An Expert Guide to the 10 Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the U.S.

Published on 09/18/2023 · 9 min readThe United States holds some of the best fly fishing on the planet. Read more to discover the top destinations.
Rob F., Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Rob F.

Photo by Fly Fishing Expert Robert F.

Fly fishing knows no bounds. From early mornings along your favorite trout stream to the sputter of the outboard as you glide into the saltwater flats, you, with your fly rod in hand, are at peace. The United States holds some of the best fly fishing on the planet. With targets spanning from native brook trout in high mountain streams or tailwater fishing, below a dam, for large brown trout to bonefish in the Florida Keys, there is certainly a trip of your life awaiting your arrival. Planning a destination fly fishing trip to a fishing lodge, or sneaking out to the water while on a family vacation can often be something quite worth your while.

The opportunity to catch a fish on a fly rod is anywhere! With new styles and equipment, fly fishing has transformed its once prestigious trout vs. man battle of wits, into a laundry list of species and locations that have gained credit in the sport.

The following list will help you narrow down your options for a trip, as well as expose some close-to-home, fish-catching fun.

Southwestern Montana

Photo by Robert F.

With dozens of world-famous trout rivers within a day's drive of your Montana base camp, there is no question as to why this area tops this list. Waterways like the Yellowstone River, Bighorn River, Missouri River, and Madison River often hold some of the best trout fishing and the scenery of dreams. There is no doubt that mature brown trout cruise the shallow riffles and hard-fighting rainbows feed in the center currents of these rivers. In addition to these areas, access to Yellowstone National Park is abundant. With picture-perfect mountains surrounding these rivers, it’s hard to have a bad day of fishing. Fishing in these rivers can be done by foot, but often can be better out of a raft or drift boat. To ensure that you will catch good numbers of trout, consider hiring a local guide service to take you down the river!

Central Pennsylvania

Photo by Robert F.

Hidden amongst the hustle and bustle of the East Coast lies a hidden gem of world-class trout fishing. Just a few hours drive from many of the major cities of the Northeast, clear water streams abundant with wild trout await. Central Pennsylvania’s various spring-fed creeks and freestone drainages provide ample opportunity for anglers to catch brown, brook, and rainbow trout on the same day. Some of the more popular streams include Spring Creek, Penns Creek, Bald Eagle Creek, and the Little Juniata River. The influence of consistent spring water to these drainages provides world-class fishing year-round. From early morning trico hatches on Spring Creek to the prolific Green Drake hatch on Penns Creek, there is certainly no shortage of opportunities for dry fly fishing here. These excellent hatches, paired with quality access points allow for an easy day trip or longer stays in Central Pennsylvania. In addition to these larger streams, there is a plethora of spring-fed mountain streams teaming with native and eager brook trout.

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado

Fly Fishing at Maroon Bells near Maroon Lake. Photo by John Hoffman

It should come as no surprise that Colorado places high on this list of the best places to fly fish in the U.S. The region within the western United States, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, provides fly fishers with opportunities for world-class fishing. Some of the top rivers include the Colorado River, Eagle River, Gunnison River, Yampa River, Arkansas, Roaring Fork, Frying Pan, and the South Platte River. While there are thousands of miles of cold rushing water meandering through the state, these rivers will offer you your best shot at landing the fish of a lifetime.

If fishing rivers isn’t your thing, throw on a pair of your hiking boots, grab your backpack, and head for the hills. The Rocky Mountains is home to thousands of high alpine lakes where Cutthroat Trout cruise the shallows awaiting their next meal. While the hike to some of these lakes can be daunting, the reward of a trophy-sized Cutthroat is always worth the adventure. If you plan on taking a trip to Colorado, fly fishing destinations like Glenwood Springs, Steamboat, and Gunnison serve as excellent base camps for your ultimate trout adventure.

North Platte River, Wyoming

Photo by John Hoffman

If you are looking for the chance to consistently catch large trout, the North Platte River in Wyoming might just be your ideal destination. This iconic western river flows north out of Colorado and into Wyoming, eventually flowing through the town of Casper. The portion of the North Platte below Alcova Reservoir provides cool water as a refuge from the summer heat for thousands of trout. The North Platte boasts 4,000 fish per mile, meaning that there is certainly no shortage of opportunity here. From fishing nymphs and streamers in early spring to throwing grasshopper patterns in September, the North Platte surely will provide you with memories of a lifetime.

South Fork of the Flathead, Northern Montana

Photo by Robert F.

Looking for wild and remote fly-fishing spots? Look no further than the South Fork of the Flathead River through the Bob Marshall Wilderness in northwestern Montana. Nestled amidst the beautiful scenery of Flathead Valley, this river holds healthy populations of native Bull Trout. This native fish rivals the size and attitude of their lesser counterparts, and have managed to flourish in this river drainage. Be mindful of the limited season and catch and release policies regarding Bull Trout in this area. In addition to the chance to catch a bucket-list fish like the Bull Trout, the South Fork maintains a healthy population of Cutthroat Trout. This river is best fished from a boat, so consider hiring a guide to take you on a trip of a lifetime!

Florida Keys

Fly fishing off Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Photo by The Floridian

If trout fishing has lost its luster for you, there can certainly be nothing better than a good day of saltwater fly fishing therapy. The coastal regions of Florida and the Florida Keys offer some of your best saltwater fly fishing destinations to connect with large Bonefish, Permit, Snook, and Tarpon. These species can be chased throughout the year and the action can rival international hot spots like Belize, Seychelles, Cuba, or Christmas Island.

The best fishing season for Tarpon is in late winter or early spring, and Bonefish in late summer through fall. These giants are migratory and aligning your trip with these times is important. If you have a trip planned outside of these times, then be on the lookout for Permit on the flats! Fly fishing isn't relegated to the salty shallows.

For a truly unique experience, why not go off-shore to bluewater in search of billfish, like sailfish, marlin, and other deep water fish such as dorado, bluefish, false albacore. Surf fly fisherman can also walk the shore targetting giant trevally, pompano, snappers, wahoo, mackerel, yellowfin tuna, cobia, roosters, and even shark. Bring your saltwater flies, heavyweight fly rod, and a high-quality reel to ensure that you have the advantage in the fight against these mighty saltwater fish.

Besides, the Keys, The the best fly fishing in the us for slat anglers includes Long Island, New York for stripers and Louisiana for trophy redfish.

Northern Pike on the Fly

Photo by K Steve Cope

If you are looking for some of the most exciting fly fishing in the world, consider the Northern Pike. These aggressive fish can be found in lakes, ponds, and rivers across the northern portion of the United States. Typically, Pike strike large streamer patterns that imitate baitfish. Some of the best Pike fishing can be found in Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir, as well as in the lakes of Northern Michigan and Wisconsin.

Great Lakes Steelhead

Great Lakes Erie tributaries hold one of the highest fish-caught-per-hour ratios up towards 1.47 fish per hour of angling. This steelhead was caught using a 9.5 foot 9wt fly rod. Photo by Colton Orbaker

Fishing for Steelhead in the Great Lakes region can be incredible. These lake-run fish flood into rivers like the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY in the winter and spring to spawn in the upper reaches of the river system. Fishing for Steelhead and lake-run Brown Trout in rivers like the Salmon River in New York provides anglers with the opportunity to hook into fish measured in pounds, not inches. Steelheading in these rivers often relies on the flow of the river for judging how productive the fishing will be. Keep an eye on the flow charts, and when you see the water start to rise, get ready for a big push of fish to begin their way up the river in the next few days. Steelhead, Brown Trout, and some Atlantic Salmon are known to run these tributaries to the Great Lakes, and targeting them with streamers, egg imitations, and larger nymph patterns will prove effective.

Western North Carolina

Fly fishing the French Broad River North Carolina. Photo by Big Hill Photos

This often-overlooked region can provide trout fly fishermen of any background with a superb experience. Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains are arguably one of the best-kept secrets of fly fishing. Rivers like the Nantahala and South Holston are prized for their large quantities of fish and the opportunity to hook into a true trophy. The combination of the pristine Appalachian Mountains, miles of trout streams, and sunny days is almost a guarantee of good times. While many rivers in this region are supplemented with stocked trout, wild trout populations remain healthy in the upper stretches of these larger river systems. This region is only a drive away from many major cities and is a stark contrast to fast-paced city life. Tuck away into the mountains for a while and experience some of the best fly fishing in the U.S.

Your Neighborhood Pond

Photo by Robert F.

While fishing the local pond may seem like little fun for the “expert” anglers out there, you may be humbled by the memories you will rekindle overlooking the water. Fly fishing is often seen as a sport where trout is king while catching bass or panfish out of a pond is better reserved for bait fishing, but there is certainly something special about any fish you catch. These local ponds provide a great opportunity to get out into nature and hone your skills (or learn some new ones)! In addition, pond fishing is a great way to practice casting or to introduce someone new to the sport! So get out to your local pond and get back to your roots!

In addition to all these destinations, plenty more exist in the USA. We didn't mention the massive brown trout on the White River, the incredible fishery of the Green River in Utah, Oregon's Deschutes River, Idaho's Snake River, even New Mexico's San Juan River, and so many more. Read An Expert Guide to the Best Trout Streams in the U.S. for more on the best trout streams in the country.

If you have any questions on which gear is right for your next adventure, please don't hesitate to reach out to me or one of my fellow Fly Fishing Experts here on Curated. We're happy to be a source of free advice and recommendations.

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