish eater. Pizza Stop at 52 N. Angel Fire Rd. offers that unique slice of pie with a thin, crispy crust that isn’t so easy to pull off when the kitchen is at 8600 feet above sea level. Call ahead because a lot of people like pizza. (575) 377-6340. You’ll find Sunset Grille on the Springs Rd. above the ski resort. I sampled their Green Chile Stew and it was magical. Their burgers and fries are great as well. (575) 377-6681. And Hatcha's Grill is just north of town at 3469 Hwy 434. It’s our first choice in town for New Mexican cuisine. Try the Blue Corn Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas with Posole. Be prepared to pay for chips and salsa, they’re not free here. 575-377-7011.
Hacha's Chili Rellenos w/ Calabacitas and Sopapilla (Chris C.)

In Eagle Nest
Everything is on the main strip, Therma Street. Try Calamity Jane’s for a tender chicken fried steak, an old fashioned juicy burger, or their special cinnamon bread French toast for breakfast. (575) 377-9530. D&D CafĂ© is a favorite hangout for the locals. It’s tiny, and purple (for now), with only four tables, but their whole grain pancakes are badass, and their omelets hit the spot. Or you could walk down to Outpost Pizzeria, where one time at band camp the owner tried to sell us the whole damn place, as well as our pizza pie for $27,000 cash or something like that. WTH??? (575) 377-1969. You can also try Cowboy’s Corner, but we rarely find them open when our stomachs are growling, so call before you run by. (575) 377-9525. 


For campers and RV-ers we highly recommend Cimarron Canyon State Park. It’s closer to Ute Park than Eagle Nest and Angel Fire, but the Cimarron River is the main fishery in the area, and you’ll be right there on it when camping in the park. There are plenty of campsites (see map), amenities, and the geologic scenery is some of New Mexico’s grandest. You will need to make reservations during summer and holidays. Check the website for photos and more detailed info. Watch out for bears, and prehistoric mountain chickens! 28869 Hwy 64, Eagle Nest, NM 87718, (575) 377-6271. 

In Ute Park
With many of the structures constructed in 1908, Historic Ranch Retreat of Cimarroncita offers updated historic lodging, fine cuisine, and stellar, private fishing on the dreamy portions of the famed Cimarron River. Ute Park, NM 87749, (866) 376-2482, email:,

In Guadalupe
Coyote Creek State Park (20 minutes south of Angel fire on NM434) maintains 47 developed campsites, 19 electric sites, 15 W+E sites (30 amp), dump station, group campsites, restrooms with hot water, showers and vault toilets, a group picnic shelter, a playground for kids, and visitor center. (575) 387-2328. For reservations call (877) 664-7787. The fishing here is not the best in the state, but it is a nice campground and a decent place to stay.

In Eagle Nest
Great Escapes Motel will offer smallish, rustic but clean cabins for a very fair price. They get good reviews, have great customer service, and are perfect for budget-minded travelers. (575) 377-0586, 416 East Therma Way, Eagle Nest, NM 87718,
Laguna Vista Lodge seems to be a favorite place to hang your hat for the night. Plus it’s connected to the Saloon and Calamity Jane’s Restaurant. 51 Therma Way, Eagle Nest, NM 87718, (575) 377-6522 or (800) 821-2093.
Golden Eagle RV Park & Cabins at 540 West Therma Dr. on Hwy 64, just one block west of the Hwy 64 & Hwy 38 intersection offers a clean atmosphere, 30 and 50 amp hookups, free breakfast, 1 and 2 bed cabins, and a great view of scenic Eagle Nest Lake. Visit for rates or call (800) 388-6188. 

In Angel Fire
Angel Fire Resort will be the main source for accommodations in town. The pros about Angle Fire Resort is the coffee shop and deli in the main lobby makes incredible food, like monster cinnamon rolls, and fresh breakfast burritos, New Mexico style. The rooms are what you’d expect from an average ski resort, but the

We also suggest hitting up and finding a privately-owned casita, cabin or condo for rent. This is only cost-effective, but there is some rather amazing real-estate in Angel Fire just waiting to be yours for the weekend. If you’re looking for something quiet, secluded, wooded, and all yours, hit and you’ll see places from $45 a night to $750 a night.

About Mac

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I am W. Chad McPhail. I'm an outdoor/travel writer, book author, former English teacher, and Amarillo native. 

I spend my spare time traipsing around the mountains and streams of the southwest in search of wild trout with my family, friends, various freeloaders, and other flotsam and jetsan. I used to teach English & Creative Writing. These days I am a Right of Way field agent with Coates Field Service, representing Sharyland Utilities during the construction of a 345 megawatt transmission line from Hereford to Panhandle, Texas. I love exploring the outdoors, fly fishing, backpacking, camping, hiking, kayaking, and yes, writing outdoor and travel books and pieces. I am a field writer of flyfishing, backpacking, camping, and kayaking articles for I have written many articles for magazines such as Southwest Fly Fishing, Texas Fish & Game, Rocky Mountain Game & Fish,, and more. I have co-penned three books with fishing buddy Mark D. Williams; Colorado Flyfishing: Where to Eat Sleep Fish, 49 Trout Streams of Southern Colorado, and An Introduction to Fly Fishing for Trout.