Trout fishing is one of the most exciting outdoor activities there are. Whether it be on the fly, or even a spinning rod, nothing puts up a fight quite like a trout, especially given their smaller size. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the U.S. and Canada chasing trout and experience some of the best streams this amazing continent has to offer.
If you're looking to plan your next fishing trip and want to experience some incredible views, great people and of course, amazing trout fishing, I have compiled a list that meets all of those qualifications. In fact, any one of these streams could be argued for that top spot.
1. Colorado River
One of the best trout streams in the U.S., the Colorado River has great trout fishing throughout much of its reach in Colorado, as well as in the fantastic tailwater below Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona. If you are fly fishing, plan to hit the salmonfly hatch in Colorado during the month of June by hiring a local outfitter to float you through the best water.
2. San Juan River
Featuring an abundance of rainbow trout that average between 16 and 18 inches, as well as some large brown trout, the San Juan River is one of the best trout streams in the country. With fish numbers near 15,000 trout per mile in the quality waters, you do not have to worry about finding fish.
3. Yellowstone River
The longest undammed river in the Lower 48, the Yellowstone is one of the best freestone trout streams in the western U.S. The headwaters in Yellowstone National Park contain the sought-after Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Downstream into Montana, the river contains healthy populations of large rainbow and brown trout. A mix of water types means both the fly and spin angler can do well here.
4. Bighorn River
The best water on the Bighorn River is found on the tailwater stretch. Especially famous for heavy hatches that bring the trout up to the surface to feed, fly fishers will do especially well here. Spin anglers will catch some large trout as well.
5. South Platte River
From high mountain meadow stretches to deep canyons harboring large rainbow and brown trout, the South Platte River has something for everyone. In particular, the Dream Stream stretch west of Colorado Springs sees good numbers of large trout move in from Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir in both spring and fall. Fish over 10 pounds are landed here every year.
6. North Platte River
Rising in the high mountains of northern Colorado, the North Platte River flows north through steep canyons as it enters Wyoming. Some of the best water on the river is on the tailwater stretches just southwest of Casper. Legendary for large trout, these waters hold some of the largest fish in the western United States.
7. Ruby River
The Ruby River in the southwest corner of Montana is one that often gets overlooked, which is one of the things that makes it so great. It's hard to imagine a more beautiful place than the Ruby Valley where this river runs through. Located just an hour outside of Bozeman, this is one that should be on every anglers bucket list.
If high catch rates are your thing, and you aren't necessarily set on catching a trophy trout, tying on a nice streamer and hitting this narrow stream might be the perfect option for you.
8. Green River
Arguably the best trout stream in the entire country, the Green River tailwater below Flaming Gorge Reservoir in northeast Utah is a fisherman's paradise. The waters are so rich that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources estimates that there are over 20,000 fish per mile in the upper portions of the tailwater. Even better, many of these fish grow to impressive sizes.
9. Deschutes River
Located in central Oregon, the Deschutes River is another river famous for the yearly salmonfly and golden stonefly hatches. These big bugs bring large trout to the surface every year in spring into early summer providing a fly fisher's dream scenario: large trout on dry flies.
10. Crowsnest River
Located on the southern edge of Alberta, the Crowsnest River has held a reputation for being a rainbow trout paradise. Primarily fished by using dry flies on a fly rod, there are fantastic hatches in this area which will allow you to "match the hatch" fairly easily.
Some of the best fishing can be done on the Crowsnest River in late April and early May, however, early in the fall can be fantastic as the fall hatches are in abundance. It's very common to land rainbows above 15 inches, and you might be lucky enough to catch one that tapes over 20.
11. Madison River
The Madison River is commonly referred to by locals as "Trout Mecca" and this isn't an overstatement. Flowing from Yellowstone National Park all the way to the Missouri River, your time spent on the river will vary depending on where you are along it.
One of the great things about The Madison is its ability to be active nearly year round. Offering an extremely diverse habitat, you'll have no problem finding fish 12 months out of the year. Be ready for the fight of your life as some of the aggressive browns in this area can be well over thirty inches in length and upwards of ten pounds.
12. Arkansas River
Colorado's newest blue ribbon water, the Arkansas River, is famed for the Mother's Day caddis hatch that bring out both fish and fishermen. A great, but often overlooked, hatch is the blue-winged olives which hatch in both the early spring and fall.
13. Gallatin River
It would be blasphemous to create a list of the best fly fishing streams without mentioning the legendary Gallatin River, where ironically most of the movie "A River Runs Through It" was filmed. There is a reason why they chose this river for filming as it offers some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the entire country.
Keep in mind that a good portion of this river is closed to boats, so break out those hiking boots and waders. After experiencing the scenery and quick action of these trout, you'll be happy that you're on foot anyway.
14. Frying Pan River
A tributary of the Roaring Fork River, the Frying Pan arises as a small freestone stream in the western Colorado mountains. The deservedly famous water is the tailwater below Ruedi Reservoir where trout in excess of 15 pounds can be found year round. Since the tailwater section avoids freezing over, this river makes a great winter trip. Spend a day on the slopes at Aspen and then trade your skis in for a fly rod and waders to hunt large trout.
15. Bow River
Located in Alberta, the Bow River consistently produces large trout, and easy access from Calgary makes this an easy trip. The Bow River is known for some massive rainbow trout and aggressive ones at that, so bring your heavy leaders and tippets. You need to check this river out!
16. Henry's Fork River
One of the tributaries of the Snake River, the Henry's Fork has both deep canyon stretches and flat meadow reaches. Anglers will appreciate consistent action for nice trout, some of which may be very large.
17. South Fork of the Snake River
Arising near the beautiful Teton Mountain range in northwestern Wyoming, the best water on the South Fork is located downstream of Palisades Reservoir. Cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout are the targets here.
18. Yampa River
Often overlooked among trout anglers, the Yampa River is one of the best trout streams in the western United States. Best of all, it flows through Steamboat Springs, one of the nicest mountain towns you will find. While the fishing right in town can be fantastic, don't overlook the tailwater reach below Stagecoach Reservoir if you want to find some large trout.
Bonus Stream: Missouri River
The mighty Missouri is often overlooked for the famous streams closer to Yellowstone but that should not be the case. This river is widely known as the one you want to be on in the winter, as it fishes incredibly year round. With over 5000 trout per mile, it's hard to imagine having a slow day on the Missouri River. In this case, big water equals big fish.
When you're ready to gear up and hit one of these trout streams, head to Cabela's for all the fishing equipment you could possibly need.
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