If there is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is that we have some pretty incredible fly fishing opportunities just outside our backdoor. The continental United States is home to some of the best and most diverse fly fishing in the world, ranging from flats fishing for 100 pound plus tarpon, throwing dry flies to large brown trout, to aggressive bass takes on topwater. Below, we detail a list of 5 fly fishing destinations to add to your bucket list this year.
Destination #1: Florida Keys, Florida:
One of the epicenters of saltwater fly fishing in the United States, the Florida Keys offers the opportunity for all anglers to play some of the biggest names in fly fishing. From tarpon to bonefish, the fly fishing in the Florida Keys is unmatched anywhere in the United States.
Best Time of Year to Catch a Tarpon:
- Starting in February and March tarpon line up around basins, banks, and flats in the backcountry. These fish have not been cast at in months and will eat whatever you throw at them with enthusiasm.
- In mid-April, the tarpon migration begins as the fish move from east to west. This continues through May and June.
- September is a great time to fish for resident tarpon as there is very little angling pressure, and the fish are feeding on baitfish on the beaches.
Fly Fishing Tips for Tarpon Fishing:
- Tarpon have hard mouths, setting the hook hard is crucial to keeping the fish on.
- After landing a tarpon, do your best to keep the fish in the water, oftentimes this means getting into the water yourself. This will help to ensure that the fish will continue to live after its release.
- My gear recommendation is:
- 11 weight outfit
Best Time of Year to Catch A Permit:
- In March, permit gather on the flats in large numbers, and eat enthusiastically as they prepare to spawn.
- In June, the fish have finished spawning and in combination with the crab flushes, you are set up for success.
- In October the water starts to cool down, and there are fewer anglers. Permit often stay active all day, making this time of year great for fishing.
Fly Fishing Tips for Permit Fishing in the Florida Keys:
- Before leaving to fish for Permit, practice casting accurately in the wind. Set up a hula hoop and practice casting from 40, or more, feet.
- Make sure that you are able to double haul effectively
- Practice with a weighted fly
- When casting at the fish, aim for their head, don’t lead them on like while tarpon fishing.
- Permit are spooky and hard to hook, let alone land. Going days without catching one is okay, the longer that you are out there trying, the more likely it is to happen. Persistence is your best friend.
Best Time of Year to Catch a Bonefish:
- You can fish for bonefish between March and November
- In April the water is starting to warm up and the fish are feeding aggressively. In addition, because of the incredible nature of tarpon fishing at this time, the bonefish flats get very little pressure.
- In the summer months, bonefish can be found tailing on outgoing tides.
- In October the water temperatures are falling and there is very little pressure for anglers, resulting in great fishing.
- Fishing for bonefish is also very good in November as the fish can be found everywhere.
Fly Fishing Tips for Bonefish:
- Bonefish in the Florida Keys tend to eat pretty big flies, so a size 1 or 2 hook comes highly recommended.
- Similar to permit fishing, it is important that you are able to cast accurately in the wind for 40 feet or.
- My gear recommendation is:
- 9 weight outfit (because of perennial wind and many wade fishing opportunities are in slightly deeper flats than are found elsewhere)
Destination #2: Telluride, Colorado:
With a river running right through town, everything about this idyllic town high in the mountains of Colorado screams fish. Whether you are interested in fishing for small cutthroats high in the mountains, or rainbows in the valley, there is terrain, and fish, for everyone. Telluride offers a diverse range of rivers, small creeks, and high alpine lakes for anglers of all ability levels. As John Duncan, the owner of Telluride Outside and long-time Telluride resident would put it, “I love fly fishing in and around Telluride because every local knows a secret trout. There is something for everybody, and the terrain available is unmatched in this part of the world”.
- Trout (Brown, Rainbow, Cutthroat, and Brook Trout)
Best Time of Year to Fly Fish Telluride:
- Generally, the best time of the year to fish in this area is between April and October. In the spring and fall, you can find fish eating both sub-surface and on top. The water is cold during this time of the year, but as long as you are properly dressed, wading is your best bet.
- In the summer, dry fly fishing is hard to beat, and the water temperatures have warmed up enough to wet wade. In addition to wading, great float fishing is available as well.
- The peak of high alpine trout fishing is in the summer as well and can be truly something special. For more information on high alpine trout fishing in Colorado, check out our article here.
Fly Fishing Tips for Telluride:
- Be aware of where others are, oftentimes you will have to get off of the beaten path in order to find the best fishing.
- “Match the hatch” is often a great way to go, especially in the warmer months. Don’t be afraid to turn over a few rocks or take a second to look above the water to determine what exactly the fish are eating!
- Make sure that you are comfortable with making short and precise casts as well as mending your fly line.
- My gear recommendation is:
- 3-5 weight outfit
Destination #3 Martha’s Vineyard:
Accessible only by air or water, Martha’s Vineyard is an island unlike any other. Offering a plethora of fish and terrain, this island is a must-visit for any and all anglers interested in fishing for striped bass, among other species. In the words of Abbie Schuster, the owner and founder of Kismet Outfitters, “Martha’s Vineyard is literally my favorite fishery in the world. From the sandy flats where we stalk stripers like bonefish to the powerful rips where there is so much life, it is impossible to get bored. Our fishery changes throughout the season as well making each day different than the last. We start with schoolies and end with false albacore and Bonito. There is also amazing wade fishing which makes it accessible for everyone. You don’t need a boat. I have guided many other places and have been ‘burnt out’ by the end of the season. That has yet to happen with this fishery, and I know it never will!”
- Striped bass
- Albacore and Bonito
Best Time of Year to Fly Marthas Vineyard:
- The best time of year to fish for striped bass is between April and October.
- Striped bass can be found in April, but they tend to be smaller in size and are found less consistently.
- Bluefish can be found during the same months, and bonito and false albacore can be found between July or August and October.
Fly Fishing Tips for Marthas Vineyard:
- You can wade fish around the island, and this is a great way to get your bearings and catch some sweet fish.
- Stripers tend to sit on the flats in 2-15 feet of water in addition to more structured areas. For more information regarding fishing for stripers on flats, check out our article here.
- Fast sinking lines will help your fly get to the fish’s level fast and is usually the way to go unless the fish are feeding on the surface.
- Before you go, practice your double-haul to ensure that you are able to present the fish with the best-looking fly possible.
- Be mindful of the tide to prevent getting stuck on a sand bar.
- My gear recommendation is:
- 9 or 10 weight outfit
Destination #4 Missoula, Montana:
You have heard it before and you will hear it again, Missoula is one of, if not the best, trout fisheries in the United States. The sheer quality of the rivers in this area is unmatched anywhere else, making it a fly fishing metropolis. Whether you are interested in fishing the area with the help of a guide or doing some DIY fishing, there is something for every angler. As Matthew Breuer, a Missoula River Lodge guide, puts it, “Fly fishing in Missoula, Montana means that I am at the epicenter of western trout fishing…unmatched due to the breadth and diversity of wild trout rivers here on the west-side of our continental divide. Montana is a special place, it will always be home.”
- Trout (Brown, Rainbow, Cutthroat, and Brook Trout).
Best Time of Year to Fly Fish Missoula:
- Mid-March through October is generally the best time to plan a trip to Missoula, although there is often fishing available in the winter months.
- Beginning in mid-March, Skwala stoneflies hatch, offering some of the best dry fly fishing all year. This will continue through April. In the later months of April, BWOs, among other bugs, will start to hatch as well.
- In June, after the runoff, several different bugs, including Salmonflies and Golden stones, hatch. In late June Green Drakes and Caddis start to show up, and in July PMDs and Yellow Sallies start to hatch. Spice Moths light up the water in Late July, and as the water levels fall in August, terrestrials such as beetles and hoppers are the way to go.
- Match the hatch, technical dry fly fishing can be found during the months of September and October. In addition to dry fly fishing, the fall is a great time to pull streamers.
Fly Fishing Tips for Missoula, Montana:
- Pay attention to your timing. When the water is low and the air temperatures are hot (ie. in August), it is best to avoid fishing in the middle of the day when the water temperatures are hot. Making these types of observations will enable you to make the most of your time fishing, as well as help improve your odds of catching fish.
- Make note of the natural bugs that are in the air and on the water. Use these observations to choose the fly, specifically the type, color, and size, that you tie on.
- Move around…if you have spent several days in one spot with no luck, try a different spot or a different river entirely. There are lots to choose from!
- My gear recommendation is:
- 4-6 weight outfit
Destination #5 Austin, Texas:
Austin, Texas, yep, that’s right, the city with several million occupants is an amazing place to get into some bass on the fly. With quick and easy access to the Colorado River, both Guadelupe and largemouth bass can be caught while fly fishing. Despite the river’s proximity to Austin, it receives relatively little pressure and is the ideal location for anyone interested in doing some bass fishing. As Chris Johnson, owner of Living Waters Fly Fishing would say, “The waters of the Texas Hill Country are my home. The same rivers and streams that I began guiding on are now where I take my kids to play. Fly fishing is a way of life and the livelihood of my family and my staff. Without our local water, we would not have the growing community of local fly anglers we see now. From warm-water pursuits to tailwater trout, our publicly accessible waterways are fishable year-round. One could easily spend a lifetime pursuing the fish, birds, and wildlife that can be found all within a short drive from downtown!”
- Guadalupe bass
- Largemouth bass
Best Time of Year to Fly Fishing Austin:
- The best times of the year to go bass fishing in Austin are spring, early summer, and fall.
- The Colorado River gets very little pressure, and as a result, offers great fishing most months of the year.
Fly Fishing Tips for Austin, Texas:
- Generally, the fish will hang out around structure in the river, and therefore, focus your efforts on these areas.
- The flows of the Colorado below Austin are controlled by the Longhorn Dam. Make sure to check the previous water releases prior to leaving, and use these to guide you in your decision as to when you are fishing.
- The banks off protection and structure, fish them!
- My gear recommendations:
- 6 or 7 weight outfit
With these recommendations in mind, we hope that you will go out and explore some more of the incredible fly fishing that the United States has to offer. Whether you opt for small-stream trout or the Silver Kings, there is something for everyone and even more for those open to trying a little something different.