If you want to plan a fly-fishing vacation that involves the rest of the family, or perhaps a not-so-dyed-in-the-wool angler companion, my advice is to consider ski towns and resorts. The best ones are close to prime trout waters, and they offer great amenities and recreational opportunities like hiking, biking, top-notch restaurants, live music events and more. In many cases, the scene is as good (or better) in summer or fall than it is when the chairlifts are running.
Having spent more than my fair share of time camping (or crashing in no-frills motels) in places where fly fishing is the only attraction, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunities when I can chase big trout on dry flies all afternoon, then soak in a hot tub. Of course, resort vacations can be more spendy than the DIY fishing trip, but it’s often worth it to find a place where everyone can find their own adventure for a few hours, and regroup to share stories at day’s end.
While the fishing can be great anywhere, the skiing in the Rockies tops my chart, so I’ve focused on that region. Here’s the best of the West:
1. Jackson, Wyo. and Big Sky, Mont.
It’s a tie in my book because both Jackson Hole and Big Sky offer easy access to Yellowstone National Park from the south and north, respectively. If you haven’t fished Yellowstone, you need to put that on your list. Of course, you have to go past the Tetons and up the Snake River from Jackson. Flat Creek is one of the most technical and interesting cutthroat streams in the world. And don’t ignore the South Fork or the Greys River. The Gallatin runs right out the front door at Big Sky, which is also a decent jumping off point to fish the fabled Madison. I think the Gallatin might be the most underrated river in the West, offering a range of conditions — from meadow creek to boulder-strewn plunge pools, all within a half-hour’s drive of Big Sky.
Contacts: Jackson Dennis Sports and Big Sky Resort
2. Aspen, Colo. (and Snowmass and all the others)
You can pretty much do it all here, from fishing the legendary freestone Roaring Fork River, to working the Frying Pan tailwater, to exploring any number of high country creeks and lakes. You can catch a grand slam — a cutthroat (Colorado River strain), rainbow, brown, and a brookie — before lunch if you know where to hop around.
Contact: Alpine Angling
3. Sun Valley, Idaho
This is classic country, in both the skiing culture and fishing (Hemingway) contexts. The Big Wood River often plays second fiddle to the more famous (deservedly so) Silver Creek, but both rivers can be absolutely magical. The Big Wood is more forgiving, allowing novices opportunities to catch trout on dries, especially in grasshopper season. Silver Creek is a grad school. If you think you have the game to catch notoriously spooky (but large) fish on callibaetis dries in the “S Curves,” by all means, go for it.
Contact: Silver Creek Outfitters
4. Telluride, Colo.
I won’t promise you massive trout (though you may surprise yourself on the lower stretches of the San Miguel or Dolores Rivers), but I will promise massive landscapes. Fishing the Ilium Valley in the shadow of the Mount Wilson, or the upper valleys of the Dolores River, is something you will not soon forget. This is one of those places where you’ll make a cast, then only hear the trout eat your Humpy dry fly because your eyes have wandered off toward the peaks. And Telluride is the most gorgeous Old West mountain town in America, period. The music scene, from Bluegrass (June) to the Blues & Brews Festival (September) also is a cut above.
Contact: Telluride Outside
5. Beaver Creek, Colo.
This is the place to go if you want to fish the Eagle or the Colorado Rivers. But don’t forget the alpine lakes and creeks. You can pay extra to fish on private water, but with even a little bit of insight, a map and a willingness to drive or hike off the beaten path, you can find more quality public water in a week than you can literally shake a stick at.
Contact: Gore Creek Fly Fisherman