1.25 million years ago, a volcanic event occurred just 40 miles northwest of what is now called Santa Fe, New Mexico. A large reservoir of magma was emptied as lava erupted from the earth’s crust, causing a massive depression. Upon this collapse, a 13-mile wide caldera in the middle of the Jemez Mountains was formed.
This area is the Valles Caldera National Preserve and is America’s newest National Preserve. The best part about the Valles Caldera is currently, due to the pandemic, it’s open to cycling and closed to automobiles and if bike fishing is your thing, it’s also free to fish, pending a New Mexico Fishing License and a free VCNP fishing permit.
We’ve got a great loop for you to check out that crosses this expansive caldera and brings you right up to some prime cut bank fishing. Check it out in this gallery from our ride in September.
We’ve covered bike fishing before here on the Radavist before in a number of articles (found below in our “Related” footer) and on this trip, we had a few different setups. Kyle and Kim brought in both Tenkara and a western fly fishing rod strapped to their bike rack, Jason had a Tenkara in his backpack, while I packed two Tenkara rods in my frame bag. The beauty of Tenkara rods is many will pack down to 12″-14″ in length, making them super compact and a breeze to set up. The most complicated part about Tenkara fishing is fly selection. This time of year, we matched terrestrials, picking out hoppers that looked similar to insects we encountered walking across the grasslands.
Jason’s box is so well organized, he was able to match the color and appearance of any number of terrestrials. This was his first time with a Tenkara as well, after spending a majority of his life fishing with a western setup.
The beauty of bike fishing is you can access areas that would normally take hours to reach by foot and if a section of the river isn’t working out for you, a fresh stretch is just a short pedal away.
We began our afternoon parking at the gate, off of forest road 105, and pedaled into the caldera. From there, San Antonio Creek is reachable by a short walk. This entire stretch of creek fishes very well but due to a freak heatwave on our trip, the water was very warm, and the fish were scarce. Once the sun was high above, the fish found deep, cold holes to wait out the heat of the day. Typically, this time of year, it would have been overcast skies, chilly temperatures, and deep, cold waters.
Yet, the day was not void of excitement. Kyle hooked a hog of a trout, which snapped his line, in a sad display of creekside comedy. Jason, Cari, Kim, and I all hooked Rio Grande sucker fish (Catostomus plebeius), but in general, this trip could be described as “getting skunked” if we were only interested in fishing…
Luckily, as cyclists, bike fishing is as much about the journey to the fishing spot as it is the act of fishing itself. We packed simply, lightly, and in doing so, we enjoyed the afternoon riding through one of the most beautiful zones in Northern New Mexico. Be sure to bring a picnic, camera, sketch pad, book, or whatever it takes to bide your time between fishing.
Now, there are some pointers and rules you need to take note of, found below:
-While the roads in the VCNP are pretty rough, you can still ride a 40mm tire on this route. Obviously, the bigger tire the better, but don’t feel like you need a mountain bike.
-Bring a water filter because there is plenty of refilling spots along the way.
-You must purchase a New Mexico fishing license and obtain a Valles Caldera National Preserve fishing permit, which is free. Carry both of these on you while in the VCNP.
-In the winter months, the VCNP is open 9 am – 5 pm.
-Currently, you cannot camp within the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
-There are camping opportunities in both Bandelier National Monument and the Santa Fe National Forest with many campsites only a few miles from the Preserve.
-Normally, prior to the pandemic, vehicles are allowed into the VCNP by permit only. Bikes are omitted from this permit rule. You can read all about the permitting process and rules at NPS.gov.
-Look closely at this map, as there is a pleasant surprise waiting for you on the pedal home about 9.5 miles in.
-Leave no trace and shred lightly.
Numerous Pueblo tribes have called the Jemez Mountains home for centuries. The Pueblo people of this region are the Towa-speaking Jemez for which the mountain range in this area is named, the Keres- and Tewa-speaking Pueblos. These tribes are still very present today and this is their sacred land. Please respect and honor it.