An Expert Guide to the Best Trout Streams in the U.S.

Whether you're just getting into the sport or a seasoned veteran - this guide will be sure to offer some new ideas of streams to toss a few casts in this season!

A golved hand holds a trout out of a fishing net.

Photo by Jack Murrey

America is a country that has a lot of trout fly fishing opportunities, but I want to stress that no matter where you live, there are plenty of great trout fishing opportunities and I hope to inspire you to get outside and fish some of them. (Psst…Don’t tell my editors, but this list is not just going to be limited to trout and salmonid species). Sure, trout inhabit some of the most scenic waters, but some warm water fishing is scenic as well, and often, warm water species are the ones we introduce new anglers to. Besides, warm-water fly fishing and saltwater fly fishing have taken off and there are great fishing opportunities here in the United States for these species. I will attempt to include all areas of this country so while some of these may be on your ultimate bucket list, hopefully, there will be some close enough for you to experience. With that in mind and in no order, here we go!

Northeast

The Northeast has plenty of opportunities for fly fishing. The birthplace of American fly fishing was in the Catskills and plenty of other topnotch trout streams can be found here as well. Anadromous species run in the streams of this area and saltwater migrations of striped bass and blitzes of bluefish make saltwater fishing great. Warm water species abound as well.

Maine

A boy in a life vest holding a Martha’s Vineyard Bluefish.

Martha’s Vineyard Bluefish. Photo by Joseph Smith

This is the best of both worlds. With countless small streams in scenic backcountry, brook trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon can readily be chased. Smallmouth bass fishing is also great in this state. Summer migrations of stripers and blues make for great coast fishing opportunities. This is a state where an angler could fish for brook trout in the morning and then cast to saltwater quarries in the afternoon. Check out these rivers as starting points.

  • Kennebec River: Known for its native brookies, this river also has rainbows, browns, and landlocked salmon.
  • Kennebago River: This is a fly-fishing-only river. Large brook trout and landlocked salmon await.
  • Penobscot River: ME’s largest river also has one of the best-landlocked salmon fisheries in the United States.
  • Allagash River: Wild native brook trout are highly sought after in this local secret hot spot.
  • Martha’s Vineyard: Yes, this summer destination for the trendy set is also a great fly fishing destination. Legendary striper and bluefish fishing starts in April but really heats up in the fall once the tourists leave, and lasts until November. As a bonus, bonito and false albacore can also be found August through November

Connecticut River

This river has some spectacular scenery, especially during the fall when the foliage changes. This river boasts healthy rainbow trout, brook trout, and brown trout as well as landlocked salmon populations. The fishing along the New Hampshire and Vermont borders up to Hannover, N.H. is some of the best.

Salmon River

A man in waders standing in a river and holding a Salmon River Chinook Salmon.

Salmon River Chinook Salmon. Photo by Joseph Smith

Pulaski, New York’s entire economy seems to be based on fishing and this river is a good reason why. Epic runs of large Chinook and Coho salmon from Lake Ontario draw anglers every fall, and large steelhead soon follow. The river also has a summer Skamania steelhead run and Atlantic salmon (from Lake Ontario) as well. In the summer, smallmouth bass predominates the fishery. Two fly fishing sections only and the Douglaston Salmon Run (founders of Douglas Fly Rods) offer premier fly-fishing experiences.

Upper Delaware Watershed

A man standing on a boat holding a rainbow trout.

West Branch of the Delaware River Rainbow Trout. Photo by Joseph Smith

Snuggled in between NY and Pennsylvania is some excellent fly fishing. The Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational Waterway not only has beautiful scenery, but it also hosts a rich abundance of aquatic life. Many different hatches will be occurring simultaneously if catching these wild trout was not hard enough. It was here in these waters that American dry fly fishing was born and in fact, Roscoe, NY is nicknamed “Trout Town USA.” In addition to the main Delaware River, some of these tributaries found in the Catskills Mountains should sound familiar if you are a trout fly fisherman. Do not worry, you will not need a bamboo rod or click and pawl reel, but you will be fishing streams rich in history and full of wary trout. Make sure to get a dead drift to fool these smart trout.

  • Willowemoc Creek
  • Neversink River
  • Esopus Creek
  • Beaverkill River
  • West Branch of the Delaware River
  • East Branch of the Delaware River

Central Pennsylvania

This is some of the best trout fishing in the country. Known for its big four trout streams, all in easy travel distance from one another, anglers can chase wild trout and fish-abundant hatches. In fact, the fabled Green Drake hatch on Penns Creek draws anglers in from across the country. Here are the “Big Four.” For more information, check out this guide to fly fishing in PA.

  • Penns Creek
  • Spring Creek
  • Little Juniata River
  • Fishing Creek

Susquehanna River and Flats

This is a warm water gem. The lower Susquehanna is well known for smallmouth bass fishing and was where the Clouser Minnow was developed. Below the Conowingo Dam is the Susquehanna Flats where the river empties into the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay. Every spring, not only do hickory shad run into the flats and the nearby tributaries such as Deer Creek, but large stripers swim up to spawn and feast on herring and shad. Strip retrieve baitfish imitations to target large stripers.

The South

A hand holding a Rainbow Trout over a body of water.

An Appalachian Rainbow Trout. Photo by Joseph Smith

Mostly known for warm water fishing, there is also some great trout fishing in the South as well as unparalleled saltwater fishing opportunities.

Western North Carolina

The Appalachian Mountains hold perhaps some of the best-kept secrets in trout fishing. Pack up your ultralight setup and explore. For more information please see my article about North Carolina Fly Fishing.

Western NC Fly Fishing Trail: Near the Great Smoky Mountains are some beautiful streams. This trail will take anglers to 15 streams that hold brook, rainbow, and brown trout.

  • Davidson River: This is a river that is easily accessible and holds many fish.
  • Nantahala River: Just a little further west of the Davidson is another excellent trout stream with scenic landscape.
  • South Holston River: This Appalachian river flows from Southwestern VA into Eastern Tennessee and offers over 112mi of water to fish for large wild brown trout.

Western NC Fly Fishing Trail: Near the Great Smoky Mountains are some beautiful streams. This trail will take anglers to 15 streams that hold brook, rainbow, and brown trout.

  • Davidson River: This is a river that is easily accessible and holds many fish.
  • Nantahala River: Just a little further west of the Davidson is another excellent trout stream with scenic landscape.
  • South Holston RiverLThis Appalachian river flows from Southwestern VA into Eastern Tennessee and offers over 112mi of water to fish for large wild brown trout.

Florida Keys

Two people on a boat. One is holding a Florida Keys Snook.

Florida Keys Snook. Photo by Joseph Smith

This area is the fishing mecca of the world. It would be heresy to have a list that did not include the Keys. For more detailed information check out this guide to fishing the Florida Keys.

  • Islamorada: The proclaimed fishing capital of the world serves as the gateway to fishing the flats of Florida Bay and the backcountry of the Everglades National Park. For anglers seeking even larger species, blue water opportunities can easily be obtained as well.
  • Marathon: Midway through the Keys, the flats here are known for tarpon, bonefish, and permit.
  • Key West: This Key offers quality fishing for bonefish, tarpon, and permit on the surrounding flats. This is also a great hop-off point to reach the fishing around Marquesas Keys.

Louisiana Bayou

The southern swamps of Louisiana hold monster redfish with peak times in the fall and winter. Excellent fishing can be found from Biloxi Marsh to Venice, Louisiana, another self-proclaimed fishing capital of the world. If 20lbs+ redfish do not excite you, offshore trips can put anglers onto pelagic fish as well. As they say on the bayou, “Laissez les bons temps rouler.

Midwest

This area of the country is not just farmland. Beautiful waterways offer anglers opportunities to target trout and warm water species and fish anadromous runs from the Great Lakes.

Steelhead Alley

A man holding a Steelhead Alley Steelhead fish. There is a body of water in the background.

Steelhead Alley Steelhead. Photo by Joseph Smith

This famed section of Lake Erie tributaries spans Ohio, PA, and NY coasts. With creeks being very close, fishermen can fish multiple creeks a day and have 50+ fish days. Every fall through spring, fly fishermen descend on these streams to find fresh chrome. For more information see my Steelhead Fishing article . Here are some of the more notable rivers.

Ohio

  • Ashtabula River
  • Conneaut Creek

Pennsylvania

  • Elk Creek
  • 20 Mile Creek

New York

  • Cattaraugus Creek
  • Canadaway Creek

Michigan

The state boasts of being the birthplace of Trout Unlimited. Not only does this state have great trout streams, but Great Lake salmon runs also draw anglers.

  • Au Sable River: Probably the best-known river in MI, no MI fishing is complete without visiting this stream.
  • Manistee River: This river shares some of the same headwaters as the Au Sable. Miles of surrounding national and state forests add spectacular scenery and ensure access.
  • Pere Marquette River: The first stocking of brown trout in the United States occurred in this river. Salmon, steelhead runs, and brown trout make this a year-round fishing location.

Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area

This wilderness area offers anglers solitude with spectacular scenery; this is a premier fishery where anglers routinely catch large northern pike and smallmouth bass.

White River

This river runs through the southern tip of Missouri and through Arkansas. Various dams along the river create great tailwaters that produce fish measured in pounds rather than inches. Bulls Shoal Lake area is particularly well known.

Mountain West

Known for majestic mountain scenery, the waterways are just as impressive, and the fishing is some of the best in the country. Nothing is better than eating freshly caught trout around a campfire, so pack a tent, and do some camping while you explore some high alpine lakes and streams. If you just want to fish, here are some suggestions.

Yellowstone National Park

If this were just an article about the top trout streams, most of this article would be about this park’s rivers. The world’s first national park has some of the finest waters for chasing rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout. Grayling can also be caught in these waters. If you can take your eyes off the sights, the fishing here is world-class. These are the popular rivers to fish.

  • Yellowstone River
  • Gallatin River
  • Madison River
  • Firehole River

Montana

If fly fishing were a religion, then a trip to MT would be its Hajj. This state has phenomenal waters not just in the Yellowstone area but throughout the state. For more information, please see my Montana Fly Fishing article. Here are some non-Yellowstone rivers to check out.

  • Missouri River: Below Holter Dam, this tailwater produces nice rainbow trout year-round. Brown trout are also in the mix.
  • Blackfoot River: This is the river from the movie, A River Runs Through It. Brown, rainbow, and native cutthroat trout make this scenic river well worth the trip.
  • Bighorn River: This Eastern MT stream has hatches year-round with quality fishing.
  • South Fork of the Flathead River: Located in the largest designated wilderness area in the United States, this remote river offers chances to catch bull trout as well as wild native cutthroat trout.

Colorado

A man in a river holding a fish. There is a fishing net in the water.

An Arkansas River Rainbow Trout. Photography by Joseph Smith

From scenic Rocky Mountain vistas and alpine lakes to clear streams, this state has great fly fishing opportunities. Here are some highlights.

  • South Platte River: Flowing through canyons and meadows, this stream offers rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and cuttbow trout. Kokanee salmon also can be targeted.
  • Frying Pan River: A high mountain stream above the reservoir and a tailwater below, this river holds trout well over 15lbs.
  • Colorado River: From its headwaters in the Rocky Mountain National Park to downstream, this river offers many fishing opportunities. A salmonfly hatch in the late spring draws anglers for shots at hungry fish.
  • Arkansas River: This river is famous for its Mother’s Day caddis hatch. The tailwater in Pueblo offers great winter fishing opportunities.
  • Gunnison River: Perhaps some of the most stunning vistas occur along this river. The fact that it is a productive fishery also makes it worth the trip.

Green River

The upper portions of this river course through Wyoming and offer anglers shots at large brown trout. As a tailwater to Flaming Gorge Dam, the Utah portion of the river is known for its cutthroat trout population, but it also fishes well for brown and rainbow trout. The use of a drift boat is popular for this portion of the river.

Provo River

Situated between two reservoirs, this Utah river has big fish, a lot of them, and easy access from free public parking make this a great fly-fishing river.

Henry’s Fork of Snake River

Located in Eastern Idaho, this river sports shallow stretches and deep canyons.

San Juan River

Not only does this river have the San Juan Worm named after it, but this New Mexico-located tailwater offers year-round fishing for large brown and rainbow trout.

North Platte River

This river flows from CO into WY and offers over 4,000 fish/mi. The natural scenery is worth the visit as well if you are not too busy unhooking your fish.

West Coast

The Sierra Nevada Mountains not only offer up-high mountain fishing for golden trout, but the largest cutthroat subspecies can also be found here. The estuary formed by the mountain’s drainage basin is large and extensive, holding numerous fishing opportunities for anglers. Here are some highlights:

Truckee River

If being home to the largest cutthroat trout subspecies is not enough, this river flows from Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California into Pyramid Lake in Nevada where the large Lahontan cutthroat can be caught from the shore. Large rainbow and brown trout are also caught in these waters.

California Delta

Formed by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, this is the fourth largest estuary in the United States and provides anglers with many fishing options. Although salmon do run into the delta, bass (largemouth, smallmouth, and stripers) are the main sought-after fish.

Pacific Northwest

This area of the country is known for its salmon and steelhead runs. The anadromous cutthroat population should not be overlooked either. The rivers listed below offer some of the more famous runs.

Washington

  • Skagit River: This river flows through the North Cascade National Park. This is a wide river best fished from a drift boat. Salmon and steelhead runs are the main attraction, but sea-run cutthroat and Dolly Varden can also be caught.
  • Yakima River: One of the most successful fisheries in Washington, this river is known for its trout and chinook salmon.

Oregon

  • McKenzie River: This river has stayed mostly undeveloped and public access is available. Chinook salmon, rainbow, and cutthroat trout are the top sought-after species while bull trout can also be caught here.
  • Deschutes River: This river is known for its redband rainbow trout (extremely rare and genetically pure rainbow strain) and steelhead population. This river has a native-fish-only designation.

Idaho

A boy on a boat holds a fish. There is a fishing rod next to him.

Westlope Cutthroat. Photo by Joseph Smith

  • Salmon River: This river is the longest free-flowing river within a state’s borders in the Lower 48. Salmon and steelhead travel over 800mi from the Pacific Ocean to spawn here. Trout can be targeted in this river all year.

Alaska

What list would be complete without including Alaska? For most fishermen, fishing in AK is a dream trip. Although there are countless waters to fish, here are some of the more famous ones.

  • Nushagak River: This river runs by all five of the Pacific salmon: chinook, coho, pink, chum, and sockeye. Rainbow trout, arctic char, grayling, and Dolly Varden complete the abundant fish opportunities.
  • American Creek: Located near Bristol Bay, this creek gives anglers some of the best opportunities to catch arctic char and rainbows.
  • Aniak River: This river hosts ten different species that can be targeted with the fly. Anglers can cast large flies to rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, sheefish, northern pike, grayling and all five Pacific salmon species.
  • Kulik River: Less than 2mi long, this river is seldom blown out, making it a reliable river to fish. This is a great fishery for sockeye and rainbow trout, and plenty of bears know it.
  • Kvichak River: This southwestern AK river is the only river in AK to have a Trophy Rainbow Trout Area designation.
  • Naknek River: This river flows into Bristol Bay and supports a healthy population of rainbow trout and salmon runs.

Final Thoughts

As stated earlier, this list is not intended to be an authoritative list of the best places to fish, and in no way should the order of these destinations be construed to be yet another whimsical ranking. Instead, I hope this article showcases some of the fabulous fishing that America has to offer and inspires you to spend some time outdoors and plan some exciting fishing adventures.

Perhaps your favorite waters did not make this list, which is why I will conclude with perhaps the most important fishing destination: your local waters. It is here that you will spend most of your fishing time, practice your knots, master your casts, and hopefully pass this fishing tradition on to others. It is also here where you can have the biggest impact on preserving the environmental conditions that are needed to have beautiful places to fish.

If you have questions, such as what the best fly rod action is or what fly rod grip is best, or need assistance with gear; be it fly rods, fly line, flies, or even a replacement for your leaky waders, please reach out to me or a Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated. We would love to help you. Tight Lines!

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Written By
I am an avid fly fisherman. Luckily, I have a pond in my backyard exactly two minutes from my fly tying bench. If there is open water, I will fish just about every day. Although I grew up fishing the fabled streams of Pennsylvania, I love to travel and fly fish for diverse species both fresh and sa...

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