The Valle Vidal is a 100,000-acre unit of the Carson
National Forest near the New Mexico/Colorado border,
located northwest of Cimarron, NM. This large section
of land encompasses several valleys and towering peaks
rich in pristine native and wild trout waters. The two
main species include Rio Grande Cutthroats (RGC) and
cut-bows. Originally inhabited with just the native cutthroats,
stocking of rainbows throughout the years has created
the hybridization of the cutthroats. Today fly fishers
can still catch some native RGC; most of the cut-bows
still look like and considered to be pure RGC.
The main river in the Valle Vidal is the Rio Costilla,
located in the extreme northwestern corner of the unit.
The river originates high up in Colorado and flows through
private ranch land before entering the Valle Vidal a
couple hundred yards below the Costilla Reservoir. The
river continues southwesterly for 6-8 miles before entering
into private land open to the public through a lease
with New Mexico Game and Fish (NMGF).
This classic high country meadow stream averages 10-20
feet wide and features one of two scenarios. Fast riffles
feeding into deep bend pools with undercut banks and
fast riffles feeding into long deep pools and runs. Plush
grass lines most of the stream in this section. The grassy
banks support a healthy grasshopper population supplying
the cutthroats with a steady diet in July and August.
A few tight areas exist but seldom get fished. Most of
the trout are vibrantly colored averaging 7-12 inches,
12-16 inchers aren't uncommon, just wiser.
Working the Rio Costilla isn't challenging. The challenge
comes in setting the hook. Most of these trout are quick
and eager to gulp in a dry fly. There are basically two
types of strikes on the Costilla. The Costilla fastball
is a strike liking that of a Nolan Ryan fastball, many
never see it until its too late. The other strike is
the Costilla change-up common in the slower waters.
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The Costilla is a small tail-water released out of Costilla
Reservoir. Flows during the week can be as high as 100
cubic feet per second (cfs), but average between 65-85
cfs. On the weekends the flows are lower ranging between
15-30 cfs. When mid week flows are extremely high nymphing
may be the best bet. Low flows provide delightful dry
fly fishing for these lively cutthroats. Wading the swift
water during the week generally isn't a challenge but
always use caution. Hip waders work well during times
of high and low flows.
NMGF, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife and New
Mexico Trout and several private land owners are actively
working together to maintain and expand the populations
of native RGC in the Valle and throughout the state.
In an effort to help maintain this fragile species please
abide by the artificial flies with single, barbless hooks
and catch-n-release regulations. The Valle Vidal is open
for fishing July 1 through December 31. There is an area
designated as Special
Trout Waters for the Rio Costilla. Several smaller
streams flow through the Valle, some hold populations
of native RGC and others are extremely fragile. Please
help bring back the natives by looking and watching but
not fishing these tiny streams.
Getting to the Valle Vidal isn't easy. Anglers can head
in from the east side; a sign marks the turnoff from
US Highway 64, 4 miles north of Cimarron, NM. In past
years this road has claimed many tires, the road is in
better shape these days. For the west side travel north
of Taos on Highway 522, turn right on Highway 196 at
the town of Costilla, this eventually turns into a rough
dirt road and becomes Forest Service Rd 1950/1900 that
parallels Rio Costilla. There are no services once you
get outside of either Cimarron or Costilla so plan accordingly.
Smack dab in the middle of the Valle Vidal are the Shuree
Ponds, just off of Forest Service Rd. 1950. Only two
ponds hold trout. The smaller is designated as a kids'
pond for kids 12 and under and is easily fished from
the banks. The main pond is approximately 5 acres in
size with much of the shore being open. Float tubing
this lake is a great way to work the deep areas in the
middle. This lake is a popular fishing spot being minutes
from the Cimarron Campground. The lake is stocked throughout
the summer with 12-16 rainbows. 16-20 inch rainbows are
caught throughout the summer.