Top 5 Western Fly Fishing Rivers

What are the Best Trout Fishing Rivers of the Western US?

Here are a few of my personal picks for your consideration. While opinions might differ drastically about what the top western fishing areas actually are, I can only go by what I have fished and personally enjoyed. These are my choices that I consider the ultimate western trout fishing rivers that should be enjoyed by all serious fly fisherman at least one time.

Dallin Owens hold a nice brown caught in the South Fork of the Snake River
Dallin Owens hold a nice brown caught in the South Fork of the Snake River

South Fork of the Snake River

The Snake river starts in Yellowstone National Park and flows through a bit of Wyoming before flowing into Palisades reservoir. The South Fork officially begins at Palisades dam, from there it meanders through Idaho eventually ending up meeting the Pacific ocean. The river in South East Idaho is not very conducive to wading, but can be a real treat if you have access to a drift boat and know how to use it. It offers tremendous hatches and a variety of trout species, most of which will eagerly accept dry flies. The river supports thousands of fish per mile, with most of the upper sections around Swan Valley containing the largest fish. You will find large cutthroat trout feeding on various Chernobyl ant patterns all summer long, fiesty mammoth rainbow trout and an occasional trophy brown trout. It is also surrounded by wild animals of all kinds including plenty of eagles, moose, bears and more for those who enjoy relaxing and taking pictures in between catching trout.

This large river can be a bit much for the Eastern small water angler to grasp, since the river flows at an average rate of 10,000 cubic feet per second and is 100 yards or more wide in almost all areas. The best way to figure this river out is

The South Fork of the Snake River one of the best western trout streams
The South Fork of the Snake River

to hire a reputable guide in the area. This river can throw you curve balls and can be extremely dangerous if you are not careful. You will find a lot of small side channels that are mostly safe to take, but you should avoid taking small channels if you are unfamiliar of where they come out and whether or not they are blocked by fallen trees. This river can change almost completely in 1 year (especially the lower sections) so you should always do due diligence and be aware of where exactly your take out is and how long it will take to get to it. This river cannot be navigated safely after dark, so don’t even try!

Henry's Fork of the Snke Flat water near Harriman State Park
Railroad Ranch section of the Henry’s fork of the Snake River – Challenging dry fly fishing at it’s finest

Henry’s Fork of the Snake

This Western beauty is likely the most popular river in the Western US, with a vast array of water types. You can find a lot of areas to wade around and cast to extremely sophisticated slow water trout. You can also be dropping a double nymph rig in fast pocket water for trophy rainbows just a short walk in either direction. The main appeal of this river is the many faces it can show throughout it’s length; One moment you are looking at less than 1 mile per hour current casting dry flies, while only a few miles down stream sits Mesa Falls with hundred plus feet of drop and class 5 whitewater. Whatever type of fishing you enjoy, the Henry’s fork of the Snake River has it in it’s finest form.

Guides on the South Fork and Henry’s Fork – Idaho – Teton Valley Lodge

Madison river MT
Madison River – Image by: Mike Cline

Madison River

The Madison river is a true gem found in Montana paradise. This beauty, similar to the Henry’s fork has a wide variety of fishing available. You can fish the waters inside Yellowstone National Park, or follow it’s 183 miles of great water until it meets the Jefferson river in Western MT. The Madison offers plenty of large brown trout, great insect hatches and some stunning scenery throughout it’s entire length. I have spent a lot of time on this river throughout the years and have enjoyed every minute of it. While it can get a little crowded feeling in the summer, it always offers great fishing and endless amounts of wading opportunities. You will never have a hard time finding good access to jump out of your car and give this river a go. Some other interesting rivers in his area include the Ruby, Gallatin, Bighole and Beaverhead. For even more river options visit the interactive trout stream map of Montana here.

Bighorn River
The Bighorn river in early fall

Bighorn River

This river is a tributary of the Yellowstone and is hundreds of miles long. It has some incredible hatches and even more incredible fishing. While this river is not known for it’s tremendous scenery, it makes up for it with insane quantities of fish. It meanders through Montana much of Wyoming and flows for an incredible distance before meeting the Yellowstone river. This beautiful trout infested river just like the ones mentioned above should be enjoyed by all serious trout anglers at-least one time in their lives. Dry flies, nymphs or streamers, you can have a ball on the Bighorn!

Guides on the Bighorn

upper Green River WY
Upper Green River WY

Green River

Flowing through much of Wyoming and Utah this treat of a river gem is well worth fishing. It is most well know for its early season fishing usually taking place while many of the other Western rivers are involved in extreme spring runoff. The Green river has great top water fishing using cicada and Chernobyl ant flies.This cicada hatch takes place in May-June and is quite an event, most likely not something you have ever experienced anywhere else. Large trout crushing

Overhead view of the green river in Utah
Overhead view of the green river in Utah

foam flies, while many of the other best Western trout rivers likely have snow on their banks.

The upper Green flowing in Wyoming can produce a lot of great fish, but most of the serious fishing on this river takes place below Flaming Gorge Reservoir and in Utah.


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