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Fly Fishing America's Bucket-List H2O

25th April 2017 | Josh Cooley

News Regions: Banff, Michigan, Mt. Bachelor, Big Sky, Durango, Winter Park, Loon

The clear waters of the Colorado River near Winter Park are a favorite for anglers because of it's abundant fish and close proximity to Denver.

The clear waters of the Colorado River near Winter Park are a favorite for anglers because of it's abundant fish and close proximity to Denver.

Copyright: Grand County Fly Fishing Co. and Winter Park Flyfisher

Whether casting a dry fly or a nymph, the alpine lakes, rivers and streams of North America are full of trout and other hungry species. The discerning angler can find numerous Gold Medal waters across this great land, but we've selected the top spots for tight lines in some of the most beautiful mountain towns around.

From pike, salmon, steelhead or trout, we've got you covered. Here are seven destinations that should be on your short list for your next fly-fishing vacation: 

1. Banff, Alberta

The Upper Bow River is known in angling circles for having an abundance of brown trout.   - © Banff Fishing Guides

The Upper Bow River is known in angling circles for having an abundance of brown trout.

Copyright: Banff Fishing Guides

Banff, deep within the Canadian Rockies of Alberta, is blessed with glacier-fed emerald green rivers and immaculate alpine lakes. The esteemed Upper Bow River yields some of the finest fly fishing anywhere. Wade to your waist and lob dry flies for stout brown trout, Rocky Mountain whitefish and healthy brookies. The fish get especially ornery on the Upper Bow in July and August during the fervent drake hatches. Anglers cherish Lake Minnewanka, 10 miles northeast of Banff. Minnewanka, 17-miles long and up to 400-feet deep, yields trout exceeding 30 pounds. Nearby Johnson and Two Jack lakes are easily accessible and well stocked with fish. Experienced backcountry travelers can venture into Banff’s numerous wilderness lakes and streams. These are serious adventures and could include bear and elk encounters in addition to stellar fly fishing. Plenty of local guides are available to show you insider secrets. 

Licenses: Annual or single day National Park Fishing Permit required; kids under 16 fish for free with adults that have a permit.

Must fish: Upper Bow River, Lake Minnewanka, Ghost Lakes, Owen Lake, Lemon Lake and Marvel Lake

Getting there: Calgary International Airport is 90 miles northeast of Banff via the Trans-Canada Highway 

2. Mt. Bachelor, Oregon

Native redside trout can be found in many of the waters surrounding Mt. Bachelor.   - © Brian Silvey Fly Fishing Guide Service.

Native redside trout can be found in many of the waters surrounding Mt. Bachelor.

Copyright: Brian Silvey Fly Fishing Guide Service.

Central Oregon’s hallowed angling waters include four key river systems: the Deschutes, Metolius, Fall and Crooked rivers. Those and other spectacular rivers and streams incise deep canyons of rim rock, lined with sage and juniper. The volcanic peaks of Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters dominate the western horizon. Native redside trout prowl the local waters. The genetically-unique redside is a tenacious, acrobatic fighter that induces euphoria when you snag one with a stonefly nymph—even if it steals your fly line. Grab your spey rod and cast for burly Deschutes' steelhead returning from the Pacific; characterized by their powerful surface strikes and long line-ripping runs, Deschutes' steelhead can exceed 16 pounds and will give you a heart-pounding battle. Other local species include Chinook salmon, which return from the Pacific in fall, brookies and brown trout. Many productive fishing locales are small, obscure, and found during reconnaissance excursions. A local guide service can show you the secrets of this angling Shangri-La.

Licenses: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife  

Must fish: Deschutes River, Crooked River, Metolius River, Fall River (native rainbow trout), Sparks Lake

Getting there: Portland International Airport is 163 miles from Bend; take Hwy 26/Mt. Hood Hwy to Hwy 97 then drive south to Bend; take the Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway to Mt. Bachelor. 

3. Big Sky, Montana

Montana is a fly-fishing Mecca. Anglers make pilgimages to Big Sky for rainbow trout like these.  - © Wild Trout Outfitters

Montana is a fly-fishing Mecca. Anglers make pilgimages to Big Sky for rainbow trout like these.

Copyright: Wild Trout Outfitters

The Rocky Mountain haven of Big Sky, Montana, provides anglers with five prime angling rivers, remote alpine lakes and countless wilderness streams in high-alpine locales. Bruiser browns lurk in the cold mountain waters that swirl beneath the peaks of the Absaroka, Gallatin and Madison mountain ranges. Big Sky is a fly caster’s fantasy land. Hatchery-born fish are absent from Montana’s rivers, so you’ll be filling your creel with wild brown, cutthroat, brook and rainbow trout in Big Sky country. Despite the popularity of rivers like the Madison and Missouri—two of the most famous angling rivers here—plenty of other low pressure rivers abound throughout the region. Check out the Shields River for surprisingly un-crowded, high-quality angling. The Gallatin is another less-frequented river and offers excellent dry-fly fishing for cutthroats, rainbows and browns.

Licenses: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks 

Must fish: Gallatin, Madison, Big Hole, Yellowstone and Missouri rivers

Getting there: Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is 44 miles northeast of Bozeman 

4. Durango, Colorado

A monster pike comes to net after a long battle.  - © Duranglers

A monster pike comes to net after a long battle.

Copyright: Duranglers

Your line feathers out over the water and a caddis nymph settles softly on the Animas River. The fly, dead drifting on the riffles, is suddenly hammered by a powerful trout. Fish on! Durango, a small mountain town in southwest Colorado, has big-time fly fishing in close proximity. Cutthroat, browns and rainbows are the primary trout species in these regional rivers, while nearby lakes hold northern pike and landlocked salmon. The Animas River originates high above Durango near Silverton, where it then cascades down the San Juan Mountains, slices through the center of Durango and then continues south before spilling into the San Juan River in New Mexico. The State of Colorado classifies stretches of the Animas as Gold Medal water. The state-record brown trout came out of the Animas at more than 30 pounds. Nearby Vellecito Lake also contains trophy northern pike and Kokanee salmon. Dozens of feeder streams offer low-pressure angling and solitude high in the Rocky Mountains. 

Licenses: Colorado Division of Wildlife

Must fish: Animas River, Florida River, Piedra River, La Plata River, Los Penos River, San Juan River, Chaco River, Vellecito Reservoir

Getting there: Albuquerque International Sunport is 215 miles south of Durango; take Hwy 550 north from Albuquerque; Denver International Airport is 337 miles east of Durango 

5. Loon Mountain, New Hampshire

The wilderness near Loon Mountain offers seclusion, gorgeous streams and plenty of fish ranging from bluegill to northern pike.   - © Stephanie Gould at dirtshopstudio.wordpress

The wilderness near Loon Mountain offers seclusion, gorgeous streams and plenty of fish ranging from bluegill to northern pike.

Copyright: Stephanie Gould at dirtshopstudio.wordpress

Loon Mountain Resort and the communities of Lincoln and Woodstock provide a base camp for angling forays into the vast White Mountains of central New Hampshire. The White Mountains feature hundreds of lakes, ponds, rivers and feeder streams that attract fly anglers. Anglers have fished for brookies alongside tumbling, boulder-strewn rivers in New Hampshire's deep woods for generations. Species like Atlantic salmon, bluegill, brook and rainbow trout, landlocked salmon, pumpkinseed, smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye populate these waters. The East Branch of the Pemigewasset River flows right below Loon Mountain; its dozens of small tributaries provide low-pressure angling, seclusion and beautiful wilderness for those willing to hike or bushwhack. Probe pockets and riffles in hidden, swift-moving streams that teem with brook trout within pristine forests—this experience is worth a trip from anywhere.

Licenses: Licenses can be found online or get a fishing license locally at Wayne’s Market in North Woodstock. Anglers aged 16 and older need to be licensed to fish in New Hampshire; kids under 16 fish for free.

Must fish: Echo Lake, Profile Lake, Pemigewasset River and East Branch of the Pemigewasset and Gale River

Getting there: Boston’s Logan Airport is 140 miles from Loon Mountain; take I-93 north to North Woodstock, then drive 2 miles east on the Kancamagus Highway 

6. Northern Michigan

Northern Michigan has a storied fly angling history. Avid-angler, Ernest Hemingway, based his Nick Adams stories on his experiences here; Leonard Halladay tested the first infamous Adams fly on the Boardman River, and Trout Unlimited was founded on the banks of the Au Sable River. The region’s hundreds of warm and cold water lakes, rivers and streams would keep even the most hardcore angler busy fishing for multiple fish species like brookies, browns, carp, pike and four salmon species, including "Gullspang" Atlantic salmon. You can’t go wrong in the “golden triangle of fly fishing,” located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Classic locations like the Au Sable, Fox and Manistee rivers will treat you right, as will dozens of small premium angling streams. Meanwhile, the harbors and river outlets lining Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior will yield anglers many varieties of game fish. Plan a trip to Isle Royale National Park in the northwest corner of Lake Superior for a truly unique trip.

Licenses: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Must fish: Au Sable River, Brevoort Lake, Carp River, Chocolay River, Garlic River, Two Hearted River, Lyman Lake, Manistee River and Great Lake shorelines

Getting there: Fly to Traverse City and arrange ground transportation to your desired location 

7. Winter Park, Colorado

The Winter Park region in Colorado’s Front Range offers some of the state’s best fly fishing. Anglers will find wild brook, rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout along with mackinaw and Kokanee salmon in the area’s rivers, high alpine lakes and reservoirs. A tributary to the Colorado River, the Fraser River is often overlooked, so don’t miss it if you go. The first 8 miles near its headwaters on Berthoud Pass are in national forest and rarely get fished, except by wily locals. The stretch of the Fraser River that tumbles through the canyon below Tabernash is designated Wild Trout water. Bring your angling gear and hike or mountain bike the Fraser River Trail between Winter Park and Granby, where you can access the river at multiple locations and search for hotspots. Experienced backcountry travelers can access the countless high alpine lakes and streams peppered throughout the Arapahoe National Forest surrounding Winter Park. It’s a wondrous place, and only an hour from downtown Denver.

Licenses: Colorado Division of Wildlife

Must fish: Fraser River, Colorado River, Williams Fork, Lake Granby, Willow Creek

Getting there: Denver International Airport is 70 miles east of Winter Park; take I-70/Hwy 40 west from Denver 


Colorado River - © Grand County Fly Fishing Co. and Winter Park Flyfisher
Fly Fishing in Utah
Upper Bow River - © Banff Fishing Guides
Waters surrounding Mt. Bachelor - © Brian Silvey Fly Fishing Guide Service.

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