Top 5 Float Fishing Trips in the United States

In honor of World Rivers Day, a celebration of the world’s waterways, we wanted to highlight 5 waterways in the Continental United States for multi-day float fishing trips. These trips are a great way to experience what a specific watershed has to offer and enjoy some quality time with your friends.

5. The Upper Colorado River 

Photo: Vail Valley Anglers

If you have ever fly-fished in Colorado, you have probably heard of the Upper Colorado River. The river’s headwaters begin at the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Upper Colorado River is a popular destination for recreation of all forms from rafters and kayakers to anglers. The Upper Colorado River’s fishery is world-class consistent fishing from the spring into the fall. Anglers can expect to catch rainbows and browns, with some rare brook and cutthroat trout mixed in.

Photo: Dan Zaz

Unlike many of the other rivers on this list, you do not need a permit to float the river or camp on the Upper Colorado River. Camping on the river is regulated under a first come first serve policy. With this in mind, the Upper Colorado River can be quite busy, especially on weekends in the summer. This river is great for less experienced multi-day floaters as you can do shorter trips like one night floats. For more information on the Colorado River check out the BLM website here.

4. The Lower Deschutes River

Photo: Toby Nolan

Oregon’s Lower Deschutes River is famed for its summer steelhead, chinook salmon, and native redband rainbow trout. This federally designated Wild and Scenic River originates high in Central Oregon’s Cascade mountain range, where it flows 252 miles into the Columbia River.

Photo: Toby Nolan

The “Lower Deschutes River” begins below the Peloton Dam Complex and flows 100 miles long to where it converges with the mighty Columbia River. This section of the Deschutes River is most popular for anglers and multi-day floaters. It provides anglers with a tailwater fishery that offers year-round fly fishing opportunities. There are various different sections to float with many Class III and Class IV whitewater rapids as well as a mandatory portage at Shearers Falls. For floaters, you need to obtain a BLM permit in order to float the river. You cannot fish from the boat when floating the river, so anglers fish the river from the bank. The most popular times to float fish the Deschutes are in the late spring during the Salmon Fly Hatch and the fall when the steelhead are in the river. Another unique aspect of the Deschutes River is part of this section of river is on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

3. The Smith River

Montana’s Smith River is one of the most coveted multi-day float trips in the West. With only one put-in and one take-out along the 60 mile stretch of water, the Smith is renowned for its scenery and quality trout fishing. It is located in Central Montana, where it flows into the Missouri River.

Unfortunately, for anglers looking to experience the Smith, the lottery system can be tough to score a permit. But when you do draw the permit, it is a trip you will remember. The privacy and limited use of the river allow for an intimate experience. For more information on getting a permit to float the Smith River check out the link here.

2. The Rogue River 

This Southern Oregon River flows from Oregon’s Crater lake 215 miles to the Pacific Ocean near Gold Beach. The 84-mile long Wild and Scenic Lower Rogue River was one of the original rivers designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The river is famed for its abundant steelhead and salmon runs and whitewater rapids. Anglers can float and camp along the river or stay at one of the historic lodges.

Photo: Kirk Blaine

For anglers, the summer months are not the best time to float the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue, as warm water temperatures and low flows are present, but in the fall and in the spring the steelhead fishing can be exceptional. To float the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue floaters must obtain a permit from May 15th-October 15th.

1. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Photo: Trout Unlimited

Central Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Snake River might be one of the most beautiful places on the earth. The 104-miles of crystal-clear water flows through the heart of the Frank Church-River of the No Return Wilderness. This Wild and Scenic River is popular among white-water enthusiasts for its Class III and Class IV rapids–not to mention the abundant fishery of cutthroat trout that will eat a dry on almost every cast.

Photo: Asa Menlove

A permit is required year-round to float the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, there are only seven permits a day are allowed, so again this river provides you with an intimate experience in an untouched wilderness area.

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