12 Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the United States

12 Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the United States

America the beautiful!  We are fortunate to live in such an amazing country.  Like our forefathers before us, there is something about the call of adventure and the freedom to roam that makes us uniquely American.  Fortunately for us, our forefathers chose some of the most diverse angling terrains in the world to settle and call home. Roaming is part of the fly fishing experience.

Unlike other countries, most of our rivers and streams are public domain and fishing season is always right around the corner. This means the average angler has the freedom to trail blaze his or her own path almost year round.  Whether your quest is to find large brown trout, Northern smallmouth bass, Southern largemouth Bass, Colorado rainbow trout, or Texas redfish, the United States has some of the best and most diverse angling opportunities in the world.

Table Of Contents

Deciding which states have the best fly fishing opportunities is a tough task.  Every state has fantastic fly fishing opportunities.  That being said, we have put together Fly Crate’s top 10 states to fly fish in.  This is based on our own road trips and angling experience. 

Here is our list of the road traveled, the 12 best states for fly fishing in the United States in no particular order or ranking.

Texas

The Lonestar state is easily one of the top fly fishing destinations based on size alone.  Fishing Texas is a lot like fishing five different states all in one.  Texas makes the list for it’s astounding array of species diversity, easy access to rivers, and the ability to get off the beaten path and find some amazing water.

Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country offers quite a few opportunities, and is the top freshwater fly fishing destination in the state.  The Guadalupe River, San Marcos River, Comal River, and Llano River all offer abundant angling choices for large and small mouth bass. Guadalupe bass, (the State Fish of Texas) as well as perch and Rio Grande Cichlids, are native to the Texas Hill Country and can be found in a small spring creek like settings as well as larger rivers.

The Guadalupe River

The Guadalupe River is America’s Southern most trout stream.  Texas isn’t often thought of as a trout fishing state. A cold-water tail race, Canyon Dam, provides eight miles of trout fishing and is hands down one of the states best trout streams. Rainbow trout are the main species, but brown trout are present as well. Surprisingly, large trout can be found here with fish up to 24″. Stocked trout are added by Trout Unlimited and the State of Texas every fall.  However, both rainbow trout and brown trout have both established breeding patterns and are naturally reproducing throughout the year.

Devils River

The Devil’s River in the far southwestern portion of the state is one of the most remote float trips in the lower 48, and rivals any western overnight fly fishing float trip in the American West.  Solitude, beauty, and angling opportunities for both large and small mouth bass are all done under towering limestone cliffs adorned with ancient cave paintings.

The Coast

Finally, the Texas coast offers excellent opportunities to catch redfish and tarpon year-round.  While the redfish tend to be smaller than those found in Louisiana, they are harder to catch and Texas offers anglers a chance to fish a technical fishery on some of the prettiest coastal flats in the Southern United States.  In addition, anglers could also opt to chase massive migratory tarpon in the Gulf of Mexico.  Fish in the 100-150lbs range are commonly caught.

Arkansas

You might be surprised to see Arkansas on the list, but don’t be.  The Gem state is indeed a gem when it comes to fly fishing destinations in the lower 48.  Most of the state is characterized by lush green hills and limestone cliffs.  As a result, Arkansas has a plethora of crystal-clear spring fed rivers loaded with bass and exceptional trout fishing.  The state’s trout fisheries are year round fisheries, and the White River is considered a blue ribbon trout stream by any standard.

White River

We all dream of catching massive wild brown trout in South America. However, for most of us, trout fishing in South America is financially out of reach. Arkansas offers anglers the opportunity to catch trophy trout of the same caliber as those South of the equator right here in our own backyard.  The White River, especially the water below Bull Shoals Dam, offers 150 miles of trout fishing, and holds the largest brown trout in North America (there are even a few cutthroat trout). All four trout species can be found here. 

Fly Fishing Made Easy 👍

Our Quarterly Fly Club ships 1,000’s of flies to anglers all across the United States. Receive curated fly assortments selected for the season with in-depth articles on how to fish them. Great for beginners to learn and for intermediates to discover new flies.

Many fly fishers catch trophy trout in the 5-15 lbs range, and P.B.’s are broken routinely. These are large trout in a wild and scenic setting. River flows fluctuate with dam release schedules, so it’s best to fish the White River from a boat.

Norfork River

The Norfork River is one of the best trout streams in the Ozark Mountains. It allows for wade fishing on the lower levels with plenty of public access points. When the power generators are on it is best to float the river than battle the higher flows. It flows roughly 5 miles from below the Lake Norfork Dam right into the White River. Flowing into the lake and Norfork River are plenty of smaller streams and rivers that offer even more opportunities to catch a grand slam all in one area: brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout, and rainbow trout.

Little Red River

The Little Red River is a tailwater fishery in Central Arkansas that flows out of Greers Ferry with over 40 miles of top quality trout water. To those who fly fish Arkansas, many have heard of Howard “Rip” Collins’ massive 40-plus pound brown trout on the Little Red River. Not only is Collins’ catch the current state record for brown trout in Arkansas, but it is on the world record list. It is not uncommon to catch 5-10 pound trout or heavier in the Little Red River. It also offers great winter fly fishing action as the river pulls lower levels of the water column from the lake helping it maintain water temperatures between 50ᵒ and 60ᵒ year-round.

Arkansas Warm Water

If a trout stream is too refined for you, then fly fishers can take their fly rod and head to the Kings River, Buffalo River, or Crooked Creek. All three rivers offer world class opportunities to cast poppers and baitfish patterned streamers for small mouth bass. Early spring and fall are times for popper action! The Buffalo River is a protected wild and scenic river. The Kings, Buffalo and Crooked Creek are within an hour or two drive from the banks of the White River.

Colorado

Colorado, or Coloradical as locals call it, should make any list when it comes to the best states for fly fishing in the United States.  Colorado has a never-ending supply of blue-ribbon wild trout streams, as well as often overlooked urban angling opportunities and warm water fishing on the front range.  Every corner of the state has incredible angling opportunities.

Read more on the best fly fishing destinations in Colorado.

Colorado Rivers

The Frying Pan River, Crystal River, Gunnison River, Eagle River, Blue River, Roaring Fork River, South Platte River, and the Colorado River…the list goes on and on in terms of iconic Western trout streams and the state’s best trout fisheries. The state’s best trout fishing can be found on the other side of the Western Divide. Brown trout, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and brook trout can all be found in Colorado.  Fly anglers’ access to most of these rivers is also relatively easy and public. The South Platte River above Spinney Reservoir is a great option to catch trout close to Denver. The South Platte offers both brown and rainbow trout, as well as the occasional cutthroat. Large brown trout are found with streamers. There are lots of opportunities in Colorado for both float and wade fishermen, but a drift boat or raft is a plus.

Epic Floats

If you have a raft or drift boat, the Roaring Fork River and the Colorado River are must-do’s when in search of wild trout. Rainbow trout and brown trout can be found in abundance on both floats, as well as the occasional cutthroat trout. Rainbow trout are found in greater numbers, but the larger fish tend to be brown trout. Both floats offer a destination away from the crowds, and through some of the prettiest scenery in Colorado.

The Front Range

The front range has often been overlooked as a destination when one thinks of fly fishing in Colorado.  However, the South Platte River runs through downtown Denver and is a great spot to catch Carp in the urban waters of Central Denver.  Small lakes and retention ponds dot the front range landscape and most are filled with largemouth bass that rarely sees a fly.

Michigan

Unlike most other states, Michigan is an economically depressed state.  While this is unfortunate for Michigan residents, it is a bonus for anglers.  Michigan has not been flooded with urban exiles, leaving many of the state’s forests and streams untouched and filled with fish.  In addition, the sheer variety of angling opportunities is unmatched almost anywhere else in the United States.

AuSable River

Michigan is home to famous pieces of trout water such as the Au Sable River, Manistee River, and Huron Rivers.  Well known for their epic Hexagenia hatches and large brown trout, they are all part of fly fishing’s fabled history. The Au Sable River is a storied trout stream well known for it’s large brown trout and excellent dry fly fishing. The Hexagenia hatch, a giant burrowing mayfly, makes the smartest brown trout dumb and anglers can expect to see huge brown trout rise for dry flies.

The Great Lakes offers a steelhead run every fall spring.  These spawning runs give anglers an opportunity at some giant landlocked salmon that spend most of their time in the open lakes. Much like cousin the Chinook Salmon, they leave the open water and run up small tributaries to spawn.  Often, these fish are in very small bodies of water.  Wading opportunities abound!

Menominee Bass

If cold water species isn’t your thing, you can always head to the crystal clear waters around Beaver and Mackinaw Island to sight cast to large fly eating carp.  Bass and Pike fishing opportunities are options as well. The Menominee River is now known as one of the preeminent smallmouth bass fishing destinations on the planet. 

Florida

Florida makes the list as the top spot for saltwater fly fishing destinations in the United States.  It also makes our list because it gives anglers an opportunity to catch some truly weird species only found in Central and South America. 

Think Salty

The Florida Keys and the Florida Panhandle offer a little something for everybody.  Tarpon, redfish, snook, and permit are all available for taking on a fly.  The possibilities are endless here when it comes to where an angler wants to target saltwater species with a fly rod.

Let’s Get Weird

An often-overlooked fly fishing opportunity in Florida is the exotic species found in canals.  Like California, Florida attracts some strange people who also happen to keep strange pets.  The state has been overrun with exotic snakes and fish species whose owners release into the wild.  Destination anglers pay big bucks to chase Peacock bass, Pacu, Clown Knifefish, and Oscars in Central and South America.  However, the sunshine state allows fly-fisherman the chance to throw poppers and streamers to these fish right here in the great state of Florida.

Tennessee

Most fishing destination lists reference North Carolina as a top fly fishing destination. Don’t overlook its neighbor when it comes to large trout and epic fishing destinations. Known as the birthplace of country music and the bachelorette epicenter of the universe, Tennessee is a fly fishing state that often flies under the radar when it comes to fly fishing opportunities. Anglers should avoid the confines of ultra-hip Nashville and head east.  From Knoxville to the border of North Carolina, Tennessee offers incredible angling opportunities in solitude and beauty.

Eastern Tail Waters

The South Holston and Watauga Rivers are the premier trout streams in the Eastern United States.  Often fished from drift boats, both rivers hold truly giant wild trout. Rainbow trout and brown trout in the 20″-24″ range are not uncommon.  Anglers looking to fly fish year-round should look here! Drift boats are the name of the game, as river flows fluctuate with dam releases. If you want to hike and get away from the crowds, native trout in the Smokey Mountains can be found at higher elevations. Native brook trout are small but abundant and are fun targets with a light fly rod.

Wild And Scenic Gorge

The Nolichucky River and the lower portions of the South Holston towards Knoxville are the states premier smallmouth bass fisheries.  Eager bass attack Poppers and streamers with reckless abandon.  Both rivers are best fished floating. The Nolichucky Gorge is the perfect mixture, of adventure, solitude, and fishing. Flowing through the national forest, only a few fly shops are permitted to provide trips. Class I-IV rapids and lots of hungry bass characterize this float through some pristine Smokey Mountain terrain.

Virginia

The state of Virginia is a real sleeper, not often seen on fly fishing lists.  The heart of the blue ridge mountains has a lot to offer as a destination.  Breathtaking mountain views, endless solitude and some incredible rivers such as the: New River, The James River, and Jackson Rivers.  You’ll also have the chance to fish for Muskie, smallmouth bass, and trout all within a short driving distance of the beautiful town of Lexington.

Old Dominion Fly Fishing

The New River is the oldest river in North America.  Long considered to be one of the best smallmouth bass rivers in the country.  It is big and wide with a healthy bass population that eagerly eat top water poppers and baitfish patterns.  Rock outcroppings, riffle, pocket water, and lots of low-hanging branches offer hiding places and technical shots at hungry fish. 

Big Steamers And Big Fish

Cooler Fall weather ends the bass seasons, and Muskie become the main targeted species on the New River.  Lots of casting is the name of the game, but the rewards can be huge.  Muskie are the fish of a thousand cast, but all it takes is one.

Other angling opportunities include strippers on the Atlantic Coast and brown trout on the Jackson River.  Both wading and floating fly fishing opportunities are available on the Jackson River.  

Montana

Wide open spaces and a one-of-a-kind trout culture make Montana one of the best fly fishing states in America.  Hundreds of miles of blue-ribbon trout streams make this a top fly fishing travel destination most of the year.

The Golden Triangle

If you were to draw a triangle in the Southwest portion of Montana (and a little bit of Idaho) you would find yourself in the golden triangle of fly fishing.  The area between West Yellowstone, Bozeman and Missoula holds the most iconic trout rivers in American fly fishing: The Snake River, Beaverhead River, Big Hole River, Yellowstone River, Madison River, The Jefferson River, the Gallatin River, and the Missouri River, to name a few.  Often characterized by a few grain silos, grazing antelope, and lots of rolling vistas. Southwest Montana is a homerun when it comes an angler’s fishing options and the diversity of rivers to fish.

Flat Water And Dry Flies

Anglers flock to Montana to obtain a master’s degree in dry fly fishing to technical fish. The Missouri River is known for it’s epic hatches, flat water, and picky dry fly eating trout. The Madison river is the world’s longest riffle. The Madison River is ideal for fishing that hopper dropper rig. The Yellowstone river gives anglers the chance to catch big brown trout on large foam bugs. There’s a little something for everybody in Montana.

After last summer’s catastrophic flood, the Yellowstone River will need some time to heal. That being said, it will come back and there is still plenty of other water to fish (side note: don’t forget to check the Henry’s Fork River and the South Fork River in Idaho, both are close to West Yellowstone, but located in Idaho. The Railroad Ranch section of the Henry’s Fork should not be missed).

Fishing Culture

One of the best parts of Montana is the fly fishing community and fishy towns scattered throughout the state.  In places like West Yellowstone, Paradise Valley, Ennis, and Twin Bridges, you won’t have to look very far to find a great bar packed with like-minded fly-fishermen. Often decked out in waders and flanked by a bandana-clad Labrador, craft brews abound and conversations about missed fish and broken dreams are often overheard.  In our experience, we have not found another state the truly imbibes the angling spirit and culture like Montana.

Pennsylvania

The keystone state of Pennsylvania has to be considered one of the best trout fishing states on the East Coast. You don’t have to look very hard to find an excellent trout stream or spring creek holding brown trout and rainbow trout. Spring creeks with technical fish and abundant hatches dot the gently rolling Pennsylvania landscape. The largest river in the Mid-Atlantic, the Susquehanna, gives fly fishermen a chance to explore one of the best warm-water bass fisheries in the country.  If that isn’t enough, the state even offers a wild steelhead run! 

Spring Creeks

Large trout in small streams are common in Pennsylvania. Rivers and streams are scattered all across Pennsylvania with plenty of public access. State Game Lands provide hundreds of native brook trout streams from freshwater springs in the mountains far away from crowds and other fishermen. Public access is readily available on most streams and rivers.

Pennsylvania’s spring creeks such as: Penn’s Creek, Yellow Breeches, Spruce Creek, Kettle Creek, and Ridley Creek are all gems. There are too many spots to name here, but they all offer great shots at some of the best trout fishing water on the East Coast. Think small water and smart fish sipping spinners.  Pennsylvania even offers a Steelhead run.

In the northern parts of the state, thousands of migratory rainbow trout, aka “steelhead” migrate miles up tributaries from Lake Eerie from October into April to spawn. Cascade Creek, Racoon Creek, Twenty Mile Creek, Elk Creek, and Seven Mile Creek are some of the most recognized steelhead streams.

Big Water Smallies

The Susquehanna River is a massive fishery and one that is often ranked as one of the top smallmouth bass fishing destinations in the country.  The longest river in Pennsylvania, it is a great place to throw poppers and bass bugs during the spring, summer, and fall. The best fly fishing season is summer time on the Susquehanna when cool evenings get the top water action going.

Oregon

Oregon is the last state on the Top 10 States for fly fishing in the United States.  Oregon makes the list because no list would be complete without a state that is dedicated to hardcore steelhead fishing.  Oregon is that place.  Close to religion status, steelheading is a sport unto itself.  Although the state has taken a beating by wildfires over the last couple of summers, there is still plenty of amazing water that should be fished. Excellent fishing can be found in all four corners of the state.

Steelheader’s Paradise

Steelheaders should explore rivers such as the Deschutes River, Grand Ronde River, Umpqua River, and Rogue River just to name a few.  Access is plentiful, and most Oregon rivers have spots that can easily be waded.  Spey rods and lots of patience are needed when hunting migratory steelhead. 

Bull Trout And Bass

Non-steelheaders will enjoy other sections of the Deschutes River, Wood River, Crooked River, Fall River and Metolius Rivers. All of these locations are set in some of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest. Each offers its own epic fly fishing experience and some of the states best trout streams.  You can even catch a rare bull trout in the Metolious River located right outside the small town of Sisters Oregon. Almost eliminated from their natural range, bull trout are hard to find in the lower 48. Remote hikes give anglers the option of catching wild native brook trout in high alpine lakes, and smallmouth bass in the Snake River, John Day River and Columbia River, give the state a well-rounded menu of warm water species that can also be pursued.

Alaska

Alaska should be on every fly angler’s list of best states for trout fly fishing. Alaska is often left off of the top destination fishing list. Mainly, because it is not in the lower 48 states. To many fly fishermen, the distance to travel is too far and financially out of reach. That being said, it should be a bucket list destination when it comes to fly fishing.

Wild Alaska

The sheer amount of wilderness, water, and productive fisheries is unprecedented anywhere else in the United States. Being remote makes Alaska special, and offers some of the best fishing on earth. After all, there are few places left on the planet where anglers have to balance the delicate act of catching salmon, char, grayling, brook trout, and brown and rainbow trout, and simultaneously watching for grizzly bears. Covering the best places to fish in Alaska is an entire post in itself (we will do one later), the state offers some great road trip fishing options that don’t require bush plane flights and are financially achievable options for the average person.

If you were to fly into Anchorage and rent a car, you would have access to trout streams, creeks, and lakes where you could catch: rainbow trout, dolly varden, grayling, and all five species of salmon. You can catch a variety of salmon species right in the middle of downtown. Rivers and areas that can be explored in Anchorage are Ship Creek, Campbell Creek, Eagle River, Bird Creek, Twenty Mile River, Placer River, and Portage Creek. If travelers are willing to take a small bush plane or drive further, there are endless options here.

Be Prepared For A Fight

The gear that you will want to bring will be vastly different than your standard rainbow and brown trout fishing rods of the lower 48 states. Because much of the fishing in Alaska revolves around the salmon run, flies that are often fished are pegged glass egg beads, egg pattern flies, and flesh flies. Flesh flies imitate the decaying flesh of dead salmon. Mice patterns can also be used for large rainbow trout in different situations. Fly rods in the 6 to 9 weight range will cover most angling situations, and a solid reel with a sealed drag is critical. Fish will take you into your backing here. Spey rods or switch rods are a huge help when covering larger bodies of water.

New Mexico

If trout can live in Texas, they sure as hell can live in New Mexico. Although fish tend to be smaller here, there are plenty of rivers and streams that offer fly fishermen a chance to catch wild rainbow and brown trout.

The San Juan River

The state’s premier fishery is no doubt the San Juan River tailwater fishery in the Northern part of New Mexico. It has to be one of the most densely populated trout streams in the country, with the first 4 miles of river below the dam holding 20,000 trout per mile. Fishing small flies to large trout is the name of the game, but catching brown and rainbow trout up to 23″ is not uncommon.

The Rio Grande River Gorge

The Rio Grande River gorge is deep and very hard to access. This makes it an ideal destination for able bodied anglers who are motivated to get off the beaten path. The fish population is lower in the river but is an excellent trout stream that offers larger fish.

Other good fly fishing places in the State of New Mexico include The Chama River, The Brazos River, The Rio De Los Pinos, The Cimarron River, and many others.

Fly Fishing Made Easy 👍

Our Quarterly Fly Club ships 1,000’s of flies to anglers all across the United States. Receive curated fly assortments selected for the season with in-depth articles on how to fish them. Great for beginners to learn and for intermediates to discover new flies.

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Comments (10)

  • Michael

    The San Juan in New Mexico???

    November 16, 2022 at 11:29 am
    • Nolan Bluntzer

      No doubt it’s a great river and will absolutely be covering New Mexico soon. For this article, we wanted to roughly cover what we believe to be some of the best states for fly fishing. I’ll be doing a write up on NM in the near future.

      November 16, 2022 at 12:29 pm
  • John Rosholt

    Idaho is nicknamed “The Gem State” for the abundance of rare minerals that have been found in all corners of the state. For those who really know their trivia, you might also know that the state gem is the Star Garnet.

    November 19, 2022 at 4:10 pm
    • Nathaniel Treichler

      I had no idea! Thank you for the interesting facts! Idaho is one state we certainly overlooked.

      November 20, 2022 at 7:53 pm
  • Earl

    Taneycomo Missouri should be on the list.

    November 19, 2022 at 5:03 pm
    • Nathaniel Treichler

      Absolutely, we are on it. 👍

      November 20, 2022 at 7:49 pm
  • Joni Stewart

    And where the heck is Wyoming?

    November 21, 2022 at 2:39 pm
    • Nathaniel Treichler

      We are writing up a section for it as we speak! Our initial list fell short in a few states.

      November 21, 2022 at 10:08 pm
  • Alan Christian

    Most neophytes overlook California but I’m surprised that you did. For a 12 month game, there is no better option. North state rivers support steelhead. The Shasta region has 5 iconic rivers of including the world famous McCloud and the nation’s largest spring creek, the Fall River. The Sierra canyons harbor nearly untouched stretches and pure strain Golden trout. Striper, salmon and shad runs can be remarkable. The ocean coastline ranks 5th among US States and includes both cold and warm water species. The bass tournament gang recognize the Delta and Clear Lake as record setters.
    I have lived in 7 states and have fly fished through out the US since 1962.
    Alan Christian
    Diablo Valley Fly Fishing Club

    November 21, 2022 at 3:24 pm
    • Nathaniel Treichler

      Thank you so much Alan for the added information! Out of the 7 states you’ve lived in, is California the one you regard the highest?

      November 21, 2022 at 10:26 pm

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