The best way to kick off the fly-fishing season? Load up the RV and head out in search of pristine spring creeks
With craggy mountains and windswept plains, southern New Mexico can be a lonely place. But if you know where to look—like fly-fishing guide Maddie Brenneman and her longtime boyfriend, professional photographer Nick Kelley, do—it’s the perfect spot to bask in early-season sun and hunt for rainbow and brown trout. This is exactly what Brenneman and Kelley did this past April. They loaded up a fishing-friendly RV in Santa Fe and headed south. “My favorite spots to fish are spots where nobody else is around,” Brenneman says. “And the best way to reach those places is by road-tripping to a lesser-known stretch of water.”
It is, quite literally, how Brenneman and Kelley roll. Over the past couple of years, Brenneman has taken the tight-knit fly-fishing community by social-media storm. Currently, she has more than 92,000 Instagram followers, or roughly the same number of people it takes to fill the Rose Bowl. Recent posts show her holding monster brown trout in New Zealand, riding horses in northern Patagonia, snorkeling in Belize, and wading across the flats of French Polynesia, fly rod in hand.
When she’s not guiding for C Lazy U Ranch, northwest of Denver near the town of Granby, she can be found in places like Australia’s North West Cape, where she and fellow influencer April Vokey recently spent a week fishing for queenfish and permit. Or on the road with Kelley, who takes most of the shots you see of her.
“My favorite spots to fish are spots where nobody else is around,” Brenneman says. “And the best way to reach those places is by road-tripping to a lesser-known stretch of water.”
Over the past few years, the duo have road-tripped in everything from a small RV campervan in New Zealand to Nick’s pickup truck, sleeping in either the back of the truck or in tents. But they had never traveled in anything nearly as capable and comfy as the deluxe truck camper—a Lance 1172 on a 2017 Ford F-350 dually Crew Cab 4X4—they piloted this past spring. “We’ve gotten vehicles stuck before,” admits Brenneman. “The beauty of this setup was that, with four-wheel drive, we could go anywhere a truck would go.” Which made it the perfect vehicle for their southern New Mexico adventure. “The ability to shrink it down when you’re moving,” adds Kelley, “and then expand when you make it to base camp was really nice.”
Brenneman and Kelley posted up beside a spring creek on a ranch a hundred miles north of the Mexico border. They stopped to check out the world’s largest pistachio (30 feet tall!) in Almagordo, endured a gnarly hail storm in alien- kitsch country (Roswell), and met ranchers right out of Cormac McCarthy novels. But mostly they stuck close to the sweet little creek they found.
For three serene days they settled into a familiar routine: fish, cook, hang out at the RV, fish again, repeat. “The benefit of having the truck camper was huge,” says Brenneman. “Since we didn’t have to come home and set up a campsite or start a fire every night, we were able to stay out and fish longer. It’s just easy living.”
The rest of the summer would quickly fill up with more shoots, trips, and events like Vail’s multisport GoPro Mountain Games, where Brenneman was once again planning on competing in the casting contest. But for now, all was quiet. “I love the calm of fishing to wary trout in an out-of-the-way creek like this,” Brenneman says. “Casting in front of the crowd at Vail is on the other end of the spectrum serenity-wise. They both present unique challenges. And, for me, you really can’t have one without the other.”