American Fly Fishing

New London, CT

Coastal Fishing Along the Whaling City
By Tom Migdalski

New London, CT Coastal Fishing Along the Whaling City

A dense school of small stripers crashes tiny peanut bunker (juvenile menhaden) off Waterford. Although bass stay up near the surface longer than bonito or false albacore, you must be prepared to search and then dash-and-cast with speed and precision, which makes for a very sporting outing. ALL PHOTOS BY TOM MIGDALSKI

For the last several years, massive schools of small striped bass have marauded the surface along southeast Connecticut’s New London County. The action starts in midsummer and can last into November, presenting an outstanding opportunity for fly anglers.

“One afternoon last August,” says expert tier and angler Vince Battista, “we watched schools of stripers corralling baitfish along a stretch of rocky beach in Waterford, where they staged at the top of the water column and fed for an entire tide. At times, the commotion was loud and close enough to drown out the idling outboard. These fish were juvenile bass, or ‘schoolies,’ of 14 to 24 inches, and at that size they’re eager to inhale a fly. I lost count of hookups.

“The trick to targeting these bass is mobility, because they’re up and down. You must be willing to switch presentations as the conditions change, and be on the lookout for bombing birds and surface explosions that are often near structure. These fish are present, on and off, for about a half year, and reduced bluefish numbers means schoolies don’t have much competition for food or flies.”

Auglaize River, OH

Old-Fashioned Summer Fun
By Nathan Perkinson

Auglaize River, OH - Bass

Largemouth bass are willing biters and tough fighters on the Auglaize during summer. Catch them with top-water bugs, streamers, and crayfish flies. ALL PHOTOS BY KYRA PERKINSON

I’ve always had a soft spot for lethargic, bathwater-warm rivers—the rivers other anglers drive past on their way to more alluring waters. I grew up fishing these types of rivers, the kind that humbly meander through farm country and foothills, off the fly-fishing radar. Perhaps I’m drawn to them because of my younger days, when I cast Mepps spinners and Rebel Craws with my trusty spinning rod for whatever kind of fish might be biting.

At any rate, I always keep an eye peeled for off-the-beaten-path waters, and northwest Ohio’s Auglaize River certainly fits the bill. The Auglaize is a typical lazily moving, modest-size Midwestern river. Its current is slow and gentle. It drains a lot of farmland and tends to run a little silty. Both smallmouth and largemouth bass inhabit the Auglaize, along with the usual accompaniment of panfish and rock bass. The Auglaize rises near Lima and flows for about 113 miles before joining the Maumee River in Defiance.

Trout fans turn up their noses at rivers like the Auglaize. Its stained water and slow currents don’t portend great fishing, so this little river remains an enigma to most Buckeye State fly anglers, or at least it would if they even bothered to consider it. If you subscribe to the stereotypical fly angler’s dream of crystal-clear water and an endless chain of riffles, runs, and pools, this probably isn’t the place for you. On the other hand, if your idea of summer fun is wet wading and catching a variety of fish in a river that everyone else drives past on the way to “somewhere better,” then keep reading.

Kodiak, AK

DIY Salmon Secret
By Terry W. Sheely

Kodial, AK - DIY Salmon Secret

Dolly Varden, usually called “Dollies” by Alaska anglers, are common in Kodiak Island streams. They are aggressive feeders, usually eager to take a variety of flies, and their gorgeous colors are always photo-worthy. PHOTO BY BRIAN O’KEEFE

So, this is Kodiak Island salmon river fishing on a do-it-yourself shoestring budget?

At first glance it looks promising. At second glance it looks productive, and perfect for my long-anticipated DIY top-shelf adventure. I’m stopped on a bridge with the rental van idling. Above in the hills, the Olds River slides out of the willows and alder switches, low and clear, and slips downhill under the van and the two-lane road, and drifts toward a handful of fly fishers on a pea-gravel bar.

Farther downstream, yellow-green marsh grass leans toward salt water. A cloud of white gulls pinpoints the end of the river and the edge of the bay. This season has been historically dry on the Emerald Isle, and the rivers are thirsty. The big wad of silver salmon reported to be hanging in the salt water won’t have far to come upstream to meet the anglers—when they come.

Below the bridge, the Olds is mostly dry gravel and pink salmon carcasses, picked over by scavengers. Pinks, alive and dead, are thick, some finning in the skinny flows, their white dorsal fins out of the water. Other pack up and charge the shallows, throwing wakes and spewing spawn, and still others flop against dry rocks in their natural metamorphosis into river nutrients and bird food. In a normal year with normal water levels, these pinks would be miles upriver, spawned out, and this lower section would belong to the surges of incoming silvers. But this isn’t a normal year; this is drought, and the silvers and pinks are packed together.

South Fork Shoshone River, WY

Wild River in the Beating Heart of Grizzly Country
By Jeff Erickson

South Fork Shoshone River, WY

The South Fork Shoshone River threads through a spectacular valley with a mix of federal, state, and private land. On the lower reaches, anglers need to consult maps to find scattered public access points, or ask permission from landowners. ALL PHOTOS BY JEFF ERICKSON

Returning to my remote camp on Wyoming’s South Fork Shoshone River after fortuitous, bear-free cutthroat adventures, I spotted an incongruity at the nearby Boulder Basin trailhead. The sight filled me with dread: a just-landed helicopter, flashing ambulance lights, and milling emergency personnel.

“Someone just got mauled by a grizzly” shot through my mind. I hiked to the chopper to assess the situation: the EMTs received a report of an injured elk hunter above 9,000 feet, but didn’t know any details. They were allowing a gusty wind to ebb, gearing up for a daring emergency rescue in a rugged landscape punctuated by 2-mile-high peaks. I watched the chopper lift off, deftly darting like a dragonfly over rocky ridges and deep canyons, finally disappearing over the wilderness, high above the beautiful, lonely river.

In September, Bighorn Basin rivers like the South Fork are natural grizzly highways, funneling hungry bruins from the Absaroka Mountains to lower elevations for their frenetic, prehibernation feasting. The Shoshone watershed’s wild country exerts a powerful magnetism for intrepid fly anglers, but it’s a sprawling, primitive, sometimes dangerous land that leaves its mark, demands your attention, and shifts your role in nature into a different perspective. Fresh grizzly tracks near my camp one morning did that for me, triggering an instant adrenaline rush.

East Portal of the Gunnison River, CO

A Ruggedly Handsome Canyon Full of Trout
By Doug Dillingham

This big, bold, and beautiful 'bow with a belly full of Baetis mayflies is ready to be returned to its liquid lair

This big, bold, and beautiful 'bow with a belly full of Baetis mayflies is ready to be returned to its liquid lair. PHOTO BY DOUG DILLINGHAM

If fly fishing is a religion, an angling adventure into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River is high church. This deep, precipitous, wild chasm’s fierce beauty, robust insect emergences, and legendary trout population sanctify the Black Canyon as Colorado fly fishing’s holy ground. I’ll never forget my first descent into this unique crack in the earth over a decade ago, as it had the feel of a religious experience. My senses struggled to breathe in the immense fullness and majesty of this gorgeous natural cathedral.

The genesis of the Gunnison River itself is in the tiny trout town of Almont, where the East and Taylor Rivers merge and sprint toward the town of Gunnison. About 26 road miles west of Gunnison, the Gunnison River flows into Blue Mesa Reservoir, the state’s largest body of water, and it is tamed twice more in short order at Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs. The fabled Black Canyon begins where Crystal Dam releases its burden; the first 2 miles of the 14-mile-long canyon are known as the East Portal.

While the entire Gunnison River from Almont downriver to the North Fork Gunnison (just below the Gunnison Gorge) is classified as Gold Medal Water by Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW), that only begins to describe the piscine population at the East Portal. According to a 2013 CPW electroshocking survey, the East Portal hosts 6,425 rainbow trout and 8,633 brown trout per mile. While 15,058 trout per mile is jaw-dropping, equally staggering is the fact that the size of the most frequently sampled rainbow trout in the survey was over 17 inches.

Chattooga Cliffs, NC

Time for a Swim
By Bill R. Chiles

Chattooga Cliffs, NC

Simons Welter works pools on the upper Chattooga on the approach to the Cliffs area. The fishing here is excellent, but be careful not to devote too much time here as you will need all the daylight available to complete the Cliffs loop. ALL PHOTOS BY BILL R. CHILES

Simons Welter gazed downstream, submerged in chilly water to her chest and guarded from a brisk current by an eddy hardly bigger than her torso. Ahead, steep moss-covered stone walls contained the entire volume of the Chattooga River. The pools and eddies in sight looked like a sure bet for trout-rich honey holes, if only there were a way to get there. So with her lumbar pack in a dry bag, sealed with enough residual air to make an impromptu flotation device, and a 4-weight clenched in her teeth, Welter did what most fly fishers would never consider: she jumped into the frothy current.

Anyone who has ever waded a trout stream has taken an unintentional dip, perhaps even a brief white-water ride. But the sight of a wader-clad fly fisher performing the breaststroke through emerald green pools and foamy rapids is odd. Fat, wild, untouched brown trout can make fly anglers do strange things. So if getting to an awesome brownie hole requires a swim, so be it.

Paradise Valley Spring Creeks, MT

Fishing in the Footsteps of Legends
By Jeff Erickson

Paradise Valley Spring Creeks, MT

The author lays out a cast on Nelson’s Spring Creek, a favorite fishery of the late fly-fishing author Joe Brooks and his wife, Mary. As so many anglers have discovered, often it’s best to stay out of the water—and stealth always pays dividends. ALL PHOTOS BY JEFF ERICKSON

My first exposure to Montana’s Paradise Valley was on a family camping trip, as an impressionable Minnesota kid. We stopped in Livingston to visit my dad’s cousin, Claude Erickson, a local bigwig bank owner. Upon our arrival, Claude immediately unlocked the bank vault, ushered me and my sisters inside, and let us hold a bundle containing a million dollars, or so he said.

After that thrill, my dad explained to Claude that I was getting interested in fly fishing, having received Trout Fishing, the classic Joe Brooks book, from my grandmother for Christmas. My $10 fiberglass fly rod—stiff as a pool cue—was packed in the camper, ready for action. Claude, who seemed to know everyone in Livingston, slapped me on the back and said, “Jeff, let’s go down the street; I’d like you to meet Dan Bailey.”

I knew that Bailey was a famous fly-shop owner, in part because he was friends with Brooks, who wrote engagingly about their Paradise Valley adventures, fishing the Yellowstone River and now-famous spring creeks.

So we traipsed out of the bank to Bailey’s fly shop, where the iconic fly angler hospitably showed us around. In one area, a couple dozen women were sitting at vises and tying flies. I also recall the Wall of Fame, consisting of wooden silhouettes of enormous trout caught in the area—many from the Paradise Valley—with the angler’s name and catch location engraved on a plaque. I daydreamed of having my own fish on that wall someday.

Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, MI

Fly Fishing Afoot in the Porkies
By Nathan Perkinson
All photos by Kyra Perkinson

Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, MI (Bass)

Smallmouth bass are prime targets throughout the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness, especially during the warm summer months. The Big Carp and Presque Isle Rivers are the best bets for bronzebacks. All photos by Kyra Perkinson

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, affectionately known as “the Porkies,” is a 60,000-acre tract of woods and water located in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). Over half of the forest in this preserve has never seen the saw blades of loggers, making the park home to one of the largest tracts of virgin hardwood forest in the United States. That this awe-inspiring stand of timber has survived untouched is a minor miracle, considering that the state park wasn’t established until 1945.

The Porkies offers a wide variety of fly-fishing opportunities, with something to suit every angler’s taste. Native brook trout inhabit the small mountain creeks. Feisty smallmouth bass prowl the lower streams and many of the park’s hidden lakes. Lake-run steelhead, smallmouth bass, and northern pike lurk in the lower stretches of the Presque Isle River. Not enough? You can also explore more than 20 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, and the only way to reach it is by foot.

In fact, the main mode of transportation in the Porkies is your own two feet. The park has three primary roads. Michigan State Trunkline Highway 107 (107th Engineers Memorial Highway) enters the park from the east and goes as far as Lake of the Clouds. South Boundary Road is the only road that crosses the entire park, running more than 30 miles through the woods rather than along the lakeshore, and connecting with County Road 519 on the western end of the park near the Presque Isle River. The park has more than 90 miles of hiking trails, and the roads are basically conduits that take you to different trailheads. In a few places, you can find drive-up fishing opportunities, but for the most part you need to hike to earn your fish.

Millers River, MA

A River’s Second Lease on Life
By Christophe Perez

Millers River MA, Fall Colors

October is prime time on the Millers River and the vibrant colors of the New England foliage make those days even more memorable. ALL PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHE PEREZ

The history of the Millers River is a cautionary tale. Like the stories of many rivers exploited for industrial ends, it taught us that progress isn’t necessarily progress if it comes at the expense of natural resources. Thankfully, the Millers is also a comeback story. This 52-mile-long tributary of the Connecticut River was once known as Massachusetts’s finest trout stream—until its fortune waned in the mid-1960s.

After surveys revealed alarmingly high levels of industrial pollution, PCBs in particular, in 1964, the state no longer regarded the Millers River as a viable trout stream, and trout stocking ceased. Anglers turned to other rivers. In the mid-1980s, the Millers was afforded a second lease on life after clean-water safeguards and restoration efforts helped significantly reduce the concentration of PCBs in the river and in fish tissue. The state started reintroducing trout in 1984, and since 1989 more than 8 miles of the river’s trout habitat have been regulated as catch-and-release and artificials-only, which put the Millers back on the map for fly anglers.

Today, more than three decades after the Millers River was rediscovered, some of its trout stretches are well known, but others, more remote, are still terra incognita to many anglers. Fly-fishing guide Ken Elmer spent countless hours in the 1980s and ’90s scouting the river’s trouty runs and pools. He became a Millers River expert, a conservationist with the local Trout Unlimited chapter (over which he presided from 2003 to 2006), and a singular voice chronicling the ups and downs of several Massachusetts trout streams on his popular blog and forum, Elmer describes the Millers as “a mystery giving up its secrets grudgingly. It will baffle you at times and at other times reward you beyond what one deserves. It can be gentle, almost pastoral in some places, and in others tough and brooding.”

Frio River, TX

Fun for All
By S. Seth Davis

Frio River, TX

Deep pools flowing along limestone shelves are great places to search for both panfish and bass. They are also some of the Frio’s most picturesque places. ALL PHOTOS BY S. SETH DAVIS

Sitting on the deck of the riverside cabin, I watched the sun peek over the ridge. Beams of light filtered through the early-morning mist hanging just above the ancient cypress trees along the riverbanks. Daybreak is always magical, but extra special here along the Frio River in Texas. It’s like the calm before the storm, especially during the busy summer tourist season.

As the fog began to clear, I gathered my gear and made my way down to the river, where I rigged a 5-weight rod with a Clouser Minnow. Bass were the morning’s target, and during the summer they are best sought early in the morning, before the flotilla of recreational tubers overwhelms most popular stretches of the Frio. Start just after dawn and you will likely enjoy a good three hours of unfettered fishing.

Sending a fly into the submerged roots of a large cypress usually produces results. Today was no exception; as the flashy pattern sank toward the bottom, I reveled in the unmistakable tap at the end of the line. I set the hook, and a small bass leaped from the water just a few feet in front of me. It was a representative fish of nearly 2 pounds. Although the Frio holds bass heavier than 3 pounds, they are rare, especially in the highly trafficked reaches of the river. Nevertheless, there are usually plenty of 1- to 2-pound fish to keep you busy.

The word frio means “cold” in Spanish, but applied to this river, it’s something of a misnomer. Throughout most of the summer, the water feels more like a swimming pool. Couple this with extreme water clarity and substantial shallows, and it’s no wonder people enjoy floating the Frio by inner tube. Yet despite its widespread renown as a vacation destination, this scenic river offers surprisingly good fly-fishing action.

John Muir Trail, CA

Three Weeks in the Wilderness
By Sean Jansen

John Muir Trail, CA

Views from atop Mount Whitney are unforgettable. Always try to summit as early in the day as possible to avoid afternoon lightning storms. The southern terminus of the John Muir Trail is the Mount Whitney summit, but you can enter the trail from other locations. PHOTOS BY SEAN JANSEN

Just take three steps, stop, and breathe.

That’s the anthem I sang to myself while scaling 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States. I started in the Owens Valley, a mere 7,000 vertical feet behind me, my backpack—fully loaded with a week’s worth of food and fly-fishing gear—felt heavier with each step.

The Mount Whitney Trail comes to a T intersection. I could veer right and summit the mountain, or head left and descend to a shimmering wilderness lake perhaps teeming with the Sierra Nevada’s most prized quarry for backpacking anglers: golden trout. But I’d planned this for months. The fish could wait. I swallowed the pain and turned right, heading up to Whitney’s summit. Just take three steps, stop, and breathe. I finally reached the top of my first 14er, the first peak over 14,000 feet I had ever stood upon. From the top, with stunning views all around, I gazed down on guitar-shaped Guitar Lake, and I could see the rise forms made by the resident goldens.

Atwood Basin, UT

As Rugged as It Gets
By Spencer Durrant

Atwood Basin, UT (arctic grayling)

Allen Lake, less than a mile due south of Lake Atwood, offers arctic grayling, like this gorgeous specimen, along with brook trout, and has also been stocked with golden trout in years past. PHOTOS WALTER VANDERHEIDE

A few years ago, I was camped out above the Cook Lakes in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains, battling a bout of altitude sickness while my buddies fished. I didn’t have much to do except soak up the landscape, and by the time I felt good enough to move, it was time to start the two-day walk out of the mountains. We were about 30 miles back in some of the nation’s most remote country, and I remember thinking I’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else as pristine as that corner of the Wind River Mountains.

Enter the Atwood Basin in the High Uintas Wilderness of Utah. Framed by Utah’s highest peak, 13,528-foot Kings Peak, and 13,448-foot Mount Emmons, Atwood Basin offers way off-the-beaten-path fishing for anglers who enjoy backpacking. The lakes and streams of Atwood Basin hold cutthroat trout, brook trout, arctic grayling, and even golden trout. However, the peaks are a bigger draw than the fishing in this backcountry region, with some hikers making the trek to bag the state’s highest pinnacle and others to enjoy the spectacular alpine scenery.

But for fly anglers, the fishing is outstanding. Some of the biggest trout in the Uintas live in the waters of Atwood Basin. But the price is steep, literally and figuratively. You must be fit enough to endure long miles on the trail burdened with a backpack. The primary trailhead sits at nearly 7,600 feet above sea level. Mountain passes between various basins en route to Atwood Basin rise to 11,300 feet, and it’s 18 miles from the trailhead to Lake Atwood, which is the usual base camp for most expeditions in the Atwood Basin.

Sky Lakes Wilderness, OR

Heaven Waits
By Gary Weber

Sky Lakes Wilderness, OR

A collection of clouds and tall shoreline trees are reflected on the placid surface of Little Heavenly Lake, creating an idyllic landscape. The two Heavenly Lakes are the author’s favorite fisheries in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area. ALL PHOTOS BY GARY WEBER

Heaven. Whether or not you believe in its existence, just the mention of the word conjures up images and thoughts of nirvana, paradise, or a “higher place.” Moreover, heaven is commonly associated with peace and tranquility in an unspoiled and untouched environment. Heaven is where you find it, however, and for a fly angler who loves mountain lakes, utopia is usually found deep in the wilderness along with unsurpassed solitude, spectacular scenery, and rising rainbow trout. That’s why I have to believe that if there’s a heaven on earth for high-lakes anglers, south-central Oregon’s Sky Lakes Wilderness has to be it.

Occupying an area only 6 miles wide but nearly 27 miles long, the 116,300-acre Sky Lakes Wilderness contains more than 200 bodies of water, including small, isolated ponds and crystalline lakes of various depths and sizes, all the way up to enormous 900-acre Fourmile Lake near its southern border. Established in 1984, the Sky Lakes Wilderness straddles the Cascade Range from Crater Lake National Park southward to State Route 140 between Medford and Klamath Falls, with 75,695 acres located within the Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest and 40,605 acres inside the Fremont–Winema National Forest. Elevations range from 3,800 feet in the canyon of the Middle Fork Rogue River to 9,495 feet at the summit of Mount McLoughlin, southern Oregon’s tallest peak.

Yellow Creek, PA

Forgotten Limestoner
By Ralph Scherder

Yellow Creek, PA Trout

Every trout caught in Yellow Creek is its own reward. Whether stocked or wild, these fish are challenging, and each catch makes a good day on a beautiful stream that much better. ALL PHOTOS BY RALPH SCHERDER

Yellow Creek is perhaps the least known of Pennsylvania’s limestone streams, but it just might be the best. Of course, least known doesn’t mean least fished, and it can be intimidating pulling into the parking lot of the fly-fishing-only section to find a dozen other vehicles already there during the late-spring Sulphur hatch. Don’t be discouraged. The creek offers plenty of water, and every bit of it provides excellent fishing.

Yellow Creek is a 21-mile-long tributary to the Raystown Branch Juniata River. Rising near the town of Woodbury in Bedford County, the stream flows south toward the town of Loysburg.

In its upper stretch, Yellow Creek is a typical limestone spring creek, meandering through pastureland and meadows. Fishing access can be difficult because of sections of barbed-wire farm fences and posted private property, but plenty of water is open to anglers and stocked with trout. When in doubt, be sure to ask permission to fish. In addition to stocked fish, wild trout inhabit this entire section, but it does suffer significant siltation and runoff problems.

Fortunately, Yellow Creek is nothing if not dynamic, and it transforms dramatically as it reaches Loysburg. This region of Bedford County is a part of Morrisons Cove, an eroded anticlinal valley surrounded by mountains. Water passes through these mountains in only three places, called water gaps, and one of those is located just downstream of Loysburg. As Yellow Creek flows through the Loysburg Gap, it resembles a big mountain stream tumbling down between huge rocks and limestone hillsides. Cold springs pour into the stream throughout the gap, setting the stage for a tremendously fertile fishery downstream.

North Fork Clearwater River, ID

Fishing is Part of the Adventure
By Bryan Dufresne

North Fork Clearwater River, ID

Below a monstrous logjam, the North Fork Clearwater River forms a spectacular pool. Kneeling on a log at the head of the pool, Bryan Dufresne fights a westslope cutthroat trout. PHOTO BY NATHAN PAUL

Beginning with a foothold in Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains, the North Fork Clearwater River takes a 135-mile journey through a 2,462-square-mile watershed that moves back in the time the farther upriver you travel. With 135 miles to play with, anglers can find a remarkable variety of fishing.

Traveling back in time was on the agenda as lifelong fishing friends Nathan Paul, Keith Seppel, and I loaded a truck to spend four days plying the upper stretch of the North Fork. The river reaches deep into the mountains and turns back the clock, revealing native flora and fauna—including westslope cutthroat, redband trout, bull trout, and mountain whitefish.

Months in advance, to ensure the days off, we had locked our dates—the last four days in June. Day one we would drive from Montana over Hoodoo Pass into Idaho with hopes of camping at Cedars Campground and fishing the hiking trail section of the North Fork Clearwater. By camping near the bridge over the North Fork, we would be able to end our fishing day by wading directly to our campsite. Day two would involve a 32-mile dirt-road drive to Weitas Creek, where we would walk the trail for a few miles, and fish our way out. None of us had fished Weitas, and we were excited to learn its secrets. Day three would be spent doubling back and fishing the North Fork Clearwater River between Cedars and Kelly Forks Campgrounds. Day four we would pack up and head home, unless the fishing dictated that we needed to wake early to squeeze in some more time on the water. The hope was to toss big dry flies at eager native cutthroat.

Bear River, ID/UT/WY

Exploring the West’s Oddest River
By Jeff Erickson

Bear River, ID/UT/WY

Jake Smith drifts a fly under a shaded cutbank on the Bear River in western Wyoming. Lengthy stretches of the river in Wyoming flow through private lands, so access requires some exploring and perhaps some asking if you can find the landowners. PHOTO BY JEREMY ALLAN

In the convoluted caverns of my mind, the world’s strangest stream is the mythological River Styx. The scribes in ancient Greece didn’t indicate whether the Styx held trout, but I doubt it, as it was a gloomy, mysterious passageway to the underworld and the afterlife. Perhaps the oddest river that exists in current reality is the Bear, which relentlessly roams like Ulysses in the Odyssey. The sirens here aren’t dangerous temptresses luring seafaring sojourners to doom with their beguiling songs, but beautiful, benign Bonneville cutthroat trout, some surprisingly large.

The Bear can also be likened to Ouroboros, an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail, symbolizing eternal circles—like birth, life, death, destruction, and rebirth—or the ongoing hydrologic cycle that powers both rivers and fly anglers. The circuitous Bear is a 500-mile-long geographic riddle, North America’s longest river that never touches an ocean. It rises above 12,000 feet in Utah’s cloud-breaching Uinta Range, drifts north into Wyoming, rambles back and forth across the Idaho border, then returns to Utah. It finally ends by replenishing the Great Salt Lake’s brine-encrusted pools, just 70 miles from its alpine origins. So, this aquatic snake nearly swallows its own tail too. But as J.R.R. Tolkien observed, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Good advice for fly anglers who get immersed in this vast, varied watershed.

Lake Erie, MI/OH

The Western Shoreline
By Jerry Darkes

Lake Erie, MI/OH

An angler releases a fat smallmouth along a shallow shoreline. In spring, prespawn bass are found along drop-offs close to shore and around harbor entrances where there is plenty of rock and gravel. They eagerly attack flies. ALL PHOTOS BY JERRY DARKES

New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, as well as the province of Ontario, all claim a share of sprawling Lake Erie’s shoreline, and throughout this southernmost of the Great Lakes, anglers pursue myriad species. But the lake’s western basin, from west of Sandusky Bay in Ohio northward to Point Pelee in Ontario, offers especially good prospects for fly anglers.

The western basin’s average depth of only 24 feet equates to a lot of water that’s easy to fish with fly tackle. Moreover, this basin’s shoreline features extensive shallows, rocky drop-offs, breakwalls, river deltas, piers, harbors, and other fish magnets. These waters teem with smallmouth bass, panfish, freshwater drum, walleyes, northern pike, largemouth bass, and other species. Armed with a small boat, an angler has countless options. Kayaks and canoes also work well in many areas, and even shore-bound anglers can get in on the action.

Long Island Spring Creeks, NY

Legendary Limestone
By Tom Gilmore

Long Island Spring Creeks, NY

Native brookie from the Carmans River. PHOTO BY BOB LINDQUIST

For most fly anglers, Long Island conjures images of epic saltwater action—blitzing bluefish and false albacore, and acres of striped bass churning the water to froth as they feed on vast schools of bay anchovies, silversides, or peanut bunker. However, Long Island is also home to great trout fishing. The island is home to three exceptional limestone spring creeks filled with trout, all within an hour’s drive from New York City.

The Nissequogue, Connetquot, and Carmans Rivers were originally preserved by elite, private fishing clubs with well-heeled members and guests from New York City. Today, these three streams are publicly owned, managed by New York state or county parks, and almost as pristine as they were at the latter part of the 19th century.

Clear Lake, CA

Best in the West
By Greg Vinci

Clear Lake, CA

Bass congregate along the shoreline margins of Clear Lake, particularly along steep drop-offs. Prey such as juvenile sunfish and crawfish abound in these areas, providing plenty of forage. ALL PHOTOS BY GREG VINCI

I’ve always been a trout guy, so I was late getting into fly fishing for bass. For many years I never gave bass a passing thought, but when I found myself employed in a fly shop alongside Al Bunch, all that changed. He was happy to inform anyone within earshot that he had discovered his true calling: for Bunch, trout fishing was a thing of the past and bass were the only game in town.

Articulate and talkative, Bunch regaled me with stories about fishing on California’s Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, and down in Mexico, where it seemed that any day when he caught fewer than a hundred bass wasn’t a day worth living. All of us in the fly-fishing retail business spend every day hearing what seem to be boastful stories, particularly from customers who hang out in the shop, but while Bunch talked about seemingly unlikely 100-fish days, he was also the first to admit to a day on which he got skunked. When I finally had the opportunity to fish with him I was able confirm that all of his bravado was for real, and it became apparent that if Bunch said he had caught a hundred fish, then he probably actually caught a hundred fish.

White River, AR

Winter at Bull Shoals
By Matthew Dickerson

White River, AR

Boats full of anglers appear like ghosts out of the thick fog in the hour after dawn, and then disappear again. The thrum of an outboard announces some of them before they appear. Two or three dozen boats could be within a half mile, yet in the fog only one or two might be visible at a time. ALL PHOTOS BY MATTHEW DICKERSON AND PHIL BRODERSEN

Thick bone-chilling fog filled the valley, from the river all the way up the cedar-strewn bluffs, swallowing it whole like a 5-pound brown might swallow a bite of shad that had been sucked through the turbines from the lake above. Now and then, when our boat swung close to the shore, winter-barren sycamore branches materialized out of the fog like skeleton fingers clawing at the air, only to disappear a moment later. More often, another johnboat laden with two or more anglers appeared nearby, fading into view a few seconds after the fog-dampened roar of its outboard became audible over the wind and waves and our own motor’s thrum.

Later in the morning, when the sun burned through the fog, the temperature climbed from freezing up toward 60 and my stiff fingers thawed, while as many as two dozen boats were often visible at a given moment. The White River at Bull Shoals on February 1 is not for the faint of heart. Yet it is an outstanding fishery, one that can produce trophy brown trout, lots of fat rainbows (some reaching trophy size), an occasional cutthroat, and even a rare brook trout. And despite all the boat traffic on opening day, our expert guide, Frank Saksa, continued to find great lanes to drift through a long run before reengaging the motor and popping us up to the top again—rarely without at least one fish sampling our flies.