These spectacular wilderness locations are waiting for you if you’re willing to hike, bike, canoe, raft, drift, fly, or 4WD farther than the rest. Getting to the rewards off the beaten path can take a lot more time and effort. Do so, and you’ll be rewarded with wild hard-hitting fish, pristine jaw-dropping scenery, and none of the crowds.
We guarantee this article will get you planning and packing for your next trip, in fact, many of these may surprise or be new to you. To get ready for the best fly fishing in the USA, we provide some ideas for ultralight fly fishing products that’ll lighten your load while fishing in the backcountry. Above all, if you want us to cover your favorite backcountry spot, or one on your bucket list, be sure to visit our contact page.
Yes, much of Alaska is still wilderness and hard to reach. Yet with the summer population 8 times the residents, the state sees its fair share of heavy fishing pressure. These remote locations will beat the crowds for a lifetime experience.
Alagnak River – is designated a Wild & Scenic River originating in Katmai National Park. Truly a paradise river, the Alagnak is in the Bristol Bay region. Time it right, and you’ll not only take giant resident rainbows, grayling and dolly varden, but also tie into several salmon runs. From headwaters at Kukaklek or Nonvianuk Lake, it’s a 75 mile 6-day raft float. The river is Class I – II, with one Class III canyon. The area is filled with Alaskan Brown Bears so good planning and precautions are highly advised. Be ready for travel – after Anchorage, you’ll have another 1.5 hour commercial flight to King Salmon AK. To top it off, that is followed by yet another leg by float plane to the drop off point. Not a day trip!
Yukon River – For an awe-inspiring setting, the Yukon Tributary in Northern Alaska is a must visit. The best northern pike fishing in the world, is where you will likely tie into a pike of a lifetime. Shallow water allows visual fishing and violent strikes on surface poppers. Ever hear of sheefish? The “tarpon of the north” will leave your arms sore after a spectacular fight. The tributary section is so remote you won’t see another angler the entire trip.
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Black River, Apache Sitgreaves National Forest – The longest high-quality fishing river in AZ, famous for its bad access roads and true wilderness. If you and your 4WD are up to the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with outstanding fly fishing. A true coldwater fishery, the headwaters start at almost 7,500′. Although deep canyons are a hallmark of the river, it’s mostly low gradient with easy wading in most places – once get to the river that is. Brown & rainbow trout, and smallmouth bass. Many people don’t think of AZ while looking for the best fly fishing in USA, so be sure you don’t overlook this treasure of a river.
Ozark National Forest – With 1,200,000 acres and points just shy of 3000 ft., the Ozarks are more vast and higher in elevation than you might have thought. You are likely to first of all notice how serene the nature and crystal streams are. Better yet, anglers from Missouri and Kansas can also reach great rainbow and brown trout fishing. Finally, access to the more remote fishing is via canoe float rip and hundreds of miles of forest trails.
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Golden Trout Wilderness – Feast your eyes while catching a truly beautiful wild fish species. Even more special, you’ll be catching the magnificent golden trout as the original native species here. Cast your lines while walking through the meadows of the Kern Plateau, high in the Sierras south of Mount Whitney. You’ll find no shortage of terrain in 300,000-acres of preserve within the Inyo and Sequoia National Forests. Try your luck at the intersection of the N and S forks of the Kern River. If solace is what you seek, look no further because this area is completely remote and rugged. You will find its nearly 400 miles of backcountry footpaths (including a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail) hardly trodden upon even today.
Estes Park – It’s no secret that tucked away in Rocky Mountain National Park are incredible spots where you can backpack and fishing for trout. Even moreso than the plenty of easy-access spots at lakes and rivers along roads, the wisest anglers will venture up the trails. Just a few steps further in Estes park, will put you in hot pursuit of wild rainbow, brown, and brook trout.
Gunnison Gorge – Try stalking the massive trout emerging for the stonefly hatch in the spring, or pursuing salmon in the fall. You will find the Gunnison entails going “deep” into wilderness, testing your hiking, scrambling / rock climbing, and boating skills. This is because reaching the Upper Gorge requires packing your portable boat in to float, or hiking down semi-treacherous trails with a scrambling level rock climbing skills. Above all stay safe first, then you are likely to reap the rewards of a truly spectacular canyon. To clarify, we suggest fishing below even more treacherous Black Canyon, and above the lower Gunnison roadside.
River of No Return – an apt nick-name for one of the most impressive rivers there is, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is as good as it gets. Floating through the Frank Church Wilderness you will tie into native cutthroat, rainbows and dollies. This all the while surrounded by jaw dropping forested canyons with granite walls and plentiful wildlife. Be sure to set aside a solid 5-6 days for your float trip, and explore the many wadable side streams to boot. Whether DIY or guided, enjoy unrivalled serenity with white sand beaches making perfect camp sites under the Poderosa Pines.
Wilderness Ponds – Maine’s brook trout lakes & ponds hold the USA’s largest population of wild natives living in stillwater environments. Yes that’s right – the original species not stocked or genetically altered, in their unaltered wild setting. Fishing here is uniquely rare and special. Just be ready to push for 2+ hours in your 4WD, then hike further in to spots such as Round Pond or Allegash Lake in the far north. Just to wet your chops a little more, consider that of more than 6,500 fishable lakes and ponds, at least 1,200 are “Principal Brook Trout Fisheries,” 660 haven’t been stocked in over 10 years, 335 have never been stocked, and 120 are classified as “remote” by the state. Best of all you can soak it up in 165 “fly fishing only” lakes, including 1,700 acre Kennebago Lake – the largest fly-fish-only water east of the Mississippi. Ready to go?
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Smith River – is a national treasure with only one public put-in and take-out along 59 miles of water. Without diminishing its more famous sister rivers such as the Madison and Missouri and Clarkfork, it is noteworthy that the Smith holds blue ribbon trout fishing status. Above all you will experience the Smith as one of the most unique and stunningly beautiful fishing experiences in the USA. In contrast to other Montana rivers, the Smith’s quality is boosted by protected status and a permit system. These limit the number of float trips per season. For that reason, if you haven’t applied early enough, your next best option is to book an endorsed Montana guide.
Adirondacks – think fly-in fishing is reserved for Alaska and Canada? Think again – some of the Adirondacks diverse wild fishing is only reachable via a long hike in or float plane. Here you will find big lakes and backcountry ponds for trout, bass, pike, walleye, and land-locked salmon. Flowing through the area’s uncut forests, the typically quiet streams are abundant with shaded inlets, moderately deep pools and wide riffle stretches. A perfect area for both DIY and guided trips, you’ll be surprised how wild the area is while at the same time reachable from major metropolitan areas.
Hazel & Forney Creeks – Thinking about perfect beaches and dunes, Kitty hawk, hurricanes, and southern hospitality? Yes, but think again – NC has thousands of miles of paradise trout water. With over 20 mountain peaks between 6,000-7,000′ in the Great Smokies, Black Mountains, Balsam, Plott and Unaka ranges, hike-in streams are abundant. Go for a “Smokies Slam” by catching a wild brown, rainbow and brookie in a single day. If you cherish backcountry camping with fine fishing, Hazel & Forney Creeks are as good as it gets. Fish with stealth, prepare for weather changes just as you would in the North – and don’t underestimate NC’s rugged terrain! While many gravitate towards the northwest, NC offers absolutely some of the best fly fishing in USA.
Hells Canyon – The name is no joke! You’ll find the hikes around the Snake River gorge, also located in eastern Oregon, to be downright grueling. But it’s a small price to pay once you factor in the fishing. Trout fishing is year-round, and steelhead opportunities really pick up in the fall with 20-fish days not uncommon in some years. There are, of course, less challenging routes in the area. Hikes for all skill levels can be found in the more than 1,000 miles of trails in Hells Canyon. Finally, elevation stays low at the bottom of the canyon, making this a great first backpacking trip of the season for those of us who aren’t in peak physical fitness.
Wenaha River – Situated in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, the waters of this river in Eastern Oregon eventually flow into the Columbia River and out to the Pacific Ocean. This means the Wenaha also offers fishermen the chance to fight good-sized steelhead and salmon. Not bad considering the Wenaha trailhead begins at about 3,000 ft. in elevation – noteworthy the migratory fish had to climb that far upriver no less! The Wenaha River Trail itself runs parallel to the river, certainly leaving plenty of opportunities to stop and make a few casts.
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North Central Pennsylvania – is where PA’s best wild trout streams are located. Even with the Allegheny National Forest to the west, it is in Clinton, Center, Cameron, Potter, and Tioga counties where the most wild trout protected streams are. These are the streams that yield most of PA’s wild browns, rainbows, and brookies. Check out PA’s Fish and Boat Commission website to pull up an interactive map to hone in on these wild designated stream sections. Bet you didn’t know how much PA offer s for the best fly fishing in USA.
Enchantments – this cascading series of alpine lakes and streams is the crown jewel of WA’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The area has a boasts 700 alpine and glacial lakes accessed via 47 trailheads and 615 miles of trails. Be sure to kick off and conclude your trip in the quaint German-style town of Leavenworth. The Enchantments are kept pristine via lottery-based permits (the author has easily secured permits, just apply early). Get ready for a first leg hike almost straight up 1500 feet, to lakes holding fine cutthroat, brookies, and lake trout. Spotting mountain goats and other wildlife is common, even while you case for some of the best fly fishing in USA.
Olympic Penninsula – Olympic Nat’l Park is so diverse it’s called “3 parks in one.” Its 900,000 acres encompass glacier-flanked mountains surrounding Mt. Olympus. Not only that, its western rainforest valleys drain into a 60-mile reach of Pacific Coast, mostly roadless wilderness. These diverse ecosystems support healthy wild fish, in milky blue glacial runoff. Most anglers come for wild steelhead, chinook & coho salmon, floating the larger rivers. For true wilderness, hike up one of the many rivers: the Bogachiel, Duckabush, Dosewallips, Elwah, Hoh, Queets, Quilute, & Sol-Duc. In addition, be sure to try the many fishable tributaries, and scores of alpine lakes. The farther and higher, the more scrappy the fish. You’ll find primarily rainbows & brookies with a few protected bull trout – and relatively few other anglers. Be sure to note, it’s all uphill on the way in, all downhill on the way out!
Wind River Range – The deeper you walk into the Wind River Mountain Range, the more prehistorically huge the brook trout become. Wind River is located inside the Bridger Wilderness Area, within Bridger-Teton National Forest in western Wyoming. There are more than 1,000 lakes speckling its 400,000 acres of rugged, stream-filled lands accessed by more than 600 miles of trails. Stocked in the early 20th century, the population is now self-sustaining. You’ll also find the rare golden trout in relative abundance.
Yellowstone National Park – countless gems of streams and trout, next to surprise hot holes and crystal tributaries. It is truly not hard to distance yourself from 3,000,000 visitors who stream through an average of 4 hours total! For a true wilderness experience, boat then hike, or hike into the Yellowstone river upstream (south of) Yellowstone lake. If you hit the fall timing right, you’ll tie into lake run wild cutthroats and resident rainbows, brookies, and browns. These fish are notably large, beautiful, and spectacular fighters. Be sure you group is savvy about wilderness first aid and bear safety. Despite the many visitors, certainly this park it is not to be reckoned with in wilderness areas.
Your favorite backcountry location – while we couldn’t cover every state in our first edition of this article, we want to hear from you! Contact us to propose your favorite wilderness or backcountry location, as we want you to know every excellent spot for the best fly fishing in USA. We are looking for unique, off the beaten trail, hard to reach locations that boast healthy wild trout populations. Happy streams!
An avid flyfisher for 40 years, M ark Velicr has lived and fly fished in Washington, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania and New York along with countless fishing trips to other states and countries. During his busy career working for three Fortune 500 companies, he noticed how much time it takes to really figure out a new fishing spot. And this was right when he’d rather be fishing! His favorite place is on the water, including white water kayaking, rafting, drift boating, and hiking to alpine lakes.