The 20 Best Fly Fishing Destinations in The U.S. (Maps, Flies & Things to Know)

Everyone in the fly fishing world wants to know the best places to go, right? Traveling to storied waters is generally on the bucket list for all anglers. Fly anglers are no different.

As the popularity of the sport grows and the popularity of specific destinations changes, the best places to go can often change too.

In this article, we’ll look at some old favorites, some under-the-radar spots, and a little about what to bring to each location.

The 20 Best US Fly Fishing Destinations

Madison River, Montana

Running from the west side of Yellowstone Park to the headwaters of the Missouri River, the Madison has been a designated “blue ribbon” trout stream for decades.

The most well-known fishery is the Yellowstone-to-Ennis, MT stretch but the Beartrap Canyon offers fun for experienced rafters/fishers and the Bozeman, MT stretch is broad and beautiful too (stay away from this stretch mid-summer…especially around the 4th of July as it’s overrun by inner-tubers and river-partyers!)

What to know:

The Madison (The Madi as locals call it) is hard-hit by floaters and waders. Most of the boat traffic will be from Lyons Bridge downstream to Ennis.

Plenty of waders will be seen from the mouth of Hebgen Lake to Lyon’s Bridge along Hwy 287. Lots of trophy rainbows and browns lurk in this “50 Mile Riffle” section and they may be tight to the bank, hiding around a boulder, or right in the middle of the river!

A 9 foot 5 wt and 6 wt are both handy. Some days you’ll toss small caddis or PMD dries, some days you’ll be throwing nymph rigs or streamers.

There’s a great salmonfly and golden stone hatch on the river from early summer to mid-summer. Caddis are an underrated food source on this river and, if nothing seems to be hatching, using a caddis dry, caddis nymphs or stonefly nymphs are really good bets.

Lots of fishing access sites (FAS) are on this river and most include boat ramps. Boats offer the best fishing but wade fishing is definitely doable. The rocks on this river can be hard to wade though!

Madison River Montana Map
Source: Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks

Bighorn River, Montana

The Bighorn is another storied tailwater (below a dam) and has been in the fly fishing awareness since the dam was finished in the 1970s. Trophy rainbow and brown trout can be taken here and, often, the daily catch numbers can be quite high.

The ebbs and flows of the Bighorn have often removed itself from personal “best of” lists over the years…too much traffic, lowered fish counts, etc. But, as of the last two years or so, the fish counts and average fish size have gone up drastically. Because of this, the Bighorn is back on the list.

What to know:

The Bighorn is a user-friendly river with well-defined features making fish relatively easy to find. If you’re having trouble finding good features to fish, you can often just fish pretty much anywhere…slow or fast water, shallow or deep, near the bank or in the middle… and find trout.

Here too, have a 9ft 5wt and 6wt ready if you can. You may need to present small dry flies delicately or you may have to fish heavy nymph rigs.

As far as streamer fishing, the Bighorn to be pretty user-friendly here too! Keep some soft-hackle sow bugs, various mayfly nymphs, and quill nymphs handy at all times.

The first 13 miles are the easiest and most well-known. Boat fishing is best but wading below the dam at Fort Smith and at 3 Mile Access are easily doable.

Bighorn River, Montana Map

Driftless Region

The Driftless Region is a beautiful region with many varied, fishy streams. The Driftless includes parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois but the Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota areas are most known for fly fishing.

This is the place to go if you like small creeks filled with wild trout. No motorboats are allowed and many streams are way too small for boats anyway. You may not see another person all day. You will, however, have to hike a bit if you want to find lots of good fishing spots.

What to know:

Small flies are often the name of the game. Hoppers in the late summer are a good bet too. Generally, there’s no need for a big rod… 4 wt rods are great. Throwing bigger hoppers in the summer breeze might require a 5 wt.

For local info, contact the Driftless Angler.

Driftless Region Map

Pyramid Lake, Nevada

If you pay any attention to Instagram in the last few years, you’ve probably seen Pyramid Lake! “The ‘Mid” as they call it, is the place to go if you want to catch MONSTER cutthroat.

The native Lahontan Cutthroat species average 20-24 inches but can often break the 40-inch mark!

What to know:

Fall through spring are the best times to hit the Mid…with a little lull in the dead of winter. Some use a boat but most wade out from shore, use a ladder, or stand on rock outcroppings to fish to roaming Lahontans.

Different streamers/jig flies are used to imitate the native chub that cutthroat feed on. The lake sees large beetles and specific patterns can be found in local shops.

Chironomids (lake midge) are an important diet too so bring various sizes of tinsel midge and Icecream cone midge.

Pyramid Lake, Nevada Map

Sacramento River, California

The name Sacramento isn’t always synonymous with trout, but it should be.

The Sacramento River near the town of Redding has been an exceptional trout fishery as of late.

It may not be world-renowned but the stretch from Lake Siskiyou to Lake Shasta is blue ribbon water. The often ignored stretch from Lake Shasta through Redding and downstream is incredibly productive water as well.

What to know:

The upper “Sac” (upstream of Lake Shasta) is a beautiful freestone full of wild trout. The lower Sac through Redding and downstream is a classic tailwater, a fairly large river, and is packed with rainbows that reach 20 inches and more.

Both are fun, prolific stretches. Bring a 5 and 6-weight rod for multiple applications. Wading is a great option on the upper river and having a boat or hiring a guide is probably best on the lower. The lower also gets anadromous runs (steelhead and salmon).

Sacramento River, California Map

Deschutes River, Oregon

The Deschutes River is already well known for its salmon and steelhead runs and its namesake beer. But, not everyone knows that it’s also a blue ribbon trout stream too!

What to know:

The large salt-and-freshwater species take most of the credit here but the trout fishing isn’t to be left alone. The Deschutes is designated “wild and scenic” and it doesn’t disappoint.

Wade fishing and boat fishing are both good options and the many shops from Madras to the Dalles will have bugs and info for you.

A 5 and 6 weight rod will both be handy but one or the other will still get it done. Summer hatches are heavy right before sundown and fall or spring streamer action can be lights out. The Maupin, Oregon area probably has the most access to the river.

Deschutes River, Oregon Map

White River, Arkansas

When thinking of trout fishing, most will probably picture the western US. However, folks in the know understand that the White River produces monster trout! In fact, the White consistently produces record brown trout!

What to know:

The White is a fairly sizeable river and the flows can change rapidly. Bull Shoals dam is a hydroelectric dam and the dam release will rise or drop depending on electrical demands.

Boat fishing offers the most advantages. Walk-wading is fairly easy in low flows but you have to pay attention as the river level may rise rapidly. Trout can be found from Bull Shoals dam downstream for about 100 miles!

For the size and number of fish and fishing techniques, a 9ft 6 weight is recommended. A 7 weight will be helpful if using large streamers.

As a tailwater, midge, shrimp, and caddis patterns will be important throughout the year. Mayfly hatches will come and go. Traditional woolly buggers or newer dungeons or circus peanuts will be great streamers.

White River, Arkansas Map

North Platte River, WY

The North Platt flows from the Wyoming/Colorado border flowing north then bends east toward Nebraska. From the Colorado border to the town of Glenrock, WY is probably considered the best trout water around.

What to know:

The North Platte has abundant bug life and a series of dams between Walcott and Alcova that control flows and give it that tailwater essence. Distinctly different sections like Gray Reef and Freemont Canyon add variety to this river.

Head toward Colorado for a smaller, more wadable mountain experience. The lower river is larger and drift boats, while not necessary, make things easier. Lots of browns and rainbows abound in all sections. This river is blue ribbon fishing without the crowds!

North Platte River, WY Map
The Saratoga to Seminoe Reservoir section

South Fork Snake River, Idaho

When thinking of fly fishing in Idaho, most will think of the Henry’s Fork. The upper, eastern reaches of the river are known for trophy trout. The South Fork Snake, however, is lesser known but grows lots of really nice trout.

What to know:

Fishing the South Fork in Idaho means the section from Palisades Dam through the Swan Valley and downstream to Lorenzo, Idaho. The Wyoming section above Palisades is stunningly beautiful, but the tailwater section below Palisades grows lots of big trout. This section also boasts about 5,000 trout per river mile.

Bring a 5 weight for small dries and a 6 weight for nymphing and streamers. The wind can get pretty harsh too so a 6 wt will help punch through the breeze.

Midge, leeches, and sculpins are present all year. Look for big stones in June and July. Cadis and various mayflies cycle in and out throughout the year.

South Fork Snake River, Idaho Map

Henry’s Fork, Idaho

Henry’s Fork is a well-known trout destination…and for good reason! The full name is Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and its waters flow from Henry’s Lake and Big Springs just outside Yellowstone Park. The scenery is awesome and so is the fishing.

What to know:

The Henry’s Fork is heavily visited in the warm months. Its proximity to Yellowstone brings tons of passers-by and lots of fisher people too. The cooler months will see much less traffic.

The most sought-after sections are from Island Park Dam to Ashton, Idaho and include the Box Canyon, The Ranch, and the lower sections. Boat and wade fishing are both plentiful and so are the hatches.

A 9 ft 5 weight will be your best friend here and will allow you to present subtle dries or toss an indicator rig with ease. The salmonfly and golden stone hatches are tremendous and so is the mid-summer giant brown drakes! Nymphing is generally consistent with midge, caddis, mayfly and stonefly nymph patterns.


Olympic Peninsula, Washington

When one thinks of steelhead and salmon fishing in the US, images of the dreary Pacific Northwest come to mind. The Olympic Peninsula (OP) is just that place. Rainforests, gloomy weather, and gorgeous rivers.

What to know:

Once you’re on the OP, there are many river options to choose from. A 50 or 60 mile drive could get you to the Sol Duc, Calawah, Bogachiel, Hoh, Queets and Quinault Rivers.

These steelhead and salmon are fresh from the ocean and have a ton of fight in them. Late fall – winter is best for steelhead. Fall will have some salmon runs but April-June is when the kings come inland.

Swinging a spey or skagit setup is an amazing way to catch these fish and a very efficient way to cover a lot of big water. If you prefer a single-hand rod, a 10 foot 7 or 8 weight is great.

For kings, you’ll probably want to bump up to a 9 or 10 weight! Polar Shrimp, Hobo Spey, and Intruder are great for swinging. For single-hand rods, egg patterns, bright mop flies, and large purple princes work well.

Olympic Peninsula, Washington Map

Naknek River, Alaska

Let’s face it…for fishing in the US, Alaska is really hard to beat! Big fish, lots of fish, magnificent species, unreal surroundings, and more.

The Naknek River is no exception. Located near King Salmon, AK, the Naknek flows from Naknek Lake to Kvichak Bay and is teeming with salmon, steelhead, and char. The Alagnak River is also just to the north and offers similarly tremendous fly fishing.

What to Know:

Once you’ve made it to King Salmon, AK, you might as well fish both the Naknek and the Alagnak. Both have similar species and they both have huge, plentiful fish. You can swing flies for these fish or use a single-handed rod.

Spey casting/swinging a hobo spey, tube flies, squidro, and intruders is a blast. Single-handing with various egg patterns or large, attractor stoneflies like a hot bead Double steelhead stone or steelhead candy can produce well. Again, if you’re not using a spey rod 7-9 wt spey rod, you’ll want a 10 foot 8-10 weight single hand rod.

Not only are anadromous fish available here but the area is home to huge steelhead-like rainbow trout! These fish grow big in the large lakes and move upstream to spawn as steelhead do. Unlike steelhead, however, they have never tasted salt water!

Naknek River, Alaska Map

Western/Northwestern New York State

The Great Lakes are…huge! Often, looking across one of them is like looking across an ocean. Plenty of waves and no sight of the far shore are common. They, however, are freshwater lakes so the steelhead/not steelhead debate is a hot one.

What to know:

Lake Erie makes up the majority of the western border of New York State. The north/northwest border is Lake Ontario.

Most of the feeder rivers and creeks flowing into the lakes will have large fish moving up to spawning grounds. The Black River, Sandy Creek, Orchard Creek, Eighteen Mile Creek, and Chautauqua Creek are all great options.

The creeks are not large waterways and therefore spey casting is not always possible. An 11.5 foot 7 or 8-weight switch rod is great for bigger areas. With a single-hand rod, a 10-foot-8 weight is great for larger rivers and makes long mending easier. A 9 ft 8 weight is a good option for smaller areas with lots of brush and trees.

Egg patterns like Glo Bugs and Estaz eggs work great. A larger Copper John, egg sucking leech, or hot-bead stonefly nymph are great choices too.

Western Northwestern New York State Fishing Stream Map

Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay is known as the striped bass nursery. There is a lot of fish of all sizes because the habitat is superb. The fishing, therefore, is often superb.

What to know:

Chesapeake Bay is a large bay fed by some major rivers in Virginia, DC, and Maryland and an estimated 70-90% of Atlantic stripers use the bay to spawn.

Using a boat is the most effective way to cover water although walking into estuaries, feeder streams, or fishing the bay from docks and rock-outcroppings is also doable.

A 9 ft 8 weight is ideal and a full sink line will help you reach more fish. Having a spare spool of a slower sink line and one with a faster sink line will help you find more fish.

The flies I’ve seen recommended most for Chesapeake Bay are Clouser Minnows, Lefty’s Deceivers, and a Puglisi Blueback Herring.

Chesapeake Bay Map


Holy Cross, Alaska

Once again, Alaska makes our list. The state’s fisheries are simply hard to beat. In the pike conversation, Alaska is no different. Holy Cross has some of the country’s best pike fishing, especially for fly fishers.

What to know:

Holy Cross is located on the Yukon River, whose many side channels, oxbows, lakes, and ponds have perfect flow rates and plenty of food to grow big pike. There are countless waters in the drainage system to fish from here.

The pike are world-class. You’ll need a tough rod…a 9 foot 10 weight is recommended. A floating line and an intermediate sink will help reach lots of different fish.

A strong leader, even a braided wire tippet, will help keep the toothy critters hooked. Fly selections should include Dolly Lamas, Pike Candy, and Grillo’s Bob Gnarly.

Holy Cross, Alaska

Mille Lacs, Minnesota

Muskie on the fly is a thing of beauty…and patience. They’re not always easy to find and hook with fly gear. Millie Lacs in Minnesota may just be your best bet!

What to know:

Mille Lacs Lake is an approachable-sized lake, especially for fly fishing. It’s an easy drive from Minneapolis and not too far from Duluth so access isn’t a problem. Shore fishing works but again, a boat or pontoon gives more options.

Grab a 10 weight rod with a sink line. Stock up on Ballock’s Big Boys, Musky Moneys, and some Killer Muskie Flies for your fly bin.

Mille Lacs, Minnesota Map

Lake Fork Reservoir, Texas

Few places come up as strong as Texas’s Lake Fork Reservoir when it comes to the bass game. Spin, bait, and fly fishers will find this reservoir a rewarding destination.

What to know:

Located east of Dallas between Emory, Sulphur Springs, and Mineola, access is not difficult. The reservoir fishes extremely well from mid-February through April and very well most of the rest of the year.

Flooded timber gives lots of cover for bass and the spring months bring the fish closer to shore. Bring a 9 foot 7 or 8-weight rod and a fly box with some PubGrubs, Hair Bass Bugs, and Deceivers. Top-water and sub-surface action can be amazing.

Lake Fork Reservoir, Texas Map


Hopedale, Louisiana

Louisiana is synonymous with big redfish. Hopedale, LA may just be the unofficial capital. Its location just east of New Orleans right next to the Biloxi State Wildlife Management Area puts you in prime redfish locations.

What to know:

Wade fishing can be possible but the marshy/grassy waters and soft bottoms can make things difficult. A motorboat, paddleboard, or fishing kayak will make access much easier. The area’s brackish water, however, is perfect for big drum.

Book a guide for the best access but, as in most cases, it’s not absolutely necessary. You’ll want to bring a 9ft 9 weight rod, a salt-resistant reel, and a cool saltwater specific floating line. Some of the best redfish flies are the EP Finger Mullet, Hopedale Crabs, and Redfish MariBoos.

Hopedale, Louisiana Map

Islamorada, Florida

In the months of March through June, Islamorada is a tarpon paradise!

Once the water temps reach and stay above 65 degrees, the migratory tarpon will stick around. May – June are generally safe bets for booking your trip but plenty of tarpon will still be around into September.

What to know:

It’s not uncommon to see groups of a hundred or more tarpon migrating around Islamorada during peak season. Chartering a boat will give you the best opportunity. If you’re on foot, finding shallow flats that drop off to some depth or finding mangrove edges with 3 or more feet of water is your best bet.

Getting to Islamorada is easy too. It’s a relatively short drive from Miami through Key Largo to Islamorada via Highway 1.

Tarpon are insanely strong and don’t lose much oxygen when jumping. The battle is intense and sturdy equipment is necessary.

A 9 foot 10, 11, or 12-weight rod is necessary. You’ll want a matching reel with a super sturdy drag that’s saltwater resistant. Tropical-specific fly lines are necessary because of warmer water. Floating or sink tips work for different situations.

Some of the best tarpon flies for Islamorada are the EP Baitfish, Tarpon Toad, and the Cockroach.

Islamorada, Florida Map

O’ahu, Hawaii

Most won’t think of Hawaii when thinking of bonefish…and that’s exactly why it’s on the list. You won’t find many bones all over Hawaii, however, O’ahu has some great habitat and flats for pursuing big bonefish!

What to know:

O’ahu bonefish average 5-6lbs! There are more big bonefish around O’ahu than most other bonefish destinations. You can fish right in Honolulu or search nearby shallow bays/flats. Chartering a captain and a skiff is your best bet but you can walk the many flats by yourself too.

A 9ft 8 is great to battle the big bones and pushing through sturdy winds. Some of the best flies for Hawaiian bonefish include the EP Micro Crab, Spawning Shrimp, and Norman’s Crab.

O’ahu, Hawaii


Some folks will agree with this list, some will simply not. Some long to fish the heavily-touted blue ribbon waters, and some prefer to stick to little-known, less crowded waters.

For the above list, I’ve tried to keep that in mind. Some of the listed areas will be known to fishermen and fisherwomen all over the globe and some aren’t common in the fly fishing conversation.

But the pleasures of fly fishing are diverse and ranging. Any way you prefer to fly fish, I’m confident you’ll get a great experience if you ever decide to travel to these destinations.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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