When considering the best fly-fishing destinations don’t overlook the North country.
Iconic movies like A River Runs Through It show off the great fly fishing of the Mountain West, and fishing in Montana and Idaho is magical indeed. But the North holds some of the most underrated (and, in some cases, underfished) fly fishing spots around. Fly fishing is best in the cold waters that have coarse stream beds and little runoff from construction operations or plants, and there are plenty of spots like that in the Northern U.S.
Grab your fly waders, a rod, hit the local fly shop for a good fly or two, and hit these areas:
Upstate New York
Upstate New York offers fly fisherman the perfect conditions for catching brown trout, rainbow trout, and brook trout, as well as plentiful waterways chock full of Salmon. We love hiking New York, but the fly fishing is pretty great too.
Hardly underrated, Beaverkill is well-known among fly fishing insiders. Situated in Delaware and Sullivan Counties, it is a tributary of the East Branch Delaware River that spans about 44 miles. This area is considered to be the birthplace of fly fishing in the United States, and Sullivan County is the home to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum.
The deep pools in the upper portion of the river are fed by cold springs and home to many brook trout. Fly fishermen from all around the world travel here to fish these astounding waters, and a large number of those anglers make their way to the covered Beaverkill Bridge where the trout fishing is reported to be some of the best in the world.
Find the town of Roscoe on a map, and you will quickly see Beaverkill and its surroundings. Roscoe, by the way, has more good eateries than one might expect in a town of 600 people.
The West Branch of the Au Sable River
The West Branch of the Au Sable River (also called Ausable — they are the same thing) is situated in the Adirondacks near Lake Placid. The area is stocked with brown, rainbow, and brook trout and home to wild brown and brook trout, too. You should have ample species to go after. You just might land a grayling while you are fishing these waters. The grayling were a large attraction here starting in the 1880’s when there was a grayling hatchery located on the river. They became almost obsolete here until they were reintroduced in 1987.
The scenery is breathtaking, the water is clear, and this 138 mile waterway should be on the bucket list of every fly fisherman. Note that in the spring, until about Memorial Day, you probably need to plan to float the river. Wading can be tough with the amount of flow depending on the time of year.
North Shore of Lake Superior
You will find many great fly fishing streams and bodies of water located here, along with a culture and incredible scenery that makes the trip worth it all by itself. On the North Shore, some main attractions are:
The Gooseberry River
The Gooseberry River spans 23 miles before it flows into Lake Superior. At one time the extensive logging in the area had caused this river to lose favor with anglers, but the forest has reclaimed its glory and the supply of rainbow trout, brown Trout, and brook trout is plentiful. Fish above the barrier falls for best luck with the trout, but in April and May, get your dry flies ready for a steelhead run through these waters. Look for them in the larger pools that tend to be abundant after the spring melt. Remember that steelheads are often suckers for those flies that imitate floating fish eggs.
Keep in mind that on these Minnesota rivers, you will have lots of trees growing right up to the river. That makes it a beautiful setting, but also difficult to use back casts. Use short casts and just get the flies in front of the fish.
The Sucker River has been the focus of a habitat improvement project designed to increase the fish population and improve the water quality. It has been very successful and this body of water provides ample riffles and pools for the brown and brook trout that like to call it home. The mayflies hatch out in early June and provide you a great cover for your flies. Nymphs and streamers are best used to catch the larger fish, but keep those dry flies handy for the fish swimming closer to the surface.
Like the Gooseberry, find pools and use short back casts.
Maine offers the perfect water temperatures and climate to produce amazing numbers of trout. Find a good time to visit Maine, and be sure to bring your fly rod. Fly fishing in the following locations will not be disappointing.
You cannot go to Maine for fly fishing and skip the Rapid River. This river has been a fly fishing hot spot since the early 1900s. It’s unlike others because it has a pond situated in the middle section. This creates an excellent habitat for landlocked salmon and brook trout, so the fishing is superb all summer. Fly fishing is the only type of fishing that is allowed in this river and you will find that the trout are catch and release only on the Rapid River. There is a three fish limit on the salmon.
The Roach River
For six miles in north central Maine, starting at the First Roach Pond in Kokadjo and winding into Moosehead Lake through Spencer Bay, you will find spectacular opportunities to catch salmon and brown trout using a wide variety of nymphs, streamers, and dry flies. This stretch of water is a fly fishing only and catch and release water way. The river is just fifty feet across at its widest point, but it has some amazing areas that will test your skill and delight your senses.
This top ranked river flows from Moosehead Lake all the way to Bath where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The upper sections of the river are famous for their supplies of brook trout, and they respond well to dry flies. Further downstream you are going to be more likely to land brown trout or Rainbow trout who like both the dry flies and a nymph or two.
Southeastern Minnesota offers some of the best brown and brook trout fly fishing available in the United States.
Trout Run Creek
If you are looking to hook some Brown trout than there is possibly no better place than Trout Run Creek in Minnesota. This stream of water produces some of the biggest brown trout to be caught. Large sections of the creek are surrounded by private property, but you will find plenty of public access easements. There are breathtaking waterways that are alive with fish, and we recommend using dry flies and fish closer to the banks for some great catches.
The Whitewater river has a large amount of public access to some of the best trout fishing available. It has a plentiful supply of brown trout and brook trout. A spider web of streams flow into the river and each one of them offers a unique and promising opportunity for fly fishing enthusiasts. Accessible from both the Whitewater State Park and the Carley State Park, we suggest trying a little nymph fishing for some prize winning catches.
Learning to Fly Fish
If you think you have found a great fly fishing spot, we encourage to you go for it! It is a great past time and one that can be done with multiple generations. Where else can a 15-year old grandson or granddaughter have such a great day outside with their 75-year old grandparent?
If you need to learn how to fly fish, you might be able to find a local class through a fishing guide. We also recommend the 2-hour classes done by REI — find them here — which can be a great intro. They offer different types of courses so you can build new skills.
While you are preparing for fly fishing, don’t forget a few essentials. A tackle box is critical for this endevour, and the right kind of tackle box or bag should be matched to your fishing style and needs. And no matter how wooded the area is, when you are standing in the middle of a stream, there is no escaping the sun. A good fly fishing hat will not only keep you protected against UV rays, but it will also help you look the part, just as if you were straight out of A River Runs Through It.