West Yellowstone is a quirky town where the frontier greets the thousands of RVs that cruise through Yellowstone National Park. It’s also the epicenter of arguably the best trout fishing in North America. Within the park, the Firehole River, with its ghostly hot springs, the Gibbon River and Slough Creek are all remarkable fisheries. On the park’s outskirts, anglers flock to the Gallatin (where A River Runs Through Itwas filmed), the brawling Yellowstone and the trout-rich Madison.
Another Big Sky gem, Missoula is a laid-back college town with a serious trout- fishing addiction. Anglers can fish the bouldery Blackfoot (A River Runs Through It author Norman Maclean’s home river) and the cottonwood-lined Bitteroot, both of which empty into the Clark Fork, which has 300 miles of fishable water. And while you’re following the trail of Lewis and Clark, stop by the Missouri, a wide river full of big rainbow and brown trout.
Trout Town USA is the launching point for the hallowed rivers of the Catskill Mountains. The Beaverkill, known as the birthplace of American dry fly-fishing, and the charming Willowemoc both flow through town and through angling’s history pages. The nearby East and West Branches of the Delaware River offer some of the best big-water fishing for brown and rainbow trout in the East.
The college football Mecca also has an abundance of trout in its spring-fed streams. The “limestoners,” as they are known, provide excellent fishing for mostly brown trout all year long. Spring Creek is a local favorite that runs through town. The Little Juniata has excellent mayfly hatches. And people travel from all over the globe to fish the famous Green Drake mayfly hatch on Penns Creek.
Grayling is the birthplace of Trout Unlimited, the sports’ biggest conservation organization. The Au Sable River, famous for its hatch of Hexagenia, the largest mayfly in the world, flows over a sandy bottom right through town. Nearby runs the Manistee, another spring creek-like river. Grayling is within shouting distance of Ernest Hemingway’s Fox and Two-Hearted rivers on the Upper Peninsula, where anglers can pretend to be Nick Adams.
The Bow River, which anglers can access from the middle of the city, may have the biggest stream-bred rainbow trout in the world. The 30 miles of blue ribbon water is fished primarily from drift boats. Two excellent mountain streams–the Crowsnest and Livingstone–are a short drive away, and have native bull and cutthroat trout.
Glenwood Springs is in the middle of it all. The Roaring Fork, with its dramatic elevation drops, comes right through town. The Frying Pan is one of North America’s most consistent trout streams. And the Colorado River can be accessed through the scenic Glenwood gorge. The nearby Crystal River is an underrated jewel.
The White and Norfork Rivers, two southern rivers made cold by bottom-release dams, have some of the biggest non-migratory brown trout in the world. Anglers catch 30-pounders every year. The rivers are fishable year round, but the fall is the best time to wet a line.
Redding has a diverse trout fishery. The Lower Sacramento is the largest trout river in California, and has some of the most powerful rainbows in the world. Anglers can also fish the McCloud River for its famous strain of leaping rainbows. Hat Creek and the Fall River are two expert-only spring creeks that have very big and very demanding trout.
The Southern Appalachians are perhaps best known in the angling world for their brook trout, tiny jewels that are the only trout native to the east coast. Anglers hike into the Smokies to fish plunging mountainside streams. The South Holston, in nearby East Tennessee, is arguably the best trout river in the southeast.