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June 20, 2008

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The Flyfishing Capitals of America


I know some of you wonder how we at Field & Stream select "The Best Fishing Cities" and "The Best Fishing Towns" in America. I can't tell you, otherwise I'd have to keel-haul you. The secret rests in a vault somewhere next to Cindy McCain's cookie recipes. Let's just say, however, that the methodology is somewhere this side of ballots being burned and white smoke flying up the Vatican chimney; and just on the other side of flipping off the cap and letting the foam settle in my bottle of Fat Tire.

Nevertheless, I feel inspired to leave you all this week with my own list of the "Flyfishing Capitals of America." There is no methodology here.

The overall flyfishing capital of America: Denver, Colorado. We sport the highest concentration of anglers and fly shops, per capita, of anywhere. And we're the new home of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. The fishing ain't bad either... trout, bass, carp, pike. I live here for a reason.

The trout flyfishing capital of America: Bozeman, Montana, with all due respect to the Catskill region in New York and elsewhere. And no offense meant, Missoula or Ketchum or Jackson, but the motivated angler can stage from Bozeman and hit your rivers also.

The striper flyfishing capital of America: Montauk, New York.

The tarpon flyfishing capital of America: Key West, Florida. Same for bonefish and permit.

The redfish capital of America: Hopedale, Louisiana. Love you Texas, but the big bull reds eat Cajun food.

The bass flyfishing capital of America: Hill Country, Texas. How's that for a make-good?

The pike flyfishing capital of America: Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

The big rainbow and salmon flyfishing capital of America: King Salmon, Alaska.

The big brown flyfishing capital of America: Bull Shoals, Arkansas.

The smallmouth bass flyfishing capital of America: West Lafayette, Indiana. (That one's for you, Chad.)

And the carp flyfishing capital of America... okay, you won me over, Gary Indiana!

Agree, disagree... prove me wrong. In any regard, I hope you hook 'em up and have a great weekend!



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You forgot steelheading capital

Evan V

And panfish.


I strongly disagree with the red drum capital. There is a real good reason the world record drum is from North Carolina. I have seen at least 3 fish caught that I would swear upon any number of bibles were 100+ pounds. I know one was, the scale bottomed out at 100. I ain't caught one like that on a fly rod, or at all for that matter, but I have caught one that was fifty-five, and have regularly caught more than forty, by sight fishing. If the state government would get it's act together and help protect these fish from commercial fisherman and gill-netters, we would have, without a doubt, THE best fishery in the country.


Okay... one at a time.

I'm going to say wherever Frank Moore is fishing is the steelhead capital of the world. Roseburg, Oregon, Glide, wherever on the N. Umpqua... sometimes a capital has as much to do about people as it does fish, and that is especially true when we talk steelhead.

Panfish. Hmmm. Dunno. I'm thinking somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, but not too far south.

jpfarley: Fly fishing capital. FLY FISHING. I know about those record reds in NC... but sightfishing... on a fly? You convince me those are fly fish, and I'll be there ASAP, we'll do a feature story and make you a cover boy.

Chad Miller

I actually think you put together a great list. You hit the nail on the head on almost everyone of them, as far as I know.

I have fished alot of those places and am actually adding Montauk this fall. Also your Bozeman pick for Trout is probably right. I will land in Bozeman on Sunday and then I am heading to Five Rivers for some needed R&R. Plus I get hang out with my buddy Jay Burgin for a few days.

The Pike pick is a little suspect. I might have to pick Ely Minnesota for that one. To much water with quality Pike fishing.

I have also fished with the man Gregg Arnold in NO and don't know much about other Redfish destinations. Numbers and size are impressive. If there is a better place to fly fish Reds, I will jump on a bird in about 10 days.

No question the White has more big Browns than anywhere and I mean anywhere. An 8 pound fish doesn't get a second look. I have hooked fish that were easily 15 pounds and never got the net on em'. Of course they get alot bigger than 15 pounds. Problem is not many people in that area fish for big fish with BIG streamers.

This last one pains me. Unfortuneately West Lafayette Indiana, as great as it is, is not my pick for Smallmouth Fly Fishing Capital of America. That honor I believe has to go to Lake St. Clair. If anyone wants to fish this give Capt. Brian Meszaros a call he is a class guy and a heck of a fly angler www.greatlakesflyfishing.com . I will be fishing with him at the end of July. I am taking my 11 year old on that trip. In fact Deeter that would be great trip for Paul, who by the way looks like he is out fishin' the old man!

Now if we could come up with a seperate classification for running water Smallmouth Capital of America then we would absolutely have to be nominated.

Overall though pretty good. By the way I am now a HUGE Hatch reel fan. John Torok speaks highly of you.


Chad, you are a gracious and honest man. I revert to the comment about people making the place, and as such, I'm not giving up NW Indiana as my smallie capital just yet. Moving water or not. But, yeah, St. Clair rocks for many species, especially smallmouths. Michigan, in general, is so stellar for flyfishing, it almost hurts. As you know, that's home for me. We'll check out Brian and greatlakesflyfishing.com

Believe the pike story, we're "Going Deep" for pike very soon, and despite my having put Ely in the "top fishing towns" with very good reason, we're going to Steamboat to pull that one off.

You are right-- Paul has me beat, every time. And Sarah says hello, and was most impressed that you remembered the little guy.

Lastly, yeah... Hatch reels are the bomb. Or bomb-proof, as it were, proven by our initial "motorcycle reel test." Remember when I was kicking that first prototype around in Ascension Bay? They got even better. I just returned from the Bahamas where I fished a Hatch 7-plus to great effect. And Torok is a super guy... though the fact that he speaks highly of me only indicates that he and I haven't fished together yet.

Thanks Chad.

SD Bob

I am glad to see Michigan got some love but in my oppinion not enough! Lets see...chinook and coho salmon, steelhead in large numbers, pink salmon, atlantic salmon, browns, rainbows and brookies. Carp are becoming a huge draw for Grand Traverse bay as well as numerous rivers with brown bombs galore!


I thank you for not including West Virginia. It Is too crowded here already.

Evan V

I got an idea for panfish capital.
Cumberland, Maryland.
Rocky Gap is a big, deep lake with lots of weeds and shallow cover. I was up there for 4 days a week ago, and the panfish are hitting hoppers 2 feet from docks! We got 5 12 inchers! And if you boat out to the cattails, oh boy hold on tight!
It sends em deep during winter where they feed, and the mild summers prevent them from being driven to the bottom to avoid the heat. So they stick to the surface all summer long!

salvelinus confluentus

I read the blog a lot, but don't post often....but had to on this one.

I have to say you have a good list going, but a couple of them were WAY OFF!!!! I am in total disagreement with the overall fly fishing capital, Denver. I can guaranty you that if you polled all of the people in the state of Montana and Colorado, the percentage of fly anglers to non anglers would be higher in Montana. Your statement ….“We sport the highest concentration of anglers and fly shops, per capita, of anywhere.” is very hard to believe, please show us the hard cold stats on that one. Where are the fly shops? I Googled it and couldn’t find one in the city of Denver itself, they are all located outside of the city!!??!! How many fly shops do you have in the city of Denver? Denver has a population of 554,636, Missoula has a population of 57,053 (according to 2000 census bureau) Missoula has 4 shops in the city limits and many others outside the city limits.

I can't argue, there are a lot of fly anglers in the Denver area, but it si also one of the most densely populated areas in the West. Most of the Denver anglers have get out of the city to fish, I have never been in Denver and seen a person flyfishing in the city limits? Go to Livingston, Missoula, Ketchum, Twin Bridges, Last Chance, Seattle or even Billings and you will see people flyfishing within the city limits. Every time someone says the word “fly shop” I am sure more people think of some small retail space near a river in Montana, Idaho or Wyoming with a lab or a pointer laying on the floor near the door of the shop while all the part timers are tying san juan worms (or Joey’s corn fly) for the shop ….not Denver!

I am sure there are a ton of fly shops in the state of CO, but look at the economy. For example Denver has a professional hockey, baseball and football team. Montana, Wyoming and Idaho don’t even have professional sports teams; better yet they barely have divison 1 college teams. It seems as most of Colorado’s residents are from the far west coast (Cali) and have tons of money and bought a home in the Rockies to fool around in the summer fishing, hiking and rafting while skiing all winter, hence the term “Californication”. This is great for theCO’s ecnomy, but unfortunately many of the small cities and towns of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are kept in business because of the visiting anglers and hunter’s to the area rivers and land. Normally the winter is dead. Some of these places have ski hills, but not like CO. People make their living guiding fishing and hunting all throughout the west. People in Denver don’t do this?

The only reason the Retailer show is in Denver is because it is the only decent city with a big venue in the middle of the US. (It used to be in Salt Lake City) I like Denver and have fished many rivers in CO, but it doesn’t even come close to many other cities in the West for the fly fishing capital of the US.

Respectfully, I believe that Missoula Montana is the Fly Fishing Capital of the US. Bozeman is up there, but doesn’t stack up to Missoula in the long run. Fly fishing is a way of life in Missoula, not a cool fad. People “fun float” the rivers if they don’t fish. The Clark Fork runs through downtown (the upper and lower sections of the Clark Fork fish awesome for 50 – 60 miles before and past downtown), the Bitterroot is 15 minutes away, the Blackfoot is a 10 minute drive, Rock Creek is a half hour…..and if those rivers are blown out you take the longer trip to the Missouri River. Let’s not forget all of the small freestones, spring creeks and lakes within short drives. These rivers and lakes are the centerpieces to the lives of the people that live in Missoula and the surrounding areas. People flock to them when they can. People in Missoula chase trout, pike, bass and carp all spring, summer and fall. When that fishing shuts down they drive over the pass to Idaho or Washington to chase steelhead. Not to mention, more and more “Montanans” are now traveling to saltwater destinations (even though it costs them an arm and leg to get anywhere in the US!) because they can’t get enough fly fishing. I am sure it sounds like I live in Missoula, but I don’t, I just can’t believe that anyone would say that Denver is the fly fishing capitol of the US! And of course last but not least……I really didn’t want to do this….. but let’s not forget the book that everyone has read if they are a trout flyfisherman, was written by a former Missoulian. I know Gierach is from CO, but not Denver!!!!!
Steamboat Springs as the Pike capitol…… wow you are really reaching on that one!!!!

Any small lake in Northeren Wisconsin or Minnestoa will put it to Steamboat to shame and make it look like Gary Indiana.

Sorry this was so long and drawn out, but Deeter said to prove him wrong...

Hey "KD"-

I really got no major gripes about Denver being the capitol after all; the largest fly company moved there and not by chance. As being an industry insider for many years as a sales rep and guide..CO does harbor more fly shops and ones that thrive year in and year out. It's nice to have all the money that comes with richy rich and the vacation homes they dwell in. Fact is CO has lots of fishing all over the state but with the success of fly shops comes overcrowding on your fav rivers and lakes. I for one having lived there numerous times am not privy to the whole pay and play gig. I have to side with salve conn man on the above statement about MT being the fishing heaven. MT is 1# for most public lands followed by my home of OR..then WA. So if your talking cities then maybe you gotta put Boise on the map. Few places one could catch some great trout up to 18" while the wife is kicking it at the mall. As nomadic that I have been for 15 yrs..Bozeman beats Missoula on the shear pro-liberal hippie vibe that has transcended from Eugene,OR to the UM folk. Just a tidbit for those who want to put Michigan on the map for steelhead..."if they don't run to the salt" and come back carrying sealice well, canadramous fish behold!!

Cheers for the flying mayan...CU hotties....and filthy rich TEXANS buying more CO land. Sooner or later you will get the point and " go west young man"




A nice, long, eloquent comment in defense of Missoula. But Denver is still the capital. Missoula and places Montana might be better trout-centric/destination places for flyfishing. But Denver is the center of flyfishing commerce. Also, yeah, we do fish in the city limits ... on the Platte, for carp, and trout, etc. We have a killer bass fishery here also. Colorado is hard to beat as an all-around freshwater flyfishing place, and I grew up in Wisconsin, so trust me on that one. Our saltwater fishing, however, admittedly sucks.

Alex Pernice the fly rod winner

Deeter Chicago is the carp capital...40 to 50 pounders all day long.

 salvelinus confluentus

I find this funny that two former cheeseheads (I also grew up in WI) are battling over the fly fishing Capital of the US.

Montana is just as good and a better all-around freshwater flyfishing place than CO.

You have not convinced me at all.....Denver is not the center of fly fishing commerce, it is the center of the US. Great, you fish in the city limits, but where are the Per Capita stats? Where are the fly shops in Denver? Denver is just the “people” capital of the West. You live there and it is a biased statement; Convince us otherwise!


The stats are that there are more manufacturers, guides, and shops, and more self-described flyfishing consumer enthusiasts in and around Denver than just about anywhere--certainly far more than any one city in Montana. That's according to the mailing list/database of Angling Trade magazine, of which I am the publisher and editor. Also check this out: http://www.denverpost.com/charlie/ci_9396841

Now ... I'm not saying that's necessarily a good thing to have more shops and anglers (and less public water) than, say Bozeman or Missoula. You follow? I'm guessing that most Montanans I know, including my Aunt who has lived in Bozeman for 38 years, would choose to be the capital of nothing other than cool Montana fishing itself, and the culture, and literary and artistic traditions associated with it. (Okay, Simms might want Bozeman recognized as the wader capital of America, which is a fair claim.) But that's about it. In fact, most of my die-hard Montana buddies get upset when I wax poetic about their rivers.

Now say, purely for the sake of argument, Urban Angler were to consider branching westward. Would it be to Montana? Doubtful. No base. How about Denver? Doubtful. Saturated. That's my point.

salvelinus confluentus

Your point has to do with business. Business is business. Of course branches of other fly shops can’t be opened in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming because of saturation. My point is that you have all these other places listed that are capitals of FF because they are known for the fishing in the area, not the selling of fly fishing goods or the production of magazines. You said Denver is the “overall fly fishing capital” of the US, not the overall capital of fly fishing commerce. Of course you are going to have more flyfishing consumer enthusiasts in and around Denver; its population density is probably the highest in the Western States. Is there a fly shop in Denver proper? I don’t know, but I am going to assume not because I couldn’t find one on the web. You can call it saturation, but the saturation comes from outside the city. Cities like Bozeman, Livingston, Ketchum/Sun Valley, Last Chance and Missoula can hold 4 to 5 fly shops in low populated areas because of the fly fishing opportunities and the anglers that live in the area. Look at Craig, Montana…population NOTHING, yet there are 3 fly shops hundreds of yards apart. Craig survives on one thing, the Missouri River. There is a very strong presence of the FF industry in Denver and great places to fish in CO, BUT I don’t think that can make it the fly fishing Capital of the US. That is like saying Sri Lanka, Africa, and Thailand have the best fly tiers in the world because they make the most flies. I believe you overlooked a lot of better cities and towns for the fly fishing capital of the US that beat Denver, hands down.

Former Mt.  Man

jpfarley....don't let them know about NC reds, enough yankees here as is.

Also I reckon no one ever fished the New River below Claytor Lake for smallies, the number and size of fish combined water clarity are a whipstickers dream.

Capt Gordon

Redfishing is good in NC but not as good as in TX or LA.

What about the Sea Robin capital? How about Crappie? Catfish? (all on fly of course.)

Seems West Yellowstone is getting dissed. At least 5 fly shops for a city that has a population of 1,232. That's a fly shop for every 246 people. I like that ratio.


i think what kirk meant was Denver was the best overall city in the world, you know, since he basically lives there.


i nominate Denver for SUCKER capital. oh, are we still talking fish?


I don't live in Denver. I live in the cultural center of the universe... Pine, Colorado, home of the Bucksnort Saloon.

Chad Miller

Steamboat Springs HUH! Well if it is that good I think you need to divulge a little more info on that. What do you mean by "Going Deep"? If Steamboat is better than Ely then hook me up!

Also I do remember that prototype Hatch reel that you were using in Ascension Bay. I had always had interest in that reel after that but took a while to add them. Also John mentioned a pretty interesting project you guys may be working on. I am interested in seeing the results. John and us are working a on a little cross promotion together and we are pretty excited about it.

And by the way it is pretty easy to remember Paul, what a great kid. A hug from a cute kid every morning before fishing is a good way to start the day. And tell Sarah I said hello back.

Okay I have to go I am getting ready for Salmon Fly/Trout Fly on the "--- River" Day 2. It was pretty epic yesterday and hopefully just as good today. Got a 23" Brown on one of my GIANT Sculpins and a 21" Brown on the Salmon Fly. I may be a Smallmouth guy but man these fish on Salmon flies are about as much fun as you can have with a fishin'pole!


deeter, you live closer to denver than any of the great fly fishing, etc. that you claim belongs to denver. how convenient!

can't you just admit you're biased towards your home state? i mean, best pike fishing in steamboat springs? the fish aren't even from there. for that matter, the best trout fishing in the u.s. is in the pond at any cabela's.

Jon Malovich

I guess the question that I wonder is what constitutes "the Fly Fishing capital"

What was the criteria used for the conclusion i.e. what is the formula?

I have fished all over the world and there is no doubt that North America is the World's Leader in the sport, based on accessibility species and angler numbers.

But I would like to throw Salt Lake City into the mix as you have some of the most amazing trout fishing and the other species are plentiful too. but maybe I have said too much ! Never mind everyone stay away from the area! and those who have traveled to fish there or live to fish there will find less traffic and no one splashing around their favorite haunts.

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