Fly Fishing in the Western United States: Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah (2019)

2019 is shaping up to be an incredible year for fly fishing in the western United States. Over the winter, the states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah were pummeled with snow. This snowpack has resulted in above average water levels that should prove to offer great fishing conditions throughout the year!

The western United States is world-renowned for fly fishing – and for a good reason. Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah are home to big, hungry fish which inhabit the seemingly endless number of rivers, streams, and lakes.

Fishing and traveling across these western states allows fishers to experience a variety of terrain and landscapes. One day could be spent floating down a river surrounded by massive red rock cliffs while the next could be spent wading through a small stream in a grassy field filled with cattle. Regardless of the location one finds themselves in, fishers can expect to see beautiful scenery and opportunities to catch gorgeous, trophy fish.

For me, moving out to Utah to complete my education was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. One of the greatest aspects of living out here is the ability to fish numerous legendary waters all within a 30 minute to 5 hour drive. For example, I have the ability to fish blue ribbon trout rivers 20 miles away, or I can venture out further and experience the legendary waters around Yellowstone National Park. The proximity to hundreds of different rivers, lakes, and reservoirs makes fishing in these western states unmatched!

Seasons

Fishing in these western states is open year-round, although the summertime is considered the optimal fly-fishing season. During the summer, fishers have the chance to experience awe-inspiring insect hatches which provide ample opportunity to catch a trophy fish on a dry fly.

During the later parts of the summer, one of the more exciting types of dry fly fishing is the use of large terrestrial flies. These terrestrial flies imitate numerous large bugs, such as cicadas, beetles, and grasshoppers, which prove irresistible to a hungry fish. Terrestrial fishing is considered to be top notch across the region.

During fall, many fishers enjoy casting large streamers in order to target hungry and aggressive fish. At this time, fish are preparing for the cold winter where food becomes significantly more scarce. As you can imagine, the fish try to eat as much as they possibly can in order to prepare. In addition to heavy feeding, Brown and Brook trout begin to spawn during the fall and become territorial and aggressive. This aggression and territoriality causes the fish to have a tendency to strike out at almost anything that moves.   

Fishing in the winter can be very cold, yet still rewarding. During this season, fishers will have the most success using small midge flies and may occasionally be able to catch fish using midge dry flies. It is important to note that many rivers begin to freeze and the banks of the river can be quite precarious. Falling in the river during the winter can be extremely dangerous, so be careful!

Spring offers fishers great opportunities but also introduces challenges not present during the other seasons. As winter comes to an end and spring begins, the fish will be hungry and ready to feed on the increasing supply of food which certainly increases the chances of a fish eating your fly. At the same time, snow from up in the mountains begins to melt which creates a condition known as runoff. This runoff often increases the water levels and reduces the visibility in the water. Fishing during the runoff can be difficult however the reward of a large trout is definitely possible.

Licenses

Each state requires the purchase of a fishing license in order to abide by state law. The prices for fishing licenses range from $14.00 – $50.00 in these states. Be sure to check the specific state regulations in order to determine the process and cost of obtaining a fishing license in the state that you would like to go fishing.

Tips To Consider For Trips

  • Consider bringing a 5 or 6 weight rod with a floating line. A 5 weight rod will be successful in most situations, however a 6 weight rod would be useful on windy days or for casting large terrestrials or streamers.
  • During the summertime, many rivers will still be flowing with cold water. Bringing waders even if you plan to wet wade would be wise in the event that the water is still too cold for wet wading.
  • A variety of dry flies, nymph flies, and streamers is recommended to adapt to different fishing conditions.
  • If you are planning to fish during the fall, be mindful of the spawning fish and their eggs. When fish are spawning, their eggs are deposited on the bottom of the river in beds known as redds. Stepping on these redds is extremely harmful for the eggs and should be avoided at all costs.

Montana

Montana is considered by many to be the ultimate freshwater fly-fishing destination. The state has a longstanding reputation for fly fishing and was the featured location of the film “A River Runs Through It”.

One of the leading fishing destinations in Montana is the Missouri River, the longest running river in North America. Dry fly fishing on the Montana section of the Missouri River is spectacular, and there is ample opportunity to hook into a large trout or even a Carp.

In addition to the Missouri River, Montana is home to the Big Hole River. The Big Hole offers the chance to catch Rainbow, Brown, Cutthroat, and Brook Trout. On top of the wide variety of trout, the Big Hole contains the last population of native Arctic Grayling in the lower 48 states.

Fishers have numerous options when it comes to fly fishing in Montana, whether going on your own or with a guide. A couple of Fisher Guiding’s partners to consider for guided trips are below.

Book trips with:

Lone Willow Creek Guide Service

Missouri River Ranch

Jamie Burkholder

Shelly Ehmer Fly Fishing

Wyoming

Wyoming is full of big trout and rugged terrain. Some of the best fishing in Wyoming is located in the Teton range and Yellowstone National Park. When visiting the western portion of Wyoming, visitors can enjoy the awe-inspiring beauty of both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park while also experiencing incredible fishing.

On the eastern side of the state, the North Platte River is considered one of the leading destinations to catch huge trout. One section, the Miracle Mile, is renowned for holding large quantities of Rainbow, Brown, and Cutthroat Trout.

Jackson, Wyoming is a wonderful town brimming with western culture and history. This town is located in close proximity to Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Visitors can expect to have a great experience exploring the town and then enjoy some excellent fishing in the parks nearby.

Book trips with:

Jackson Hole Fishing Adventures

Teton Fishing Company, LLC

Colorado

With over 300 state wildlife areas and 6,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams throughout the state, there is ample opportunity to pursue trout on Gold Medal waters. Gold Medal waters is one of the classifications Colorado uses to describe the quality of fishing afforded, and a Gold Medal water is the top ranking among the classifications. One element consistent among Gold Medal waters is at least twelve trout greater than fourteen inches long per acre.

The two longest stretches of Gold Medal waters are the Arkansas River and the Roaring Fork River. Overall, Colorado has a total of 14 rivers and lakes designated as Gold Medal waters.

Book trips with:

Colorado Trout Hunters

Angler’s Covey, Orvis Endorsed Guide Service

Utah

Utah is a wonderful state for fly fishing and could be described as a hidden gem. While Montana and Wyoming may be more famous destinations, Utah offers plentiful opportunities to catch trophy fish. The Green River and the Provo River are both considered blue ribbon trout streams and offer spectacular sight fishing for large Brown, Rainbow, and Cutthroat Trout.

The Green River flows out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir is famous for massive Lake Trout but also holds Kokanee Salmon, Smallmouth Bass and Burbot. In the Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir, fishers will experience a beautiful red rock canyon while targeting the population of between 8,000 – 22,000 fish per mile. Natural bait is not allowed so fishers have the option to use either flies or artificial lures.

Book trips with:

Spinner Fall Guide Service

Park City Fly Fishing Guides

Park City on the Fly

Mend Fly Fishing

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