Nothing screams “troutbum” like a good old fashion fly fishing road trip. It’s a chance to get away from your local rivers to try your hand at having some success on a new piece of water. One thing is for sure, fishing a new river will most likely humble you, but that is all the fun. Your secret fly that may have worked all year on the Colorado River may do nothing other than attracting a sucker on a new river system, no wonder people hire fly fishing guides..right?
And the fishing is just one part of the experience, from the actual road trip to the food, sights, cheap hotels, sleeping in the car, and of course all the highs and lows with your fishing buddies. If you have never been on a fishing road trip, 2021 is the perfect time to plan one out. Below are the six best fishing road trips to take in 2021 from Colorado, specifically from the Vail Valley. So clear up your calendar, fuel up your fishing adventure rig, and get ready for a good time.
Also if you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check out the previous blog 8 ½ Tips for your Next Fishing Road Trip.
Road Trip Option #1: Green River, Dutch John, Utah
Located in the northwest corner of Utah, the Green River tailwater fishery begins just below the famous Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The fishery boasts 28 miles of prime trout fishing water. You can wade fish a good portion of the river as a well-maintained trail follows along the river. Or float fish from a drift boat or a raft, you can also rent a boat for a day or two. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources the Green River has between 8,000 and 22,000 fish per mile, you could be safe estimating around 10,000 fish per mile throughout the different sections. That’s a lot of fish.
The closest town with services from the Green River is Dutch John, Utah. You can find a few hotels, cabins, and restaurants. Be sure to check out the previous blog: Top 2 Tailwaters to Float Fish in the West for a more detailed guide to the Green River.
Drive Time from Vail, Colorado: Just under 5 hours to get to Dutch John Utah.
Best Time of Year: The best time of year to hit the Green can be anywhere from Early April to Late October based on weather patterns and flows. Wintertime can be extremely cold but the river still fishable, with midges being the main table fare.
Road Trip Option #2: Grey Reef, North Platte River, Alcova Wyoming
A hotspot for anglers looking to catch of some the hardest fighting rainbow trout in the lower 48. The 40 mile tailwater starts below Gray Reef Reservoir, a small impoundment below Alcova Reservoir, it then flows north towards Casper, Wyoming. The river is best fished from a drift boat but there is some decent wading access below the Grey Reef Dam, as well as in the Miracle Mile section of the North Platte. There are numerous different cabins and affordable lodging options near Alcova. The area makes for a great troutbum getaway with some quality fishing opportunities. If you wanted to add on another leg to your adventure the famous Big Horn River at Fort Smith is another 4-5 hours away.
Be sure to check out the previous blog: Top 2 Tailwaters to Float Fish in the West for a more detailed guide to the Grey Reef.
Drive Time from Vail, Colorado: About 5 hours to get to Alcova, Wyoming from Vail, Colorado.
Best Time of Year: The Reef is a year-round fishing destination, the five dams upstream prevents any sort of freezing of river flows. The winter in Wyoming can be pretty darn cold, so in reality, the fishing season kicks off in March and runs through the fall. Be ready for some foul weather, the winds of Wyoming are no joke.
Road Trip Option #3: Missoula, Montana (Bitterroot, Clark Fork, Blackfoot, Missouri, Flathead, and many more rivers and creeks).
This list wouldn’t be complete without the mention of the great state of Montana. With a low population of people per capita, the trout fishing opportunities are immense in comparison to Colorado. The town of Missoula or the #troutmeccamissoula is a great launching point for anglers looking to mix in some nightlife, culture, and good food into their fishing road trip.
The Clark Fork River runs through the town of Missoula, providing floating and wading opportunities for anglers. Just upstream of Missoula the Blackfoot River pours into the Clark Fork. The Blackfoot River is a faster flowing more technical river, with opportunities to run into a bull trout or a 20+ plus inch rainbow trout. Downstream of Missoula, the Bitterroot River dumps into the Clark Fork, another quality river system with ample fishing opportunities. From there you have the Flathead, Rock Creek, and even the famous Missouri River all within striking distance.
Drive Time from Vail, Colorado: 13.5 hours. Split up your drive with a pitstop in Pinedale or Rock Springs for some wade fishing.
Best Time of Year: Similar to our rivers in Colorado, the rivers close to Missoula tend to have a good window to fish in the spring before runoff happens. Then after the runoff, the rivers really come into shape and the dry fly fishing starts to go off. Fall can be some great streamer fishing opportunities as well.
Road Trip Option #4: White River, Cotter, Arkansas.
If you like big brown trout, the White River near Cotter, Arkansas is a must fish destination. The river system holds some of the largest brown trout in the world, with the potential of hooking a double-digit fish regularly. Streamers are the method of choice, with big brown trout lurking for a quick snack. There are plenty of services in the town of Cotter from cheaper accommodations to fishing lodges.
Drive Time from Vail, Colorado: 14 hours, a long 14 hours through a lot of cornfields.
Best Time of Year: Spring and fall are the most popular times on the White River, with the most action coming during this time of year. The winter and even summer can provide anglers with less pressure and the chance of catching a trophy.
Road Trip Option #5: Deschutes River, Maupin/Bend Oregon.
The mighty Deschutes River in Eastern Oregon flows from the glaciers of the cascades into the desert where it cascades through vast canyons and dumps into the Columbia River. The river is best known for its wild redband rainbow trout and summer steelhead. The river’s best launching point is the small town of Maupin, Oregon where there are a few restaurants, hotels, and fly shops. From here the upstream and downstream stretches of the Deschutes offer great public access and many campgrounds from all the BLM land. Boats are a popular method to fish this water but must be used as a vehicle to access water as you cannot fish from the boat. The river is a popular spot for multi-day overnight trips with whitewater opportunities.
Be sure to check out this previous blog: Destination Fly Fishing Guide: Lower Deschutes River, Oregon, for a complete guide to this fishery.
Drive Time from Vail, Colorado: 17 Hours, this trip can be combined with the Green River trip as well as adding on a fishery near Boise, Idaho. It is recommended to stop in Bend, Oregon for a microbrew.
Best Time of Year: The rainbow trout fishing can be good year-round. But, the season more or less kicks off with the renowned salmon fly hatch in May. This hatch will usually last until the end of June. The trout fishing remains consistent through the summer into the fall. Around the end of August, the summer steelhead begin to return from the ocean. They can be effectively targeted until the end of November.
Road Trip Option #6: Port Aransas Gulf Coast of Texas.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the mention of a saltwater destination. While the ocean is quite far from the middle of Colorado, Port Aransas on the Gulf of Texas is within striking distance of a road trip. Especially for an angler looking to warm up from a cold Colorado winter. Port Aransas is a smaller port town with many different hotels, restaurants, and vacation rentals. The fishery is an interconnected tidal estuary with mud and sand flats. The fish species like redfish and sea trout can be effectively targeted on the fly rod.
The fishery can be a bit intimidating if you are not familiar with flats fishing and tides. Hiring a guide upon arriving can really increase your chances of success. As well as renting or bringing a kayak, paddleboard or canoe can up your chances greatly of finding fish.
Drive Time from Vail, Colorado: 18 hours.
Best Time of Year: You can fish Port Aransas year-round. It is important to do some planning in regards to tides. The spring and fall can be productive. While the summer is productive as well but the town can be extremely busy with tourists.
Hopefully, the list above will provide you with a starting point to plan a future road trip. Just remember to give yourself enough time to properly plan the trip, make sure your fishing buddies are all on the same page (that the end goal is to have fun), and utilize local knowledge like fly shops and fly fishing guides.
Patrick Perry @patperry, Content Contributor, and Former Guide.