The 15 or so miles above El Vado Lake is a Ponderosa Pine-lined deep canyon with some great rapids, the crux rapid being Big Mama Chama. )-)), +((!++(!!)+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!+)+(!++(!!)+!!+!!)+(+!!)+(!+-(!!))+(!++(!!)+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!)+(!++(!!)+!!)+(!++(!!)+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!)+(!++(!!)+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!)+(+!!))/+((!++(!!)+!!+)+(!++(!!)+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!)+(!++(!!)+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!+!!)+(!++(!!)+!!)+(!+-(!!))+(!+-(!!))+(!++(!!)-)+(!++(!!)+!!)+(+!! The fishing is usually better with low streamflows, although it can still be good when the flows are higher. Between Chama and Tierra Amarilla, below the hairboat run, the river has numerous fences that pose hazards to boaters, but they can be run by carefully avoiding getting caught in them. If you’re wondering how to cook big fish, I like to bake them in the oven. This stretch of the Chama River has a long history of producing big fish. The prime season for the Upper Rio Chama is usually in late spring and early summer, in the months of May and June, though June flows depend upon a significant winter snowpack in the San Juan Mountains of Carson National Forest. If you do it right, the meat comes easily off the bones and you can lift most of the bones out in one piece. The Rio Chama in Northern New Mexico is America’s Newest Wild and Scenic River. The Upper Rio Chama is a near-hairboat run that can be made by canoes with flotation or kayaks, but not rafts. Cooper’s has cabins for rent right on the river. It was routine to catch a big stringer full of big trout. Be sure to check the streamflow reports for the Chama River below El Vado Dam so you know what conditions to expect.
The flow in the Chama River below El Vado Dam was a meagre 98 cubic feet-per-second the morning of June 30, so I planned an afternoon trip to this section of river. The flow is usually strong and fast, with rapids ranging from Class IV to VI near the top of the run, and Class I to III starting about 43 miles above El Vado Lake. Santa Fe 125 miles; Albuquerque 186 miles; Phoenix 644 miles; Durango 140 miles; Denver 270 miles; Salt Lake City 595 miles; El Paso 452 miles; Dallas 854 miles; Austin 889 miles; San Antonio 916 miles; Houston 1,075 miles; Oklahoma City 728 miles; Little Rock 1,067 miles; Kansas City 963 Miles. I can’t tell you how long because I just check the fish periodically and judge by appearance and by sticking a fork into the thickest part of their back to tell when they’re done. Prior to the building of the dam in 1935, it was the site of El Vado, once the largest town in Rio Arriba County. The river's headwaters start at an elevation of about 10,700 feet in the Tusas Mountains near the Colorado border southeast of Chama, New Mexico. This May through June run rates a Class II to III on the first 4 miles, then Class IV to IV+ on the next 3.5 miles before settling down to a good Class III run on down to El Vado Lake in New Mexico. The town was dismantled or fell into decay. I don’t think any of the cutthroats survived long enough to become holdovers, although I hope some of them did. Back when El Vado Dam was completed in 1935, old timers will tell you that the fishing in the Chama River back then below the Dam was the stuff dreams are made of. Please enable Cookies and reload the page. The headwaters has two branches, the West Fork and the East Fork. It was a major shipping center for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.
This 8 mile stretch begins beneath a secluded Benedictine Abbey and ends just above Abiquiu Reservoir, where this silty desert river rolls to a halt among the rainbow cliffs of this remote four-corners location. )). Eagle Nest, Blue-water, Canjilon, and Fenton lakes. The bigger of the two made a great dinner. A large boulder on the left bank just below the erosion area marks the beginning of another major hazard with a couple of pour-overs, either of which can capsize a boat and beat up a paddler. It was also a major shipping point for the lambs and sheep that grazed the fertile mountain meadows. Problems start where the reddish-colored, partially eroded riverbank appears. The Upper Rio Chama flows clean, clear and cold, though it may contain a significant amount of dead-fallen timber. I smear soft butter on the outside of the fish. Near the end of this run is a series of truly dangerous rapids characterized by house-sized boulders that hide sticky holes, significant drops and dead-fallen trees, any of which can cause peril for boaters and boats. They charge a $5 day-use fee. Logging was the primary industry and vast numbers of big, virgin ponderosa pine was cut down and shipped out on rail cars. First public campground off FR 121, about 5 miles from SH 17, where Archuleta Creek meets the river at 0.0 miles; SH 17 bridge north of Chama, New Mexico at 7.5 miles; US Highway 64/84 near Ensenada at about 25.0 miles; SH 95 bridge near Tierra Amarilla at about 40.0 miles; El Vado Ranch on El Vado Lake at about 55.0 miles. Signs of civilization are non-existent, and boaters should be prepared to self-rescue in the event of an emergency. The uppermost part of this run is dangerous because of large holes and hidden wood behind very large boulders, some of which are as big as small houses. The brown trout are now all wild fish, having established a naturally-reproducing population in the Chama. This entire run needs to be done with great care and vigilance to avoid accidents. By the time El Vado Dam was constructed, the town was all but gone. I always cook the fish with the head on. That’s a state-record that still stands to this day. I place them on a sheet of aluminum foil on a broiler pan (see photo above I took in my kitchen). The fishing is available all year long, although winter conditions can be very cold and icy.
Hazards include several barbed wire fences strung across the river between Chama and Tierra Amarilla that can be negotiated by careful boaters, but which can cause serious injury (or worse) for anybody getting caught in one of them, especially at high flows.
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