If you have a hankering for more exotic fish than you can find in the nearest stream, river, or lake, consider packing a bag with a few travel rods and the rest of your gear and giving destination fly fishing a try. That’s all well and good (great, really), but as always, you should strive for the cream of the crop. Here are three trips worthy of the bucket list of any fly fisher.
Center of the Trout Universe
Southwest Montana has been called the center of the fly fishing world. Legendary rivers like the Madison, Gallatin, Ruby, Jefferson, Big Hole, Beaverhead, and the Missouri are here. One valley to the east is the Paradise Valley, home of the Yellowstone River. Off to the west are the Clark Fork and the Big Blackfoot (made famous in the movie A River Runs Through It). Yellowstone National Park (our first national park), mostly in Wyoming, is right nearby for easy access to the Firehole, Gardiner, Bechler, Lamar, Soda Butte, Slough Creek and others. And the Henry’s Fork of the Snake is south, just over the border in Idaho.
Those names may not mean anything to you now, but if you take up this sport, the mere mention of one of them will send a chill up your spine. If you want to chase trout, this is the place to do it. Hundreds of miles of trout water, all close enough that you can fish a different river every day if you base in West Yellowstone, Twin Bridges, or somewhere in between.
Last — and maybe best — are the Paradise Valley spring creeks, small tributaries of the Yellowstone. Armstrong’s Spring Creek, which becomes DePuy’s Spring Creek as it crosses a property line, and Nelson Spring Creek are pay as you go private water, flanking and eventually flowing into the Yellowstone River a few minutes south of Livingston.
Then there’s that “stepping into the food chain” thing. Somebody once said of SCUBA diving, “When you step into the ocean, you step into the food chain — and not at the top”. That’s how fishing in Yellowstone country works. When you set foot in the back country (all the best fishing is in the back country), you step into the food chain a link or two below the top (just below bears and cats). We’ve never felt more alive than when we were in competition with bears while hunting trout, fly rod in hand.
Wild and Windy and Full of Fish
I got an invitation once to go fish in Chile and Argentina. This was a result of an ill-fated business foray into the fishing tackle industry, but the trip was the trip of a lifetime. My host was an outdoor writer and fishing lodge owner who heard about my business endeavors. He invited me down for a week of fishing for huge trout who’d barely ever seen a fly. Took me three or four nanoseconds to say yes.
Seven airports and 26 hours of traveling later, I was sipping a scotch on the porch of an old (slightly) converted farmhouse on a cold March evening in southern Chile.
This is the land of the Rio Grande (no, the other one), Futaleufu, Arroyo Pescado, Corcovado, and Nant Y Fall. Way off to the south is the Rio Gallegos, and just beyond that, the end of the world and Tierra del Fuego, where the wind never falls below 30 MPH (they don’t call it the Roarin’ 40s for nothing) and the sea-run brown trout tip the scales at 20 pounds and up.
Patagonia is like the American West was 80 to 150 years ago: mountainous, unspoiled, remote, and laced with world class trout water. Another fisherman on the river is a rare sight. Most likely, the only one you see will be sitting across from you at the lodge’s dinner table.
But the best thing about fishing in Patagonia is there’s no need to lie about the fish. They really are THAT big. Nuclear, indeed…
Where It’s Christmas Every Week of the Year
We have a friend who has a photo of himself standing knee-deep in water on a bonefish flat on Christmas Island. In the photo he’s grinning from ear to ear and he looks a little nervous. He’s proudly holding up half a bonefish. Turns out, the other half was in the stomach of a black tip reef shark. Remember what I said up above about the food chain?
Christmas Island is located just a few degrees north of the Equator, about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii. At that latitude the weather’s great year round, so the fishing’s great year round. You’ll have miles and miles of shallow, clean, hard, white sand flats to wade. And you’ll only be sharing them with 17 other anglers — just 18 fishermen are allowed on the island each week.
You go to Christmas Island to fish for bonefish, the gray ghost of the flats; this is a legendary salt water quarry for fly fishers. Hook one and he’s liable to instantly sprint for Japan at warp speed, taking all your line and most of your backing with him. Pray your knots hold. It’s exciting as hell; that zinging line will cut your fingers if you’re not careful.
But “bones” aren’t all you get in the crystal turquoise waters of Christmas. There are also three species of trevally — one that tops out at over 100 pounds. They don’t run quite like the bones do, but they’re quite a bit bigger, and fierce fighters. And then there’s the occasional black tip reef shark.