New Mexico Fishing Seasons: A Comprehensive Guide for Anglers

New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, offers a diverse array of fishing opportunities for anglers of all skill levels. From the majestic Rio Grande to the serene alpine lakes, the state’s waters are teeming with a variety of fish species, including trout, bass, walleye, and catfish. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the fishing seasons in New Mexico, the best fishing spots, essential regulations, and tips to make your angling experience unforgettable.

Fishing Seasons in New Mexico

Spring Fishing

Spring is a fantastic time to fish in New Mexico, as the waters start to warm up and the fish become more active. April and May are particularly productive months for trout fishing, with the Rio Grande, San Juan River, and Pecos River offering excellent opportunities. As the snowmelt begins, the rivers and streams swell, attracting fish to feed in the nutrient-rich waters.

Summer Fishing

As the temperatures rise, summer fishing in New Mexico shifts focus to the cooler, high-elevation waters. June through August, anglers can enjoy excellent trout fishing in the mountain streams and alpine lakes of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains. The Chama River and its tributaries also provide great fishing for brown and rainbow trout during the summer months.

Fall Fishing

Fall brings a spectacular display of colors to New Mexico’s landscapes and some of the best fishing of the year. September and October are prime months for brown trout, as they become more aggressive during their spawning season. The cooler temperatures also make for comfortable fishing conditions in the lower elevations, with the Rio Grande and San Juan River offering excellent opportunities for rainbow and brown trout.

Winter Fishing

While the colder months may deter some anglers, winter fishing in New Mexico can be incredibly rewarding. November through March, the San Juan River below Navajo Dam remains a top destination for trout, thanks to its consistent water temperatures. Ice fishing is also popular on some of the state’s lakes, such as Eagle Nest Lake, where anglers can target rainbow trout and yellow perch.

Fishing Licenses and Permits

To fish legally in New Mexico, anglers 12 years and older must possess a valid New Mexico fishing license . Licenses can be purchased online, by phone, or at various license vendors throughout the state.

Resident Fishing Licenses

New Mexico residents have several options for fishing licenses:

  • Annual Fishing License: $25
  • One-Day Fishing License: $12
  • Five-Day Fishing License: $24
  • Junior Annual Fishing License (ages 12-17): $5

Non-Resident Fishing Licenses

Non-residents can choose from the following license options:

  • Annual Fishing License: $56
  • One-Day Fishing License: $12
  • Five-Day Fishing License: $24

Additional Permits and Validations

In addition to a fishing license, anglers may need to obtain additional permits or validations, depending on where and how they plan to fish:

  • Habitat Stamp: Required for fishing on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. Cost: $10.
  • Second Rod Validation: Allows anglers to fish with two rods simultaneously. Cost: $4.
  • Gila Trout Permit: Required for fishing in designated Gila trout waters. Available free of charge.

Best Fishing Spots in New Mexico

New Mexico offers a wide range of fishing destinations, from world-renowned rivers to secluded mountain lakes. Here are some of the best fishing spots in the state:

Rivers and Streams

  • San Juan River: Known for its trophy-sized trout, the San Juan River below Navajo Dam is a must-visit for any serious angler .
  • Rio Grande: The Rio Grande offers diverse fishing opportunities, from the fast-flowing waters near Taos to the slower, meandering stretches in the southern part of the state .
  • Pecos River: The Pecos River is a popular destination for fly fishing enthusiasts, with excellent opportunities for brown and rainbow trout .

Lakes and Reservoirs

  • Elephant Butte Lake: As the largest lake in New Mexico, Elephant Butte offers excellent fishing for largemouth bass, walleye, catfish, and striped bass .
  • Navajo Lake: This scenic lake in northwestern New Mexico is known for its trophy-sized northern pike, as well as excellent fishing for bass, trout, and kokanee salmon .
  • Eagle Nest Lake: Nestled in the Moreno Valley, Eagle Nest Lake is a popular destination for rainbow trout and yellow perch, with ice fishing opportunities in the winter .

High Mountain Lakes and Streams

  • Chama River: The upper reaches of the Chama River and its tributaries offer excellent fishing for brown, rainbow, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout in a stunning mountain setting .
  • Jemez Mountains: The streams and lakes of the Jemez Mountains provide a scenic backdrop for fishing rainbow and brown trout, with the added bonus of the occasional Rio Grande cutthroat .
  • Sangre de Cristo Mountains: The high-elevation streams of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are home to healthy populations of brook, brown, and rainbow trout .

Fishing Regulations and Limits

To ensure the sustainability of New Mexico’s fisheries, anglers must adhere to the state’s fishing regulations and limits . These regulations include:

Daily Bag and Possession Limits

  • Trout (rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brook): 5 fish per day, 10 in possession
  • Kokanee salmon: 5 fish per day, 10 in possession
  • Largemouth and smallmouth bass: 5 fish per day, 10 in possession
  • Walleye: 5 fish per day, 10 in possession

Size Limits

Some waters have specific size limits for certain species to protect fish populations and promote healthy growth. For example:

  • San Juan River: All rainbow trout caught must be at least 20 inches in length
  • Eagle Nest Lake: Only one northern pike over 30 inches may be kept per day

Seasonal Closures and Restrictions

Certain waters may have seasonal closures or restrictions to protect spawning fish or sensitive habitats. It’s essential to check the current fishing regulations before planning your trip.


New Mexico offers a wealth of fishing opportunities for anglers of all skill levels and preferences. By understanding the state’s fishing seasons, obtaining the proper licenses and permits, and following the regulations and limits, you can ensure a successful and enjoyable angling experience in the Land of Enchantment.

Ready to plan your New Mexico fishing adventure? Visit the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish website for the latest information on licenses, regulations, and fishing conditions. Don’t forget to share your catches with us on social media using #FishNM!

Whether you’re casting a line in the mighty Rio Grande, exploring a secluded mountain stream, or ice fishing on a serene alpine lake, New Mexico’s diverse fisheries are sure to provide unforgettable memories. So grab your gear, head out to one of the state’s many incredible fishing destinations, and immerse yourself in the beauty and excitement of New Mexico’s fishing seasons.

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