Dialing in your final list of schools to apply to? Currently trout-bumming your way through college? Recent grad or washed-up alumni? We’ve all got our opinions when it comes to talking college rankings, so we thought we’d complicate it even more by adding fly fishing to the mix. After considering the overall cultures both on and off the water, we think these 25 schools deserve a place in the trophy case – after all, what would college football season be without a little competition of our own?
1. Montana State University – Bozeman, MT
It isn’t much of a surprise that MSU takes the number one place as the best fly fishing school in the U.S. Enroll at MSU to fish the Gallatin, Beaverhead, Henry’s Fork, Jefferson, Yellowstone, Big Hole, and countless other beloved rivers and creeks. With world renowned water a stone’s throw from campus, and Bozeman’s intoxicating fly fishing culture, Montana State University’s number one power ranking is surely well deserved.
2. University of Montana – Missoula, MT
While MSU claims the title, UM in Missoula might just be the people’s choice. Located in western Montana, Missoula plays host to waters teeming with native bull and westslope cutthroat trout eager to crush bushy dries and meaty streamers. Plus, UM students have the climate advantage – fishing starts to heat up a lot quicker on this side of the state thanks to the Bitterroot Valley’s more temperate climate compared to that of Bozeman’s.
3. Penn State University – State College, PA
Happy Valley really does have it all. From a rich football tradition to one of the nation’s most robust wild brown trout populations in the nearby Spring Creek, Nittany Lions enjoy the very best of the all around college experience. Penn State also offers a number of fly fishing classes… hell, they might be the only classes you actually attend when the famed slate drakes and BWOs start hatching.
4. BYU Idaho – Rexburg, ID
Don’t sleep on BYU Idaho. If location is your top priority when it comes to college, Rexburg, Idaho will be hard to beat. Located near the Madison, Teton, South Fork of the Snake, Henry’s Fork and other gold medal rivers, plus Yellowstone National Park and Henry’s Lake, BYU Idaho is a fly fisherman’s paradise. Pro tip: if the religious nature of BYU isn’t a deal breaker, non-LDS applicants have an arguably better shot at getting admitted.
5. University of Miami – Miami, FL
For all the saltwater fanatics out there, going to school at The U means having some of the best flats fishing in the world right near campus. For less technical angling, fish a local canal or pond in or around Miami and find aggressive Peacock Bass and other warm-water species.
Or take the short trip down to the Everglades’ marshes to chase those snook, redfish, baby tarpon, and occasional bonefish. Once you’ve found your groove in the salt, the adventures of chasing legendary Florida Keys permit might just make you a permanent resident. This is all to say nothing of the nightlife and Floridian college culture – you’ve just gotta see it for yourself.
6. University of Alaska Anchorage – Anchorage, AK
The University of Alaska has to make the list out of mere principle. Alaska is a top destination in the world of fly fishing for good reason, so why not go to school there? The Anchorage campus is a short drive away from the legendary Kenai and Russian rivers, plus countless walk and wade streams, wild creeks, and the beloved Alaska Parks Highway river systems – all of which are teeming with monster ‘bows and magazine worthy salmon. Prior to matriculation, be sure to break out the vise to whip up some egg and flesh flies – chances are your box will need a refresh before heading up north. Not to mention Chester Creek flows right through the campus!
7. Appalachian State – Boone, NC
Supporters of the ‘neers say there’s no place like Boone, and they’re probably right. Tucked into North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, App State has miles of quality water in every direction. Most notably, the South Holston River. It’s only 45 minutes away and supports 8,000-10,000 big and wild browns that take flies year-round. These fish are legendary, and so are the hatches – good luck making the honor roll with fishing this good.
8. Colorado State University – Ft. Collins, CO
Of course, a Colorado school has to make the list, and while there are many worthy contenders, CSU shines through for a few reasons. Fort Collins, just south of the Wyoming line, means central access to everything from the North Platte and Arkansas to the Cache la Poudre and Rocky Mountain National Park. The sheer diversity of water could keep a CSU Ram from fishing the same stretch twice during their college career, and the same could be said for drinking the same beer twice with all of Fort Collins’ breweries.
9. University of Washington – Seattle, WA
An excellent school, in a major city, with phenomenal fishing – what’s not to love? No matter if you love chasing steelhead on the swing or throwing terrestrials to hungry cutthroats, Washington water can scratch your fish itch during every month of the year. Some of the most popular destinations near the city include the Cle Elum, Yakima, and Skagit rivers, the Puget Sound, and miles of high mountain streams chock full of natives. In addition to world-class angling, foodies and urbanities will thrive in this bustling metropolis.
10. Boise State – Boise, ID
It’s hard to beat Boise State when it comes to fishing and football. Home to the venerable Broncos football program and the Boise River, Idaho’s state capital should make the shortlist for anyone who wants high-quality water only a short walk away. After all, who doesn’t? The river flows through the heart of town and supports an impressive population of wild browns and native redband rainbows, plus the annual steelhead run. Boise is a place where college gameday can conclude with netting a pig, and that’s a beautiful thing.
While these are our picks for the country’s top college towns for wetting a line, the below schools all have a place in our Top 25 Bracket. The truth is that there are so many amazing schools close to killer water – just try not to fail out. Or do… fishing is more fun than studying after all.
11. Arkansas State University, Mountain Home – Mountain Home, AR
12. College of Charleston – Charleston, SC
13. Cornell University – Ithaca, NY
14. San Diego State University – San Diego, CA
15. Tulane University – New Orleans, LA
16. University of Colorado Boulder – Boulder, CO
17. University of Georgia – Athens, GA
18. University of Massachusetts Amherst – Amherst, MA
19. University of Oregon – Eugene, OR
20. University of Tennessee – Knoxville, TN
21. Vanderbilt University – Nashville, TN
22. Virginia Tech – Blacksburg, VA
23. Western Colorado University – Gunnison, CO
24. West Virginia University – Morgantown, WV
25. Yale University – New Haven, CT
Which schools did we miss? Feel free to comment below!
Article by Jake Lebsack, an angler based in Denver, Colorado.