10 Best Fly Fishing Destinations in America for Trout

fly fishing in top trout location

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I live in a place renowned for its trout fishing but in my travels, I have come to learn that outstanding trout fishing spots are everywhere around us. Some are remote and others are just down the road but the thing that they have in common is great trout fishing.

From the pristine rivers of Alaska to the long rivers on the east coast, trout fishing is ample and available for anglers all over the country. We are going to discuss some of the best rivers and waterways to fly fish for trout in this article.

There are many things that make for a productive trout stream great such as fish population, access, location, climate, etc, but one factor to consider is the remoteness of the location. Every water body on this list offers great fishing but reaching their remote sections will yield amazing results for the angler.

Ultimately, the angling experience of the particular location in which you intend to fish is what’s important. Some of the destinations on our list have achieved the distinguished ”Blue Ribbon” designation (there are also other designations: white, red, etc.). What does it mean?

Blue Ribbon status is designated by the government or other agencies that oversee fishing access across the country. Though the classification criteria can vary from state to state, In general, they are bodies that have excellent water quality and healthy fish populations that can offer good recreational fishing experiences.

The Madison River, Gallatin River and Yellowstone River, for example, are Blue Ribbon trout streams/fisheries due to their outstanding natural assets and the high-quality angling experience they provide.

Blue Ribbon status is issued when the following criteria are met for a body of water:

  • The water purity and quantity are sufficient to naturally produce and sustain healthy fish populations
  • Blue ribbon streams are accessible to the public
  • The water is actively managed to provide a sustainable and superior experience for anglers
  • The ecosystem and the numbers of fish are strong enough to withstand fishing pressure

However, regardless of official classifications, the waters on this list teem with fish and offer fun for the entire family. Some are well-known and others somewhat under the radar. But what they have in common is that they all offer outstanding trout fly fishing, and those who know consider them some of the best trout rivers, streams and lakes in America.

Here are our 10 top destinations in the U.S. for throwing out a fly line to trout.

Kvichak River

This river connects Iliamna Lake with the sea and offers amazing fishing for trout far inland. During the salmon spawn which occurs usually in the fall and again in the spring, the dead salmon become a source of nutrients for the trout. 

Fishing the inland portion of this river during the late spawn in any of these seasons can yield a fishing trip full of catching action. Most anglers work the mouth of the river where it meets the lake to the northeast.

Fishing in this area is very remote but there are a few villages and small towns nearby that may offer lodging. Many recreations that fish this river in the spring camp remotely during their trip. Camping is done best during the spring season due to the climate.

The scenery here is beautiful and many return time and time again for the fun of the fishing and the enjoyment of the outdoors. It is important to note that the fishing for trout is terrific anytime and that the salmon spawn is simply the season with the most luck.

Kenai River

The Kenai River offers some of the best trout fishing in the state of Alaska and is similar in structure to the Kvichak River as it connects to a large lake inland which is great for catching rainbow capitalizing on seasonal salmon spawn.

Kenai itself is where you will fly in but a popular staging point for fly fishing the Kenai River is Soldotna. Soldotna offers great amenities that can make your trip worthwhile such as lodging, food, and outfitting services.

Rivers that connect to the sea in a short, direct manner such as many rivers in Alaska offer biodiversity unlike any landlocked water body. A popular jump from Soldotna on an angler’s journey on the Kenai in Sterling. From Sterling, there are northern and southern paths to fish with the south being the route to Skilak Lake.

Skilak Lake offers great trout fishing during the summer months as does the river. While salmon spawn in the fall and the spring, ice flows can make it difficult to fish in the winter months making spring and summer the most popular times to travel to this region.

Yellowstone River

fly fishing for trout in yellowstone river

Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park

The Yellowstone River is the longest river in Montana and one of the best rivers to fish in America because of the species that inhabit it. Running from deep within Yellowstone National Park, north to Buford North Dakota, the Yellowstone River offers miles of Blue Ribbon trout fishing. If that weren’t enough, the rich scenery you find yourself in while fishing this location is just stunning.

Special permits allow you to fish inside Yellowstone National Park and during the spring and summer, this is a very popular way to fish the Yellowstone. Living so close to this area, I can assure you that a permit to fish in the park is worth the effort and time.

Yellowstone River connects with the Missouri River in the north making that region a hotspot for anglers year-round. Fairview Montana is a popular place to launch and float towards the Missouri and there are a number of guides and outfitters there.

In certain parts of the Yellowstone River, there are large island bars along the way that many anglers stop and take a break on while floating. These islands also offer breaks for trout as well and offer great fishing.

Snake River

The Snake River connects Kennewick Washington to Jackson Lake in the Grand Teton National park but in one of the most complicated paths of any river in the United States. This river runs through parts of Idaho and Montana in a spiraling trip in a large loop.

A popular spot to fish is Moran inside the Tetons but there are also dozens of locations along the river elsewhere. Southeast of Richland Washington is a small lake that connects to the river and is a great small, quiet spot with some great trout fishing.

The Snake River also serves as the literal border of Idaho and Oregon on the north end. This stretch of river is very popular and offers amenities on both sides of the river.

Outfitting the snake river is very popular in areas that house the best fishing. Look for towns that have the most outfitters and guides to see that it is a hot spot for fishing.

Mill Creek

This small creek is worth noting as it is a white ribbon creek that offers great fly fishing. This creek usually offers smaller rainbows that are fun to catch. It is located within the Mark Twain National Forest Missouri and is surrounded by many other creeks that are fishable as well.

This area is further south than the areas we’ve previously discussed and offers a warmer climate and waterway. Many anglers travel to the national parks across the country to pursue great fishing and with good reason.

Inside the Mark Twain National Forest, many creeks and areas to fish are very remote and often unvisited. To the angler willing to work to get there, this can be a gold mine for fishing good rainbow trout.

Don’t stop at Mill Creek, there are many other creeks as well such as Piney Creek, in close proximity to Mill Creek. Restrictions apply to these creeks often so be sure to check regulations. Many creeks in this forest allow certain things that others may not.

Madison River

madison river trout fly fishing

Madison River, Wyoming

The Madison river stretches through Wyoming and Montana and offers fishing all along its waters. This Blue Ribbon river is technically a tributary of the Missouri River and connects in a unique location with the Gallatin River (another Blue Ribbon trout stream) and the Jefferson river that we Montanans call “the breaks”.

The breaks in Montana is one of the most popular fly fishing destinations in the country and has rapidly become an international fishing site of interest. Trout fishing here is usually done by watercraft but I have had good luck wading the riverside and throwing a fly.

Missouri River Breaks State Park is a great spot to float and access all three of the rivers at once. Inter tubing methods are very popular here in slow-moving and still waters.

Springtime and late summer are the most popular times for this spot and it is centrally located between Helena, MT and Bozeman, MT. There are many fly fishing outfitters and guides as well as shops for gear and tackle in Bozeman which is a short half-hour drive away.

Colorado River

The Colorado River spans seven US states and two Mexican states, spanning over 1400 miles. The Colorado River also winds through the Grand Canyon National Park.

The Colorado River offers amazing trout fishing and the fly fisherman can find paradise on this river. One of the best, most popular locations is the Colorado River headwater in Colorado near the town of Grand Lake.

This section of the river offers a dozen or more branches of the river that can be fished giving you ample opportunity to experience a different area or utilize a different technique.

This area is higher in elevation and offers cooler waters for trout which keeps them near the surface rather than warmer water bodies. Because of this, the headwaters of the Colorado River were made for fly fishing.

Hatchechubbee State Park

This access area is a great southern trout fishing location because of its access to the Chattahoochee River and its attached creeks and waterways. Fish the small inlets and nooks south in the early morning before the heat hits and then try the lake further south for late-day action.

If fishing the main body of the river is your goal, consider the Florence Marina State Park on the east side of the river for a point to launch. This location offers many inlets to fish and that could get you away from the fishing crowd as well. I am always looking for fishing areas that have nobody I have to share them with.

This location is another border location like the Snake River is in Oregon and Idaho. The Chattahoochee River serves as the border for Georgia and Alabama for many miles. Be sure to have an understanding of regulations before you fish in this area. Many states agree to enforce the same regulations on share and waterways but always be sure.

This location is very warm in the summer so one of the state parks and an RV may be a good choice for your trip as well as light fishing gear. This location is near Atlanta which will have everything you will need but most smaller towns around the area are well equipped as well.

Watauga River

watauga river trout fishing

Watauga River, Tennessee

The Watauga River spans 78 miles and stretches through North Carolina and eastern Tennessee and offers great fishing for trout. One of the most popular points of fishing is where the river and the TVA Hydroelectric dam meet and east from there, Watauga Lake.

This little area offers great fishing for trout and many other species and can be accessed by many points such as the Watauga Point Recreation Area. The area is very close to Johnson City, where you can find many amenities and outfitters for the local area.

Traversing the river below the dam is easily done via the Wilbur Dam boat ramp and the road also travels above the dam for access to the lake. Fish here are very active year-round but are very reactive to heat.

Folks travel miles to fish the Watauga River and for good reason, and the Wilbur Dam area is hardly the only good spot to visit, but it certainly a good one.

New Melones Lake

New Melones Lake in north-central California is a great spot for brown and rainbow trout – with rainbow more abundant – that can be fished all day long. Lake Tulloch to the west also connects with a stream so fish in each lake are in one environment.

With trolling being the popular method for fishing the deep-water man-made reservoir, fly fishing still remains a somewhat underrated yet incredibly productive way to fish this beautiful destination in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Rainbow trout in this area can be accessed by wading in the shallower sections of the lake; inner tube fishing is also popular. The stream that connects the two lakes is terrific for throwing a fly and can yield great results.

There are a few towns around the lake for a night’s stay while you visit and recreate. The inlets of New Melones Lake itself offer many inlets and bays that are perfect for floating and fishing while staying out of the main water where recreational boating occurs.

Try this New Melones in the spring for a good experience with the campgrounds, or you can catch good fall fishing and grab some lodging in Montezuma for close access. This California Gold Country location with its mostly undeveloped and scenic shoreline is perfect for the angler that likes to change things up. I love it.

Why Is America a Fly Fisherman’s Paradise?

In this country, we commit to caring for and passing on the environment to our children. All of the rivers and locations mentioned in this article are closely monitored and regulated so we can enjoy fishing them for years to come.

America has the most amazing environments, temperatures, and elevations. From the high elevations of Colorado to the warm murky waters of Georgia, or the frigid but amazing spawn seasons of coastal Alaska.

Every location is like visiting a different world when you look at things through the eyes of an angler and your tactics for fishing these areas will change every time you visit.

Blue ribbon status can be found on or connected to these waterways marking a gold standard for trout fishing as specified by the supervising outdoor administration of the area. While these Blue Ribbon locations are bountiful in trout, they are also very protected as they are the best the state offers.

These are what I consider to be the best destinations to fly fish in our country that are still off of the beaten path. I always loved getting away from the crowd and fishing my way and I hope these locations allow you to do the same.

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