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The Ten Best States for Fly Fishing
No matter where you live in the U.S. there’s likely great fly fishing within a few hours’ drive of your home. Our country is filled with almost limitless spots – but some are undoubtedly better than others. Let’s learn the ten best states for fly fishing and two unique destinations within those borders.
With River Fly’s regional destination guide you can book a great trip one state over or across the country. No matter if you’re in the deep south, mountain west, or northeast – there’s great fly fishing to be had near you.
Where to Fly Fish in Alaska
Alaska – The Last Frontier. If you want serious action in some of the most remote and untouched parts of the country – Alaska is up your alley. Alaska is home to several salmon and trout species. It’s arguably the #1 destination state for fly fishing.
The Kenai is a legendary river for both salmon and trout fishing. Most anglers will start their trip from Cooper’s Landing which provides equipment, lodging, fly shops, guided tours, and most importantly – access to multiple spots on the Kenai. From Cooper’s Landing you can fish the Upper Kenai for monster King (Chinook) salmon, the Kenai / Russian River confluence for Sockeye, or about anywhere for the Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden that feast on salmon eggs. No matter where you throw your line on the Kenai the fish are going to be big.
There aren’t many places better for salmon fishing than the Nushagak. This one river hosts Coho, King, Sockeye, Chum, and Pink salmon with easy access on the riverbanks to catch them (once you get to the banks.) June and July offer the best chances for salmon fishing as more than 200,000 King make their run into the state. Fly fishing on the Nushagak starts in the town of Kenai but you’ll need to take a plane into the bush for the best spots. Fly fishing on the Nushagak is recommended for experienced fly anglers.
- Fly Fact – The Kenai is home to the world record for King salmon.
Where to Fly Fish in Oregon
Oregon – Not everyone can make the hike to Alaska, but the Pacific Northwest also hosts great salmon and trout fishing in Oregon.
Much of our list concentrates on trout and salmon but plenty of people enjoy fly fishing in lakes for panfish like bass. Oregon’s Davis Lake offers some of the best lake fly fishing west of the Rockies including Rainbow and Brook trout, Largemouth bass, sunfish, and more. Davis Lake is the perfect place to hone your skills before more advanced adventures.
The Deschutes is a popular spawning area which offers anglers opportunities for both trout and salmon. Salmon species include Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead. On top of salmon anglers can target whitefish and a variety of trout including native Rainbow (known as Redsides in Oregon.) The best spots are in the Lower Deschutes from Wickiup Reservoir to Benham Falls.
Where to Fly Fish in Colorado
Colorado – Colorado might be one state, but it holds several unique environments and different types of fish to catch. The most popular spots are based out of Buena Vista in the south-central part of the state and the northern Rocky Mountain region.
With headwaters in Leadville and more than a third of the entire river in the Centennial State the Arkansas River has more to do with Colorado than Arkansas. The Upper part of the Arkansas features 102 miles of Gold Metal waters before it leaves the state. You can try for several trout species including Colorado native Cutthroat, Rainbows, and more while back-dropped by jagged peaks and big blue skies.
Roaring Fork is named for the confluences of the Fryingpan River, Roaring Fork River, and the Colorado River. By starting at Roaring Fork, you can venture up to the Gold Medal Fryingpan for Browns and Rainbow, stay at the Fork for trophy-sized Browns, or venture down to the Colorado River for 50 more miles of Gold Medal waters. The Roaring Fork area is close to several small towns that provide local fly shops, guides, and more amenities.
Where to Fly Fish in Idaho
Idaho – While most anglers aim for Montana or Wyoming, Idaho has similar terrain, gorgeous views, and excellent fly fishing. Fish Idaho to avoid the crowds at nearby states.
Boise River (South Fork)
Fishing the Boise River’s south fork lets you have some of the best fly fishing in the United States while also being to sleep in a comfortable bed at night. The Boise River’s South fork runs directly through Boise and connects you to both excellent fishing waters and nearby accommodations. You can wake up early, hit any number of the three forks for Bullhead or Rainbow trout, then grab a delicious dinner in downtown Boise. The waters from the Anderson Dam Reservoir to Blacks Creek Bridge are easily accessible and boast plentiful trout.
Salmon River (Middle Fork)
If you want to get off the beaten path of the Boise head to the Salmon River to be surrounded by the beautiful Idaho wilderness. There won’t be as many creature comforts when you fish this river but that’s what many anglers like about the Salmon. The Salmon produces tons of fishable species including Bull and Rainbow trout as well as Steelhead and Chinook salmon.
- Fly Fact – The Salmon has the highest concentration of native cutthroat trout in any 100-mile stretch of river in the world.
Where to Fly Fish in Montana
Montana – Montana is a classic fly-fishing state that hosts several types of species in a beautiful environment.
The Blackfoot was made popular by the book turned movie A River Runs Through It. It might be one of the more popular spots in Montana but it’s more about the fishing than living the book. Fly fishing on the Blackfoot puts you in beautiful water surrounded by mighty evergreens and rolling peaks. Blackfoot’s waters are home to several trout species including Brown and trophy-sized Rainbows.
The Madison lays in a valley overseen by the peaks of the Madison, Gravelly, and Tobacco Root ranges making it home to some of the best fly fishing scenery in the country. Like the Blackfoot, the Madison is most popular for Browns and Rainbows, but experienced anglers can look for Cutthroat too. The Madison is about a half hour from Bozeman, so you’ll never be too far away from shops and amenities.
Where to Fly Fish in Wyoming
Wyoming – Home to big skies and big fish, Wyoming is an excellent destination for anglers.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is known the world over for beautiful views, active geology, and tons of wildlife. That wildlife includes fly fishing species too. The main areas of Yellowstone are normally crowded with tourists but a hike to the Upper Yellowstone River gives you peace and quiet to nail Yellowstone Cutthroat.
The Yellowstone area gets all the praise, but it also gets all the visitors. You can skip over Yellowstone and try the Snake River for some of the best cutthroat trout action in the country. You can start your trip from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, home to some of the best fly shops in the entire mountain west. When you’re fishing the Snake River, time you’ll be fishing under the backdrop of the Grand Tetons – not bad at all.
Where to Fly Fish in Florida
Florida– Florida is an excellent destination for salt water sportfishing. Most head to Florida for the tarpon but you can fly fish freshwater lakes and streams too.
Located at the farthest reaches of the U.S. in the Florida Keys, Islamorada isn’t only the best tarpon fishing in the country – it’s the best tarpon fishing in the world. Every year thousands of anglers flock to the six islands that make up Islamorada to fish what’s called the best fighting fish in all of angling. Because it’s so popular, the town is loaded with fly shops, guides, and everything an angler would ever need.
The Naples area is a great place for fly fishers who want fun fishing in the day but their creature comforts at night. Naples is excellently placed in Florida offering quick access to Big Cypress National Preserve, the Everglades, the Ten Thousand Islands, and many other spots depending on your preferences. You can choose the inland lakes for bass and panfish or hit the saltwater for several different fish including marlin, sailfish, tuna, and shark. After fishing you can fill yourself at one of Naples’s many eateries before you snuggle into bed in your 5-star hotel room.
Where to Fly Fish in North Carolina
North Carolina – You can journey to the Atlantic shore for saltwater fishing, but North Carolina is more prized for its fly fishing in the Western part of the state.
Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail
The Western North Carolina fishing trail is not one stream but a collection of 15 unique fishing spots located primarily in Jackson County. The scenic Blue Ridge mountains surround the trail with plenty of options for creek, stream, and river fishing. The Trail includes hatchery supported waters, wild waters, and catch and release waters. The WNCFT includes Brown, Rainbow, Brook, and Donaldson trout among others.
Click here for a detailed map of the entire WNCFT.
Home of greatest variety of freshwater species in North Carolina. The Upper Nantahala is more accessible for waders and shore fishing but experienced anglers should aim for the Lower Nantahala for impressive Brook, Rainbow, and Brown trout. Both portions of the Nantahala are seasonally stocked so you’ll always have plenty of chances to get a fish on the line.
- Fly Fact – The NC record Brown Trout was caught on the lower Nantahala.
Where to Fly Fish in Michigan
Michigan – The mountain west and eastern wilderness get much of the fly-fishing love but the upper Midwest including Michigan host excellent fly fishing opportunities.
Michigan’s Manistee River offers excellent trout and salmon fishing for many months of the year. You can target some of the largest trout to be found east of the Rocky Mountains as well as steelhead and other salmon varieties. Anglers should concentrate the efforts on the Upper Manistee River near Fife Lake and Grayling. The Manistee offers excellent night fishing too.
Au Sable River
The Au Sable begins in the Manistee River headwaters too but instead of moving west, the Au Sable flows east to Lake Huron. Like the Manistee you can begin your fly fishing adventure near Grayling, Michigan choosing the main branch or the north and south branches. One of the best advantages of the fishing the Au Sable is the numerous access points that make angling easy on those with mobility issues. If it’s not too crowded, try starting your adventure from Burton’s Landing which boasts approximately 4,000 trout per square mile.
- Fly Fact – Fishing on the Manistee is so popular that the local airport is named King Trout Airport.
Where to Fly Fish in New York
New York – The Empire State doesn’t spring to mind for most anglers, but New York is arguably the birthplace of American fly fishing and hosts excellent action.
The Upper Delaware bills itself as the best trout fishing east of the Rockies and that’s tough to dispute. You can choose the East Branch, West Branch, or the confluence depending on the time of year. The town of Hancock hosts lodging and fly fishing resources for the anglers targeting big Tiger trout among other species. Unlike some western destinations you can fish the Delaware from early spring late into fall.
Ausable River – West Branch
Fishing on the Ausable’s west branch puts you in touch with some of New York’s lushest scenery including the Adirondacks and Lake Placid. The best fishing on the Ausable are two catch and release spots totaling 7.2 miles of excellent trout fishing. In those 7 miles you can target Brown, Rainbows, and Brooks. The fishable waters are surrounded by dense forest and plunging waterfalls with many accessible areas for shore and wader fishing.
Book Your Trip and Get Fishing
The United States is a big, beautiful country home to some of the best fly fishing spots in the entire world. Whether you’re off to Alaska for salmon, Montana for classic angling, or fighting for your life against a tarpon in Florida – you can find it all within our borders. Don’t wait around and grow old while these spots are ready for you, get your equipment together and get out there.