Plan your next fishing trip to one of the best trout streams in the western United States or Canada for a shot at the catch of a lifetime.
A strong argument in favor of the “Best Trout Stream” in North America could be made for any of these waters. Known not only for good numbers of healthy trout, these streams all have the ability to produce trophy-sized trout as well.
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. Madison River
Another great trout stream with its headwaters in Yellowstone National Park, the Madison River has great fishing both in the Park as well as downstream in Montana. The Madison is another river featuring fantastic hatches and great fly fishing.
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 Deschutues 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. Sacramento River
With both an upper freestone section with great hatches and a lower tailwater section with big healthy rainbow trout feasting on caddis, the Sacramento River has something for every angler.
11. Gunnison River
Draining portions of Colorado’s West Slope, the Gunnison River has both an upper freestone section as well as a canyon. The deep Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which transitions into the Gunnison Gorge, contains some of the best fishing in Colorado.
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. Roaring Fork River
Flowing through the upscale Aspen area, the Roaring Fork picks up more water and by the time it flows through Basalt has become a classic western trout stream. All fly fishermen owe it to themselves to fish the green drake hatch on this beautiful trout stream at least once in their life.
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. Easy access from Calgary makes this an easy trip. The large trout will keep you coming back.
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 target 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. In this case, big water equals big fish.