Learning to Fish (on the cheap) in Southern New Mexico!


The Chihuahan Desert in Nuevo Mexico has a lot more to offer than just its beautiful desert and mountain landscapes full of wildlife and cultura.

There are also plenty of great places to learn to fish in and around the Rio Bravo, also known as the Tooh Baʼáadii to the Navajo and Kótsoi to the Jicarilla Apache. Fishing is a great family activity and was once a source of sustenance for families who lived, fished, and hunted, along the banks of the Rio Bravo for centuries.

Fishing can also teach us about the fundamentals of conservation. Things like catch-and-release, size limits, bag limits, endangered species, reading the water, learning about watersheds, pollution in our rivers and lakes, and fish habitat and behaviors, can all help us better understand how to care for our landscapes, rivers, and watersheds in the future.


Kris Flores of Muddy River Catfishing has excellent videos and tutorials about catfishing on the Rio Bravo. Visit his website at www.muddyrivercatfishing.com


So, if you're ready to go fishing in southern New Mexico but don't know where to go or how much it will cost you, we're here to help you figure it out! Just remember, fishing is for everyone, you don't need a boat or expensive equipment.

Like public lands in New Mexico, there are plenty of public waters out there that you can fish with a valid fishing license. There are state parks, rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs within a couple of hours drive just about anywhere in southern New Mexico for your familia to enjoy.

Here's our guide to help you get together a gameplan for your first fishing trip with your son or daughter, or mom or dad, or whoever wants come along. Vamos!

Photo credit: Alfonso Vasquez

Photo credit: Alfonso Vasquez


A fishing license (For fishermen 12 years and older)

Here are your options:

  • One-day fishing license - $12
  • Five-day dishing license - $24
  • Annual license junior - $5 / Annual license senior - $8 / Annual license regular - $25
  • Permit to fish with two rods (we recommend it!) - $4
  • Habitat stamp (required) - $5

We recommend that you buy the annual fishing license with two rods for each fisherman (second rod validation). It will save you money in the long run and pay for itself if you go fishing more than twice in one year. The average cost for two annual (adult) in-state licenses with two rods each is $68.

You can buy fishing licenses at many places around New Mexico, including sporting goods' stores, Wal-Mart, bait shops and other locations near popular places to fish. State fishing licenses cost the same at every store. Make sure you take your New Mexico ID with you when you go! You can get your license in the fishing and hunting department retail counter if you go into a retail store like Wal-Mart.

It's also good to note that fishing licenses in New Mexico are not required for kids under 11 and for residents over 70.  Also, the annual fishing licenses begin April 1 and end March 31, so it's better to buy your annual license sometime soon after April to get the most value.

If you're coming from El Paso or out of state, you will need to purchase an out-of-state fishing license. The prices for out-of-state fishing licenses are slightly higher.


  • You can get around to popular fishing spots in just about any 2-wheel drive car, you don't need a truck
  • On average, gas money to popular fishing places will run you about $30, assuming you're driving a medium-size car or SUV

Most fishing spots are easily accessible with just about any vehicle, although some of the more out-of-the-way places on the river or on the lake might require 4x4. You can always hike in to many of those places, too. So if you don't have a truck, don't let that stop you from going fishing.

Cooler and Ice

  • Styrofoam cooler - $8
  • Bag of ice - $3

You'll need the cooler and ice for a couple of different reasons. You'll want to take water and maybe a snack or lunch depending on how long you're going to be fishing. The cooler will also be needed to keep your fish fresh if you decide to take some back home to cook. Although there are expensive coolers with lots of high-tech features out there, you can do just fine with a styrofoam cooler.

Fishing poles

To get the hang of this fishing thing, we recommend that you get a couple of low-cost spincasting and baitcasting fishing poles that already come with reels. These are good to get the hang of casting and reeling, don't cost much, and will give you an idea of what kind of fishing you like to do best. Spincasting rods are less likely to get tangled, typically use lighter fishing line, and are good for fishing with lures, which mimicks the movement and appearance of something tasty a fish might want to eat, such as a smaller fish. These require that you tie a lure, cast it out, and reel it in constantly until you get a "bite". Baitcasting rods are designed to cast heavier line and usually for longer distances. They're good to hook up some live or dead bait (such as a worm, or chicken liver), and cast it out and leave it there until a fish bites or gets hooked. But don't worry, you can usually use both of these interchangeably if you prefer one style of casting or reel to the other.

Lures and baits

For the lures for your spincasting reel, we recommend these types, which have been known to work well in southern New Mexico waters:

As far as baits go, we're big fans of catfishing, so we definitely recommend you get some chicken liver!

Fishing Tackle

Tackle refers to the other stuff you'll need to get your fishing poles ready to throw out into the water. Once you start fishing more regularly, chances are that you'll want to get more tackle to make your fishing experience better every time. Some helpful tackle includes needlenose pliers (to help you remove the hooks), stringers or baskets (to help you keep your fish alive and fresh while you fish), fishing nets to help you nab your fish once they're close to the shore, and a tackle box to help keep your gear organized. But for starters, here's the minimum that you'll need. Do a little research on the type and size of sinkers and hooks that you'll need depending on what you're fishing for (trout, catfish, bass, etc.).

Your first fishing trip (for two) grand total:



*Cost includes the cost two-annual New Mexico in-state adult fishing licenses

So, there you have it. If you don't have any gear, a fishing license, or any idea of what equipment you will need, it's safe to say that at the minimum you will need to spend around $230 to get you started and on the road to your first fishing trip. The good thing about making this investment is that most of this stuff is re-usable, and you'll be able to use it on your next trip. 


Now that you have your gear, where do you go? Here are some places to consider as you're thinking of hitting the road for your first fishing trip:

Alumni Pond - Las Cruces, NM (New Mexico State University Campus)

This is a great place to learn to cast and get used to tying your lures and if you stick to it, catch your first fish. This small pond located on the NMSU campus is stocked for trout in the winter and catfish and bass in the spring and summer. It's kid and family friendly and a great place to learn. It's also free and open to anyone with a valid fishing license.

Young Pond - Las Cruces, NM 

This is another great started pond and is usually stocked on the same schedule as Alumni Pond. It's located at Young Park, which usually sees pretty heavy activity on the weekends but lighter traffic during the weekdays. The best fishing here is usually a day or two after the pond is stocked. You'll find trout, bass, carp, and catfish here. This pond is also free and open to anyone with a valid fishing license.

Mesilla Dam - Mesilla, NM

This place is a little bit harder to find but is a great place to learn how to "read the water" in the Rio Bravo. If you're thinking about fishing here, we recommend going at least one to two months after the water has been released from the reservoirs before the fish start to bite. We recommend catfishing here with heavy sinkers and stinky bait, such as chicken liver. You can learn where the fish are by looking for their "holes" along the channel of the river. You can also walk down the river's edge to find more holes. You'll find catfish here and the ocassional bass. You can fish here along the river levee with a valid fishing license.

El Rio Bravo

Our beloved Rio Bravo is the lifeblood of the Mesilla Valley and of New Mexico. Downstream from Elephant Butte, you can find and fish almost all of the most popular species here - white and black bass, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, various types of catfish, and carp. Fishing the rio bravo is free with a valid fishing license, just make sure you're not on private property along the river's edge and you're good to do. A good exercise to help you find a good spot on the river is to drive down the public roads that run with the river and look for pull-offs or clearings in the river. Many of these are fishing spots. We're also happy to provide more tips if you send us an email! 

Leaseburg Dam - Radium Springs, NM

Leaseburg Dam State Park is located in Radium Springs, right next to Fort Selden, and has some good developed campsites and plenty of spots to fish the river from the shore. This is also a good place to spend some time with the family while you fish -- you can cook out here, go swimming, tubing, and hiking. Like with other parts of the river, read the water here to find the good holes! We have caught white bass here but it's been a long time and we usually stick to the catfish. There is a state park fee of $5 per vehicle to come here.

Caballo Lake - Caballo, NM

Caballo Lake was once one of our favorite spots to fish for its variety of species and because it has a lot of cool overnight camping spots along the lake and river portions of the site. With that said, recently Caballo Lake has had to be drained to repair the aging dam and we've heard that the fishing there is pretty poor now, but we're hoping that intentional conservation and re-stocking efforts there will make some of the species come back. This was one of our favorite places to catch walleye, which taste very good, as well as black and white bass. Check out the fishing reports from the NM Department of Game & Fish to see if the activity picks back up. There is a state park fee of $5 per vehicle to come here.

Elephant Butte - Elephant Butte, NM

The largest and most popular recreational lake in New Mexico, Elephant Butte is widely used by fisherman, campers, boaters, watersports enthusiasts, birders, RVers, and many more. This lake can be a little intimidating for first time fishermen, but once you find your spots, it can be one of the most productive. Like Caballo, you can catch tons of different fish here and also camp overnight and hang out with the family. The fishing is good in the river just below the dam too, so check that out if you have time. There is a state park fee of $8 per vehicle to come here.

Lake Roberts - Silver City, NM

Lake Roberts in the beautiful Gila National Forest near Silver City offers some great fishing for rainbow trout and catfish. It's also a popular campground and is surrounded by many beautiful trails in the national forest. The temperature here is usually cooler than most other parts of southern New Mexico and the scenery is breathtaking. There is a US Forest Service camping fee of $10 per vehicle here.

Bill Evans Lake - Silver City, NM

If it's rainbow trout you're after, Bill Evans Lake is a great choice to get started. Located just a few miles outside of Silver City, this manmade reservoir is stocked with trout and has lots of great structure where the fish like to hang out. There's a road that goes around the rim of this lake, making access to your favorite spot on the water pretty easy. Once you find a spot with lot's of good activity, it's easy to catch some good trout here to take home for dinner. This lake is free to fish.

Bill Evans Lake

Bill Evans Lake

There are many more places to fish we didn't list here, but these are some of the most accessible, friendly for beginners, and free or pretty cheap. Don't get sucked into the prospect of fishing a private pond or stretch of water for big bucks, it's usually not worth it! 


This guide is designed to help you get your start fishing southern New Mexico, and I'm sure you'll have many, many more questions. We hope that this blog can at least encourage some families with limited experience and resources to get out on the water for the first time. Hispanic and native cultures in southern New Mexico have been fishing these waters for hundreds of years, and there's no reason we can't continue the tradition.

If you have follow-up questions, please fill out the form below. And if you're intersted in organizing a Nuestra Tierra youth fishing even, please let us know, too!

So get your gear, y vamos a pescar.

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