Rio Chama below El Vado Lake
To fish the El Vado section of the Rio Chama head to Cooper’s El Vado Ranch. It’s about a mile below the dam. They charge a nominal fee to park, and have camping, a tiny store and cabins. These cabins are thoroughly booked in summer as many people come here to bait fish. But don’t let that scare you because there is a lot of river and it is heavily stocked with 12 inch rainbows that grow fast in this rich environment. In just a few months time the trout may gain a couple inches and no longer even resemble a stocked trout, and engage the angler in a vigorous combat.
If your fishing needs to be close to the car there are a couple of very easy and productive runs right adjacent to Coopers. To fish them it is best to get on the far side and walk down a ¼ mile and then fish back up with nymphs. What makes them good spots is that the water has sufficient depth to harbor trout and an even, unbroken flow--one gets a long drift with a moderately weighted nymph. Most of the fish here will just be stockers but a good brown is always possible. (Especially in fall.)
The water above Coopers is broken and fast. If you try and fish up on the east side you will get walled out by a long cliff, so to fish it properly you must be on the west side. You can drive upstream to the end of the campground and cross the river there; but beware that it is not an easy crossing and try it only at flows below 200 cfs! An easier way to get across—albeit a longer walk-- is to simply use the foot bridge that is visible from Cooper’s.
Far fewer fishermen will be found down below Coopers. This is where the river widens and slows down to a riffle/pool structure. But there is virtually no vehicular access below Cooper’s, and it’s 26 miles to the next access/take out. This is a famous place to float—unfortunately it is not a place to float/ fish because the floating flows are much too high (800+) and muddy to provide good fishing (contact Taos B.L.M. for floating permits).
The group Rio Grande Restoration (.com) is working to stabilize these flows to improve the health of the river. If the flows were consistently at a moderate level of something like 300 cfs it would be likely that the river could be float/fished. Another huge environmental factor here is that silt buildup reduces trout numbers as one proceeds downriver. The Nutrias drainage that comes in from the east is largely responsible for the silt-- but there are still several miles of excellent water that receives only light pressure.
Trout in this El Vado stretch are more numerous than most fisherman realize because they are a temperamental, nomadic and finicky lot of fish! They may feed variously at times and then develop lockjaw. There seems to be a generous amount of food; so lots of time on the water is required to encounter the fishes on the feed. So being there when conditions are optimal is important. Not only should you check flow levels, but also contact the Cooper’s Ranch store and ask what the water clarity is. If the flow has been very high it takes a week or more for it to clear once lowered; and even then the water is really never clear--but if it is a greenish color it will be OK to fish.
Like the Abiquiu section of the Chama River downstream this is primarily an off season fishery. With the best fishing likely to occur in late fall—November/December when the water is low and clear and the large browns are moving about spawning.
This clarity factor dictates the way the river must be fished. Although hatches can be profuse, it is rare to find fish rising. Visibility is a factor and beadhead flies that have sparkle built to catch the trout’s eye are wise to use. But if the fish are feeding they are not particular about what they eat. One way to go is to fish downstream from Cooper’s stripping streamers as you go, then fish back up with nymphs. You want to fish much larger flies here than you might be used to using elsewhere. My favorite fly for fishing downstream is an olive Slumpbuster in size 8, my favorite nymph for fishing back upstream is—you guessed it—the Poundmiester. Fly selection is not near as important as sink rate; so have these flies tied with different sized beads to accommodate the river’s speed and depth. Be aware that large browns and rainbows can be about any where’s in the faster water here, and I have caught 20 inchers in small pockets that didn’t look worthy of a cast. The fish are extremely healthy and put up powerful fights.
Fishing here requires long casts and long hikes; making this a poor place for beginners.
Wading is somewhat treacherous here too. And as the water is cold you will need chest waders and studded wading shoes.
Tight lines—Taylor Streit