Tooling along a cactus-clad interstate on a sizzling summer's day, it's easy to shrug off New Mexico as brittle and downright desiccated. In other words, the last place you'd find trout. But here's a little secret: This winter the Snow Gods let loose on New Mexico, strafing its crispy landscape with bountiful storms, resulting in the best water in four years.
Naturally, the trout are very appreciative. And so are flyfishers, who can be thankful for the 12,000-foot spires of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, which snag moisture out of the sky like colossal sponges, feeding renowned trout factories such as the Pecos River.
About an hour's drive south of Taos-and just over the ridges from Ski Santa Fe-the 220,000-acre Pecos Wilderness forms the river's headwaters. Beginning near Pecos Baldy Lake, the river runs nearly 14 public-access miles, much of it a sinewy, boulder-strewn waterway littered with schussing glides, mellow pocket waters, roily riffles and other trout-worthy habitat.
Just outside the wilderness boundary, drive-to anglers can use campgrounds or any number of roadside pullouts for stalking trout. You won't be fishing exactly shoulder-to-shoulder here, but know that weekends on the lower Pecos are a revered tradition for the area's flyfishing fanatics.
This being a good water year, expect the Pecos to be surly, peaking around Memorial Day and remaining muddy until mid-June. That's just the time to strike, when multiple hatches of caddis and mayflies cloud the air-and when 9- to 12-inch native browns and rainbow stockies rise with ridiculous frequency to gorge on the insect flotilla.
But don't be surprised if you're outwitted by the feisty fish. They live a tenuous existence in a semi-arid environment and are spooky by nature. Just sit along the bank under a canopy of aspen and pine and remind yourself that trout live in beautiful places. Then relax in the grandeur of a New Mexico moment.
For a guide, call Los Rios Anglers (800-748-1707) in Taos or High Desert Angler (505-988-7688) in Santa Fe.