The U.S. Rocky Mountains

If there is a heaven, fly-fishers can only hope it resembles the spine of the American West amid the Rocky Mountains, which run from northern Montana through Wyoming and Idaho, and all the way to southern Colorado. Along that route anglers find some of the most spectacular landscapes and trout fishing in the world. These range from massive tailwater systems (the Madison, Bighorn, Missouri, Green, and Platte rivers) packed with thousands of wild rainbows and browns per square mile, to intimate, freestone streams offering a mix of eager native cutthroats and carnivorous bull trout. Additionally, the Rocky Mountains offer pristine spring creek fishing, including Idaho’s legendary Silver Creek and Henry’s Fork, where large browns and rainbows force anglers to creep on their knees within casting range and use tiny dry flies and 6X or 7X tippet to get a rise.

If that kind of commitment isn’t your style, you also have the option of lazily drifting through many of these rivers in a McKenzie-style drift boat or raft, accompanied by a knowledgeable guide on the oars. If you prefer some solitude, you can hike along the banks almost wherever you please. The Rockies provide some of the best access in the world and in many places the only restrictions are how far your own boots are willing to take you.

The region offers access to some of the world’s most noted national parks, including the iconic Yellowstone National Park, where the Yellowstone, Madison, Firehole, Gallatin, and Gardner rivers beckon. Glacier National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park, also provide great trout fishing and the opportunity for pure solitude.

The Rockies are host to some of the heaviest and most predictable hatches in the world; ranging from the giant salmon fly and golden stoneflies of June, to the green drakes, pale morning duns, and Callibaetis of July, and the diminutive Trico and Baetis mayflies that arrive during late summer and fall. And don’t forget the terrestrials—meaning grasshoppers, ants, beetles and moths—which bring fish to top all summer long. Strictly interested in giants? During the fall most anglers go headhunting with large streamers hoping to stick a 10-pound brown as it’s headed toward the spawning grounds.

While the Rockies’ best trout streams have become more and more popular in the past 20 years, an enormous amount of public access, coupled with a ready guide fleet that can row you down any river you choose, makes the region one of fly-fishing’s most desirable destinations. When you visit Montana, Idaho, Wyoming or Colorado you’ll definitely find a little piece of fly-fishing heaven.

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U.S. Rockies

Quick Facts

SPECIES

GEAR

SEASON

Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout5wt FloatingApril - October
Bull Trout7/8wt Floating, Sink TipApril - October

Montana

No western fly-fisher could say they’ve “fished it all” without spending a significant portion of time in Montana. When you look at a map of the state you see hundreds of rivers and streams twisting alluringly between its borders, all managed strictly for wild trout. Today Montana offers unparalleled fishing for wild naturally reproducing populations of rainbow, cutthroat, brown, brook and bull trout that are perfectly suited to their environment. You can find great trout water across the state.

In western Montana, classic large rivers, such as the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Kootenai and Flathead, offer float fishing at its finest. Although wading anglers will find unparalleled opportunity here, too. For the anlger looking for an intimate experience, there are plenty of small streams, many of which kick out larger trout than you might expect. On any given day you may be surprised with a 20-incher in your net.

Southwest Montana is the state’s trout mecca and offers some of the most famous fisheries in the world, including the Madison, Gallatin, Jefferson, Ruby, Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Yellowstone rivers. The region also offers great stillwater fishing for those who enjoy lakes and reservoirs and the oversized trout that call those waters home.

Central Montana is home to the massive Missouri River, known for broad-shouldered rainbow trout that selectively feed on tiny mayflies, caddis and midges all year long, plus some leviathan browns that crush streamers during the fall season. The region also offers the Smith River, which provides a 58-mile put-in to take-out float through some of the state’s most stunning scenery, including towering limestone walls that rise straight out of the river.

Eastern Montana is home to one of the state’s most heralded fisheries—the Bighorn River. The Bighorn flows through the Crow Indian Reservation and, in any given year, may offer up to 15,000 trout per mile – mix of well fed rainbows and browns.

Overall Montana offers one of the finest fly-fishing experiences in the world. Alongside excellent trout fishing, visitors can marvel at the state’s towering snow-capped peaks, its lush golden-hued valleys, and its endless shimmering plains. For those who desire a full fly-fishing experience, Montana is definitely the place to go.

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Idaho

Idaho fly fishing scene may take a backseat to Montana’s but thats only among people who have not spent much time on the water in the Gem State. Diversity is the name of the game here. In Idaho’s northern “panhandle” fly fishers target native cutthroat and bull trout that fin in waters spilling out of heavily forested mountains. In addition, northern Idaho offers great warm water fly-fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, plus walleye, northern pike, perch and crappie.

In the Clearwater region anglers find some of the best native westslope cutthroat trout fishing on earth with the St. Joe, North Fork Clearwater, Lochsa, Selway and Coeur d’ Alene rivers, being the most popular. The mainstream Clearwater River and the Salmon River also offer steelhead, weighing up to 20 pounds, many of which are taken by fly fishers wielding spey rods and swung flies.

Farther south, along the banks of the South Fork Boise, Owyhee, Big Wood, Little Wood and Payette rivers, anglers get into rainbow and brown trout, and some of the best dry-fly fishing found anywhere in the West. Anglers get to match wits with Silver Creek’s skeptical brown and rainbow trout, which commonly grow past 20 inches and feed on a smorgasbord of productive hatches.

In eastern Idaho anglers select from a near incomparable array of productive trout rivers, including the legendary Henry’s Fork, the overlooked Teton, Fall and Big Lost, and the massive South Fork Snake, where rafts and drift boats are the desired mode of transportation. Browns and rainbows, and some native Yellowstone cutthroat, are the game in eastern Idaho as they grow to large sizes, with fish weighing in over five-pounds being commonly landed.

Throughout Idaho anglers enjoy excellent public access and a full fly-fishing experience accompanied by great views of some of the most amazing mountain ranges in the West. While Idaho may be known for its “Famous Potatoes” we can promise you’ll only remember the names of rivers and their great fishing when you leave.

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Colorado

If you like to catch large trout on small flies then Colorado is the place to be. That’s because this state offers a generous selection of tailwater fisheries that produce great insect hatches and big rainbows, cutthroats and browns. Fishing tailwaters, such as the North and South Platte and Frying Pan rivers can be challenging due to picky fish that are well educated by the anglers who pursue them. But if that’s your game there is no better place to test your skills for trout in a region where they are measured by the pounds, not inches.

Fortunately Colorado’s fisheries are varied and you don’t have to match wits with educated fish. You can also catch big browns and rainbows on streams that are often overlooked by anglers focussing on the big-name fisheries. The Colorado and Cache la Poudre are two such waters; on the Colorado you can float for miles down the river hitting the banks for big rainbows and browns, and on the Poudre anglers can hike along miles of remote public water probing the pockets for solid trout that rise to a variety of insect hatches. Furthermore on the Taylor anglers can drift mysis shrimp patterns to rainbow trout that look like steelhead. During spring on the Arkansas anglers match an amazing Mothers Day caddis hatch and those with the true spirit of adventure can hike into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River and fish big size-4 stoneflies to free-rising rainbows and browns that rarely see a fly.

River fishing isn’t the only attraction in Colorado; the reservoirs that feed those productive tailwaters provide some of the best stillwater fishing in the country. If you want to catch numbers of trout ranging up to five-pounds or more these reservoirs can’t be beat. While fly anglers are most interested in big trout, targeting northern pike, largemouth bass, and carp can be a great way to spend the day should weather conditions make river fishing less than idea. 

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Wyoming

Wyoming’s jewel is Yellowstone National Park, which offers almost unlimited access and the best wade fishing experience you’ll find anywhere in the West. In Yellowstone, anglers choose from the Yellowstone, Gardner, Gallatin, Firehole, Madison, Gibbon, Fall and Lamar rivers, which provide browns, rainbows and cutthroats. Park anglers also ply Slough Creek, Duck Creek, Soda Butte Creek, Pebble Creek, and Fan Creek, which are bastions for native cutthroat.

While wade-fishing these rivers anglers get up-close and personal with the Park’s wildlife, at times fishing within sight of buffalo, bull elk, moose, pronghorn antelope, and even predators such as wolves and grizzly bears. In addition, the park’s natural geysers and other thermal features are sure to entertain and leave spectators in awe.

Just south of Yellowstone National Park, flowing through the heart of Jackson Hole, is the Snake River. When the water drops after spring runoff, anglers floating in drift boats and rafts, directly under the towering Teton mountain range, tempt eager Snake River cutthroat to various dry flies.

While Wyoming offers other well known rivers such as the Bighorn, North Platte and Green, where big browns and rainbows are the prime targets. The Cowboy State also has more “sneaky” water than anywhere else in the West. Some of the best fishing is in smallish streams located outside funky little cowboy towns, including the Clark’s Fork, Greybull, Grey’s, Salt, Shoshone, Wind, Newfork, Ham’s Fork, LaBarge, and Middle Fork Powder rivers. Moreover, Paint Rock, Ten Sleep, Shell, and Sand creeks add to that mysterious and appealing mix.

On most of those waters, and on many other Wyoming streams, anglers mostly fish from the banks wandering upstream as far as their legs might take them. By the end of a good day in Wyoming you’ll wonder two things: why you haven’t heard more about its unbelievable trout waters and when will you come back to fish them once again!

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